Health & Well-Being
This principle encompasses health in the broadest sense - including students’ emotional, social, physical, intellectual, behavioral and spiritual health. Health and wellbeing is not only the absence of illness, but the promotion, maintenance and flourishing of health indicators (Keys, 2007).
Students arrive at Stanford already having experienced high levels of stress and anxiety as highly competitive high school students. Thus, there is considerable reason for concern regarding our how we respond to our students’ health issues, stress, sadness, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, sleep (or lack thereof) and relationships. Survey data on campus indicates that these areas of wellness deteriorate, rather than improve, over students’ time on campus.
Some aspects of residential life, such as the processes through which housing is assigned, might unintentionally add to student stress or diminish the strength of their communities. Given the current circumstances and the rise in students’ stress and anxiety, this marks a critical moment for the University to design a residential system that actively promotes and advances the well-being of our students.
The residences are the primary place where students’ challenges with health and wellbeing play out. As such, they must be spaces that are well equipped to handle emergency issues and provide ongoing support and referrals on and off campus. The residences are also places where students enact some of their most important health habits around diet, sleep, alcohol use, sexuality and coping with or managing stress.
Stress is among the most pervasive issues facing our undergraduates. Psychologists describe stress as a state in which the burdens of one’s situation exceed the resources a person has to cope with them (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Tipping this balance in the direction of health and well-being should be viewed as a core mission by all of those involved in the residential enterprise. We believe the power and importance of this North Star within the residences cannot be overstated. To achieve this goal, we anticipate that significant reallocation of resources, as well as shifting of internal cultures within departments and improvement of alignment and communication will be required.
This task should be approached by all of those who live and work in the residences with a deep understanding of the consequences at stake, as well as a unified sense of purpose and mission and an intellectual curiosity and desire to innovate that is emblematic of the Stanford approach to challenges. The whole campus, including faculty and academic departments, should be encouraged to understand the issues students face within residential education as a whole, and they should strive to minimize the factors that mitigate against students’ well-being and sense of community (for example, by holding classes and office hours within normal working hours, so students can return to their residence for dining).
The Envisioned Experience
- “Hardware”: buildings and spaces. The built environment should be constructed in ways that actively promote well-being. Neighborhoods can include “wellness centers,” while houses should be sized to promote community building and incorporate numerous common spaces designed for easy, comfortable social interaction. Rooms can be designed in ways that facilitate healthy and uninterrupted sleep, for instance through attention to lighting quality and sound insulation.
- “Software”: Programming. The residential environment needs student, faculty and professional staff who are appropriately versed in effective practices to promote well-being. Residential programming should encourage students to openly discuss the challenges they face, as early normalization of these challenges is critical to de-stigmatizing stressful experiences. Research demonstrates that peer-to-peer social support is a powerful combatant of stress and sadness (Friedlander et al., 2007; Swenson et al., 2008), including within the Stanford community (Morelli et al., 2015). Residences should encourage residents’ ability to disclose challenges to each other, and to support each other through those challenges. The housing assignment processes also must allow for continuity of relationships and resources so that students do not need to re-navigate their support persons and community connections each year.