Law school to hire diversity, wellness leader

Updated: Oct. 17, 2016 at 10:30 a.m.

The GW Law School will add a member to the school’s staff who will focus on students’ wellness and inclusion.

The new position – called the law school program administrator for wellness, diversity and inclusion – will be responsible for creating, developing and implementing programs to create diversity and well-being programs, according to the University’s job posting. The new staff member will create a more supportive environment for students who face daily stress from schoolwork and the competitive law school atmosphere, an official in the school said.

Elizabeth Ewert, associate dean of students in the law school, said in an email the new position focuses on student outreach, wellness and diversity programming and individual student advising. Other staff currently work in these areas, but the position will centralize the school’s efforts, she said.

“There is growing research on the idea that self management, stress management, mindfulness and empathy are not only ‘happiness’ skills but also necessary professional competencies,” Ewert said. “Combined with the recommendation of last year’s Wellness Committee and the arrival of a new dean of students, this seemed like an optimal time to focus on this important topic.”

Ewert added the law school already has programs in place to support students, like drop-in hours with a Mental Health Services clinician and an orientation program “on maintaining life balance, stress management and time management.”

Mental Health Services added a clinician dedicated to law school students last year months after two students in the school died, one by suicide.

At designated times throughout the year, like during the health and wellness weeks that the law school hosts in the spring and fall, students have opportunities to focus on wellness, Ewert said.

“We offer a full complement of activities,” she said. “This includes topical speakers, healthy food, yoga classes, mindfulness exercises, group runs and flu shots.”

She added that relaxing activities, like a gaming truck and places to do crafts or hobbies, are also available.

Sonia Suter, a law professor, said wellness and stress management are prominent issues within law schools because they are high-pressure environments for students. Faculty and administrators in the school continue to develop mechanisms and programs to help students deal with stress, she said.

“I think our faculty as a whole is committed to the wellness of the students,” Suter said. “Many of the faculty offer unsolicited advice to students about balance in their lives. Engaging with my students on a level beyond the classroom is something that is very important to me.”

This is not the first the law school has added programming to help create a friendlier environment for students: In 2012, the school created the Inns of Court program to provide career and wellness resources for students. Through the program, each incoming class is divided into five cohorts, called “Inns,” that are each named after a former U.S. Supreme Court justice.

Suter, who is the lead adviser of the Jackson Inn, said the Inns of Court program has brought in speakers to present to the students about dealing with stress and remaining focused, even in law school’s competitive environment.

“We had a former attorney come speak to the students about ways to develop focus, become more centered and keep their minds from spinning in a million different directions,” Suter said. “She gave them some really concrete strategies that people who practice mindfulness and meditation techniques offer.”

One expert said wellness has not always been at the top of most law schools’ administrators across the country, and many law programs have not added positions or resources to help students with stress management and overall wellness.

Andrew Benjamin, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, has been involved in law school wellness for more than 30 years. As a clinical psychologist, he treated and assessed one-eighth of the University of Washington’s law students each year and founded a peer support program. In the program, trained law students advise their peers who may struggle with grief, depression or substance abuse.

He said that there has been little progress with law schools across the country implementing wellness programs.

“I would like to say that there is a sea of change, but there isn’t,” Benjamin said. “Law schools, especially traditional law schools, have changed their direction very, very slowly. There has been some effort to develop more clinical programming for our law students in traditional law schools, but that’s it.”

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly called the Jackson Inn the Jackman Inn. We regret this error.

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