Educating students about their health and wellness has always been an important part of the mission of Barnard College. The first formal health education program was formed in 1986 by Giselle Harrington, Ed.M., at the request of students for more information about contraceptive options. This first peer education group was called SCOPE (Sexuality, Self-Care, Contraception Options Peer Educators). Three other topic-specific peer education groups followed: WHISE (Women’s Health Images and Self-Esteem), SPEECH (Students Providing Education About Counseling HIV), and STAAR (Students Talking About Assault and Rape). In response to an increased need for health education and information about women’s health issues, these groups grew into the Well-Woman Health Promotion Program, which was given its own name and space in 1993. The program remains unique within the college as a student service office that works so closely with a core group of student volunteers, the Well-Woman peer educators.
With the Primary Care Health Service, Well-Woman was awarded national accreditation from the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) in 2008 and re-accredited twice since. Each time the Primary Care and Well-Woman have received a three-year certificate of accreditation, the longest term given, signifying substantial compliance with AAAHC’s nationally recognized standards of health care and health education.
Past Well-Woman Program Directors
Giselle Harrington, M.A., served as the director of Well-Woman from 1993 till the spring of 2006. In that time, the program became an integral part of the College’s student services, providing education and resources, building community, and offering a safe and supportive campus space to discuss wellness concerns. The peer education program flourished, attracting a diverse and impressive group of students every year. Under Giselle, the Well-Woman program worked toward the goal of helping Barnard students to achieve their academic and personal potential by strengthening their competence in each of eight dimensions of wellness: physical health, intellectual curiosity, occupational satisfaction, emotional balance, healthy relationships, service to the community, spiritual awareness, and cultural competence.
Under Giselle’s direction, Well-Woman staff and peer educators connected with the larger Barnard community by partnering with Residential Life to create Wellness Floors and to facilitate floor workshops for RAs, participating in the Wellness Committee to provide events and resources for students, faculty, and staff, co-sponsored events with a variety of student groups and campus offices, and through the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP). Giselle also began various passive education efforts including a Q&A column in the Barnard Bulletin, a monthly newsletter that went out to each Barnard student, and an array of health education literature. Well-Woman connected with the larger community through outreach to high school girls, offering programs on healthy and effective communication and safer sex. Well-Woman’s weekly gynecological education session program was created to provide students with an orientation to their first-ever gynecological exam, and to help empower Barnard women to become their own best healthcare advocates.
The program moved into its current home in 119 Reid Hall in the fall of 2002, increasing Well-Woman’s space and the scope of programs that could be offered in the office.
Well-Woman celebrated its tenth anniversary in the spring of 2003, commemorating the occasion with participation in the annual Barnard Summit, focused that year on women’s health, a body image panel co-sponsored by Glamour Magazine, and a reunion party for the program’s staff and student volunteers.
In the spring of 2006, Giselle’s last year as the director of Well-Woman, the office was given a Department of Distinction Award by the Student Government Association, in recognition of the program’s outstanding contribution and strong commitment to student life at Barnard College.
Karen Winkler, Ph.D., M.S., R.N., became the director of Well-Woman in the fall of 2006. Under her leadership the program expanded its focus beyond peer education to include a stronger emphasis on social marketing and social ecology, to support wellness on an institutional and community level. She initiated a multilayered strategy—the “Be Well” campaign—to change culture and raise wellness consciousness on campus. Karen developed posters and cards for the campaign in collaboration with designer David Hopson from Barnard’s Communications Department. This visual media came to permeate the campus, in public and private spaces. The Be Well campaign was further supported by the creation of Well-Woman’s email listserv, which has grown to more than one thousand members and provides weekly “Healthy Monday” emails, based around monthly wellness themes, made up of tips, suggestions, and event announcements. Aware of the need to change the environment to support healthful decisions, Karen worked with Barnard’s Dining Services to do site-specific, dining room-based nutrition education, and expand the availability of healthful, local, and vegetarian options in Hewitt.
Karen conceived of “the W Spot”—Well-Woman’s blog and one Barnard’s first blogs—to involve Well-Woman peer educators and students throughout campus in an online community to discuss the issues that affect our bodies and lives. She continued the growth of the Well-Woman program into a center for student life and the study of women’s health, expanding the library, offering student-led yoga classes and tools for stress management, supporting the creation of a monthly Consciousness Raising Group run by the peer educators and co-sponsored by Q ( Barnard’s queer students organization), and a Well-Woman film series. Karen’s love of poetry, and desire to build bridges that would integrate wellness into the academic life of Barnard, led her to develop a poetry project for Well-Woman’s Be Well campaign that raised the visual profile of Well-Woman on campus through posters reminding students to “eat well” and “rest well,” with excerpts of poems.
The program expanded its focus on evidence based work, conducting research on eating habits and attitudes at Barnard, and the impact of Well-Woman’s work and programs (including the Healthy Monday Messages and Be Well campaign). Karen encouraged the peer educators to take an active role in advocating for change on the institutional and community level, and was committed to training them in the most up-to-date theories and methods of individual and social change, as well as the history of the women’s health and reproductive rights movement.
In Karen’s three and a half years with the program, she continued to expand the Well-Woman peer education program’s history as an inclusive, multicultural group, reflecting the economic, sexual, racial, cultural diversity of the campus. Karen envisioned Well-Woman as a place where critical conversation about women’s health, sexuality, culture, gender, and class could flourish, along with the sense of fun and creativity that have characterized Well-Woman since its inception.