The following is a transcript for the February 2022 family podcast.
Hi parents and families. We are so excited to have our students spotlight this month. My name is Jordyn Williams. I’m serving as the graduate intern for the New Student & Family Programs Office here at Duke. And for this month’s newsletter, we are Spotlight featuring Nicole, who is the chair of the Student Wellness caucus. And she’s here today to talk to us a little bit more about what this group does on campus and how they are serving the Duke community. So, Nicole, I’m going to hand it over to you, could you go ahead and introduce yourself for us? Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in your role as a Student Wellness Caucus?
Sure, Hi, I’m Nicole Rosenzweig. I’m a sophomore, I use she/her pronouns. I’m majoring in public policy and political science. And right now, I’m a second year Duke Student Government senator of Academic Affairs, and the co-chair of the Student Wellness caucus along with Ishaan Brar, who’s a first year senator. And with the Student Wellness Caucus, we’re essentially a group that comes together with both students and administrators working in the mental health and wellness space to discuss and collaborate on a variety of mental health and wellness related issues. So, we have representatives from Student Health, DuWell, CAPS, Duke Reach, and the Women’s Center on the administrative side. And then from the student side, we bring together students from a variety of mental health and wellness focus groups. So, for example, we have students from your Duke NeuroCare, who are being represented from their exec board, and NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, as well as Peer For You, Duke EMS, and Duke Shape. So, we try to bring together students and see in what ways the student government can best help support their initiatives and how to foster some of those meaningful collaborations across campus, but also work closely with Duke administrators who are in the mental health and wellness space to see how we can better improve the students experience from a wellness standpoint.
That’s cool. Thanks, Nicole. So, from my understanding, this is somewhat of a newer resource on campus for students. So, can you tell us about how the Student Wellness Caucus came about?
Sure. So, we actually started as the mental health caucus. And this was essentially an interest group that formed as a caucus within the Duke student government in September 19, in September 2019. And this was sort of a collaborative effort to support Duke students’ mental health, and represent the main groups being NeuroCare, Peer For You, and NAMI at Duke, and working alongside the Duke student government. But at the same time, we also had the Student Wellness Advisory Committee, which was acting as a DSG affiliate body, and we noticed that they were sort of doing some duplicative work. And then the Student Wellness Advisory Committee or SWAC, was no longer able to continue. And we thought that it would be a great opportunity to sort of merge those bodies and come together, also conceptualizing mental health as part of an overall conception of wellness as is emphasized by the Student Wellness Center, and really understanding how mental health also fits in within the larger wellness framework. So, we thought that was a really great opportunity this past fall. And sort of going into the fall, we did some of this planning of how to merge the two bodies and make sure that we would have effective conversations and a platform to communicate with administrators and also work on sort of that student facing. Well, the student facing wellness initiatives. So, starting this past fall in 2021, we’ve been meeting every month, having joint meetings with students and administrators, as well as monthly student only meetings, so that we can also, you know, share resources among students see how we can best collaborate across different groups that fill different niches in the wellness space on campus, and then Foster, you know, meaningful collaboration on a variety of initiatives here. So, we’re relatively new and had adapted from originally the Mental Health Caucus founded in September 2019, to now the sort of hybrid Student Wellness caucus that works with both students and the wellness directors at Duke.
Yeah, I think that’s really awesome. Because it sounds like, to me, it’s kind of a more holistic approach now, from I get to connect and collaborate with all kinds of different administrators on one side and student organizations on the other side, so that’s really cool. How did you get involved?
So, I’ve got involved my first semester, so last year when I was a first year and Duke student government. I was really passionate about doing something about this mental health crisis that we’re facing and seeing how I can get involved there. And so, I saw that the mental health caucus had recently formed and that they had proven mostly done the Mental Health Forum, and we’re working closely with student groups. So, I thought that would be a great opportunity to get involved. And then from there, I was elected co-chair of the Mental Health Caucus along with Shrey Majmudar, who really founded the Mental Health Caucus and helped us work through some of those shifts to merge as a joint caucus. And then from there, kind of assume this leadership role with Mental Health Caucus, and now the Student Wellness Caucus, just been forming a lot of, you know, relationships with the wellness directors and student groups as well to foster, you know, meaningful collaborations on different issues.
Well, you mentioned that you are one of the co-chairs. So, I’d love to hear more about what your primary responsibilities are as the co-chair.
Yeah. So as co-chair, as I said, I work closely with Ishaan Brar, who is my fellow co-chair. He’s a first year and is also a Duke student government senator of Academic Affairs. And we work on, you know, setting the schedule and working with directly with the wellness directors and students to get items on the agenda and schedule these meetings. And also make sure that we’re following up with next steps so that we can get some tangible action items at our meetings. And so, we’ll send the emails, and we’ll take meeting minutes and coordinate a lot of the planning that goes into scheduling these meetings and working with various administrators so that we can find convenient times for everyone. And then also following up on that with next steps and seeing who would be the best point person to work with and how to really connect different student groups and student government leaders, with administrators in the most effective ways possible.
Yeah, that’s great. How has the Student Wellness Caucus continued to support and advocate for students’ mental health amidst the ongoing pandemic? Like, has there been any shift at all? Or have things kind of been going the same for y’all? What does that look like?
Yeah, so I mean, definitely, the ongoing pandemic has posed a lot of its own mental health challenges as well. And we’re cognizant of that and have also been trying to work on sort of that COVID response, but at the same time, being aware of these mental health concerns as well. And we’ve actually worked on certain initiatives. So last year, as the Mental Health Caucus and sort of at the end of the spring, we got some students in the Student Wellness Caucus to help out with a pilot program for Timely MD’s tele mental healthcare through Blue Devils care. So that provides 24/7 tele mental healthcare access, and that was something that, you know, Duke, Duke ended up partnering with Timely MD, because of the pandemic and to provide a tele mental health option. But we also advocated for the continuation of an accessible service like this, and as well as for some improvements with the Timely MD service and the new app that they were implementing. So, we were a part of, you know, gauging student feedback on Blue Devil’s care, seeing how we could improve it as a service, and just trying to get that effective, tele mental healthcare, because that was, you know, sort of newer as something to rely on, given the pandemic. We’ve also been trying to work on, you know, connecting students, even in a virtual setting and making sure that students can still engage in the Wellness Center and with the variety of wellness services, despite the barriers that have existed, particularly due to the pandemic and what we can now do, you know, sort of transitioning from this to ensure that we’re taking care of our wellness in terms of masking and all of these policies while still being cognizant as well of, of the mental health challenges that have been created by the pandemic and creative solutions that we can take working together, you know, as student groups and working to provide feedback and guidance for administrators and, and how to move forward with what is often termed the new normal.
Well, I think that we’ve been able to hear some of the projects and programs that y’all are working on and that you’ve been able to implement. But are there other specific projects or any programs that you all host on campus?
Yeah, so we do our best to also, you know, support, not necessarily take on our own project whereas a caucus, but to support and amplify and connect a lot of the work that’s being done by student groups. See how best student government can help and what meaningful collaborations we can foster with administrators as well. So, one example of this is Mental Health First Aid training, which we’re working with Duke Reach to roll out right now. But we’ve been involved in connecting students from various mental health focus student groups to provide and facilitate these mental health first aid trainings for Duke students. And this is essentially like CPR but for mental health and to ensure that students are well prepared and trained if there is a mental health emergency and to better serve as that initial support system for someone experiencing a mental health or substance abuse problem. So, we’re really excited about that and trying to partner with student groups and also work with the administrators in Duke Reach to bring that program to students, and to encourage students to get Mental Health First Aid certified, which we think would be really great.
Yeah, I think that sounds really great, too. I’ve really loved hearing about all the different collaborative pieces that y’all get to do and just all the different programs that you are supporting on campus. So, I kind of want to ask a more fun question as we wrap up, what’s been your favorite memory thus far from being involved in the Student Wellness Caucus?
I would say probably my favorite memory was from last year when we hosted Duke’s first ever Mental Health Awareness Week. And, you know, as we were mentioning, the pandemic created very unprecedented and strange times where it was difficult to organize any week of programming like that. But last March, we, you know, wanted to build upon this mental health forum that have been hosted with various administrators to open up a dialogue surrounding mental health the previous year, and to continue to have mostly in a virtual format, but with some in person components, a Mental Health Awareness Week, which we worked on as Duke student government senators in collaboration with various mental health and wellness related groups, as well as identity and cultural groups at Duke to understand the intersectionality of mental health, with different identities. And so, I think it was, it was really fun to just put on this week of programming to also have to create and compile the Mental Health Resource Guide, which we have available to students and is on Sakai for students to access and can be found on a lot of different websites as sort of a comprehensive guide to a lot of the different mental health resources here. And then also some fun interactions like Nugget, the golden retriever dog who’s on campus, having him, having her stay out there and, and handout, you know, mental health resource guide flyers, and other fun events and collaborations with student groups. I thought that was a really fun memory. And we’re excited to see you know how we can build on some of that work with a more holistic Wellness Center focus this year. As we’re down also, like representing Duke, EMS and Duke Shape, which works on sexual violence prevention and education work, and seeing how we can really like incorporate these groups into some of the previous mental health focus programming and initiatives that we had worked on before.
Thank you for sharing that. If our parents and families want to learn more, even students want to learn more about everything the Student Wellness Caucus is doing, are there ways that they can find that online, or what’s the best approach that they should take?
So, I think on dukestudentgovernment.org, we should have more updated information coming, we might be transitioning away from a caucus focus structure. So, Student Wellness Caucus might once again become an affiliate body, but we plan to have the most updated information on dukestudentgovernment.org. We also have the mental health resource guide that is available to all students at rebrand.ly/dukemhrg. And that can be found just as you know, the shortened link to a comprehensive list of mental health resources that’s continually updated, as well. But the Duke student government website should be sort of the most updated source of information, and we’ll hopefully have more information soon on this whole caucus affiliate body but essentially doing similar or the same work throughout.
Okay, that’s really great. Nicole, thank you. It’s been so great hearing from you today in learning more about the Student Wellness Caucus and everything y’all are doing on campus to support and advocate for students’ mental health, but that is all that we have for today. So, thanks parents and families. If y’all want to learn more about the Student Wellness Caucus, then I will be linking those resources that Nicole mentioned in the newsletter for you to learn more.