Wellness Open House Voices Student Health Concerns About COVID-19, Monkey Pox, Reproductive Care, Mental Health

The Student Government Association (SGA) hosted Emory University’s first ever Wellness Open House on October 3rd. The town hall-style meeting covered COVID-19, monkeypox, reproductive health and mental well-being.

The event featured Chief Sustainability Officer Amir St. Clair, Executive Director of Student Health Services Sharon Rabinowitz and Associate Vice President for Health, Wellness, Access and Prevention James Rapper. Each speaker gave a presentation and answered questions from the students. About 100 students attended either on Zoom or in the meeting room.

SGA President Noah Marchuk (24C) and SGA Vice President Aditi Vellore (21Ox, 23C) said they were first inclined to host the Wellness Open House when Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24, leaving the legality of abortion access up to the states.

“I originally wanted it to be about reproductive resources and what reproductive rights are still intact after everything,” Marchuk said.

Associate Vice President for Health, Wellness, Access and Prevention James Rapper discusses mental health during the Wellness Open House. (Alina Glass/Screenwriter)

Vellore took a similar view, saying she and Marchuck are considering ways to inform students about the new regulations.

“Once we started hearing about monkeypox cases increasing and COVID-19 getting worse at the beginning of the semester, we thought, ‘Oh, why not make this a wellness event?’” Vellore said.

St. Clair, who has processed Emory’s response to COVID-19 kicked off the Wellness Open Day with a discussion of how protocols have evolved since the start of the pandemic.

“We’re starting to remove those limitations and try to emphasize more education, making good decisions and relying on the tools that are already there,” St. Clair said.

Emory will continue to refer to public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Georgia Department of Public Health, county health departments and university experts, St. Clair said. He added that he hopes students are aware of the cyclical nature of COVID-19 and stay alert for any new variants.

Rabinowitz then introduced monkeypox, a virus that spreads primarily through skin-to-skin contact, and it was declared national health emergency in August. She discussed his symptoms, which included a fever, headache and rash. In case of possible exposure, Rabinowitz recommended that students get tested through Student Health Services (SHS). To help stop the spread of the virus, she urged students to avoid skin-to-skin contact with people with symptoms, use hand sanitizer and avoid sharing drinks, towels or bedding.

Discussing the mental impact the three-week period of monkeypox isolation can have on students, Rabinowitz emphasized resources such as counseling and psychological services and TimelyCare TalkNow.

“It’s really important to have the support you need in isolation,” Rabinowitz said.

She then talked about what reproductive rights they have and haven’t changed since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Abortions are now banned in Georgia after six weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother is at risk of serious injury or death, or in cases of rape or incest where a police report is filed.

“There are a lot of days in our lives that are like, ‘I remember where I was when…’ and this is one of them,” Raynowitz said.

Services such as imaging, IVF and non-obstetric care or medication for pregnancy are still legal in Georgia. Student Health Services will continue to offer resources such as contraceptives, pregnancy detection and counseling for unplanned pregnancies, Rabinowitz added.

“So what’s changing?” Rabinowitz asked. “These are the consistent and intentional messages we make as a community.”

The university will work with students to help them meet any financial needs related to reproductive care, Rabinowitz said. For those under the Emory University Student Health Insurance Plan (EUSHIP), the cost of abortions, contraception, and out-of-state travel will be covered. For those not covered by EUSHIP, Student Case Management and Intervention services can be used for further assistance.

A rapper who arrived to Emory in June 2022, concluded the town hall with his thoughts on how to improve student mental health. He began by defining wellness as including the Emory community as a whole.

“How well are we doing as an organism, as an ecology?” asked Rapper.

Rapper then questioned what welfare looks, sounds and feels like for traditionally marginalized communities.

“Most universities have traditionally been constructed to be a more ‘better’ place for people who have a lot of privilege,” Rapper said.

In addition, Raper presented a study on how the mental health of Emory students compares to national averages. The data showed that 700-800 Emory students who volunteered to participate in the study scored 1.5% to 8% below the national average on the following statements: “I belong in my college,” ” student health and well-being is a priority at my college’, ‘the campus climate encourages free and open discussion of student health and well-being’ and ‘we are a caring campus’.

Rapper said he hopes to remove the often unintended barriers that prevent students from accessing support services. Its goal is to help each student bring themselves fully to Emory and to the world they enter upon graduation.

The Wellness Open Day provided students with the opportunity to hear from experts and voice any concerns.

“There are so many issues going on in our society today,” Vellore said. “We wanted to create this event to make sure people are better informed.”

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