KINGSTON, R.I. – Dec. 7, 2022 – As University of Rhode Island students made their way back to campus after the Thanksgiving break, they were greeted with a diversion on one of the campus footpaths running by the Anna Fascitelli Fitness Center. The temporary redirection is part of a larger plan to create a new outdoor space on the University’s campus, one that will offer mental health benefits for students and employees alike — and introduce some welcome zen to the campus community.
Jodi Hawkins and Denise Robbin with the department of Campus Recreation have been waiting for this groundbreaking for a while now, with plans for the new space delayed due to COVID-19 and supply-chain material delays. Finally, construction began during Thanksgiving week. Both are excited to see that the new space will be ready for student use in the spring.
The outdoor area is another piece in a range of spaces on campus to support student’s physical, mental and emotional health, including the Anna Fascitelli Wellness Resource Center and Meditation Room, which students can reserve.
The labyrinth starts
The project arose out of a conversation. A few years ago, Robbin, fitness and wellness specialist at the University, met a colleague to chat; because it was such a lovely day, they took their conversation outside. Perched on the wall outside the Fascitelli Center, they enjoyed the scenery of the trees and quiet gurgle of the nearby stream, seeing students walk by on their way to class or the dining hall. “It was very calming,” Robbin recalls, to be near people but to have some quiet as well. “Our conversation turned to the space we were in. We started to wonder and said, ‘What if we used this as a space for students?’” The more she shared the idea with others — a student worker, colleagues — the more interest built to make this not just an idea, but a reality.
“Jodi loved the idea when we brought it to her,” Robbin recalls. The project began thanks to support from the University’s office of Campus Design and the Lands and Grounds department, building on natural features already in place. The new outdoor labyrinth will be an inviting part of the Kingston Campus’ residential neighborhood, available 24/7, and also be a reminder as students walk by, to pause and take a moment in their day.
With the University returning to some normalcy this year, the project restarted, bolstered by the team’s awareness of the importance of mental health and the wellness-enhancing benefits of outdoor spaces. The area is part of the department’s effort to offer more spaces for student fitness across the campus. “We knew students needed this,” Hawkins said.
Making space for mental health
Hawkins notes that it’s more important than ever for colleges, universities, and private companies to offer mental health support and resources for community members.
They know that students who visit Campus Recreation, even once or twice a week, leave with a mental health boost. “It definitely helps alleviate stress,” she says. At colleges across the country, they say, students and parents are reporting feelings of loneliness, of not belonging. Campus Rec activity options can help people gain a sense of community belonging and make a big difference in the student experience. And student interest shows in the numbers: participation in intramurals have gone up nearly 20% from before the pandemic.
“This will let students enjoy the seasons on the campus and truly be a well-being enhancer,” Hawkins says. “Our motto is ‘Be Active, Be Well, Belong.’ We want to help students feel better and feel a sense of belonging here. They are our number one priority.”
The new outdoor space will also build off the nearby bike path, offering more reasons for students to get outside. “We really want to encourage outdoor well- being!” says Robbin. They plan to offer activities such as yoga classes, guided meditations, journaling workshops, and more, but also want to let the space just exist and welcome visitors, at any time of day.
The site will be officially dedicated in the spring. Hawkins and Robbin are appreciative of the Student Senate, which also endorsed the idea, donating $25,000 for seating at the site.
The cost for the new wellness space, and the operation of the Fascitelli Center, comes out of the fitness and wellness fee. The construction, overseen by the Office of Small Projects, is expected to be completed by mid-December.
Robbin had to repeat ‘om’ more than a few times in the past few years, practicing mindful patience while she waited to see this long-held dream become a reality. “This has been a long time in the planning stage!” she says. “It’s so exciting to see it coming together.”
Follow the progress at @uricampusrec.