The goal of the tour was to show students, who might not be able or do not want to do work on campus or at home, more off-campus resources and local spots not tied to Western.
Many students that commute or have hybrid classes have had trouble finding the time and space on campus to do work, said Liz Stuart, sexual violence prevention outreach specialist at Western.
“A lot of students tell me that they find it really difficult to study from home, whether that’s because they don’t have the right set-up or they can’t focus,” said Julia Burns, program manager at the Office of Off Campus Living. “So, I think finding spaces that are [COVID-19] safe and that can give them that privacy and ability is pretty essential right now.”
The event was created and led by Stuart and Burns.
“Especially for students that never live on campus, say they’re living with family or have their own family, it’s just a lot more difficult to make connections at school,” Burns said. “So for them, events like this are really helpful.”
Burns said the tour brought in about a dozen students. It’s the first time the department has held an event like this.
“It was a really good number for a tour like that,” Burns said.
When planning the event, Stuart and Burns brainstormed their own favorite spots from around the city and also sought input from student wellness advocates they work with.
“We had to consider logistically how long it would take, so we practiced walking the route one time before we led the tour and connected with the business to let them know we’d be stopping in,” Stuart said.
The tour took students to several shops as well as public areas such as the Bellingham Public Library and the large courtyard outside the Whatcom Museum.
“I thought it was so cool how many students got library cards,” Stuart said. “I think that’s a really cool tangible outcome that was unexpected.”
Burns said they wanted a good mix of spots that were both public and private so students who might not want to spend money at a coffee shop still had plenty of options.
Located off of Railroad Avenue, a highlighted favorite of both Burns and Stuart was Avellino Coffeehouse. While not spotlighted on the walk, it’s a newer addition to Bellingham’s vibrant coffee scene.
“We try and have a really cozy environment,” said Lucas Smith, a barista at Avellino Coffeehouse. “We’ve got chill music, lots of recliner chairs plus, the food and coffee are pretty good, if you ask me.”
Burns and Stuart received very positive feedback on the surveys distributed to the students after the tour, and Stuart said it’s something they hope to do again in the future.
“They now have friendly faces to put to the names of our offices,” Burns said. “If they do need support with life off campus or they do need to seek help from [the Counseling and Wellness Center], they feel like they can and it’s not intimidating.”
Burns and Stuart were glad for the opportunity to work so closely with some of the new students at Western.
“One reason I was excited to do this tour is because it’s fun,” Stuart said. “But also, the feeling of being connected to your community and to other people in the Western community is a resilience factor. And it’s something that helps people to be more successful in lots of areas in our lives. Connection is what helps us build protective factors and also help us to heal if we are ever hurting or in trouble.”
More information on other upcoming events can be found at the Counseling and Wellness Center’s Instagram Page.
“I hope they felt more connected to the Bellingham community, and that they felt more oriented that they know their way around a little better,” Stuart said. “And I hope they made connections with other students.”