Student-led projects seek to expand scope of campus wellness

Samantha Patten/Staff

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The scope of wellness at UC Berkeley is wide-ranging, extending from the services offered through the campus Tang Center to student-led initiatives to improve mental health for the campus community. We belong to a multifaceted campus that depends on a multifaceted approach to wellness.

In 2015, as a result of student organizing, the student body passed the Wellness Referendum Fee. This fee contributes to the Wellness Fund, a campus grant program that offers funding to programs focusing on wellness services around campus.

In the years since its inauguration, the fund has sponsored a number of projects seeking to fill in the gaps left by the campus’s health care system. These projects are most often student-led and reflect the wide range of wellness-related needs of the student body. Here are two of the Wellness Fund projects that are looking to fill in the gaps of student wellness.


Muslim Mental Health Initiative

The Muslim Mental Health Initiative started as a community-led effort by the UC Berkeley Muslim Student Association. After identifying areas where the campus’s health care offerings were lacking, the group initiated efforts of support for Muslim students on campus.

Salma Saifuddin, external director of the initiative, described how many students were hesitant to approach on-campus health services because many of them didn’t identify with the services being offered. The initiative addresses this issue by offering drop-in hours in which students can anonymously sign up for counseling appointments with Muslim-identifying therapists.

The initiative is a multifaceted program and offers numerous services to campus students. In addition to drop-in hours, the group hosts Ummah Talks every other Tuesday. These talks serve as workshops addressing numerous topics about the relationship between mental health and religion.

“We’re allowing our community to build these skills and abilities to help each other. … These are things that are culturally stigmatized, but important conversations we need to have — there’s no reason we should shy away from them,” Saifuddin said.

Going forward, Saifuddin said the initiative is working on making drop-in times more accessible and getting feedback on topics of Ummah Talks. She also noted that part of the grant goes toward cultural sensitivity training for Counseling and Psychological Services therapists, improving their ability to serve students from diverse backgrounds.

“The thing is — it’s really hard for students to open up to therapists about their problems or what they’re going through if they can’t relate to the therapist,“ Saifuddin said.

Saifuddin also added that the initiative has been the work of many facets of campus, including the Muslim Student Association, University Health Services and the campus Multicultural Community Center.

“It isn’t just a student thing — it’s a collaboration of all different communities and organizations,” Saifuddin said.


UC Berkeley School of Law Peer Wellness Coalition

The UC Berkeley School of Law Peer Wellness Coalition, or PWC, developed from the specific needs facing UC Berkeley School of Law’s community. According to Luna Martinez Gomez, a law student at UC Berkeley, the legal profession sees higher rates of depression, suicide and substance abuse in comparison to other professional areas. In the face of these issues, Gomez said the law community found the resources available to law students lacking.

“PWC seeks to increase resources dedicated to wellness and mental health in law school and the legal profession,” Gomez said in an email. “We plan our own programs and also support the events of other student groups aligned with our mission.”

According to Gomez, the coalition focuses on various “pillars” of wellness, such as stress, anxiety, accessibility, food justice, substance use and harm reduction. The group also hosts workshops on related topics and serves as a liaison on wellness topics between the faculty and students.

The coalition is also focused on providing services and resources to underrepresented groups in the Berkeley Law community. Gomez noted that a primary goal of the coalition is to address inequities and additional stresses faced by marginalized groups and that it is looking to foster dialogues about these issues and wellness.

“I think that just five years ago, something like (the PWC) would have been hard to achieve,” Gomez said in an email. “We’ve come a long way toward destigmatizing the shame associated with mental health struggles in law school, and Berkeley is a good place to start changing this culture.”

Camryn Bell is the special issues editor. Contact her at [email protected] .