Promoting Student Health

Wellness Lead

At Baylor University, a comprehensive wellness program takes a holistic positive approach.

Back when some of us matriculated, “wellness” wasn’t even in the academic lexicon. Most schools had athletic departments, recreation centers, and student health centers. But a fully-formed department offering everything from counseling and alcohol/drug education to spiritual guidance and healthy meal planning? That was unheard of. Today, wellness centers are everywhere.

At Baylor University, a private Baptist school in Waco, Texas, the Department of Wellness provides a wide range of services and programs aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles.

Located on the second floor of the McLane Student Life Center, the Wellness office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Its mission involves helping the Baylor community address such issues as time and stress management, nutrition, physical fitness, spiritual development, sexual health, alcohol awareness, and even culture shock. The Wellness Department also accepts frequent invitations to present to student and community groups.

“I often say that we are a small department with a big task,” said Director of Wellness Megan Patterson, MPH. “The Wellness Department cares about the particular welfare of all Baylor students. We want to make sure that each student, with all of his or her own idiosyncrasies, is given the best shot at a holistically healthy life. We hope to promote the mind, body, and soul of students, and explore how those interplay, through our efforts in the department.”

Don Arterburn is an addictive behavior specialist at Baylor.

Don Arterburn is an addictive behavior specialist at Baylor.

Some of the challenges faced by the Wellness staff at Baylor have to do with students’ understanding—or maybe misunderstanding—of what wellness actually means, explained Addictive Behavior Specialist Don Arterburn, PhD, LMFT. “If I ask them about their physical health, they might tell me that they haven’t been sick lately and that their parents will make sure they see a doctor if they should get sick,” said Arterburn. “In terms of their emotional health, many students will wait for a school break to try and reduce stress and gain stability. So they tend to have a reactive approach. When I ask whether they’re sleeping 8-10 hours a night, exercising 30 minutes a day, eating a healthy diet, avoiding tobacco, and so on, they don’t always understand that these are positive steps they can take to actively promote their overall health and wellness.”

Recently, the Wellness Department began taking the first steps toward establishing a Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP), spearheaded by Arterburn. After earning his doctorate in marriage and family therapy at Texas Tech, where he also taught for two years, Arterburn accepted his current role at Baylor, bringing with him a passion for collegiate recovery. While his initial efforts are focused on supporting alcohol and drug recovery, he also hopes to support students in recovery from other addictive behaviors, such as eating disorders, pornography, and online gambling and shopping.

Adding recovery to the roster of services is challenging at a faith-based school like Baylor, which has rigorous academic programs and very high ideals for student conduct. Many parents send their kids to Baylor not only because of its academic reputation but also because of its strict stance against substance use. So, on the one hand, Wellness wants to reach out to students who are committed to lifelong sobriety, but at the same time, Arterburn must avoid any messaging that could be misinterpreted as university-sanctioned substance use.

quote“I absolutely respect the school’s high standards, but I also think we have to recognize that at any university, even one like Baylor, at least a segment of the student population will either come to campus with addiction problems or develop them in college,” Arterburn said. “Baylor has so much to offer on so many fronts that I would hate to see promising students, committed to turning their lives around, choose other schools simply because we didn’t have pro-grams in place to support their recovery and help them succeed academically.”

So far, Arterburn has launched two young people’s Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Wesley Foundation, about a block off campus. A recovery support group meets on Monday afternoons in the Baylor University Counseling Center, and Arterburn also leads a Wednesday night men’s group, which is open to students and the Waco community. “We’re trying to coordinate our efforts with area churches who offer recovery services,” Arterburn explained. “We’re working to complement what Waco already offers, but there just isn’t very much for young people here.”

The spiritual component, Arterburn said, is key to recovery at Baylor, whose 12-Step recovery program emphasizes the Third Step—recognizing your own powerlessness in the face of addiction and turning your life over to God in a moment of faith and trust. “I don’t know how to help people in recovery without a spiritual core, without supporting their spiritual growth and development,” he said.

Arterburn’s immediate goal is to assemble a board and other supporters to help build the program. Since all Baylor dorms are sober dorms, he doesn’t foresee the need for a separate residential component for a CRP. He would, however, like to have a recovery program coordinator to help build community and to work with students in deciding what a recovery organization would look like at Baylor. Arterburn is hoping to offer at least one meeting a day on campus; to provide more opportunities for students in recovery to connect and find support; to offer good scholarships for students committed to their recovery and to their education; and to generally build the right structure and financial support necessary for a CRP.

Baylor Wellness just recently moved into its new space at the McLane Center, so now they have room for students to meet and gather. “Kitty Harris, one of my mentors at Texas Tech, used to say, ‘You just need a coffee pot and a designated area, and you can start building community with kids in recovery,’ ” said Arterburn. “I’m hoping our new space will be welcoming for students and that it will give them a place to gather and form identity so we can help them achieve their goals, free from addiction.”

For CRP information, contact Don Arterburn, 254-710-2467,; for wellness information, contact Megan Patterson, 254-710-1726,


Photo by Lou Love, courtesy of Baylor University

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