The University of Wisconsin-Madison Senior Class Office decided the senior class gift funds will be directed to the Center for Healthy Minds Higher Education Fund, according to the Wisconsin Union. Each year, SCO selects one university organization to receive funds that will positively impact campus life.
The Center for Healthy Minds is a Madison based organization that focuses research around one central question: “What constitutes a healthy mind?” In the fall of 2022, the Healthy Minds on Campus student organization was founded out of interest and importance in the center — as well as “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing,” a class offered at the university.
Emily Tesch, a team coordinator and administrator for Healthy Minds on Campus, participated in the Letters and Science course her freshman year.
“I believe that [this course] was so impactful with such useful information as a student and a human being, too,” the current UW-Madison senior said.
Founding the student organization began with conversations between individuals who took the course during their first year.
“It gave us a toolkit of how to deal with life and how to see the world around us and was so impactful to all of us that we really thought that it would be great if that message could reach more students and have a broader impact on campus beyond just freshmen,” Tesch said.
Susan Huber, director of wellbeing and higher education at the Center for Healthy Minds, has overseen the course over the years. Huber explained how the research framework used in the course inspired the pillars which became the base of the student organization: awareness, connection, insight and purpose.
To achieve a strong foundation across these four areas, the student organization created a place for students to learn about and improve their mental health through practices, speakers and discussions, Tesch explained.
“The goal of the group is to provide a space for students to discuss and learn about evidence-based practices to improve well-being, and to support each other to create a community where we can do these practices together and foster that in our own daily lives as well as learn from professionals,” Tesch said.
Being a student-run organization, Tesch and Huber agreed students may have an easier time conducting difficult conversations with peers as opposed to professors, like they do in class. Tesch cited the effectiveness and value of discussion sections that incorporate student-led discussions, and how that same premise was implemented into the organization.
Huber addressed the importance of peer discussions, outlining the structure of group meetings and how they allow for students to talk through their own experiences and learn from professionals. They host two meetings per month, the first involving a guest speaker and the second being a community conversation where information from the speaker is discussed, Huber explained.
“They're bringing in experts, but then they're creating this space — sort of a community — of practice for students to be with their peers, and supporting their own well being and one another's well being,” Huber said.
According to Huber, up until this point, the organization has relied on faculty and researchers from the Center of Healthy Minds to be monthly guest speakers. With new SCO funds, the organization plans to sponsor national experts to come speak, and have the group’s student leaders travel to other universities to explain the organization’s model.
“I would love to see [student leaders] eventually attend some national conferences and talk about this model to other campuses through the American College Health Association,” Huber said.
The organization hopes to use some of the funding to implement a school wide mental health day retreat supported by the university, including various events that emulate meeting activities.
“A goal of ours is to have a whole day devoted to the well being of students,” Tesch said. “It would be great to give resources to students on campus, as well as raise awareness for the importance of well-being and doing what you need to do to support your own mental health.”
To see larger mental health changes around campus, the work needs to be a combined effort, Huber explained.
“I don't want to comment that this organization is going to be able to do all that on its own. I think it has to be a collective effort with partners on campus to make some larger, system level changes,” Huber said.
Tesch explained how the pandemic greatly influenced her freshman year of college as well as the mental health of fellow students. She stated that the impacts the students faced need to be prioritized and she is glad to see the legacy of her senior class gift help achieve that goal.
“I could just say like as a senior, our freshman year was when we were sent home during the pandemic,” Tesch said. “For a lot of us, we found that mental health and wellbeing as a student is so important and something that needs to be a priority. So I'm really pleased that the senior class is supporting students in this way.”