July 23, 2018
Erin Ulrich
Photo of the exterior of the new wellness facilities
Exterior of health and wellness center facilities Photo credit: Yvonne Gay

The Patricia ’63 & Merrill ’61 Shanks Health and Wellness Center is about more than revamping the existing athletics facilities. The center was built with the intent of bringing the campus community together by fostering healthy connections between body and mind.

Since her appointment as president in 2017, President Carmen Twillie Ambar has advocated for demonstrating the value of liberal arts more clearly. She says that this is possible by “tapping into Oberlin’s DNA of being bold.” Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos says that the new health and wellness center is all about the Oberlin community coming together and being bold.

“I have lots of respect for President Ambar—her boldness and willingness to jump out and inspire the community. To be bold, it takes physical strength and emotional stability, which is where the center comes into play,” says Winkelfoos. For her, boldness is about “making self-care a priority,” and advocating for “the marriage of physical health and emotional wellbeing.”

Winkelfoos says that the process of developing programming in the new facility has been both calculated and natural. “It fits our needs, not just our wants, which is perfect modest thinking for a place like Oberlin,” she says.

Rather than building an ostentatious facility with little value to the community as a whole, the center was born out of a response to needs voiced by campus members.

Head Women’s Softball Coach Sara Schoenhoft has been instrumental in wellness programming efforts and says that the new facilities will allow her to instill in her players an attitude of “wellness for life,” not just during the season. But, she says that transforming narratives around wellness is an effort aimed at the entire campus, not just student athletes.

Winkelfoos considers wellness a need, one she says nurtures sound minds and bodies. “We go to school, work, and play in a high level academic environment—a place that’s going to challenge you personally, professionally, and academically. When you have that type of pressure, it builds up and the more you feel tight, the less you’re able to focus and think clearly.”

Winkelfoos explains that, to carry out Oberlin’s commitment not just to higher learning, but to social justice work as well, the interconnectedness of mental and physical wellness must be at the forefront of the conversation. By recognizing the pressure on students not only to perform academically, but to constantly think critically and thoughtfully about the world they live in, the center provides both a nexus and safe haven for students to prioritize taking care of themselves.

“Stress should not be a badge of honor, self-care should be,” Winkelfoos says. “The greatest gifts we can give our students is an education of how to care for yourself after you leave Oberlin.”

From programming for introverts (“Podcast Cardio”) to monthly self-care seminars, the center makes what Winkelfoos calls “that hard connection” between physical and emotional wellbeing. A conference room in the facility will serve as a drop-in space for Counseling Center office hours as well as a resource hub for the Office of Disability Resources and the Center for Student Success.

By offering an accessible one-stop shop for mental health resources, Winkelfoos says that the center is working to “break down the stigma of going to the Counseling Center and asking for help.”

Winkelfoos and Schoenhoft say that the wellness center programming has been designed to make introverts and lay people alike feel more comfortable working out in an environment that is not so athlete-centric.

Students can expect free or low-cost programming available to them, including instructor-guided spinning and yoga classes as well as a TRX room (body weight exercises). In addition, the new facility will offer counseling center drop-in hours and cocurricular nutrition classes offered through the Athletics and Physical Education Program.

The health and wellness center will open its doors at the beginning of the fall semester.  During Orientation, incoming first-year students will be able to take part in group fitness classes and even snag some free Yeomen swag.

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