College Wellness: Creating a Community

I believe that the key to wellness in college is community: ensuring students (our children) develop a healthy, personal community. If students can find that one place that they can belong, whether it be a club, a friend or group of peers where they can be themselves and feel comfortable, they will have planted the seeds for their own community. I want to share my experience.

Our daughter is graduating in just three months! Her four years at UMass Amherst have given her a strong academic education (preparing her for a great job in advertising we hope) but equally important, her four years at UMass have brought her great friends, positive experiences and a healthy sense of herself.

Our daughter easily transitioned from being a very involved student at a small out-of-state high school to one of the thousands of students at UMass. I’m not sure if it was due to the years away at summer camp or just her independent nature, but once at UMass, she began creating her own healthy community. I recognize that some students can get lost in such a large university but from her experience, I learned that there are many ways to develop that small town feel.

UMass does an excellent job of making a large school feel smaller. With residential programs like RAPS, common readings, floor and hall activities, and the whole host of first-year only experiences during that first month of school, the university promotes a sense of community. Our daughter met friends in her residence hall, through classes and even became friends with students who lived in other residential areas. All of her chosen peers spent their time in constructive ways; we didn’t hear about student drug use, binge drinking, or other at-risk behaviors. While we were/are not naïve about the range of college experiences for some students, and we know she didn’t tell us everything, our daughter clearly found like-minded friends who wanted to experience college in successful ways.

Our daughter’s school days were filled with academics, working out at the (gorgeous!) Recreational Center, great dining common’s food (definitely take advantage of that parents!), exploring Amherst (in the latter two years), and experiencing the best this wonderful university has to offer.

While I had my own feelings about our daughter’s choice to pledge a sorority, this enabled her to again create a smaller community. She made great friends, expanded her ‘only child’ status with lots of ‘sisters’, provided herself with a flexible but helpful structure, and found her voice. Since our daughter was engaged in a positive school culture, she wasn’t swayed by the risks often associated with college independence.

As mentioned, community can include a religious organization, an intramural or competitive sport, a UMass activity (the list of student groups and clubs at UMass Amherst is truly endless!), or one of the many sororities/fraternities; it can also be a professor or other adult connection that provides a sense of belonging (I remember my own UMass experience with the late Julie Berwald, advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences Information and Advising Center – CASIAC. She was my ‘mom’ away from home and I needed that.).  All of these things can help ground students, promote community, and give them opportunities and reasons to stay clear of at-risk activities/behaviors.

Encourage your students to get involved and make even small community connections. It will help them feel part of this great institution and be safe and well at UMass.

Congratulations to all the 2017 graduating seniors and their families!

Submitted by:   Seena S. Franklin of Tiverton RI,  the proud mom of a soon to be UMass graduate, a 1980 alumni, a member of the UMass Parent Advisory Council and co-chair of the Wellness Committee.