From the President's Desk: News for the Community from President Judd

Greetings from the President’s Office & Happy 2019!

President Cristle Collins Judd at her deskSince arriving at the College, I have written to members of the Sarah Lawrence community from time to time on matters of interest or news items relevant to the College. As those communications have settled into a rhythm, I’m delighted—with some help from the folks in our communications office—to introduce From the President’s Desk as a monthly newsletter during the academic year. I will use this to share reflections on issues facing the College and higher education, and to provide timely updates on items of interest from all parts of the College. I look forward to your feedback and comments.

Difference in Dialogue: Upcoming Events

Whether you are on campus or afar, we hope that you’ll join us as we continue our series of events exploring “Difference in Dialogue” and the opportunity they provide for probing some of the most challenging issues of our day from a variety of vantage points. The first for this semester, on January 28, brings noted photographer Susan Meiselas ’70 in conversation with faculty member Joel Sternfeld and Princeton University professor Eduardo Cadava, as part of the opening of an exhibition of Susan’s photography here on campus. We continue in February with a panel organized by our graduate program in Human Genetics on “Designer Babies”; in March, we take on “Religious Pluralism,” and in April “Activism in the Classroom.” Designed to provide opportunities for connection, conversation, interaction, reflection, and reasoned disagreement, we hope you will take part in the events on campus or follow them via the website and archived videos. And we especially hope that your engagement with these events will prompt you to consider the ways in which your Sarah Lawrence experience provides the means and opportunity for you to engage competing ideas with that hallmark Sarah Lawrence curiosity, passion, and intensity.

We will round out the semester with graduation and I’m delighted to announce that our undergraduate commencement speaker will be Maggie Haberman ’96 (White House Correspondent for The New York Times and political analyst for CNN). Diane Baker MS ’79 (former director of the University of Michigan Genetic Counseling Graduate Program) and Francis Collins (director of the National Institutes of Health) will jointly deliver our graduate commencement address as a dialogue.

Health & Wellness

Turning back from those highlights of the coming months to our students returning for the start of the semester, I do hope that members of the Sarah Lawrence Community were able to enjoy a relaxing and restorative break. My own attempt to “unplug” for a brief period of time over the winter break offered a useful personal reminder of how essential it is to manage the ongoing challenge of balancing ever-present, real-world responsibilities with the equally important necessity of making time for self-care and reflection.

This challenge, of course, is ubiquitous, and it is especially acute for many of our students as they face a fast-paced, electronically driven world rife with social, political, economic, and emotional pressures and uncertainty. As an academic institution Sarah Lawrence College is first and foremost committed to intellectual rigor within an open curriculum, but we recognize that academic excellence does not develop in a vacuum. As a residential college we also have a responsibility to support the social, emotional, physical, and psychological development and well-being of our students. I would like to share with you some of the ways we approach that responsibility as well as some of the challenges we face, and also provide a sense of opportunities that we are exploring.

Like many of our peer institutions, Sarah Lawrence invests significantly in the resources of our on-campus Health & Wellness Center to provide traditional basic health services such as comprehensive evaluations, sick visits, brief individual therapy sessions (up to six per academic year), ongoing group therapy, and medication management. Recognizing that it is neither feasible nor in the best interest of our students to attempt to serve as the primary or around-the-clock care provider, the Health & Wellness Center has established relationships that allow us to provide needed referrals to off-campus specialists for ongoing and expert care; these include medical and psychiatric specialists at NYP Lawrence Hospital, Bronxville Counseling Center, NYP Westchester Psychiatric Division, Columbia Doctors, Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center, Westchester Victim Assistance Services, and the Westchester Medical Center Forensic Acute Care Team. In many cases, our relationships make services possible at significantly reduced costs and we are constantly exploring additional partnerships that will benefit our students. We are working to ensure that families are aware of all the resources that are available to our students, and as we seek to expand these resources, we are exploring potential solutions to help connect our students to available resources seamlessly.

To complement this work, we also focus on recent developments in neurological research, mind-body integration, and social-emotional learning theory to enhance and expand our student support offerings. Toward that end, members of the Dean of Studies office and Student Affairs offices, the Physical Education department, AVI Food Systems, the Health & Wellness Center, and our faculty collaborate within an integrated student support model to scaffold student development across intellectual, social, emotional, psychological, and physical health dimensions. Several examples of this integration from this past fall (although by no means an exhaustive list) include the Physical Education Department and Health & Wellness Center’s six-week Mindfulness and Science of Happiness workshops, which are offered for PE credit; the Dean of Studies and Counseling Services first year studies workshops on Time Management/Organizational Skills and The Physiology of the Stress Response; and the Psychology faculty and Medical Services week-long interactive educational program—Sleep Week—which was integrated with the psychology course, "Sleep & Health: Clinical Conditions and Wellness."

As a College we face the challenges of health care provision, policy, and costs that continue to be the focus of much national and often acrimonious debate. The health insurance that the College makes available to students provides a comprehensive menu of support for those who lack health insurance or whose family insurance has limited benefits (for example, the SLC student health insurance outpatient mental health benefit covers 80% of reasonable and customary charges after a $150 annual deductible); nevertheless, we know that the additional annual cost for the insurance may prove prohibitive for some students. The College’s present investment in student Health and Wellness services exceeds $1 million a year in operating costs, a budget that has been steadily growing, but which is not yet sufficient for the level of support we would like to provide for the campus. Approximately 40% of the operating costs for Health and Wellness is offset by the College’s annual Health & Wellness fee paid by all students. We are grateful for those donors who direct resources to support this program and we are fortunate to benefit from the deep commitment and creativity of a dedicated professional staff, led by Dina Nunziato and Mary Hartnett.

The well-being of students is a foremost commitment and responsibility of the College. The student life committees of the campus and the board will continue to focus on how we most effectively support the success of our students, knowing that the critical period of college-age development is unique in its concomitant stressors and potential for growth. Our faculty and staff encourage students to be curious about themselves and to seize learning opportunities not only in the academic arena but beyond. Learning is often a difficult experience, particularly when students are challenged to move outside of their comfort zone and engage with others in new and unpracticed ways; we have witnessed time and again the confidence and resilience that develops when students are able to meet these challenges within the support of our academic environment. As we head into the spring 2019 semester, I am excited about new areas of potential development for the continued support of our students and I look forward to sharing with you more about these potential developments in the months to come.

As I close these reflections of this first issue of From the President’s Desk, I am reminded of John Dewey’s maxim:

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.

At Sarah Lawrence, we are indeed about “life itself.”

I hope that if you find yourself in the environs of Westlands in the coming weeks you’ll stop by and say hello. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and your suggestions about topics you would like me to engage in future letters.

Yours,

Cristle Collins Judd
President
president@sarahlawrence.edu
@slcprez