Fordham Law’s Wellness Week, held this year from October 11 to 19, will include events aimed at teaching students strategies for cultivating their well-being by addressing topics including anxiety, implicit bias, mindfulness, and nutrition.
The first few weeks of the semester have already been marked by a notable increase in student engagement on wellness topics, says Assistant Dean of Professionalism Jordana Confino.
“We have seen levels of engagement in our wellness programming reach new heights, far surpassing past years,” said Confino. The difference, she says, can be chalked up to two recent changes: adjustments made to 1L orientation and increased student-led offerings in Fordham Law’s house system program focused on community-building.
What’s New This Year
A decision was made this year to begin 1L orientation with three days focused on wellness, mental health, diversity, and professionalism, rather than saving that programming for later on. Students had an opportunity to start law school with an interactive presentation on wellness, connect with peers through group discussions about topics such as empathy, values, and self-care, and attend a number of events focused purely on fostering socializing and community-building.
“Flipping the schedule completely changed the tone of orientation,” said Confino. “By the end of the first day, the students were forging real friendships and meaningful connections with their classmates and with their mentors. It gave rise to a level of immediate community and camaraderie we’ve never seen before—especially in recent years [due to the pandemic].”
In addition, Board of Student Advisors members and Professionalism Fellows have worked tirelessly to increase student house system program offerings, planning a number of house events focused on social engagement, community, and mentorship.
Events this year have included game nights and trivia nights, kickball tournaments, and wellness walks, as well as peer mentorship opportunities related to legal writing, classroom experiences, and co-curricular activities. The new programs, while not mandatory to attend, have attracted record numbers of students, said Confino.
Shifting Attitudes Towards Wellness
The effects of the pandemic, virtual classes, and social isolation have also had a widespread impact on all students, which Confino believes has increased their interest in mental health and wellness topics.
“I think students really felt starved for social connection during the pandemic…The ability to get together in person, recognize the commonality of their experiences, and support one another makes the stresses of law school seem far less isolating and overwhelming,” said Confino.
The increase in participation could also reflect a broader cultural shift as a new generation of law students begins to look at mental health and wellness through a different lens, says Victoria Field ’23, president of Fordham Law’s Mental Health Society.
“I think that there is a cultural difference between people who graduated law school and became lawyers when wellness and mental health were not part of the lexicon, and they don’t necessarily value it the same way that my generation does,” said Field.
“Instead, there was an emphasis placed on ‘toughening up’ and ‘surviving’ the grueling experience that is law school,” she said. “Personally, I question whether the suffering that is inflicted on law students actually makes them better lawyers, and I wonder if there’s a different way.”
The goal of the Mental Health Society, Field says, is to point students in the right direction when it comes to mental health services inside and outside the Law School, including Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services, which offers both therapy and psychiatric care, and The Lawyer Assistance Program, which offers lawyers and law students counseling on issues like addiction.
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Wellness and Career Success
A focus on wellness doesn’t just benefit students psychologically, it can also have a big impact professionally, says Field.
“[Wellness] is a professional skill—it’s vital to being an attorney,” she said. “Regardless of whether you’re doing government work or working at a firm or nonprofit, everywhere that you go you are working with people who are suffering. They are scared, they are angry, they are sad, they are grieving. And you need to take those feelings and help them, and not internalize other people’s trauma. If you do internalize other people’s trauma, then that will make you a less effective attorney, as well as being someone who is not well yourself.”
Wellness Week provides yet another opportunity for students to engage and connect with each other, for the benefit of themselves and their careers as law students and future lawyers, says Confino.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to create is a space that encourages and welcomes vulnerability, empathy, mutual support, and connection,” said Confino. “And [instills]an understanding that students can lift each other up. And that they’re actually stronger together. By opening themselves up, they can get the support that will actually make them so much more powerful.”
Check out the full list of Wellness Week offerings and registration links here.