March 27, 2020

Wellness Committee Facilitates New HEART Alliance to Improve Student Wellness

A street view rendering of UChicago's new student wellness center.

A street view rendering of UChicago's new student wellness center.

Courtesy of Wight & Company

In February, the Health and Wellness Committee announced a joint Recognized Student Organization (RSO) partnership under the name Health Empowering Alliance of RSOs Together (HEART) at UChicago, a new effort put forward by Student Government (SG) to unify student-run mental and physical health resources.

The Health and Wellness Committee, which was founded in the fall of 2019, is a branch of Student Government dedicated to improving the health and well-being of students. According to its website, the committee raises awareness and makes recommendations to the administration regarding campus health.

Ella Bradford and Ali Veinbachs, cochairs of the committee, wrote in a comment to The Maroon that the committee reflects the student government’s new focus on mental health.

“This year, the Student Government has chosen to make campus mental health a top priority. The creation of the Health and Wellness Committee was a step towards this goal,” they wrote.

The committee now facilitates HEART, whose members include UChicago Emergency Medical Services, Active Minds, Axis community service, Organization of Students with Disabilities, the Lean on Me support text line, American Red Cross at UChicago, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

The announcement of the HEART alliance comes alongside a general increase in University initiatives aiming to expand mental health resources. The Student Wellness Center, scheduled to open in fall 2020, is meant to expand health resources by bringing Student Health and Counseling Services into the same building. However, the Center has faced criticisms from groups like Fair Budget UChicago (FBU) who demand increased transparency from the administration. Last Friday, UChicago Student Action plastered posters around campus to bring attention to the FBU’s demands, which include hiring more counseling staff and releasing the budget of the Student Counseling Service (SCS).

The cochairs called the HEART Alliance an extension of the Wellness Committee’s dedication to student health.

“We hope that HEART will further Student Government’s commitment to prioritizing mental health by lifting the voices and work of students and created a united front in advocating for changes,” they wrote.

The Committee’s first step in the fall was to meet with health-related RSOs to learn more about their work on campus. According to the cochairs, Lean on Me, an RSO which provides texting-based mental health support to students, suggested the idea of collaboration during one of these meetings.

“[Lean on Me] asked us if we could bring mental health related RSOs into one room so that they could share their work, learn about what everyone else is working on, and potentially find places to collaborate,” they wrote. “We asked other RSOs and/or organizations if they would be interested in participating, and they all expressed enthusiasm."

The HEART alliance aims to combine its members’ efforts through collaborative meetings to increase their impact in and around campus. The cochairs compared HEART to the 2019 Break The Silence Group, which hosted a conference to address Asian-American mental health and was comprised of the Taiwanese American Student Association, South Asian Students Association, Active Minds, and the PanAsia Solidarity Coalition.

“We believe that our voices are stronger and louder together,” the cochairs said. “We feel that with more people, the initiatives we start could have a larger impact and gain more attention from the administration.”

HEART is currently managed by the SG Wellness Committee. Eventually, the cochairs hope that the member organizations will take over the administrative side.

“We hope that the Alliance can become an independent project in the future, with representative leadership including representatives from our partner organizations,” they wrote. “For now, we run logistics.”

HEART’s long-term goals revolve around creating a better community for student support.

“Broadly, we hope to shape our University to be a community that takes care of one another and aids in producing resilient people,” the Wellness committee cochairs wrote.

RSOs can request to join the HEART alliance by messaging their Facebook page.