UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS—Denison University was announced as a winner of the 2020 Active Minds Healthy Campus Award and recognized for its innovative efforts to improve student wellness. The prestigious award celebrates U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate excellence in prioritizing and promoting the health and well-being of their students.
“I believe deeply that liberal arts colleges should be focused on the health of our students. At its core, the goal of the liberal arts is to develop ‘whole people’ who are prepared to thrive in their personal, professional and civic lives,” said Adam Weinberg, Denison University president. “I am proud of the work that Denison has accomplished.”
Denison staff have committed to developing an integrated and holistic approach to student wellness that builds skills and life habits. “We are working across the entire College to build an eco-system that helps students flourish,” said Laurel Kennedy, Denison’s vice president for Student Development.
“It’s about programming and education that promotes healthy living and resilience, but also about designing environments that facilitate these outcomes. We’re trying to help students get ahead of illness and injury, rather than being wholly focused on treatment. It’s work that we all do together.”
“The most important tool in making change has been the willingness of the whole campus to join the effort,” said Dustin Brentlinger, the Polk Family Executive Director of Student Health and Wellness.
“As just one example, it sends a signal when we have many members of the community — faculty, administrators, dining services and custodial staff —participating together in suicide prevention training or learning about mindfulness. We are building skills, but we are also demonstrating a shared commitment to wellness.”
Students at schools that actively focus on campus health often find those programs and services are integrated into the fabric of the campus community.
“I have observed the impact of our evolving wellness initiatives in my own life and in the lives of my friends,” said Owen Crum ‘20, president of the Denison student body. “Prior to coming to Denison, I never had conversations regarding mental health with my peers. The things that Denison has done have equipped me with the tools to manage my own well-being and also to help friends who struggle.”
The Healthy Campus Award involves an extensive application process as well as multiple endorsements and interviews. Each applicant is assessed across eight criteria, with winners chosen by a panel of prominent researchers as well as health and higher education experts.
“Denison University stands out due to the scale and scope of its various wellness programs,” said Alison Malmon, executive director and founder of Active Minds. “Denison is a model for the impact colleges can have by prioritizing a campus culture that promotes and protects the physical and mental health of its students.”
This year’s recipients represent a range of campuses that operate within varying contexts and challenges. Together they demonstrate how institutions of all sizes and types can create healthy communities that allow every student the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
The well-being of all students is a priority for the university and it shows. The review panel for the Healthy Campus Award cited the following innovative practices in particular:
- Integration of Physical and Mental Health Services: At Denison, integrating health and counseling through co-located offices, joint training, and a shared electronic health records system has facilitated a higher level of coordinated care, which improves student outcomes.
- Strong Efforts to Break Down Health Equity Barriers: The university has made a huge effort to support a holistic framework that acknowledges the many determinants of wellbeing. Throughout the year, the campus holds focus groups and conducts research to identify and mitigate financial stresses. Based on these efforts, the university created the Red Thread Grant, which confidentially supports low-income students in covering the costs of wellness needs.
- Training for Clinicians Around LGBTQ+ Issues: Denison University is committed to meeting the needs of their diverse student populations by investing in specialized training, such as Safe-Zone training, for their wellness staff, and by partnering with Equitas Health to provide specialized care.
Denison University joins four other colleges and universities in receiving the Healthy Campus Award: Santa Monica College, Skidmore College, University of Arizona, and the University of Richmond.