If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that Emory has a mental health problem. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard other students bemoan the difficulty of making an appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), finding an enriching community or navigating Emory’s labyrinthine network of mental health resources. Our atomized, pre-professional culture already predisposes us to a great deal of stress, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that issue. Life as a modern college student is unpredictable, brutally competitive and crushingly lonely. No wonder that almost half of them told the Mayo Clinic earlier this fall that they experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression.
When pressed on the University’s mental health resources, administrators often direct students either to the Student Health Services or CAPS websites or to TimelyCare, a service that allows students to make telehealth appointments with professionals throughout the day. Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Enku Gelaye did exactly that at the Oct. 18 Student Government Association meeting. But many students find the websites inaccessible, TimelyCare’s telehealth offerings ineffective and the University untrustworthy on mental health.
So what if Emory didn’t just offer a disjointed network of webpages? What if it also had a physical space specifically designated for students’ mental health? With a Good Life Center, a place where students could go to find contact information, engage in wellness activities, attend events and more to improve their mental health, Emory can make that happen.
The highest priority for such a space should be to inform its visitors about Emory’s mental health resources. Upon walking in, a bulletin board inside the door might present students with guides on how to use TimelyCare or make a CAPS appointment. A screen nearby could cycle through wellness activities, club events, fitness classes and more around campus. Knowing that CAPS and Student Health Services exist is one thing, but knowing where, when and how to use them is another. Providing all of that information in one place might not solve that problem, but it would help many students find the lifeline they desperately need.
What I’m proposing is much more than a kiosk, though. Just as the Center for Women offers bookshelves stuffed full of literature by female authors, it could house a small library of books on living well and leading a happy life. Throughout the center, students would have designated spaces to journal, meditate, play music together, practice yoga or honor their religious or spiritual traditions. Clubs, such as the wellness organization Holistic Hub, might even reserve spaces in the Center for health-related events. In a time when people struggle to separate work from life, a task-free zone like the Good Life Center could revolutionize life at Emory.
Piles of research suggests that meditation, yoga, journaling and reading in groups all reduce stress, mitigate depression and improve physical health. To be sure, any implementation of the first two should remain cognizant of their roots in South and East Asian religious and cultural traditions. With that caveat, though, they could benefit hundreds of Emory students for years to come through the Good Life Center.
Emory doesn’t have many rich traditions or a strong school spirit, and especially during the pandemic, students have struggled to find community. A Good Life Center might as well be tailor-made to solve those problems. Much as the five identity spaces are building communities around students’ identities, a Good Life Center could build a new community around human wellness. By slowly constructing a sense among students that their institution cares about their mental health, it might just create a tighter-knit, more welcoming Emory environment. In the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s words, living a good life in our era of late-stage capitalism, climate change, and polarization requires “local forms of community within which … the intellectual and moral life can be sustained.” With a Good Life Center, that might just become a reality at Emory.
As the identity spaces will soon move to Cox Hall, administrators could easily set up a Good Life Center in their former rooms in the Alumni Memorial University Center (AMUC). If not there, why not in rarely-used parts of the Emory Student Center or elsewhere? It could also be decentralized, located in multiple rooms in different buildings.
In fact, that’s already the case for Yale University’s (Conn.) own Good Life Center. Founded by the psychology professor Laurie Santos, it offers meditation, yoga, journaling and even a small library in three spaces across campus. Students can find information about Yale’s mental health resources and reserve its spaces for wellness-related club events too. It’s accessible to all of the university’s programs and schools, and students love it. Creating a similar place here isn’t just a moral idea — it’s a sensible one with years of precedent. Emory already spends ridiculous amounts of money trying to ape the Ivy League. Why not put that money toward something that tangibly benefits students?
The pandemic might be winding down, but college students across the country are still struggling. A Good Life Center wouldn’t cure Emory students’ anxiety or stop them from feeling stressed as exams loom, but it would materially improve their well-being.
I’m not sure Emory administrators understand how much more excruciatingly competitive and dehumanizing the pre-professional rat race of college is for us than it was for them. This spring, Emory needs to respond to that harsh reality by planning and creating a Good Life Center. Administrators, students are suffering, and they need your help. If you need a student to help make this happen, shoot me an email.
Ben Thomas (23C) is from Dayton, Ohio.