The best speakers turn lectures into conversations. They strive to form a personal connection with each listener. The speakers that Deerfield has brought in for their Student Wellness Speaker Series, however, have fallen short. The Student Wellness series has proven ineffective because it’s an impersonal, lecture-based series on something that needs to be tackled with care and intention.
Our second Student Wellness speaker this year was from the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association. Although the presenter’s speech during the school meeting was well-intentioned, it felt like a bad way to approach a prevalent and nuanced issue one that, according to a 2019 Scroll survey, one out of five female students struggle with. The upperclassmen’s meeting with January’s Student Wellness speaker Michelle Pierce was informational — but it was only that.
Packed with facts and statistics, the regurgitation of information seemed more like a performance than a genuine attempt to relate to student life. Because of this, many struggled to find relevance or meaning in what seemed to be surface-level sentiments. In addition, many students with questions pertaining to eating disorders felt uncomfortable asking them within a larger audience. Ultimately, despite the speaker’s good intentions, it failed to connect with students.
This trend extends far beyond the most recent Student Wellness speaker. Students have noted similar issues with Hakeem Rahim and “Speak About It.” Rahim’s message, though riveting and personal, was not specific to the Deerfield environment and was, therefore, less applicable or available to students — it was a one-off school meeting without any lasting effect. Similarly, many students found the “Speak About It” initiative unmemorable and unimpactful. While the event was slightly more interactive than the Wellness Speakers, the large setting and oversimplification of such complex issues made the overall presentation hard to digest.
As a whole, Student Wellness speakers are invariably impersonal and ineffective when not paired with more intimate forms of student interaction and discussion. Without follow-up efforts, the Speaker Series left little behind save the opportunity for a few tasteless memes and jokes. The lasting impact of these lectures is students who feel unsupported and hurt that their personal struggles haven’t been properly addressed by the administration. Speeches and lectures can’t get to the root of a problem without more specific aid. The lectures require further conversation organized and enforced by Deerfield, whether in health classes, in dorms, or with sports teams.
Small group settings, such as in peer counseling groups or by halls, are much more effective for students to discuss mental health concerns. Students are more likely to share their experiences with people they know and are comfortable with. Personal conversations help students better process what they are going through and reach out for help.
The peer counselors’ visits to the Village every week demonstrate the vital and effective role of small group settings in student health education. Ninth-graders discuss subjects like mental health, eating disorders, and bullying. Similar programs should be provided for all DA students, as honest conversations about topics like these are indispensable for student wellbeing and to ensure students feel safe and supported on campus.
In addition to moving conversations about mental health in smaller, more personal settings, we also believe funding should be put into improving and expanding the existing programs on campus, not just on hiring speakers. The school could allocate more resources for students struggling with mental illnesses, like hiring more counselors.
The aforementioned Scroll survey also found that less than half of students consider DA faculty or the health center staff as mental and/or emotional support systems. Such statistics remain common knowledge but have escaped any serious intervention. Ultimately, Deerfield has refused to attack the problem of wellness at its root, leaving paid, third-party presenters to ensure the wellness of its own students.