University of Vermont student Kyle Bodge on finding his niche on campus, starting in the Wellness Environment
Before I decided to go to the University of Vermont, I hadn’t heard of the Wellness Environment. Choosing to live there was one of the many experiences my freshman year that allowed me to explore health, wellness, and activism.
During my pre-college orientation, I learned about the WE, a new and innovative housing initiative dedicated to incentivizing healthy lifestyles. The program goes beyond providing a barebones dorm experience, giving its residents education on the neuroscience behind risk-taking behaviors and easy access to what they need for good nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness.
The WE initiative appealed to me on multiple levels. The free access to the local gym and nutritionist support were great perks, but I was especially intrigued by WE’s unique way of dealing with substance use and other unhealthy habits. While any other dorm will punish students for breaking drug and alcohol policies, WE encourages substance-free habits by providing positive diversions to encourage students to take charge and make healthier choices.
I was one of 120 freshmen who joined the Wellness Environment for its first year. It came to be an important time of growth, both for myself and the program. During our freshman year, I navigated new crowds, packed schedules, and the sometimes-daunting freedom that college provides, while WE worked out the kinks of trying to maintain a substance-free bubble in such high-risk surroundings and determined a response method for when students inevitably broke WE’s expected conduct.
We both faced a number of challenges: I attended many difficult lectures and tests. Students who couldn’t abide by its code left the Wellness Environment. Ultimately, however, it all amounted to a good learning experience. The Wellness Environment program and I both developed greatly from everything we experienced during our shared first year at UVM.
Due to its popularity, the Wellness Environment expanded in its second year, allowing prior freshman to stay on as sophomores. I decided to continue with the program, as did the majority of my peers. I enjoyed the tight-knit community and variety of activities available to WE students, including paint and movie nights, group fitness training, and priority access to interesting neuroscience courses like “Healthy Brains, Healthy Bodies” with curricula designed to be low-stress. I had come into WE with few expectations, mostly curious to see how much it could deliver what it had promised, and I came out of the program with a number of positive experiences that assisted me in maintaining my well-being. From the start of my college career, living in the Wellness Environment helped encourage me to prioritize my health — something I view as key for every university student — while also giving me creative and fun outlets through which I could practice healthy behaviors.
I also quickly dove into extracurriculars outside of my dorm. Early in my first semester, I joined UVM’s chapter of One in Four, a group of men on campus dedicated to educating other men on topics like how to support sexual assault survivors, ways to intervene in situations where assaults might occur, and methods for communicating consent and nonconsent with partners openly. I knew I was lucky to have received a comprehensive education on these topics through my family and the progressive circles I was involved with growing up, and I wanted to pay it forward to other University of Vermont students who might not have had the same opportunities to learn about healthy relationships and peer support. Using an approach called The Men’s Program, which connects with audiences non-confrontationally and encourages empathy with survivors, our chapter gives open presentations to the community at large and closed presentations to various clubs, sports teams, fraternities, and other organizations who invite us to talk to their members.
One in Four is a group that has been shown nationwide to have a positive impact on the perceptions of men who attend presentations, increasing their empathy for survivors and lowering their likelihood of committing sexual assault. I’m proud to take part in expanding its influence in my university community.
I also joined UVM Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness during spring semester of my freshman year. The group is often flexible in purpose as the needs of its members change, but it is primarily centered around providing both able-bodied and disabled students a space to connect and discuss the experiences of disabled students at UVM. Our conversations also include the experiences of disabled people out in the world brought to us through news stories, videos, and other media.
I was drawn to SDAA because of the opportunity it gave me to do advocacy work in an area I didn’t have much previous exposure to. The group was new on campus, and I was eager to get involved. I started as our Marketing Coordinator during our first semester, and I was later offered the wonderful opportunity to become President of SDAA in the fall of my sophomore year. It has been a rewarding challenge this past year, as we have worked to expand our presence on campus through connecting with other advocacy-based clubs, creating and giving presentations, and maintaining engaging discussions for our own meetings. We’ve covered topics ranging from popular disabled social media stars to the intersection between gene editing in ova and disability politics. Though I initially joined the group out of mere interest, it has grown into a strong passion of mine that I foresee impacting my activism even beyond my college years.
Engaging in the organizations I have across UVM’s campus for the past two years has allowed me to participate in personal wellness, social activism, and minority advocacy spheres in ways I likely would not otherwise have been able to. I encourage all students, at all universities, to explore the opportunities made available to them through clubs, housing programs, and other related campus associations while they have the unique chance to do so. Traversing the college extracurricular scene can help you to take healthy breaks from classwork stress, network with peers, find new passions, and collectively expand your horizons to make yourself into a more well-rounded person.
Kyle Bodge is a member of the Mary Christie Foundation Young Adult Council.