Mind & Body

The newly renovated health center encourages mindfulness with meditative architecture.

Photos by Robert Carter

When I walk in, I first notice the smell — earthy, floral, clean. It’s difficult to place, but matches the soothing slate gray floors and curving couches in colors such as “island green” and “Florida Keys blue.” A plethora of tropical plants seem just too perfect until my ears register two people with dark green watering cans discussing how best to maintain the many beds and pots. Altogether, the expansive main lobby feels vaguely like a greenhouse or spa.

The Thomson Student Health Center, with its lack of windows and recessed entrance, holds a resemblance to a cave. But architects modeled the new 68,000-square-foot Center for Health and Well-Being after a tree, with the five levels representing aspects from the roots to the foliage.

The top floor is administrative space, and the fourth floor contains specialized offices such as physical therapy and women’s health, representing growth and reaching branches.

Oak Care Team, one of the four primary care teams established in 2015, resides at the front of the third floor — the “structure” or trunk — overlooking Russell House. The check-in tablet asks me to fill out a routine depression screening, and I wonder what kind of college student can say they haven’t felt stressed in the past two weeks. Certainly not me, which probably contributes to the chronic tension headaches I’m here to find some relief for. I’ve put off making an appointment for over a year, but we breeze through my family and medical history and an eye exam before discussing solutions.

On the second floor — the “foundation” or soil — the student presence is more pronounced. Ten people stand in line at the pharmacy, many on their first visits to the center as well. I wait my turn to get handed a little white paper bag that crinkles loudly as I shove it into my purse. At the same time, a guided meditation session is scheduled next door in the “C.A.L.M. Oasis,” a room of yoga mats and cushions. It has attracted fewer students than the pharmacy — I can see just one through the window. While I could use a little relaxation, I’m on to my next appointment.

The first floor — the “roots” — contains labs, dieticians and travel consultants, all with about double the space. Getting around, though, requires a bit of assistance. Three helpful staff members later, I find my way — down a flight of stairs, to the left, through a hallway, another left, another hallway — to the labs.

I’ve scheduled an HIV test; doctors recommend that everyone gets tested at least once, regardless of risk. There aren’t any other students down here, and the entire blood-drawing process takes less than five minutes.

“Show me your arms.” “Squeeze the pear.” “Quick prick.” “Now release.”

I exhale the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding and let go of the foam pear, not looking at the syringe full of blood. The lab assistant makes sure I’ve eaten and don’t feel faint, and then I’m free to go. The results will be posted online. I head out of the calming, beautiful space, re-emerging into the chaotic world. 

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