Date September 16, 2021
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New center and residence hall realizes Brown’s vision for integrated student wellness experience

The University’s recently opened health and wellness center and residence hall is bringing together students and staff committed to promoting student well-being through collaborative care and community building.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In early September, Brown’s newest building — and the first new residence hall to open on campus in 30 years — welcomed its first cohort of yearlong residents, marking the final step in implementing the University’s vision of an integrated space to support student wellness.

Located at 450 Brook St. in Providence, the new health and wellness center and residence hall now houses 162 students who share a deep commitment to sustaining healthy lifestyles and promoting well-being in the Brown community and beyond. The building brings together in the same space services and programs instrumental to students’ physical and emotional well-being — including Health Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, Brown Emergency Medical Services and BWell, the University’s health promotion program.

After construction finished in Spring 2021, the building started to come to life this summer, when four of its health and wellness services and programs moved in at staggered intervals from June to August. It also housed students during Brown’s summer term, the last of three “de-densified” semesters to allow for reduced campus occupancy during the pandemic.

Now, with the arrival of its first cohort of students dedicated to building healthy communities, the vision for the center and residence hall is fully realized — to serve as an inclusive, integrated space focused on the well-being of Brown students, said Dr. Vanessa Britto, executive director of health and wellness.

“The new health and wellness center and residence hall presents Brown with an extraordinary opportunity to be innovative in how we support health and well-being,” Britto said. “By bringing together many of the services and programs that focus on health and wellness, the center will create a campus-wide environment that guides all students as they learn how best to care for themselves physically and emotionally.”

A collaborative health and wellness hub

The vision for an integrated health and wellness facility dates back years. The University began a collaborative design process in 2018, broke ground in 2019 and celebrated the completion of the building’s exterior structure in a 2020 event featuring project leaders from Facilities Management, Shawmut Design and Construction, William Rawn Associates and other partners. Generous financial support from two lead gifts — a donation from the family of the late Duncan MacMillan, and a gift from Barry Sternlicht and Mimi Reichert Sternlicht — enabled Brown to reach the finish line and open the building’s doors in May 2021.  

Already, housing Brown’s core health and wellness services together has created opportunities for deeper collaborations that are positively impacting students. For example, proximity has made it easier for cross-departmental colleagues to develop collaborative wellness plans for students, said Tanya Purdy, director of BWell.

“Previously, we couldn’t follow up on conversations that might happen in a meeting without intentionally prescheduling time — first because we were in different buildings, and then because for the past year and a half we were working in our homes,” she said.

Now, Purdy said, discussions can happen more quickly and efficiently. “We’ve already had times when we’re meeting with a student and we think they would be a really good fit for therapy or to meet with a Health Services provider,” she said. “To be able to call someone on their office phone and say, ‘Do you have 10 minutes for me to walk over to your office and consult with you?’ — it allows us to accomplish in real time what could have taken days.”

That ease of collaboration heightens the ability of Brown’s health and wellness services to respond when a student’s needs fall at the intersection of physical and mental health, said Dr. Adam Pallant, clinical director of Health Services.

“Many of the issues we see in Health Services intersect with mental health,” he said. “We need a very close relationship with the therapists and counselors so that we can look at what’s happening with students holistically.”

As they have begun interacting with each other in more informal settings, health and wellness staff members are also bringing new insights to the referrals they make, Pallant added.

“Each of us as clinicians and CAPS providers has different areas of interest and expertise,” he said. “Now that we are getting to know each other’s styles, we can make referral choices that will best complement a student’s needs and personality. Knowing each other’s unique strengths, we can share care together in much more productive ways.”

A community commitment to wellness

The new building also offers residential space for undergraduates with deep investments in wellness to strengthen their practices of care in community with each other.

Each of the building’s undergraduate residents applied to be members of the community, with selections made by a committee of staff and students. During the application process, students described their well-being practices — from meditation to walking, journaling to cooking shared meals — and described the ways that bringing these practices to a committed health and wellness community appealed to them.

“We were looking to bring together a community of people who really wanted to do these activities together,” Purdy said. “And we found that there were so many students who were really hungry for an opportunity to have this lived experience with peers.”

In addition to residence hall leaders, undergraduates living in the new building will have access to five wellness peer education coordinators, who will help residents bring their varied wellness practices to their living community.

“We hope to make intentional space for connecting with each other and finding ways to step back and make sure health and wellness is a priority,” said Sojas Wagle, a Brown junior and one of the building’s new wellness peer education coordinators. “I think this is a kind of radical stance considering that, for students, it’s very typical to kind of push health and wellness to the side — to study long hours and not take time for yourself. We’re really trying to go the other way and say, ‘No, taking time for yourself and taking time with other people is crucial to student health as a whole.’”

The new building will also serve as the first permanent home for BWell’s peer education initiatives, which include Sexual Assault Peer Education, Sexual Health Awareness Group, Masculinity Peer Education and Brown Relaxation Project.

“For the first time, we will have offices and community spaces that were intentionally designed for our peer educators,” Purdy said. “Having a home base — and a space that was built for them to thrive in —is going to change the way that these groups work together.”

“We hope to make intentional space for connecting with each other and finding ways to step back and make sure health and wellness is a priority. I think this is a kind of radical stance considering that, for students, it’s very typical to kind of push health and wellness to the side — to study long hours and not take time for yourself. We’re really trying to go the other way and say, ‘No, taking time for yourself and taking time with other people is crucial to student health as a whole.’”

Sojas Wagle Class of 2023, Wellness Peer Education Coordinator
Sojas Wagle

Housing this wellness-centered residential community in the same building as Brown’s health and wellness centers also creates opportunity for students and practitioners to get to know each other as more than just patients and providers, Purdy said.

“Folks in Health Services and CAPS haven’t often gotten to walk through common areas and see students in their regular daily activities, and students don’t usually get to see that, either,” she said. “Living and working closely together allows us to interact with each other outside of the hierarchical ways that can put pressure on doctor-patient, client-therapist dynamics. It allows us to see each other as part of the same community.”

This type of relationship-building also leads to better health care, Pallant said.

“Healing and wellness come as much from relationships with people who care for you as they do from any particular medical treatment,” he said. “Our ability to center relationships in our student care is much, much greater with us all together in this space.” 

By realizing the vision of an integrated, relationship-driven health and wellness experience, the new building also sends an unmistakable message to the entire campus community, Wagle said.

“Even though they may put it on the back burner, people often profess that health and wellness is a priority,” said Wagle, an independent concentrator studying psychiatric epidemiology. “By clearly making health and wellness the main mission of this building, it becomes something that you can’t really miss. Knowing that this is embedded within the community... I think it’s really beautiful.”