[Photo: Barnard’s FITBear program invites students, faculty, and staff to exercise together in a variety of gym classes. President Beilock, in the front left row, regularly practices yoga.]
From Ntozake Shange ’70 and Marian Chertow ’74, to Maria Hinojosa ’84 and Greta Gerwig ’06, Barnard College’s activists, scientists, journalists, and creatives have built legacies that are iconic, impressive … and daunting. Students look to the past and may feel anxious in the present to be bold and groundbreaking because of their connection to Barnard. Case in point: Current seniors were asked on their application essays, “How are you going to major in unafraid?”
“I’d be lying if I claimed there was no voice in my head saying, ‘Look at me, I swear to God I’m going to change the world one day, because I wouldn’t be here if Barnard didn’t think I’d do so,’” Kalena Chiu ’20 wrote in a September 2019 op-ed column for the Columbia Spectator about wellness and self-care.
But just as they are inspired to be bold, Barnard students are also unafraid to talk about how they practice self-care and what it means to them. “Stressing out about stressing out is something I tend to do,” Chiu shared in a recent interview. “When I find myself in these … feedback loops, the only thing to do is break it, whether that be by sitting down and just doing some schoolwork or by watching Netflix for an hour to get my mind off things.”
“Spending time with people I love and care about and who love and care about me” is how Tasneem Ebrahim ’20 described self-care. “It also means taking the time to nurture my spirituality and relationship with God, taking time to think and meditate but also to spend time with the Muslim community, with people who share similar goals and are working collectively on being closer to God in the midst of all our crazy lives.”
“There is no one way to be well,” explained Jessica Cannon ’03, director of Well-Woman, from a cozy spot in the program’s sunny Reid Hall office. “Anything that a person does to help themselves feel well and whole” can be counted as self-care, according to Cannon. Journaling, connecting with a friend or family member, being outside in nature, engaging in movement, listening to music, and reading a book are ways Cannon suggests we can affirm that “we are worthy of love and care.” Really, self-care is “what makes a person feel most comfortable, like themselves, like what they want to be in the world,” she said.
“It’s knowing where I fall on my stress meter at any point in time and making decisions accordingly,” Chiu said. “One of the most prominent — if not the most prominent — factors of my self-care is pole dancing. I pole dance for fitness and empowerment down in Chelsea, and the movement that my studio uses is almost unbelievably healing and nourishing for the soul. Whenever I need to work through emotions or want to tune into my body, I find myself in the studio, moving.”
Like many other Barnard students, Ana Lam ’20 shares Chiu’s connection with dance as a way to de-stress, exercise, and feel well. “I’ve created spaces for self-care by taking dance classes [at] Barnard,” she says. “Every semester I force myself to take a modern dance class because it’s a great way to move and relax and tune out of academic responsibilities during the school day. I find that after class I feel great and a bit euphoric, probably as a result of the endorphins.”
On campus, Barnard has many health services that promote wellness. Well-Woman is a peer-oriented space for students to learn and explore issues on wellness. It was created through student activism and is a unique health education program specific to Barnard, which according to Cannon, shows how “the work of the program is driven by peer educators, who are part of the Barnard population.” Well-Woman is one of three administrative health services at Barnard.
Additionally, the Furman Counseling Center, also located on the first floor of the Quad, is counseling-based, with trained professionals on staff to support students and provide referrals if needed. Primary Health Care Services, located in the basement of the Quad, is for everything from standard appointments to walk-in-clinic-style care.
President Sian Leah Beilock, who takes time to recharge through regular hot yoga sessions, recently announced the “Feel Well, Do Well @ Barnard” initiative to bring self-care to the forefront of campus conversations. The initiative evolved from an assessment conducted on campus in 2018 by the JED Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting emotional and mental health. The JED Campus model stresses that it is the responsibility of the entire campus community to provide support and create connection, which are two key components in protecting the mental health and wellness of students, according to Executive Director of Student Health and Wellness Programs MJ Murphy.
"JED commended Barnard’s strong mental health services, including forming partnerships with various groups throughout the community," explained Murphy. "And by training staff, students and faculty on how to respond to a person in distress, what the resources on campus are, and normalizing asking for help, we can create an environment where students can thrive."
Barnard has already featured several events during “Mood Awareness” month (November), including a workshop on November 7 about depression, sponsored by CARDS (Center for Accessibility Resources & Disability Services). Up next is the Healthy Relationship Series, on November 14 and 21, from Being Barnard (the College’s sexual violence education, prevention, and outreach program). These workshops are curated to provide students with tips, techniques, and knowledge “to support you on your journey during your best and most challenging days here in college,” according to Beilock’s “Feel Well, Do Well” campaign launch video.
“Self-care is important because it provides a necessary balance to the distractions, challenges, and difficulties during the day,” said Dean Leslie Grinage, who manages her own stress levels by finding a class or activity that allows her to do something out of the ordinary. “Right now I’m doing improv,” she says, “and it lets me relax, have fun, and tap into a different side of my personality.”
Self-care is intrinsic to ensuring a balanced well-being, and while Barnard’s legacy includes literary luminaries such as Shange, students can live up to that legacy and themselves every day in honoring her words from The Love Space Demands: A Continuing Saga: “& i am more / than i am not.”
—SARAH PATAFIO ’20