Why include Health and Wellness in the Central Six tenets of Transformative Learning? (Part 1 of 2)
Written by Christy Vincent, Ph.D., Professor, Organizational Communication –
My students are stressed out. They do not get enough sleep; they do not eat nutritional foods; they rarely exercise; they suffer from illnesses, many of which are stress-related; they worry about not having enough money; they attempt to balance full-time jobs with 15, often 18, hours per semester; they have troubling relationship issues; they care for their elderly relatives; they take care of their own or relatives’ children; they are not self-reflective; they are emotionally drained; they do not have methods for self-renewal.
Have you noticed the same characteristics in your students?
My observations are corroborated with survey results. As a part of our UCO Healthy Campus initiative, we ask our students dozens of questions about their health status and health behaviors via the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (ACHA-NCHA) survey. One question asks students to identify a variety of health-related factors that have affected their individual academic performance in the past 12 months (e.g., received a lower grade on an exam, an important project, or a course; received an incomplete or dropped the course). Results show repeatedly that the top factors affecting UCO students’ individual academic performance are: stress, work, anxiety, sleep difficulties, and depression.
As they enter their early career-building years, their situations will not likely become better; they will become worse. My students are typically not in a learning mindset when they come into my classroom. They are in a survival mindset. How likely is it that our students will take advantage of the transformative learning opportunities we provide them—how likely is it that they will be transformed by them—if they are just trying to survive?
The inclusion of the Health and Wellness tenet in our Central Six helps us all be continually mindful of the relationship between our students’ health and their academic success. UCO uses a comprehensive definition of health to include multiple facets of health in addition to physical health.
Health and Wellness integrates the physical, spiritual, environmental, emotional, intellectual, and social/interpersonal well-being of students to help them live, learn, and work effectively, living life with vitality and meaning so that they may reach their goals as scholars, employees in the workplace, citizens in the metropolitan areas and beyond.
As faculty members, we witness the relationship between student health and academic success every semester as we counsel students who have fallen behind as a result of various health problems. We would prefer students to be proactive and consider their health status as they make decisions about the number of obligations they take on each semester. We more often see their expressions of stress, regret, and fear after they have taken on so many commitments that they begin failing to meet them early in the semester. They often view completing their degrees as a series of hoop-jumping activities they must undertake in order to get a diploma and “get on with their lives.” Conversely, we want them to learn, to be transformed by their academic assignments, and to be qualitatively different people as a result of their experiences at our university.
The university provides support to help students maintain their health and well-being in the form of resources, programming, facilities, and staff. Our students are fortunate to have so many quality programs and resources available to them. Faculty members who question the inclusion of Health and Wellness as a transformative learning tenet contend that addressing student health and wellness falls in the purview of Student Affairs rather than Academic Affairs. I understand that sentiment. My question is: does it have to be either-or? Are there ways that faculty members, even those of us not teaching in health-related disciplines, can play a more prominent role in helping students focus on their health and recognize its importance in their ability to succeed in our courses? I suggest that there are, and I will give suggestions in my next blog post.