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A group of students sit at desks, hands on the desk with eyes closed, practicing mindfulness

Campus community members at Cornell University can participate in regular weekly offerings of meditation classes around campus or online to destress and recenter themselves.

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It can be a challenge for college students to slow down and take a breath, but learners at Cornell University are enthused by the idea. Let’s Meditate, a 10-year-old program at the university, encourages campus stakeholders to find quiet and contemplation throughout the week with 30-minute guided meditation sessions.

The Cornell Law School and Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management piloted meditation sessions in 2014 and saw over 100 participants in the first three weeks. Over the years, the university has hired additional facilitators and increased offerings to make the program available to the entire campus community.

What’s the need: Around the nation, students continue to report elevated feelings of anxiety and stress, with a recent Harvard Graduate School of Education report finding 36 percent of young adults experience anxiety. Meditation can help mitigate some of those concerns.

The practice helps people contemplate, focusing on one thing or object at a time to quiet the body and mind, according to Cornell Health. While meditation can also be a spiritual practice, it doesn’t have to be.

The practice is also popular with today’s students. In a 2023 Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, one in 10 students said mindfulness and meditation classes on campus are their preferred wellness activities.

How it works: Throughout the week, Cornell facilitators lead 12 free, 30-minute drop-in sessions—five in person, five online and two hybrid. Students, faculty and staff can attend as many sessions as they’d like, with no limits on age, gender or ability. The sessions do not require registration, so they’re kept inclusive to anyone, even those who stumble into a session.

Emily Dunuwila leads a group of students in a guided meditation session at Cornell University.

Emily Dunuwila, Let’s Meditate coordinator for Cornell Health (right) leads students in a guided meditation session.

Cornell University

Facilitators complete a two-hour in-person training with Cornell Health Let’s Meditate coordinators prior to leading sessions. Many facilitators are staff from Cornell Health, but other departments represented include Human Resources, the Office of the Dean of Students and the North Campus Service Center, a multipurpose facility where students can get their mail. Some guides are graduate students, as well.

Mindfulness in Curricula

Some institutions are integrating mindfulness practices into the classroom to benefit students and professors.

At Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, around 270 first-year students received a four-week mindfulness training in their first-year seminar, equipping them with stress-management skills including breath awareness, guided meditation and mindful eating.

The University of Rochester created a faculty mindfulness training in 2023. The seven-session training teaches educators the three tenets of presence-based leadership and how to practice them in and outside the classroom.

Sessions take place at various locations throughout the week, including in the library, in student housing and at the Big Red Barn, a café and multipurpose space.

Cornell Health advertises the program through newsletters, word of mouth, calendars and digital screens on campus, says Emily Dunuwila, Let’s Meditate coordinator and health initiatives coordinator at Cornell Health.

During the session, the facilitator will walk participants through meditation exercises that help focus breathing and quiet the mind. Participants sit quietly with their eyes closed throughout the session to reduce stress and foster well-being.

“We have a pool of secular meditation scripts and exercises—written by myself and others—that guides are free to adapt,” Dunuwila says. “While some guide spontaneously in the moment, others prefer a script, like the Mountain Meditation script by Jon Kabat-Zinn.”

Scaling up: The university began offering on-demand recorded sessions in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, Dunuwila says. Sessions have expanded to reach bilingual community members, as well.

Mar Pérez, senior coordinator in the Office of Student Support and Advocacy Services, started leading Spanish meditation sessions in spring 2020. The sessions have continued over the past four years, reaching university stakeholders in the Cornell Cooperative Extension and at Cornell Tech.

Counselor and community liaison Shinong Ji from Cornell Health this spring began leading Mandarin sessions every other week over Zoom.

Facilitator trainings are also very popular, though not all become guides. An undergraduate student athlete on the women’s basketball team participated in a recent facilitator training, not to lead Let’s Meditate sessions, but to help her teammates and herself prepare for games, Dunuwila says. “If we can inspire someone to help make their corner of campus more mindful, and they are doing so with an inclusive and welcoming spirit, at the end of the day, that’s achieving our goal.”

Spaces for Zen

Colleges and universities have invested in destress rooms, low-sensory rooms, zen dens and other quiet spaces to promote contemplation, reflection and well-being among students.

This past summer, Virginia Commonwealth University created a Reflection Room in the campus library for students to meditate, contemplate and pray.

What’s next: A decade later, Cornell staff and faculty continue to invest in meditation resources for the campus community.

To gauge effectiveness, Cornell Health administers participant satisfaction surveys after sessions to solicit feedback, and staff are working on a web version of the survey.

“Our growing number of guides and sessions across the university, our requests for Let’s Meditate guide involvement in events, and our expanding language offerings are all signs that the program is healthy and serving the community effectively,” Dunuwila adds.

Leaders at the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science and Cornell Health are partnering to create resources specific to Bowers CIS students.

Dunuwila hopes to partner with Nature Rx @ Cornell (a campuswide initiative connecting time in nature with improved health and well-being) and faculty to create even more opportunities for integration.

Do you have a wellness tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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