Human Biology class uses service learning project to help others heal
By Christina Magnussen
Three students have taken a Human Biology class project and turned it into a support group for people with eating disorders.
“At the beginning of every semester I give my students the opportunity to do a voluntary service learning project,” said Assistant Professor Barbara Blonder, who teaches the course. “[It’s] an attempt to help make the material that we covered in the course more relevant to the students. They choose a topic that is somehow related to what we cover in the course.”
Psychology major Danielle Goodboo approached classmates Sarah VonKieckebusch and Nicole Davis with the idea for the group after the project was assigned. Goodboo said Blonder’s service-learning project was just a starting point for the group.
“All three of us feel it’s an extremely important subject,” Goodboo said. “It’s working really well and we are really happy.”
The group is open to anyone who has been affected by eating disorders, either directly or indirectly. The focus of the group is on the positive aspects of recovery, such as education and healthy eating habits.
“Basically, eating disorders are epidemic or nearly epidemic on college campuses and this was not the first time it has come up in the course,” Blonder said. “The more education people have about this issue, the more likely they can help their friends and help themselves or find ways to improve the situation on campus.”
“We work really hard at protecting anonymity,” VonKieckebusch said. “Whatever we talk about stays in our group.”
The meetings are held on Mondays and six to eight people have been attending. According to Davis, the discussions are “mostly personal experiences” and are “open to all eating disorder discussion.” The meeting times and places are discussed in e-mail correspondence to protect the anonymity of those in the group.
Even though Goodboo is unable to make the meetings due to scheduling conflicts, she said that she tries to stay as involved as she can and recaps every week so she can stay updated on the group.
“For the most part it is a very private issue that people deal with,” Goodboo said. “It’s a good support system. We cannot actually have a faculty member at a meeting or it becomes a therapy session.” These girls said they act as peers, not counselors, listening to and sharing stories.
All three students have expressed overwhelming e-mail responses from students, faculty members and alumni. Both Davis and VonKieckebusch have battled eating disorders in the past and Goodboo had seen people close to her battle these disorders.
“There’s is a widespread problem with eating disorders on this campus and the group brings people into your life that you would not have met other ways, people from all social groups,” Davis said.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, eating disorders are illnesses with a biological basis modified and influenced by emotional and cultural factors. The stigma associated with eating disorders has long kept individuals suffering in silence, inhibited funding for crucial research and created barriers in treatment. Because of insufficient information, the public and professionals fail to recognize the dangerous consequences of eating disorders. While eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening illnesses, there is help available and recovery is possible.
“Within our group we have a lot of diversity among the people on campus,” Davis said.
“The group is there for support and encouragement, being there and understanding, on a personal level,” VonKieckebusch said. “We were really excited at the response we got because it’s not really talked about a lot. It’s helpful for students to have.”
The educational focus of the group is “on positive and thought-provoking aspects and exercises which aid in this process,” Davis said.
“I know that it’s a positive thing for the campus to have a support group like this. I hope it continues on,” Blonder said. “Anyway the students or I can help make that happen, I’m all for it.”
“The group welcomes anyone who feels that they can offer positive support to the group and provide hope and encouragement to those who are struggling,” Davis said.
For more information, contact VonKieckebusch, firstname.lastname@example.org, Davis, email@example.com, or Goodboo, firstname.lastname@example.org.