Health Services and Wellness on Campus

By Krista Thorp '15

Rachel Sibley, head of the BEnnnington WELLness group, or “Be Well,” has thought a lot about the way the campus deals with health issues. Sibley’s group is responsible for the statistics about healthcare that are currently hanging in Commons and Dickinson. Sibley, a post-bac student, started the group last year after meeting with Dr. Randy Anselmo, Ken Collamore, and Andrew Wu about the need for a wellness organization. The fact that the campus is located at a higher altitude with little sunlight and isolated from the rest of the Bennington community makes students here particularly susceptible to illnesses—something that is not hard to believe in light of the viruses circulating this term. Additionally, because students come from all over the world, the environment in Vermont may upset allergies that people weren’t even aware of.

Furthermore, a lack of support groups on a campus with so few people can be a strain on mental health. “For those people who don’t create a really strong support system here, that can be really damaging. At my undergrad institution, there were 40,000 people… if you felt really frustrated with your individual context, there was always a person right next to you that you could talk to, a potential new friend. Whereas, if you’ve spent two years at Bennington, and you don’t feel super connected, you feel like you pretty much know everyone on campus and there’s no one there for you. And that is really problematic, because people who experience, for example, depression, a trend in all the data is that they self-isolate.”

All of these risk factors exist in the context of our Bennington culture. “At Bennington, it’s almost like, an uncool thing to be healthy, which is really sad,” said Sibley. “It seems to some extent to be a trickle-down effect, because the administrators of the school are also not very interested in health and well-being. They see this as an academic institution, not a therapeutic institution…there was another person in our meeting, who basically said, that’s a crazy framing, like, this is a college, people live here, people eat here, they breathe here, this needs to be a healthy place, their academics will suffer if they’re falling apart.”

It’s difficult, with the amount of work that students are expected—and in many cases, want to do—to have a balanced life where health is also a priority. “It’s a huge adjustment, you know, you guys are under great stress being here, to succeed, to do things… there’s that huge change in trying to get things done, a lot more work piled on you, the social milieu. People wind up not sleeping enough, working hard, it’s a difficult life for anybody, but more so for people who haven’t done it before… and so, there’s a tendency to burn the candle at both ends.”

There are other problems as well: in the past two years, co-pays for visits to Health Services have increased significantly, starting at $15.00 for a doctor’s visit in the fall of 2011 and increasing to $25.00 this past fall. The rise in co-pay, as well as the implementation of the Bennington Card as a replacement for charging fees to a tuition bill, caused a significant decrease in visits to Health Services in the fall.

Photo by Brady Williams '15

Photo by Brady Williams '15

Hopefully, though, with the advent of a credit card machine in the Health Services office, as well as future integration with PayPal, healthcare will become more accessible to students. “I think that what we’re looking at are bigger driving forces in healthcare as a market,” Anselmo said, “In some ways, it does benefit everybody overall if there are minor barriers for people walking in just with paper cuts, but it worries us, me in particular, because since I’ve been here I’ve really tried to build a culture of openness for Health Services because I would rather have people come in and get preventative care, try to nip things in the bud, rather than have people get sicker.

Malia Guyer-Stevens