A Student Perspective on the Center for Student Wellness
Tayler Bseiso, ACES Peer Health Educator
I’ve been volunteering as an ACES Peer Health Educator at the Center for Student Wellness (CSW) for upwards of two years now and if Tayler pre-ACES were to see Tayler now, they would not even recognize themselves. One major change I’ve felt has been feeling the confidence to make important decisions about my own wellness. For example, when I was growing up, I was never allowed to develop boundaries. In theory I knew how important they were and that I myself should respect other’s boundaries, but I had no idea where to start with my own. As I entered relationships both romantic and platonic, I found myself being exhausted and used by those I cared for and it wasn’t necessarily their fault. Through my journey in ACES, I have taught my peers and myself how to set boundaries, how to reinforce them, and just how many aspects of life boundaries can be used in. The only reason I was able to fit ACES into my schedule was the amazing scholarship that allows me to work less hours that I would have needed to pay tuition.
The best part of being at the CSW though, is that I’m not alone! There are staff members, interns, and other volunteers that who work together to make an impact on campus. We work to cultivate wellness among all our campus community. When talking with our director Brittany Badger about what this year’s U-Giving is all about, she said, “This year, all donations we receive will go towards providing emergency funding support and care packages for survivors of interpersonal violence and expanding our mental health education programs, specifically with our ACES Peer Health Education Scholars.” These emphases are specifically picked in response to the increase in interpersonal violence seen on campus as well as the impacts of COVID on our community's mental health. To get a better understanding of who will be receiving these donations, let's dive into the different offices we house.
Starting with our Victim Survivor Advocacy office, where trained social workers work one on one with those who have experienced harm either before or during their time at the University of Utah. They guide their clients to the resources that they need to heal while still pursuing their education or continuing to work at the U. What this office needs to pad their emergency fund they use to keep their clients safe and healthy. “I’ve offered emergency funds to clients for needs including a driver’s license renewal so they can have a current ID, a journal to support their mental/emotional wellness, and a doorbell camera to help them feel safe at home,” one of our VSAs Mahalia Lotz told me, “having an emergency fund makes a huge difference in supporting the healing and growth of our clients.”
Ellie Goldberg, the Assistant Director of this office, is a U of U alumni, and has worked at the CSW for three and half years. The biggest take away I got from my interview is that she loves her job! When talking about the personal growth she’s had in those three and a half years she talks how the CSW has taught her that wellness is a verb and takes work to create it. “Honestly, it’s very rare in the social work world to have a job that self-care, burnout prevention, and work life balance are actually values in action, not just words,” she says. When asked to describe her role it is, “... to bear witness to the resilience and power of my clients as they navigate their healing journeys.” I think that is a perfect synopsis of how VSA’s see their clients, as strong people who are waning to heal and grow through some of the worst moments of their lives and make sure they are not alone as they do this. When you help fund the work of the VSAs you are making sure that those who feel most alone in our University’s community never are really alone. You make sure that events that interrupt people’s entire lives don’t cause them to give up entirely. You are connecting our campus through the hands of people like Mahalia and Ellie.
Moving on to our Health Education office is where fine folk such as Jenna, Shalini, Conner, Athena, and of course me, work. What exactly would donations do here you ask? “Why, ACES of course!”, says Jenna Templeton who is the director of this office. “Our ACES peer health educators are responsible for connecting with and educating their peers on important health topics such as sexual wellness, harm reduction, and violence prevention.” With added funding we will be expanding this program to include student’s specialized in mental health education. This would not be the first time that we have expanded our team, when ACES was first started there was only six members. We have continued to grow both in number and in reach every year.
During his interview Connor Simper was excited to share a project he worked on with the School of Pharmacy here at the U. “I never would have thought the inclusion and collaboration of the ACES would reach as far as the professional and graduate programs on campus,” he said. It is so amazing to be incorporated into different groups around campus and see not only that they appreciated the content but also that they want more! Though this program is aimed to help students outside of the CSW receive judgement free help on wellness topics, it often impacts those within it as well. I reached out to a newer member of ACES named Athena Schwartz to see how they have been enjoying their first year within the program and they had this to say, “I have grown by taking the habits I have learned about improving wellness to my own life. I have started to honor my own wellness needs more while valuing the work that I do.” When they said this my eyes got a bit wider as I thought ‘me too!’ This work gets so personal that it is hard not to merge it with your own life. When talking with my teammate Shalini Kasera, she told me about the amazing professional development she receives by being enrolled with ACES. “I was fortunate to be able to participate in the Connection Campaign, which sought to create connection among students that would be physically separated from their communities for the unspecified future” Within her role here she and other ACES released a survey that they made themselves to get data, that they could then analyze, that they could then use to change how our entire center approaches campus. She was given the platform and support to basically launch your own research project from scratch, how amazing is that? I could fawn over ACES until the cows come home, but the best part by far is that it actually works. “We know that the peer-to-peer education model is highly effective,” says Jenna who just happened co-found ACES. So even though this work is fun, it’s not just fun it’s also just as impactful.
The Center for Student Wellness was made to serve our community, but we can only do this with the support of our community. All of our services are provided for free to students, faculty, and staff alike at the University of Utah. Donations ensure that those who need help are able to receive it without the burden of another bill. We stretch every dollar we can get to its fullest extent to ensure that every cent makes an impact. I’ll leave you with what our Director Britany had to say to those interested in getting involved, “Please join us! Whether it’s through direct involvement or giving financially to our office, your support truly makes a difference.”
Tayler is junior majoring in Microbiology. They are an ACES Peer health Educator on the Violence Prevention team.