Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify the proper names of services offered within the Center and its location. Also, Student Conduct and Community Standards is on the ground floor and was incorrectly listed as being on the second floor.
Just a short walk from Chesapeake and Susquehanna Halls on Center Road stands the newest building at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County: The Center for Well-Being. The $14 million two-story complex houses Retriever Integrated Health (Health Services, the Counseling Center, Health Promotion), Student Conduct and Community Standards and i3b’s Gathering Space for Spiritual Well-Being.
Dr. Kim Leisey, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, said that universities across the country are increasingly taking a holistic approach to student wellbeing. As a result, the Center for Well-Being defines student wellness through a “mind, body, and spirit” focus.
The Center’s ground floor houses Health Promotion, i3b’s Gathering Space for Spiritual Well-Being, a mind spa, Student Conduct and Community Standards and several reservable meeting spaces. On the second floor, which is elevator-accessible, is the Counseling Center, University Health Services and several more shared conference rooms.
Entering the building, one cannot help but feel refreshed by the spacious ceiling, large windows promoting natural light and the strategically placed seating areas. Most striking, however, is the interconnectedness that is both physically built into the Center’s architecture (e.g., the Counseling Center and UHS corridors lead into each other) and implied by how many spaces are reservable between different student groups. In other words, the Center for Well-Being is rooted in shared community.
Take the Gathering Space for Spiritual Well-Being, for instance. It is a large, spacious wood-floored room with a window wall overlooking Erickson Field. In the adjacent hall are two foot wash rooms for students to observe religious cleansing practices, as well as a cubby storage space and a small kitchenette. The room’s amenities are not catered towards one religion; rather it is a flexible space for student spiritual wellness. Evidence of this is already visible as, while visiting, a small group of students entered the room, prayer rugs in hand.
“It is more accessible because any religious [or spiritual or meditative] student organization can reserve it,” explained Leisey.
Leisey also said that the foot wash rooms and kitchenette were proposed by students who felt that previous campus spaces were not accommodating enough of diverse spiritual practices. In fact, in the past students had to use normal restroom sinks if they wanted to wash their feet.
Since the design process was collaborative, building designers received no backlash about the Gathering Space from any specific student group. However, Leisey acknowledged that it would not satisfy everyone, so campus leaders are working with i3b to help students find other spaces on campus for religious and spiritual activities.
Student involvement in the Center extends even past the Gathering Space’s inclusivity. The entire concept of a well-being space was devised through collaboration between administrators, student affairs and student representatives of campus organizations. The building’s Design Steering Committee also engaged both students and staff in the design process. Students even had a say in the Center’s physical location near residence halls.
“We initially had it being a part of the RAC to combine physical and mental health,” said Leisey. “But students wanted it closer to where they lived.”
Rounding off the ground floor tour are the Office of Health Promotion and the mind spa. In Health Promotion, you can talk to Peer Health Educators and receive support on mental health, alcohol, nutrition and sexual and reproductive health. The Office also hosts seminars and various programs on these topics. The mind spa was transplanted from the original Counseling Center and is still a work in progress. It is a quiet, zen space equipped with two leather massage armchairs, and might also have tea and water sounds when fully complete. There is also one in Patapsco Hall.
“The ‘spa’ was inspired by students who told me they just wanted to turn their minds off sometimes,” explained Leisey.
The Student Conduct and Community Standards fills in the remainder of the space on the first floor. Here, students that engaged in some sort of misconduct, except for academic or sexual harassment cases, report to hearings. These hearings are conducted by both administrators and student justices. Significantly, Student Conduct and Community Standards also focuses on restorative practices, and may connect with the Gathering Space for Spiritual Well-Being to emphasize the idea of shared community.
“Conduct is student driven, so this is an important part of our philosophy of shared governance at UMBC,” said Jeff Cullen, Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards.
Upstairs, there is a large waiting room for students to check in to appointments at UHS (which includes seven exam rooms, a blood lab and an acupuncture facility) or the Counseling Center. The two clinical facilities were designed with one shared waiting room in order to combat stigmas about mental health. Once again, interconnectedness is evident, this time through the emphasis on both physical and emotional wellness.
Since a health emergency might require first responders, a large ambulance and dropoff area was built into the Center’s design, along with a stretcher-accessible ramp and elevators for efficient access to UHS. Previously, an ambulance would have to drive in and back out through Erickson, posing certain safety risks. The exterior design of the Center is such that anyone being brought in on an ambulance or stretcher will have privacy from those in residence halls, an issue which other Maryland schools like Towson University struggle with.
In terms of structural design, the Center for Well-Being is the first of its kind in the University System of Maryland, as it was built using the “permanent modular” system: the building was completely manufactured in the factory, disassembled into a number of blocks, or modules, then put back together again on site.
According to Facilities Management leaders, the Center arrived at UMBC in 46 modules, and was constructed in one week. The entire permanent modular process cut 6 months off construction. As of this article, the building is not yet fully complete (although it is fully functional) because of COVID-19 supply chain issues.
In the future, Leisey said that she hopes to see trauma-informed yoga and other meditative activities in the Gathering Space. Development of the natural green space in front of the building, specifically Erickson Field, is also currently being discussed. Who knows, UMBC might have its very own “central park.”
Even incomplete and without a green space, the new Center for Well-Being is leaps ahead of the five trailers that occupied the lot in the past. Student physical, mental and spiritual health form the basis for a new community space on campus, and the many reservable spaces within the building provide new spaces for student organizations to gather and uplift one another.
To learn more about the Center for Well-Being, visit studentaffairs.umbc.edu.