VC must increase resources for those with eating disorders

Last weekend Vassar hosted a workshop entitled “Body Positive,” part a series of events centered around building a more supportive, body inclusive community on our campus. The three-day workshop included various activities and talks to help foster a more body positive atmosphere on the campus. Special guest Connie Sobczak, the Executive Director of The Body Positive—a group focused on creating more optimistic, healthy body image views— was on campus to help lead the workshop. Sobczak began the workshop by speaking frankly about her own eating disorders struggles—a change from the current campus climate regarding this issue.

We at The Miscellany News commend the students involved in planning and hosting the weekend workshop that tackled body image issues, including eating disorders. It is a courageous and helpful. However, the College has not provided the appropriate care and resources necessary for members of the Vassar community with past or present eating disorders.

Currently, Vassar lacks an on-campus eating disorder counselor, as well as any type of College-sponsored eating disorder group therapy for those who need this support system. While the College does offer group and individual therapy for many of the other mental health issues students may face, the College has failed to address eating disorders on campus. This is unacceptable and can only worsen the stigma that often surrounds eating disorders. Vassar’s choice to gloss over body image issues shows how far we still have to go.

Issues of mental health already carry a stigma. Unlike other stigmatized conditions, we at The Miscellany News feel Vassar has not extended the support necessary to combat eating disorders. The fact that Vassar fails to program around this type of illness does not help foster a safe environment on campus. And the lack of an on-campus eating disorder counselor and a College-sponsored support group only further brings this inadequacy of health resources into relief.

Perhaps it is the stigma surrounding body-image issues that explains why Vassar has not met its obligation to sustain a safe, healthy environment for its students. But this is not an excuse. The College already provides support for other types of trauma and mental illness. That the College does not offer the same support for body-image issues reveals an unacceptable deficiency in resources. The College needs to re-evaluate its stance on eating disorders.

Students should not be obligated to initiate and maintain eating disorder therapy groups and the like. The College itself must provide for its students. Student efforts can and should continue to offer peer-to-peer help, but the College must develop and implement programming to fight for a body-positive campus. Maintaining an on-campus eating disorder specialist is one clear and concrete way the College can demonstrate its support for students with eating disorders. Without access to on-campus resources, students are invariably forced to seek help off-campus. This forces students to pay for transportation, therapy and other off-campus contingencies. These only add further roadblocks to recovery. And they especially hurt students who cannot pay the money or the time necessary to find help.

We are also concerned that Eating Disorder Awareness week passed this year with minimal publicity. The fact that many students spent the week unaware of its national title just shows how far under the radar this campus climate issue flies. Vassar handled the week with only one talk: “Everyone Knows Someone”. The talk received little advertising on campus. The entire week simply went by without most of campus knowing or remembering Eating Disorder Awareness week.

We urge Vassar College to make crucial changes to its resources on campus. Eating disorders are serious illnesses. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique” and “In a survey of 185 female students on a college campus, 58% felt pressure to be a certain weight, and of the 83% that dieted for weight loss, 44% were of normal weight.” The site further notes that “An estimated 10-15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male.” Eating disorders happen to students, and happen to student on this very campus. The need for a “Body Positive” workshop only further confirms these statistics.

It is a grave detriment to the health of students, faculty and staff on this campus to lack direct access to a counselor specialized in eating disorders or a College-affiliated support group. Vassar often claims itself to be a safe place for students and faculty alike. It is the duty of the College to cultivate this type of environment. It is in the best interest of those on campus to have a space where eating disorders can be discussed freely.

Vassar needs to provide medical and psychological attention on campus to help students deal with their illnesses—and that includes body-image issues. Instead of perpetuating the stigma around eating disorders, Vassar should instead fight it by facing the issue head-on and having open discussions about the nature of eating disorders. For students currently struggling with We encourage any students struggling with eating disorders to phone The Listening Center, our own 24/7 confidential, peer-run, 24-hour hotline at (845) 235-2062. The National Eating Disorders Association also runs a toll-free hotline Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, at 1-800-931-2237.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the seventeen member Editorial Board

 

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