Wellness and “Wellness”: Where do SLU’s Priorities Lie?

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 With the permanent shuttering of The Library Annex (lovingly known as Lannex by the SLU student community), this past spring was an especially difficult one for bar lovers and Greek Life members alike.  Like its many fallen compatriots (Diablito’s, Humphrey’s, Mi Caribe, etc.), it’s not exactly clear what caused Lannex’s downfall, but it left the student body with one less place to pass the time. When I reached out to Lannex’s Facebook page for clarification on the reasoning for its closure, the manager left me on “read.”

   Perhaps more surprising than Lannex’s sudden disappearance is what has popped up in its place: The Wellness Agora.  According to its business brochure, The Wellness Agora considers itself an establishment of “Wellness for the 21st Century.”  It offers a broad array of services that aim to “Relax, Renew, Refocus and Revive” its clients. Services include a $40 “Cell Recharge” treatment that involves “pulsed electromagnetic fields” to “increase vitality and promote the body’s natural recovery.”  One could also opt for a $60 “BioBalance” treatment that detects “imbalances” in the body and “gently restores equilibrium,” encouraging “relaxation and stress reduction.” In other words, a beloved staple of SLU’s social life has been replaced by a gimmicky, ineffective and pricey “wellness center.”  All the while, the real well-being of students remains largely ignored by the SLU administration.  

   These events and others ought to spark a conversation about the general wellness of SLU’s students.  Wellness comes in many forms, but the widely accepted categories are social, environmental, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual wellness.  SLU, as an institution of higher learning, fills some of these categories in with relative ease. Exercise facilities can be found at the Simon Rec to encourage physical wellness, students attend classes to better their intellectual wellness, and the grounds are well-gardened and the residence halls maintained, which promotes environmental wellness.  The areas where SLU falls short are social, spiritual and emotional wellness.

   Socially, SLU has never been more isolated and uneventful than it is in 2020.  With the closure of almost every bar within walking distance of SLU’s campus, students of the legal drinking age are forced to pay for an expensive Uber to get to a bar or club.  Neutral sites that promote social interaction are virtually nonexistent—most cliques retreat into a friend’s apartment and surround themselves with familiar faces. Greek organizations have to pay exorbitant fees for school buses to shuttle members to and from events.  In terms of social mobility, SLU is sorely lacking. The infrastructure to promote a healthy social life simply doesn’t exist. While that may change in the future with the opening of the City Foundry and the general revitalization of the Midtown area, the current student body is often left feeling lonely and isolated.

   Spiritually, SLU has room to improve.  As a Catholic university, SLU offers regular masses to the student body, but little is done to promote spirituality amongst non-Catholic students.  Organizations like the Muslim Student Association are left to their own devices in finding places of worship. Campus ministers, many of whom are not Catholic, are not widely publicized as being of a different Christian denomination than the general university, leaving people of Protestant faiths lost and confused.  While not everyone considers themself to be a spiritual person, this facet of wellness often goes unnoticed and ignored in the 21st century, which can make people feel depressed, lonely and confused.

   Finally, the SLU administration, by associating with The Wellness Agora, is undermining the mental health of its students.  According to a statement from the SLU Office of Mission and Identity last year, SLU has established a “new affiliation” with the Anthropedia Foundation, the very company that 20 percent of the proceeds from The Wellness Agora go toward.The nature of this new “affiliation” between the organization and the university isn’t clear, but it’s easy to suspect the intentions of any kind of arrangement given the services the Agora offers.  According to the Anthropedia Foundation’s mission statement, it “teaches individuals, professionals and nonprofits ways to cultivate mental health and well-being in order to decrease rates of lifestyle- and stress-related illness.” Again, it’s hard to take this mission statement seriously given the pseudo-scientific “treatments” they offer. President Pestello even made an appearance at The Wellness Agora’s grand opening, according to its Facebook page.

   All the while, the University Counseling Center (UCC) has changed little in the three years I’ve been a student here.  While each student is entitled to 10 free sessions at the UCC every year, the wait time to get an appointment can stretch to be weeks after the initial call was made.  For students in the midst of a mental health episode, such a wait time could be detrimental to their continued wellness and delay their path to recovery. Additionally, there is seemingly no accessible means for students to contribute in the process of professional development for therapists in the UCC. When I utilized the service last year, I wasn’t provided with a way to give feedback (e.g. a survey or form) about my experience. 

   To sum up: the SLU administration has proven and continues to demonstrate their indifference for the wellness of the student body by partnering with gimmicky and ineffective businesses like The Wellness Agora to rob the student body in the name of “treatments” with no proven medical benefit.  All the while, the UCC, which has certified therapists who are free for the student body to access, continues to have a long waitlist and little direct accountability for the people who work there. See the problem?