When I think back on my freshmen year of college, I think of a lot of imbalance. I remember being a clean freak in my dorm room, an avid yogi, a lover of healthy foods, and appreciative of a good night’s rest. But that was my inner self. The influences around me brought about another side of me that didn’t align with what I knew I needed. The endless pizzas, the lost hours of sleep from countless late-night parties and early-morning laughter — these were all fun, but when I think about it, I didn’t really have any other option. This was the lifestyle all around me, and though I’d sneak off for yoga, or bury myself in the library to study, I was highly swayed by this “fun.” I wonder if, had there been a dormitory at my campus designated for people seeking more balance, I would have chosen it, and if I had, how it would have changed my time.
At the University of Vermont, Burlington, a big dormitory is going up with room enough for 700 students next fall, and it’s designed with the health-conscious in mind.
The clean-living residence hall has zero-tolerance for drugs and alcohol, meaning one mistake and you’re out. But students who live here have access to fitness and nutrition coaches at the in-house gym, free violin lessons, yoga, and mindfulness training.
The program was started about two years ago by Dr. Jim Hudziak, a pediatric neuropsychiatrist at UVM’s Medical School, who simply wanted to promote the message that taking good care of your young mind is essential.
“The most critical part of the brain, for paying attention, for regulating your emotions, for making good decisions, has not even been organized yet,” he says about the college-age brain.
“When I heard about it, it made me really excited to come to UVM. It really, really sparked my interest,” says Azilee Curl, a first-year studying neuroscience. “It just didn’t make sense to read about it and not live it.”
Hudziak says UVM is known for being a party school. This reputation only supports binge drinking, and so it wants to work against that, and other risky behaviours.
“You get accepted to college, and we celebrate the fact that we are putting a wildly unprepared, underdeveloped brain in a high-risk environment,” Hudziak says.
Not everyone seems eye-to-eye with the program, however.
“It was probably gonna be too regimented for my lifestyle,” says 19-year-old Emily Bruggeman from Hebron, Conn. “I like to be a little bit more autonomous in terms of my well-being and stuff like that.”
But for those already in the program, almost everyone enrolls for a second year, according to Hudziak says.
“I have this prevailing belief that young people, given the opportunity to make good decisions, would choose to make good decisions. But they have to be in an environment where those choices are as easily available as high-risk decisions.”
According to Hudziak, his program has caught the attention of higher education leaders at more than 20 other schools, including New York University, Tulane, and Boston University, all reaching out for advice.
His program is capturing the attention of higher education leaders across the country. He says leaders at more than 20 other schools, including New York University, Tulane and Boston University, have reached out seeking advice.