Mental health and suicide are growing concerns on college campuses. Stress (84%), anxiety (82%), sadness (73%) and depression (61%) have all increased among college students since the beginning of the pandemic (Active Minds Survey, September 2020).
“We see this data; we know this data. It’s important for our team to know this and realize how important our programs and services are to providing an outlet to students,” said Kari Scott DiDonato, the assistant director of Marketing and Special Events of Florida State University (FSU) Campus Recreation.
Mental health programming has been at the forefront of many campus conversations as the pandemic has shed much needed light on student well-being concerns. FSU Campus Recreation is working to address some of these concerns with the student population through creative programming and strategic partnerships across the campus community.
Mental Health Programming Ideas
FSU Campus Recreation, with university partners, hosted its annual Stress Buster Day the week before Thanksgiving for students to engage in healthy activities, relieve some stress and connect with others. They had therapy dogs, massages, arts and crafts, meal prep tips, free samples, and more. Scott DiDonato explained that “for the first-time last semester, we introduced a ‘rage workout’ where students could de-stress with slam balls, battle ropes, flip tires and more. Our campus partners typically include the Center for Health Advocacy and Wellness, Seminole Dining, and Counseling and Psychological Services.”
Lynn Grasso, the assistant director of Fitness Programs, enhanced Stress Buster Day “after talking with colleagues in our Division of Student Affairs about how student participation numbers were low due to all the different programs competing with each other to destress the students during mid-terms and final exam week. The idea of several different departments coming together with various programs and sharing resources in a space that can accommodate a large number of students has been a great success at Florida State.”
It’s so common for universities to end up throwing similar events that compete with each other or dilute program participant engagement. FSU is pioneering a way forward for large institutions to have more strategic engagement opportunities to enhance the student experience. The Division of Student Affairs at FSU has started inviting everyone to the table to help streamline program offerings.
“As a multi-departmental division, there are many of us that put-on events or have interest in putting on events that accomplish similar goals,” said Scott DiDonato. “At FSU, we’ve come together as the Division of Student Affairs and have monthly programming/communication meetings.”
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Scott DiDonato continued that this has allowed upcoming events to be highlighted and for more opportunities for other divisions and departments to collaborate, attend or just spread the word.
When asked if there has been an increased benefit from these partnerships long term, Scott DiDonato shared, “Not only has there been increased benefit to these partnerships long term, we develop deeper relationships interdepartmentally. So, when it comes time to reaching out for a favor, advice, recommendations, etc., relationships have already been formed and work is easier to get done.”
Many programs are still feeling the cuts from the pandemic and Grasso shared combining efforts with partners on campus has allowed them to keep costs low for students while still driving engagement. “It’s also been a great way for student to be educated about resources and services they would not know about if they had not come into our space,” she said.
It’s also important to add assessment to our programs to ensure we are meeting the needs of our students. Grasso shared some great results from their surveying efforts: 90% agreed this event helped them relax; 83% agreed Stress Buster Day helped them to identify healthy self-care strategies.
FSU Campus Recreation is paving the way for strategic collaboration by being intentional with planning and communication. By seeing the need to have a centralized conversation about cross-program initiatives, they have demonstrated the need to get out of our department or campus bubble. By inviting more individuals to share their needs and ideas, relationships across campus are forming and creating stronger communities. FSU Campus Recreation is enriching the student experience by creating strong connections and helping others find what moves you.
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