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Students Pulling Over at ‘Academic Rest Stop’

A students relaxes on a beanbag chair with a stress ball at the Academic Rest Stop.

After conversations about the increasing prevalence of mental health concerns on college campuses, Dr. Tracy Y. Espy, Mitchell College president, and Dr. Betsy Beaulieu, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, sought to create a quiet place for students to decompress and feel welcome on campus. 

In Spring 2023, a space was identified—Duques 100, a former conference room—and this promise was shared with students: “In Fall 2023, Duques 100 will become the Academic Rest Stop, a place for students to ‘pull over’ and decompress from the pressures of their academics. We invite you to visit this space where you can set aside technology, breathe deeply, and re-center and re-commit to your academic purpose.” 

In deciding what should go into the room to make it an inviting space for students, Beaulieu said, “I began to think of the room as a place for students to relax and re-charge and particularly as a space for our neurodivergent students to feel comfortable. I looked online to research sensory spaces on other campuses. A colleague recently opened a sensory space at Hiram College and shared some ideas with me. I also browsed autism-specific sites for materials that might support the vision for the space.” 

The room received a fresh coat of paint in a soothing color, “Agreeable Gray,” and was outfitted with a sensory wall, a cascading bubble wall, soft furniture, gel mats to create soothing patterns, coloring items and fidgets. The intent of the room is for students to “chill out” and not study. So far, it has received lots of traffic. 

Jada Bain, a first-year student, said that she uses the room at least two to three times per week. Sometimes she is alone; sometimes she is with other students, depending on the time of day. 

“I like that the room is calming and not the hustle and bustle of class time. I have tried all of the different stress-relief tools in here, but I like the stress ball the best,” Bain said. 

Others agree. 

“As a commuter, I like to come here between classes. Sometimes it’s not worth going home, and it’s easy to sit here and relax,” said senior Robyn Higley, noting that the fidgets and the bubble wall are favorites. 

Kingsley Higley, a junior, added, “When I get the chance I come here, sometimes right before I have to go to my BLC [Bentsen Learning Center] appointment. I tend to hyper-fixate on things, so I find playing with the gel mats is good for me.” 

 “Students actually seem physically different in there,” Beaulieu said, “and I’ve noticed a few making connections with each other. The beanbag chairs and the Yogibo lounger are big hits. Snacks are popular, and we’re making arrangements for a therapy dog or a ‘drop-in dog’ to visit periodically. “ 

“I’m very pleased with the use so far, and I am incredibly hopeful that this space will make a difference for our students. The room is for everyone. There are sensory items, but the overall goal is stress reduction and mellowing out across the board. Even the staff want to use it!” she added. 

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