In partnership with colleges, schools and departments, Well-being in Learning Environments helps faculty make small shifts in teaching that could make a major difference in students’ mental health and well-being.
Students with mental-health concerns are more likely to have a lower grade-point average and a higher probability of dropping out (Eisenberg, Golberstein, & Hunt, 2009). According to El Ansari and Stock (2010): “It is widely accepted that health and well-being are essential elements for effective learning.” The demand for mental-health services at the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) has increased 62 percent from academic year 2009–2010 to academic year 2016–17, while the total number of students at The University of Texas at Austin increased by less than 1 percent (CMHC Fact Sheet, 2017; The University of Texas at Austin, 2017).
Engaging students in practices that promote mental health is the responsibility of not just one department on campus, but of the entire campus community. Students at UT Austin indicate that faculty members are often seen as the “missing link” when it comes to their own well-being (Stuart & Lee, 2013). Additionally, the Okanagan Charter, an international charter for health-promoting universities and colleges, published a call to action for higher-education institutions: embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates (Okanagan Charter, 2015).
SHIFT is an initiative at UT that aims to shift the culture around substance use on campus. Students are often presented with a narrative of college life that depicts alcohol and drug misuse as the norm. SHIFT aims to make meaningful changes that challenge those norms and pivot the conversation toward the student’s holistic experience. To do this, we are enlisting all Longhorns to create a culture of healthy community, connections and coping skills, thereby reducing the negative consequences related to substance misuse.
SHIFT is comprised of six pilot initiatives. Two are focused directly on students’ academic experience through their interactions with faculty and peer academic leaders. The classroom is a place of incredible growth and challenge for students. By making small shifts in classrooms and other learning environments, SHIFT intends to help students feel more supported in their growth and more empowered to make decisions that align with their self-identified values.
I CAME WELL-EQUIPPED WITH A WHOLE TOOLBOX OF COPING SKILLS AND EXPERIENCES, BUT EVEN I STRUGGLE WITH SOME OF THE THINGS WE HAVE TO DO.