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Penn's Wellness Week began on Nov. 9 and will conclude on Nov. 14 with “Disney’s Coco and Hot Cocoa.” Credit: Samantha Turner

While this year's Penn Wellness Week will be hosted almost entirely through virtual platforms, the goal remains the same: to help students support each other and prioritize well-being.

Penn Wellness Week — running from Nov. 9 to Nov. 14 this year — is a biannual event organized by students that features dozens of programs aimed at enhancing mental and physical health on campus. In previous years, a number of Penn organizations provided students with wellness activities and social events, including free donuts, free classes at Pottruck gym, and time to spend with puppies or goats. 

In what has proven to be a stressful year, between the COVID-19 pandemic, a shift to remote learning, and protests against racial injustice, Penn Wellness Week leaders offer a variety of events to bring students together. The Wellness Week organizers chose the week after the lengthy national election process to hold their events. 

“We purposefully chose this week as Wellness Week,” Chair of Penn Wellness and College senior Jennifer Richards said. “We really thought that students need some ways to distress and relax.”

Advocacy Chair of Penn Wellness and College senior Julie Baum said that she sees Penn Wellness Week as an outlet for students to refresh and feel supported, as many students do not always prioritize their mental health.

The majority of events are accessible through a Zoom link on the Wellness Week Calendar, and all Penn affiliates are welcome to attend.

“We want to encourage everybody — undergraduate, graduate, Ph.D. students, staff and faculty — to prioritize wellness this week,” Richards said.

On Nov. 10, CogWell@Penn — a student group that works to build active listening skills — organized an active listening training workshop for students to learn how to listen and support their peers when they are coping with stress and mental health struggles.

During Wellness Week, CogWell is also hosting one in-person, socially distant event called Penn Positivity Tree at 41st and Irving streets, where members of the Penn community can stop by to leave messages of gratitude and feel supported.

A CogWell student leader and College senior Matthew Tomaselli said that the group aims to teach students active listening skills by holding active listening training sessions. He added that CogWell is a great source for learning about wellness, but is just one out of many other resources Penn students can benefit from.

Tomaselli highlighted that Wellness Week Fall 2020 is as important as it has ever been and everyone, including people who consider themselves mentally healthy, can benefit from attending its events.

“With everyone stuck in front of their screens all day, not having the beauty of impressive experiences that we naturally cannot have, this semester can be tough for a lot of people,” Tomaselli said. “It can really exacerbate a lot of the problems and difficulties people already face at Penn in a highly competitive environment.”

On Tuesday, Penn Band x CAPS, Financial Wellness@Penn, and Penn's Counseling and Psychological Services held workshops on wellness, finance, and mindfulness.

The Greenfield Intercultural Center is hosting a “Stretch and Stillness” event on Wednesday. Students are welcome to go to the Outdoor Bootcamp organized by Campus Recreation, bring their pets to a Trivia Night hosted by STEP-Up, and attend Climate Grief Panel at Student Sustainability Association at Penn x Penn Wellness and Werewolf Wednesday at Social Deduction Club.

Thursday will feature meditation and painting workshops as well as a discussion on wellness jeopardy by Student Health Services.

On Friday, Penn Project HEAL, Penn Athletics, and Penn Wellness will welcome a Mental Health Advocate, TED Talk Speaker, and a former Division I volleyball player Victoria Garrick to discuss body positivity.

Wellness Week will conclude on Saturday with “Disney’s Coco and Hot Cocoa” event hosted by the Latin Mexican Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and Penn Wellness.

Richards said that one of the goals of Wellness Week is to address the specific needs of the Penn international student community. Several cultural and international student groups, such as Assembly of International Students, Malaysians at Penn, Penn Queer & Asian and Penn Philippine Association, are hosting movie nights, conversations, and cultural events.

Undergraduate Assembly President and College senior Mercedes Owens encouraged students to participate in Wellness Week on Monday in an email to the Penn undergraduate community. She wrote that the UA has been stressing the importance of addressing students’ mental health in its recent conversations with administration.

“We are highlighting that these outcomes are not a result of a lack of events, but from an institutional issue, stemming from unrealistic and overly rigorous academic and professional expectations,” Owens wrote. “We know that it will take a lot more than events to transform the culture that has had a detrimental effect on the mental health of the student body for many years.”