University attempts to respond to student feelings of isolation and distress
The week of October 12, Notre Dame’s McDonald Center for Student Well Being—better known as McWell—hosted a “Restoration Week” for students to relax and recoup from a difficult semester, amidst the global pandemic and a lack of a fall break.
Advertised as a week to “Take a Break,” Restoration Week was full of various activities promoting self-care, mental health, and de-stressing. During the week, professors and faculty were also encouraged to allow students an opportunity to relax a bit more. Some professors cancelled class for a day, and others lightened up the class’s work load for the week. Other professors, though, did not seem to provide any opportunities to lift the burden students have been facing, both academically and socially.
According to the McWell website, Restoration Week was meant to provide “opportunities to relax, laugh, experience memories from home, have a little change of scenery, and learn how to develop a restorative routine to help you brave a very challenging semester.”
The McWell Center prides itself in promoting events and opportunities that take a holistic approach to staying healthy on campus. In prior years, they have fulfilled this mission by providing creative study spaces on the second floor of St. Liam Hall, offering tea and coffee for students to relax, hosting week or month-long initiatives to promote well-being, and more. This year, while the Center’s mission has stayed the same, its methods have had to adapt to Covid restrictions and be a bit more creative in providing ways for students to stay healthy and happy.
For this reason, and due to the fact that Notre Dame students were not given a fall break, McWell decided to host a week devoted fully to helping restore students’ mental and physical well-being.
The week consisted of multiple events each day, starting with Restorative Yoga on Monday and ending with a Saturday evening Karaoke Night on South Quad. Throughout the week, Campus Dining served different style cuisines each night to remind students of their hometowns.
Various clubs and offices on campus also joined in the festivities. Campus Ministry hosted a guided meditation, the Gender Relations Center hosted a “Kintsugi” event to recognize the beauty in our healing, the Multicultural Student Programs and Services offered adult coloring sessions, Active Minds club and the Student Union Board hosted a movie night watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and the Snite Museum hosted a virtual collaborative drawing project.
While the intentions of Restoration Week were widely appreciated and understood by students on campus, many felt that the execution of the week could have been conducted in a more beneficial manner. Some found it ironic that the school’s plan to “restore” students involved an abundance of extra activities. While none of these events were required, it was a common sentiment that it might have been better if the administration simply took away some responsibilities for the week, instead of adding more to students’ plates.
Junior Ellie Maxwell attended the Japanese Kintsugi event led by the Gender Relations Center on Library Lawn on Tuesday night. This is a traditional Japanese tradition, during which one breaks a ceramic pot and then glues it back together with some form of gold; this symbolizes the significance of the healing process from any experience of trauma or pain. Maxwell said: “I thought that the event was really unique and more enjoyable (and maybe even effective) than I had anticipated! I totally understood the beauty of broken pieces and the importance of the tradition by the end.”
In response to Restoration Week, she said, “overall, I thought Restoration Week was a good effort. The administration saw a need and did what they could to respond in a fairly timely manner. Sure, it wasn’t the most effective way to actually ensure that student stress levels went down to a more manageable level. But the events themselves were well-geared to at least provide the opportunity to anyone who made the effort to attend with an open mindset.”
In an email to faculty the week following Restoration Week, Notre Dame Provost Marie Lynn Miranda said, “in a recent survey by the McDonald Center for Student Well-Being, over 50% of all Notre Dame students fall into the category of serious distress.”
Provost Miranda encouraged faculty to intentionally look for ways in which they might be able to mitigate some stress from students’ academic lives.
During such unprecedented and unnerving times, it is perhaps unsurprising that stress rates of students will be higher. Notre Dame is a top academic university, full of highly motivated and passionate students. While this is a blessing and accomplishment, this statistic also often leads to higher levels of anxiety and pressure for students to perform well and be as involved as possible on campus.
Maxwell said her main wish for Restoration Week would have been that the administration officially encourage faculty to cancel assignments and/or class during the week. She noted that she and “many [other] students would have seen this as an opportunity to relax, get caught up on assignments without such tight deadlines, or even call friends from home for the first time in a very long time without the pressure of it being leading into a weekend or a big game. Maybe they will keep this in mind as we enter another long, break-less semester.”
While Restoration Week was met with some contention by students who hoped for more of a restorative week, the intentions of the week did bring to light the importance of taking time for oneself and reaching out for support when needed. With less than one full month left of the fall semester, students are sure to be feeling a little burnt out. Let’s remind one another of the importance of rest, relaxation, and restorative practices when all other aspects of life seem to be overwhelming.
Sydney Missigman is a junior management consulting and Spanish supplementary major from Goodyear, Arizona. If she is not watching the sunset from her lake-view room in Lewis Hall, you can spot her sitting near the lakes or at the Grotto taking in the beautiful South Bend skies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.