The impact of ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ and the future of mental health services on campus

SACL staff remain optimistic for more events and services from the designated mental health day

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Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

By Ronan Fitzgerald, Collegian Correspondent

“Nothing is quite as magical as an unexpected wonder,” said Pete Smith, director of student affairs and campus life (SACL), communications and professional development, speaking to the potential effect that holidays like the University of Massachusetts’ “Wellbeing Wednesday” can have on students. Throughout this disorienting semester, the University’s Wellbeing Wednesday offered a period of well-deserved respite for many, and for others not much more than just two days off in the semester.

The University-named holiday happened twice throughout the spring academic semester and featured many events centered on promoting wellbeing and reducing stress, albeit virtually or with social distancing and/or masks. Still, almost all the events completely filled up. Events like Pondfire, a community campfire with s’mores and food trucks, recorded around 500 attendees for both days it was offered, according to SACL.

UMass students’ overwhelming participation and willingness to take advantage of beneficial resources when offered proved how important personal wellbeing is, despite limitations brought on by the pandemic.

For freshman English major Eliza Keenan, this holiday could be described with one word: “lovely.”

“I remember the first day, walking around and seeing people by the pond, it actually felt like a college campus and it gave me a sense of hope and fulfillment,” Keenan said.

Sophomore sociology and physiology major Erik Le emulated a similar attitude towards Wellbeing Wednesday. As a Resident Assistant, Le has not only had to enforce COVID-19 restrictions on other residents, but on himself as well. So, when the opportunity for “Wellbeing Wednesday” events arose, he seized the opportunity. “I went with some RAs to the Pondfire event, and we could just talk…I was like wow, this is great. It was really enjoyable.”

When asked if he would like to see the holiday carry on for future semesters, Le said, “I think it’s a great idea to incorporate it, but in a way where it doesn’t interfere with the normal schedule. To have the professors work around it, not to assign stuff the day of.”

Given the prevalence of these positive outcomes, the continuation of Wellbeing Wednesday looks realistic to leaders in SACL like Smith, and Administrative Assistant to Assistant Vice Chancellor Betsy Cracco — even if the holiday doesn’t take the same form.

“I do think this was a very engaged process with the people who organized it, and you will see some of this tradition carry on,” Cracco said. Smith echoed the same sentiment.

“Whether or not ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ will be an established holiday at the university, the spirit, the vibe of ‘Wellbeing  Wednesday’ is something we absolutely need to cultivate every chance we get, I think that is a goal,” Smith said. “You will see all sorts of offices and programs focused on wellbeing in ways they never have before.”

While not all students appreciated or experienced “Wellbeing Wednesday” in the same way Le, Keenan or the people who attended the events did, this time-off was for some an aid and support in maintaining mental well-being and health. With all the pandemic has taught us, an increased attention toward the importance of mental health is a value that needs to be established as a major concern of UMass in the years to come.

Ronan Fitzgerald can be reached at [email protected].