Expanding Wellness Program Focuses on Student Needs

Office of Student Affairs and Student Bar Association Team Up to Provide De-stressing Programming

American University Washington College of Law students have a helping hand in managing stress and achieving balance thanks to new initiatives by the Office of Student Affairs and the Student Bar Association. 

This fall marked the first time a full semester of health and wellness programming was scheduled at the law school.  From food prep presentations (pictured left), to movie nights, to fitness sessions, students had the opportunity to participate in nearly 20 events held on-site at the law school.  In previous years, the office focused on one or two wellness-themed days each semester.

Stress in law school is nothing new, but David Jaffe, associate dean of student affairs, said that faculty, student groups, and staff have become increasingly interested in helping American University Washington College of Law students to develop a healthy work-life balance.  He feels that a growing amount of stress—caused by a variety of factors including the recovering economy and a competitive job market—has taken its toll on students.   

 “As educators, I feel that we are responsible for teaching students that law school doesn’t define them—it is simply a part of them,” explained Jaffe. “What will define them is how they’re able to keep everything in balance.” 

“There will be stressors after law school that our graduates will experience in the practice, so we’re working to arm them with the coping mechanisms to manage that pressure.”

The Student Bar Association at the law school recently established an executive Wellness Committee to spearhead wellness on campus.  Steve vonBerg, a 3L, has served as chair of the committee since August.  According to vonBerg, he volunteered for the post because he is passionate about the well-being of his fellow students.

Alongside Dean Jaffe and the Office of Student Affairs, vonBerg has spent the semester brainstorming and implementing these activities to serve as stress-free and substance-free outlets for current students. 

“I have an informal meeting with Dean Jaffe every week to plan for these wellness events,” explains vonBerg. “We’ve coordinated all of these activities on a very small budget, and his office has been very supportive with organization and communication.” 

According to vonBerg, sports-related tournaments like flag football, softball, and dodgeball have been the most popular among the student body in the fall, boasting attendance of up to 80 participants.  He has personally made new friends and connections through these events.

(Pictured Right: Students participate in a dodgeball tournament held as part of the semester of planned student wellness activities)

Other popular events included puppies in the lobby, an opportunity to play with puppies provided by A Forever Home (pictured below), a non-profit dog rescue group, and free massages. 

According to Jaffe, the Office of Student Affairs will continue to determine the best way to publicize future events and expand the number of attendees.  He believes students want to participate in these types of activities, but struggle to find the time. 

“As we start to get more input from students about what types of activities they’d like, we can start to massage this idea a little more,” said Jaffe, who is considering a focus group to assess student needs in this area and also seeks ideas from alumni. 

The Office of Student Affairs also recently implemented the Take the Stairs campaign.  Signs hang near each stairwell reminding students, staff, and faculty to forego the elevator and get their hearts pumping.  And, for the second year, a university clinician has held hours at the law school in addition to the AU Counseling Center. Students are taking full advantage of this service, with the counselor’s office hours filling each semester.

Jaffe and vonBerg both look forward to the next semester of events, and the overall future of wellness programs at American University Washington College of Law.

“I would like to add a 5K or a soccer tournament to the list of events in the spring,” said vonBerg.

Jaffe would be interested in offering more course-like wellness options to interested students. 

Thinking more long term, he also looks forward to the positive effect of the new law campus on student wellness. 

“The return to a quad, an outdoor area, cannot be emphasized enough,” said Jaffe.  “To have grass and to breathe fresh air will especially support student wellness.”