The Mixed Messages of Wellness

During this week’s All-School Meeting period, students filed into Paresky Commons or flocked to their dorms to fill out the “Independent Schools Health Check Survey,” an inquiry into topics of wellness like drug use, suicide and sleep habits.

Though most students filled out the survey as requested by the Dean of Students office, many chose to power nap or cram for a test instead. Starved for time, these students devoured the free period to meet other obligations.

When students do not have time to fill out a survey about wellness, it warns of bigger problems. Do students have time to adequately take care of themselves? How does wellness weigh with all of the other pressures on students?

The Phillipian’s 2011 State of the Academy survey showed that 78% of students get less than the elusive 8 hours doctors prescribe as a healthy level. Anyone who stumbled through a week of consecutive nights with little sleep–almost every Andover student, in other words–knows that being persistently tired makes it more difficult to solve problems and deal with daily stresses. About 11% of students have engaged in self harm and 11% have suffered eating disorders, pointing to more serious wellness concerns.

Often it seems like Andover gives conflicting messages about what students’ priorities must be to be a part of this community. There is a double standard for students to push themselves to their fullest capacity and serve others while at the same time to stay well.

On the one hand, the school idealizes the merits of self-sacrifice. Andover’s cherished motto, “Non Sibi,” promotes the lifestyle of living “not for oneself,” which emphasizes the needs of others over one’s own. Some would argue that students need a minimum level of health to help others, but it is unclear where to draw the line.

The academic rigors of the school require each and every student to push himself or herself, many to a point that compromises both emotional and physical health. But many just accept this lifestyle. Maybe the toll on health is a minor grievance, or the cost of non sibi, or a choice students make in coming here and putting other commitments on themselves. After all, students have the option of participating in fewer clubs or letting grades slip, no matter how artificial this choice often feels.

At the same time as students feel the pressure to strive for non sibi and academic excellence, administrators and regulatory literature require students to place their well-being at the top of their priorties. The Blue Book’s expectations for “respect for self” require students “to care sensibly for the health of one’s own body, and to be honest about one’s feelings” (3).

The notion of taking care of oneself in a community that demands sacrifice places students in a complex bind of understanding two contradicting messages from teachers the administration.

Students can hope for classes to lessen the pressure or for the administration to place new emphasis on wellness. In the long term, the administration should consider what message it sends to students and how to respond. However, day to day, the only ones who can control students’ well-being are the students themselves.

Waiting for any long-term adjustments to be made to the school, students should look out for themselves and remember that they do have choices about their wellness. Maybe this means completing an assignment less thoroughly or skipping a club meeting, but it might alternatively mean accepting a late night or a weekend in the dorm room working. Until Andover helps students draw the line between sacrifice and wellness more definitively, students will have to grapple with these choices.

This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXIV.