New initiative to promote wellness among students

On Sept. 30, USC unveiled a new interdisciplinary initiative, Mindful USC, to promote the mental and physical health of USC community members.

Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, who co-created the initiative, has helped develop an interdisciplinary approach to mindfulness that is unique to USC’s program.

“We feel like our initiative is more comprehensive than most of the initiatives of other universities because it has a focus on three areas: research, teaching and practice,” Soni said.

The new initiative will feature mindfulness courses, practice groups, research opportunities, faculty workshops, media resources, public programs and special events. The first event will take place on Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m., and will include a presentation by Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s chief happiness officer, whose official title is the Jolly Good Fellow. He is also the author of Search Inside Yourself, a modern manual for mindfulness.

The free, 5-week workshops will be hosted by the Center for Excellence in Teaching on both the University Park Campus and Health Sciences Campus. They will be open to students, faculty and staff and will focus primarily on how to develop personal mindfulness practices.

“[The workshops] are really focused on developing mindfulness practices, self-compassion, and we’re really oriented around the ideas of stress reduction, workplace happiness and innovative and creative learning,” Soni said.

Mindful USC’s Steering Committee is co-chaired by Professor Allen Weiss and Soni. The committee also includes leaders from the Center for Excellence in Teaching, Center for Work and Family Life, Institute for Integrative Health, Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, Engemann Health Center, Office of Talent Management and the Office of Religious Life. Faculty members from six academic schools are also represented. The Steering Committee is also partnering with Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments to make the program as effective for students as possible.

USG president Andrew Menard views the issue of mental health a critical one on campus.

“It’s important for [students] to make sure not only that they’re doing well in school, but that they’re mentally well and mentally healthy because ultimately what’s going to impact their performance is how healthy they are,” he said.

Menard also acknowledged his own struggles with stress management, which has helped shaped his passion toward providing a better learning environment for students at USC.

“There have been times when I’ve been stressed out, or my friends have been stressed out, and ultimately I think that it’s been a hindrance to our productivity,” Menard said. “I think the sooner that students take a step back and recognize the importance of being mentally well and having this mindful outlook, students are just going to enjoy their lives more.”

Soni hopes to expand the program to have a greater impact on the USC community as a whole.

“The goal really is to start something and see who’s really excited about this. What we really want to do is create a buzz around mindfulness, and hopefully people from different domains and disciplines within the university will come and say they want to be a part of this,” he said.

Students can get more information about the program and sign up for classes on the initiative’s website,