In an effort to condense the semester and discourage travel to and from campus during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lehigh removed spring break from the Spring 2021 academic calendar. This time away from the schedules and stresses of campus life has long been a hallmark of a typical spring semester. This semester, of course, has not been typical.
For students like Matty Behman ’23, a normal course load combined with fewer in-person opportunities to engage with others and participate in activities has made for an even more challenging experience.
“I'm doing work more consistently because I don't really have anything else to do,” says Behman, a mechanical engineering major. “I love the grind. I love the constant work. … But I’m not just a mechanical engineer. There definitely needs to be some break that allows me to remind myself of everything of who I am. … It would definitely free up time for me and other students to really focus on ourselves individually.”
With this in mind, Nathan Urban, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Kathy Iovine, Faculty Senate chair; and Frank Gunter, Faculty Senate co-chair, sent a message in mid-January to faculty and instructional staff, encouraging them to consider creative ways in which they might “create some space” in their syllabi to relieve stress during the week of March 22, which would have been spring break.
“This has been a challenging year for all members of our community,” says Urban. “We invited faculty to create space in their courses during that particular week to foster well-being and reduce stress. In particular, we recommend that instructors avoid high-stakes exams and minimize the amount of work students would do outside of class. We are grateful that many faculty members have taken important steps to enhance the mental wellness of our students.”
To help relieve student and faculty stress, many Lehigh professors have planned to make adjustments to their courses for that week; for example, some are incorporating into class time an activity that promotes wellness or temporarily reducing a course’s required workload. In addition, Lehigh staff and student groups are organizing events and activities that foster physical and mental wellness. Across the university, plans to lighten the load of an unusual semester are taking shape.
Behman describes how last fall one of his professors didn’t count homework for one week and gave all students a 100% on one of the course’s 12 quizzes.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I know a lot of my friends do, and I bet a lot of the rest of the student body does,” Behman says. “I felt as though [the professor] really cared about us. I felt really accounted for. ...When something like that happens, it's as though they're noticing that we are really struggling, and having that feeling of being accounted for really feels good. I did better in that class than I did in anything else because I wanted to do well in that class, and I think it definitely gave me some motivation to keep going—it’s like, oh, okay, they're looking out for me.”
Not all courses can allow for a “break” during this condensed semester, but many faculty are finding creative ways to adjust for Wellness Week. Rather than holding a typical class meeting, some professors plan to incorporate more informal interactions, such as group discussions or individual meetings. Some are avoiding quizzes and exams or reducing the number of required assignments, and others have decided not to introduce new content during that week’s lecture.
K. Sivakumar (“Siva”), professor and chair of the department of marketing, for example, plans to not require formal work to his MBA students during Wellness Week. The class will meet, but Siva plans to use the time to review and elaborate on concepts discussed in previous classes and introduce some new ideas that will not require advance preparation.
“Like many things in life, teaching is a balancing act. On the one hand, we want to make sure that the students are equipped with a certain level of knowledge and skills by the end of the semester; on the other hand, we want them to be in the right frame of mind for learning,” says Siva. “By having some flexibility in terms of when content is taught during the semester and the work associated with that content, we will be able to accommodate student welfare without compromising learning objectives.”
Some courses will feature more overtly wellness-related activities. The following are just a few examples.
Tong Soon Lee, professor of music, plans to have students in his MUS013 course, “Music Cultures of the World,” participate in a hands-on workshop on Korean percussion during Wellness Week. Barbara Malt, professor of psychology, will have her COGS 7 students read an article on meditation and the brain, and has invited Rabbi Steven Nathan, director of Jewish Student Life and associate chaplain, to lead a mindfulness meditation during class time. Pat O'Seaghdha, professor of psychology and cognitive science, will replace his cognitive psychology course’s weekly Zoom meeting with a recommendation to watch a movie about memory, such as “Memento” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Faculty members in the department of journalism and communication have planned “Reporting on and Living in Times of Trauma,” a two-day virtual program for all members of the Lehigh community that will facilitate reflection and conversation about the impact of everyday trauma and pain. On Tuesday, March 23 from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m., a moderated panel will discuss the effect of vicarious trauma on journalists, including student journalists. On Wednesday, March 24 from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m., a panel will discuss lived experiences of witnessing mediated trauma and its impact on day-to-day life, particularly for Black Americans. Both panels will include advice from psychologists about how to maintain mental health in the midst of these types of trauma.
Sara Heintzelman, an adjunct professor in the teaching, learning and technology (TLT) program, will welcome a guest lecturer to the meeting of her section of TLT 407 on March 22. David Yadush, a behavioral health education specialist from Lehigh Valley Health Network, will offer strategies for managing mental wellness during the pandemic. This lecture is open to all students in the College of Education’s TLT and special education programs.
Heintzelman also has planned a college-wide Wellness Week initiative. With a concept similar to that of the Flat Stanley Project (in which participants take photos in various locations of a paper cutout of the titular character of the children’s novel “Flat Stanley”), the “Be Clutch. Be Well.” initiative invites the College of Education’s students, faculty and staff to “engage in a wellness activity with [a cutout of Lehigh mascot] Clutch” and share on social media.
“Teaching undergraduate and graduate students how to cope with the challenges of teaching and learning in the middle of a pandemic is equally as important as the academic content in our courses,” says Heintzelman. “Our students are looking to us to model compassion, provide opportunities to connect, and be present as humans in our course sessions. Through these activities, we are showing students how we can take challenges and turn them into creative ways to connect. I hope that when our students work through challenges in their future classrooms, they can look back on this time of learning at a distance and be reminded that through intentional instructional design we can develop solutions that build community and resilience.”
Opportunities for Self-Care
Beyond academics, a number of campus offices and organizations have organized events and activities related to self-care and well-being. Watch the Lehigh events calendar and the Student Affairs events calendar for events and activities as they are added in the weeks ahead.
The Office of Student Engagement has planned a number of events leading up to and during Wellness Week, including a succulent make-and-take, an opportunity for students to make self-care bags for themselves and a friend, and the launch of the Sense of Belonging series for undergraduate and graduate students, which will offer five different Community Groups for students to join.
“Wellness Week is an important opportunity for our entire campus community to reflect on habits that we can individually and collectively take on to promote positive health,” says Aarsenio Perry, assistant dean and director of the Office of Student Engagement. “In the midst of living through a pandemic that has reconfigured how we operate, it's important for us all to also reimagine what our mind, body and souls might need during this time. ...Wellness Week allows all of us to take a step back and observe how we can holistically nurture ourselves and extend grace to our being. … Many different offices and departments have come together to collectively promote activities and events that will help our students and community offer kindness and community to our well-being. Throughout this week, remember to allow yourself grace and kindness, all while finding space to affirm the wholeness of who you are.”
Lehigh After Dark, which offers events throughout the academic year, will have wellness-related programming during Wellness Week, including Thursday Night Trivia sponsored by the Italian Club and a Canvas Painting Take and Make sponsored by the Black Student Union on March 25, as well as a Virtual Escape Room sponsored by the Asian Cultural Society on March 26. Details about upcoming events can be found here.
Lehigh Dining will offer healthy snacks and recipes throughout the week, as well as a socially distant chili cookoff featuring Lehigh Dining chefs. The InSTALLment for the month of March focuses on 30 Days of Mindfulness, including links to interactive weekly sessions held by the Counseling Center and the Chaplain’s Office. On March 23, the Graduate Life Office will offer wellness tips, words of encouragement and small plants available for graduate students to care for at home.
Lehigh University Art Galleries will present a virtual wellness-themed LUAG@Lunch on March 26, during which student representatives from Artists for Change will discuss how creating art is a form of self-care and well-being. In addition, the exhibition “Well, Well, Well: Picturing Wellness in the LUAG Collection” is on view in the Fairchild-Martindale Study Gallery and The Gallery at Rauch Business Center.
Wellness Week might be just a week, but Lehigh offers resources for health and wellness throughout the year.
The Health and Wellness Center offers routine medical evaluation and treatment, and is available to students by appointment Monday-Friday. Call 610-758-3870. After hours, students can get in touch with a clinician-on-call for non-emergency health advice by calling 610-758-3870. For medical emergencies, call LUPD (on campus) at 610-758-4200 or 911.
The Office of Counseling and Psychological Services offers a number of services and resources, including this list of COVID-19 coping strategies. Counselors are available 24/7 to provide support and assistance. Call 610-758-3880 or 610-758-5183.
Taylor Gym is offering free virtual fitness programming to all current students, faculty and staff this semester.
The BeWell employee wellness program offers many physical- and mental health-related challenges.