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From Martha Pollack

Our Caring Community: A commitment to student health and wellbeing


Here at Cornell, we believe that student health and wellbeing are essential to academic and life success. Last fall, with the renovation and expansion of our campus health services—now called Cornell Health—we moved closer to realizing a long-standing aspiration: to offer comprehensive, integrated health services for students; to promote public health for the wider campus; and to be an even more caring community, where people look out for each other and ask for help when they need it.

From left to right, Robert Harrison, Susan Murphy, Martha Pollack, Janet Corson-Rikert in a posed photo

WELLNESS CENTER: Pollack posing at the dedication ceremony with (from left) trustee chairman Robert Harrison ’76, former vice president for student and academic services Susan Murphy ’73, PhD ’94, and Janet Corson-Rikert, former executive director of University Health Services. Murphy and Corson-Rikert had parts of the building named in their honor; Harrison and his wife, Jane, made a leadership gift to the project.Robert Barker/UREL

Cornell Health more than doubles the amount of space of the old Gannett Health Center, improving access to care for our students and integrating medical and mental health services so we can treat the whole person. Students know that at Cornell Health they can speak with empathetic professionals from diverse backgrounds who are devoted to helping them. Even the facility’s location on central campus makes a strong statement about the centrality of health to our values as a university community.

Our concern for student health and wellbeing doesn’t stop with Cornell Health, though; it is a campus-wide commitment. We aim to foster a healthy educational environment across all dimensions and to address issues—including bias, sexual violence, hazing, and drug and alcohol abuse—that can have a negative impact on mental and physical health.

We are taking a data-driven, public health approach to these issues that involves reshaping parts of the campus environment and culture. Our Notice and Respond programs, for example, help students, staff, and faculty recognize the signs of emotional distress and connect students to campus resources appropriate for their situation. And our new bystander education video, Intervene, created by the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Cornell Health in collaboration with the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble, is already having an impact. [Watch the 20-minute video below.] Our data show that students who view the video are more willing than those who have not seen it to step in on behalf of others who are facing problems like sexual harassment, racial bias, hazing, and intimate partner violence.

Vijay Pendakur, our dean of students, is focusing on resources that support students in their cultural and identity development and that address the campus climate. Over the past eighteen months or so, we have increased staffing in several student support areas, including the creation of a student support position based in New York City, a student veterans advocate position, a support position for our undocumented and DACA students, and, thanks to generous philanthropic support from an alumnus, a full-time person in the Dean of Students Office to focus on our growing number of first-generation students.

One of the things that most impressed me at the dedication of Cornell Health last October was the strong commitment of so many to the project, both on campus and off. Every college, school, and administrative division on the Ithaca campus contributed to make it a reality. And, as the many names associated with the spaces in the facility attest, philanthropy was also key to building Cornell Health. Thanks to a wonderful community effort, the new facility is a major step forward in our quest to support the health and wellbeing of our students, which are so essential to their success at Cornell and long afterward.

Martha E. Pollack


A bystander education video created by the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Cornell Health in collaboration with the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble