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Letter to the Editor: Why Grinwell falls short for campus-wide wellness

On Monday Sept. 29, President Raynard Kington officially launched the GrinWell program, which advocates for the health and wellness of the student body. The four-tiered program includes goals of sleeping seven to nine hours per night, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables, moving at least 30 minutes a day and engaging in restorative activities like meditation. Students who sign up and participate are eligible for prizes and can track their progress through an app designed by AppDev. The College seems to hope that this program will encourage not only physical health, but mental and emotional fitness as well. It may bring students, faculty and staff together in a pursuit of wellness. The administration wants GrinWell to shift the way students think about treating their bodies, from taking pride in pushing to the limit to celebrating care and prioritizing health.

While this all seems attractive at face value, we are afraid that this initiative reinscribes norms of health and ability, and that it does not reflect positive conversations held during the Accessibility and Disability town hall, which took place Tuesday, Sept. 30, or meeting about SHACS, which took place on Thursday, Oct. 2. It also has the potential to alienate and ostracize students who are unable to participate or reach goals because of physical limitations, and/or struggles with issues like depression and anxiety. Assuming that all students have equal access to fresh produce ignores economic disparities within the campus community, particularly among those living off campus.

We understand that GrinWell’s creation was not intended to replace accessibility programs or progress in the SHACS counseling department. However, our fundamental problem with GrinWell is that it neglects to include these critical components of wellness in the administration’s most public and well-advertised program. Why was GrinWell revealed before the town hall on disability or the meeting about SHACS? Why is the campus celebrating certain students’ ability to reach these goals before programs are put in place to help those who cannot?

The goals presented in the GrinWell program establish a discourse that could potentially shame students who may be unable to meet them. Norms of health such as fitness=wellness reinforce ideals of which bodies are healthy and functional. This also means that GrinWell, through exclusion, identifies bodies that are not. Although students have the ability to set their own goals for movement, the fact that this category is fundamentally exclusionary is where GrinWell falls short. There are assumptions attached to the goals that only work for a certain portion of the student body. Policing meals and workout regimes enters dangerous territory. Students with or recovering from eating or body dysmorphic disorders may be triggered by GrinWell’s proliferation of messages that reward attempts to regulate—rather than celebrate—the body.

Moving for at least 30 minutes a day, although vague enough to include most people, still has the potential to make students feel excluded and embarrassed by their inability to meet this standard. Whether a recent or chronic injury, disabilities in every form may make students hesitate about signing up. Although it is easy to assign wellness to exercise, this assumption ignores key factors with which Grinnell still struggles. Focus on and privileges for athletic students are evident and deeply troubling. Access to things like physical therapy, athletic trainers and even academic accommodations in the wake of injuries are disproportionately available to athletes. Furthermore, there are factors such as image issues and comfort and emotional safety that may prevent members of the campus community from exercising in the only freely-accessible public facility.

Not all students have the financial means to partake in a diet that GrinWell identifies as ideal. Expecting and rewarding students for their ability to comply with this model assumes that everyone can afford meals deemed healthy by the College. This seems discordant with the College’s celebration of the “economic diversity” of the student body. By setting standards for what meals are appropriate, students who cannot eat that way may feel ashamed of their inability to afford the food. Not all students are on a full meal plan, and so GrinWell cannot assume that everyone has the same access to the Dining Hall and its produce.

GrinWell’s expectations for sleep and restoration ignore the expanding population of students struggling with depression and other mental health issues. There are students here who fight to make it through a day on this campus. How can we expect students to sleep seven to nine hours per night when the systemic issues that cause insomnia to begin with remain unresolved? SHACS remains understaffed in the mental health department and failed to meet student demand before the new hirings. Additionally, funding decreased for long-term counseling (more than two sessions) and issues of accessibility for uninsured or otherwise financially-unavailable students have not been addressed.

The sleep goal also ignores things like excessive work-loads and hours of work-study per week. Students in work-study may not have the time to focus on academics and still meet goals like seven hours of sleep. While GrinWell is attempting to show students that academic success and wellness are interrelated, some students may be required to choose one at the expense of the other.

Students with anxiety who live under constant pressure from themselves and faculty may find it insulting that GrinWell assumes restoration is a simple matter of baking some cookies or going to a yoga session, both suggestions on the website. Those who are already struggling with mental health issues may feel even more ostracized by their inability to live up to GrinWell’s simplistically-defined standards of emotional health.

We understand that GrinWell was never intended to be a universal solution to the problems that Grinnell encounters over and over again. This is our fundamental issue. GrinWell seems like another College-appearance-oriented program that, in a sense, overshadows the work being done in more important areas. Instead of directing time and money to a program that perpetuates the exclusion of groups that are already marginalized on campus, we challenge the Grinnell College administration to initiate an all-inclusive program for campus wellness by addressing these issues.

Emma Sinai-Yunker ’15 Anna Banker ’15

Stephen Gruber-Miller ’15 Sara Ramey ’15

Carl Sessions ’15 David Kim ’14.5

Yishi Liang ’16 Steve Yang ’17

Eva Lilienfield ’17 Prisca Kim ’16

Jenny Chi ’17 Tess Given ’15

Teresa Fleming ’17

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    reason alumJan 31, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Are you kidding me? This is literally just “eat healthily”, “exercise regularly”, etc, etc. That is TRIGGERING to you? Give us a break. If you are feeling oppressed by an ad campaign that reproduces Public Health 101, it is on you. Moreover, as someone who has an idea about proper treatment of (genuine) trauma, I’ve got news for you: you’re hurting yourself more than helping. To come to terms with yourself and your experiences doesn’t come from insulating yourself from all potential “triggers” (in the sense that’s popular with the kids these days). You are more likely training yourself to have more and more extreme reactions to the world around you. Talk to professionals.

  • A

    Arpi Karapetyan '10Oct 4, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Excellent. Thank you for writing this.