Wellness Fee Referendum golden opportunity for all

Both graduate and undergraduate students overwhelmingly supported the Wellness Fee Referendum during the 2015 ASUC general elections. The margin of victory — 7,308 “yes” votes to 2,950 “no” votes — made the referendum the most widely supported monetary student fee on the ballot. The landslide passing signals wellness as a priority for students. A portion of the student fee ($54) will institutionalize a wellness referendum that aims to enhance important health services and improve facilities to support wellness. Some of the first effects of the fee include increased access to the campus’s Tang Center on the weekend with extended hours of operation, resources dedicated to sustaining the Cal Recreational Sports and the Recreational Sports Facility, improving sexual violence prevention, increased sport and fitness opportunities for students with disabilities, and improved student mental health services. In addition, the wellness referendum will encourage the campus administration to fundraise for student wellness programs.

To ensure that the fee reflects the student voice, a Wellness Referendum Fee Advisory Committee was institutionalized for the duration of the fee — the next 30 years. The committee, in which only students have voting power, will implement and oversee the project. Students and administrative stakeholders on the committee have already had their first meeting and will meet regularly to ensure that students receive the services promised during the campaign. As UC Berkeley’s Chief Financial Officer and wellness committee member Rosemarie Rae explained in an email, “The wellness program and its model are the first of their kind among the UC campuses and a powerful example of how Berkeley students and administrators can work together to drive change.”

A portion of the wellness fee is earmarked to extend University Health Services’ hours of operation and increase mental health services that will yield significant benefits for all students. This summer, the wellness committee will be nailing down the specific hours during which to extend access to the Tang Center. We are optimistic that hours will be extended by the end of the fall semester. Another aspiration of the wellness referendum is to develop an unprecedented model that brings psychiatrists and mental health practitioners into primary care clinics. We are hoping to have that off the ground within the year.

Brad Buchman, the UHS medical director, is also energized by the wellness vision and said in an email, “In addition, we are extremely excited to have the means to deploy an innovative, integrated behavioral health / primary care model in the near future, and be able to provide a truly comprehensive care experience for our students.”

Another outcome of passing the wellness fee referendum is the sustainment of Cal Recreational Sports and improving the RSF. Mike Weinberger, campus director of Cal Recreational Sports, said in an email that student “support of the wellness referendum ensures base funding for the Rec Sports Department over the next 30 years….Rec Sports is excited to build on this base and increase opportunities for all Cal students including the potential to modify space to support fitness, cardio, meditation, and other campus needs.”

Students can also expect to see the elimination of the $10 membership fee each semester starting fall 2015, lowering barriers to accessing campus sports facilities and classes vital to student wellness. With campus partners such as Cal Recreational Sports, the wellness advisory committee is also exploring the institutionalization of health classes and curriculum that will support general student wellness, fitness and health across disciplines.

Enhancing wellness services for underserved student communities such as underrepresented minority students, international students, student-veterans, students with disabilities and many other groups is a high priority for the wellness referendum. One of our bourgeoning aspirations is to use a portion of the wellness fee to inspire UC Berkeley to develop the first college athletic program in California to provide sport and fitness opportunities to student with disabilities. The wellness committee is also open to exploring other student-inspired projects that promote the wellness of underserved student communities.

Responding to the need to prevent sexual violence and aid survivors on campus, the wellness fee will provide the resources for a sexual violence prevention specialist. Moreover, student representatives on the wellness advisory committee are advocating that the campus undergo efforts to develop a physical space that would support a sexual violence prevention center. When students engage with committees on issues such as the need to prevent sexual violence, we can collectively create a culture of wellness that reaps the benefits offered by the wellness fee.

With the cost of education reaching record heights, the referendum is establishing a wellness sustainability fund to encourage the administration to fundraise for future student wellness projects and needs. With wellness being instrumental to the student experience and representing an issue with which alumni and philanthropic supporters empathize, we believe that the Office of University Relations — the campus’s fundraising arm — has a “golden” opportunity to support the student vision for wellness at UC Berkeley. This referendum is going to be a huge win for student wellness, and we can’t wait to see all the positive benefits starting this fall.

The Wellness Referendum Fee Advisory Committee welcomes any student feedback, concerns, or wellness project proposals through email at [email protected]. An informational website that will serve to open the avenue for student communication is forthcoming.

Matt Grigorieff, Madison Gordon and Dax Vivid are members of the Wellness Referendum Fee Advisory Committee.

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