Wellness Room Seeks Fresh Start

There appear to be significant changes underway at the Stanford Wellness Room, and with them a tacit rebuke of the Wellness Room’s original mission and methods of accountability. The Wellness Room’s proposed new budget for fiscal year 2009-10 will remain at $5,600, but the money is moving away from programming and equipment and toward staffing and marketing.

Last year, the Wellness Room operated on a budget of $5,600. Of that money, $1,500 was devoted to one-time expenditures on equipment such as the finger paints, beanbag chairs and a roll of bubble wrap that currently adorns the room. Despite that funding coming off the books this year, the Wellness Room’s proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2009-10 decreases funding for programming from the 2008-09 aggregated total of $2,900 to $2,300.

The programming budget has been slashed because last year’s strategy of relying on only one paid coordinator who managed a staff of volunteer “Wellness Guides” proved unsuccessful. The new strategy includes paying one Wellness Director $900 and four Wellness Coordinators $700.  As such the cost of the Wellness Room staff has more than doubled from last year’s total of $1,800 to $3,700. There are concerns as to how on a campus where organizations depend on volunteers that the Wellness Room was unable to do so, and how that reflects on the value of the Wellness Room’s services. ASSU Senator Dean Young ‘11 said he felt “disappointed that people feel they have to throw money at it to show up for something that’s supposed to help.”

ASSU Vice President Jay de la Torre ‘10 ceded that the addition of paid staffers was to ensure that they would “find incentive to work hard.” Current Wellness Director Debanti Sengupta, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Chemistry, admitted that last year “we had issues with the [unpaid] guides attending all their own events.” The marketing budget will increase by two-thirds from $300 to $500.

In addition to budget changes, Director of Wellness and Health Promotion Services Carole Pertofsky has spearheaded the Wellness Room’s attempt to shift the focus from the Wellness Room itself, which has been the subject of some ridicule and criticism for its highly visible location in Old Union and childlike and effeminate decor, toward its programming. Additionally, Wellness Director Sengupta shared a number of ideas for the upcoming usage of the Wellness Room’s programming budget for such events as a weekly yoga class, 2 YES+ (an acronym for Yoga, Empowerment, Service Plus much more) self-development and leadership programs per quarter and other events stressing emotional balance.

Still, the harshest criticism against the Wellness Room has been leveled at its lack of accountability—staffers do not track attendance, and thus there has been no data proving the room’s effectiveness. Ms. Sengupta said the Wellness Room would be keeping attendance at events to determine which are more popular than others, and using a survey that will, according to Ms. Sengupta, “probably include some basic cognitive metrics and questions about student stress levels, their subjective rating of the program and how useful it has been to them, etc.” in order to “allow us to evaluate which programs are most successful and effective.”

Some critics are skeptical of the Wellness Room’s pledge to keep meaningful statistics and are concerned that the result will be similar to last year when, despite a similar pledge, no statistics were ever released. Efforts by this writer to reach 2008 Wellness Room co-coordinators Mary Liz McCurdy and Annie Alpers, both of whom graduated in 2009, and 2008-09 ASSU Health Co-Chair Angelina Cardona ‘11 proved fruitless, and the secrecy surrounding the statistics has some upset. “I think the student body has a right to know whether the Wellness Room performed as well as expected,” says Matt Sprague ’10, a former director of Capital Group (which oversees the ASSU and student group finances) and ASSU Executive candidate.

Nevertheless, there is enthusiasm for the idea of the broader Wellness Room program. All sources spoke highly of Wellness Director Sengupta, and Senator Young says there “needs to be more energy put back into the program. It would be terrible to have it end.” But Mr. Sprague’s assertion that “without statistics it is difficult for anyone to put their faith in the Wellness Room” is a call its supporters will have to answer.

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