Public health reform on campus is beginning with the new-and-improved Student Health Advisory Community (SHAC), a previously quiet club many never knew were behind all the exciting flyers in campus bathrooms.
They are headlining a new program called “F&M Community,” which also sparked a name change from Student Health Advisory Committee to Community, a change the whole club is working hard to implement. The goal of the project is to train SHAC members to be pseudo-House Advisers (HAs) for upperclassmen so they can be a resource in tough situations, particularly relating to mental health. By next semester, every member of SHAC will be trained in this manner.
“The goal is, very simply, to create an HA-like resource for upper-class students to be able to access help with serious issues,” said Tyler Veterano ’14, president of SHAC and a peer health educator (PHE), a paid position under the Office of Health and Wellness. “We are training students to have the same skill sets of how to identify the problem, how to be able to talk to students in an appropriate way, and how to direct them to the right type of help.”
Veterano heard a similar idea presented when he attended the 2012 Student and College Organization for Prevention Educators (SCOPE) Conference in Orlando, Florida, which he attended as a representative for One in Four, a men’s group on campus designed to spread awareness about sexual assault. Veterano then decided to run for president of SHAC the very next semester because he wanted to apply such an idea to F&M’s campus.
“This idea of F&M Community was really the motor behind my decision to run for president of SHAC,” Veterano said. “As a peer health educator (PHE) and an HA, I heard a lot of bad advice going around about what to do in risky situations. I want to make a difference so that in every friend group there is someone who knows exactly who to contact and how, in situations like these, the answer is never just to let it go.”
“Let’s create comfort on campus, a sense of security if you’re not in a dorm,” added Melanie Liskov ’13, SHAC treasurer and PHE for Ware College House. “Now we are trained to handle situations that can create more of a safe community on campus; there are no HAs in College Row but sometimes upperclassmen still need a person to turn to.”
What Veterano, Liskov, and Jan Masland, faculty advisor to SHAC and the director of Health and Wellness Education, would like to stress about the new program is they are not trained in how to help but instead in how to facilitate finding help.
“The SHAC members are not trained to manage the problems but to listen effectively, assess the problem, and know the resources and how to make the proper referrals for situations such as depression, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, sexual assault, health concerns, alcohol and drug abuse, self-mutilation, stress and anxiety,” Masland said.
Another part of the new initiative is being recognizable as members of SHAC. They designed a new logo and have given out stickers and t-shirts to members. The stickers will be posted on doors of apartments where a trained SHAC member lives so students know they will be able to knock there and receive advice.
“I want the campus to know that resources are available for every student; anywhere there is a SHAC sticker or shirt there is someone you can talk to,” Veterano stressed.
“Our goal is to be identifiable. All trained members will have stickers to post on their doors and white t-shirts,” Liskov added. “No one should feel shy about coming up to talk to one of us; it’s our job to help you.”
Students are welcome to knock on any door with a SHAC sticker posted. Veterano also advised that Counseling Services and the Office of Health and Wellness at the College were a huge part of the program coming to fruition.
“Dr. Conway, head of counseling services, was instrumental in getting this together, putting the time and effort in, along with all of counseling services,” Veterano said. “We couldn’t have done this without counseling services and our advisor Jan Masland.”
Liskov detailed her experience with the club, beginning as a casual member and leading to her position as both Treasurer and PHE for Ware College House.
“I became interested because it’s a club that actually promotes change,” Liskov said. “Being a pre-med student, there’s a lot to learn about health issues, and in the short time I’ve been part of this a lot has happened. What I’ve found about this club is that it’s very media-centric. How do you get peoples’ attention? How do you make it exciting? It’s like posters, and playing educational beer pong and interactive surveys.”
To join SHAC, one must be nominated by a professor or by another SHAC member, but students should not feel shy about voicing interest. It should also be noted the next official training for members will be in January but students are welcome to join any time.
“If someone has a real interest, and is okay with this responsibility, we would welcome them to come talk to us,” Veterano said. “It’s a club that asks for a lot, and it’s not for everybody; it’s not a club where you can join and stick it on your resume. You have to be motivated and ready for people to come to you.”
In addition to the new F&M Community project, SHAC has a few other projects going on, also undergoing a facelift under Veterano’s presidency. In the past SHAC was visible during its tabling sessions in the College Center a few times a month and through its pointed messages in campus bathroom stalls. The members have taken measures this semester to ensure all bathroom stall signs are in working order and on a frequent rotation, as past complaints centered around the stagnancy of their messages. They have also switched from tabling in the College Center to tabling in the Dining Hall, where they will be two nights every other week with interactive and educational messages regarding campus health.
“Each event addresses a current health issue affecting students,” Masland said. “The events are interactive, fun, and provide information about the issue as well as resources for assistance.”
Just last week SHAC had a table about campus drinking, where members asked participants to fill a red solo cup with water indicating how much mixed drink that person would usually drink. They then asked for an estimate of how many shots were in that mixed drink, and then calculated how many shots were actually in there, for a tangible reminder to students to know how much exactly they are drinking when they go out.
“We try to make sure the tabling reflects and emphasizes what’s on the bathroom signs,” Liskov said.
The club meets every other week in Appel 100 to continue training and to brainstorm about new weekly themes and bathroom flyers, which often turns into lively discussions about health issues on campus. Veterano added the meetings include speakers and videos about applicable health issues, like self-destructive acts, depression, and suicide.
“Each meeting has a short educational component at the beginning to keep the members current on health issues that affect college students,” Masland said. “We are looking for new members who have an interest in health issues and in helping their fellow students and, very importantly, we have pizza at our meetings.”
Interested students should contact Masland at firstname.lastname@example.org or Veterano at email@example.com (firstname.lastname@example.org). Students can also stop by the Health and Wellness table events held in the foyer of the Dining Hall every other Monday and Thursday evening.
Questions? Email Lauren at email@example.com.