The Student Affairs Office organized a Fall Wellness Week October 7-10, coinciding with the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Law School Mental Health Day on October 10. The week allowed students the opportunity to explore different wellness approaches in the form of fitness, nutrition, and mental health workshops. The week culminated in the opening of the Clinton/Parker Wellness Suite. The suite consists of two new spaces, a small workshop space to host wellness programs, and a comfortable living room space designed for relaxation. The living room features a large-screen multi-player video game console, comfy chairs and sofas, and a kitchenette.
Penn Law used this wellness week to encourage students to sample a variety of different approaches to well-being outside of the classroom in order to help them find the tools that work best for them. “We hope students realize that taking care of themselves is actually a way to help them flourish in their classes and the profession. Plus, it makes you feel better!” said Dean of Students Felicia Lin. “This type of wellness programming – with group fitness classes, small workshops, and school-wide events – reminds us that we are a community committed to helping each other succeed.”
As part of the school’s commitment to mental health and wellness, Student Affairs sponsors ongoing programming scheduled throughout the year to support wellness within the Penn Law community. A CAPS counselor holds office hours in the Law School twice a week to allow easier access for law students to obtain mental health counseling. This year, Student Affairs will also join the Center on Professionalism to offer the first Wellness Leadership Bootcamp, a weekend program designed for more intensive discussions about the intersection between resilience, applied positive psychology, wellness, and practice of law.
“Without access to mental health resources—and without deliberate institutional attempts at fostering well-being in legal academic settings—students may feel ill-equipped to tackle the problems from which they may suffer,” stated Benjamin A. Barsky L’19 and Dean Ted Ruger in their 2019 editorial on health for the Regulatory Review. “This reality should make law schools accountable for the improvement of student well-being. It should also serve as a guidepost for policy-making that seeks to address mental health issues affecting the entire legal profession.”
In addition to this year’s Wellness Week, in 2018, Penn Law became the first law school to mandate a Wellness unit in the required Professional Responsibility course. “We take seriously our obligation to prepare our students for the realities of practice and to graduate attorneys into the profession who are equipped to serve the many clients who will depend on them,” said Jennifer Leonard L’04, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Future of the Profession Initiative, who helped develop the Wellness unit.
The Clinton/Parker Wellness Suite
The Clinton/Parker Wellness Suite started as gift from the class of 2017. “The JD Class Officers were looking to create a space where students could step just to the side of their legal studies and relax and rejuvenate together,” said Jo-Ann Verrier L’83, Vice Dean for Administrative Services. “We were able to identify an underused space – at the time, it served as a student meeting room and student group storage room – and over the next two years, we worked with students to envision how it might be used in support of this goal.”
That year the Dean of Students, Gary Clinton, was due to retire and the class of 2017 wanted to pay homage to Dean Clinton by naming the suite after him. The same year, when Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Matthew Parker L’00 EdD’15 passed away, the LLM Class took up a contribution to add his name to the suite. “Associate Dean Parker and Dean of Students Clinton were constants in the life of Penn Law students, and the new space celebrates these relationships while fostering new connections between current students,” added Verrier.
The emphasis in the legal profession on issues surrounding lawyer’s health came to the forefront in 2017 when the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty published a report on the well-being of over 13,000 practicing lawyers, 15 law schools, and 3,300 law students.
The ABA established a Law School Mental Health Day, October 10, inviting law schools around the country to participate in opening a dialogue on student well-being.