OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Law is not only providing students with a premiere legal education, but it is also taking steps to improve the overall well-being of law students.
UM Law recently signed on with the American Bar Association’s Well-Being Pledge Campaign, which focuses on the improved mental health of law students.
“Signing this pledge exhibits the law school’s seriousness in providing well-being access to law students,” said Macey Edmondson, assistant dean for student affairs at the law school. “We plan on using this pledge as a framework to research more ways to provide well-being resources, such as self-assessment tools that can be used by students as a preventative measure, collaborative efforts for physical fitness and providing training for staff and faculty to recognize when a student might need help and how to interact with a student in distress.”
Throughout this academic year, the law school has developed a wellness committee chaired by Kris Gilliland, law library director. The committee is composed of faculty members, administrators and a clinical professor to ensure that wellness initiatives are considered from all angles.
“The diversity of the group is important so that wellness initiatives are discussed from a wide perspective,” Edmondson said. “Wellness needs to be implemented in the classroom, in extracurricular activities and in service to the community.
“These members bring resources to the table that can result in more robust programming.”
During the 2018-19 academic year, the school has introduced a variety of wellness initiatives.
The law school’s graduate assistant Shilpa Boppana, who is seeking a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, serves as the school’s wellness counselor. Boppana has walk-in hours for law students three days a week and provides free counseling on a wide range of issues including stress, sleep, anxiety, depression, time-management, study strategies and campus and community mental health resources.
Additionally, the school hosts a weekly yoga class throughout the semester and events on how to improve sleep for better memory, mood and concentration.
“Recent research has demonstrated an elevated risk in the legal community for these issues,” said ABA president Bob Carlson and immediate past president Hilarie Bass in an email. “These problems are not new, but an increased willingness to acknowledge and address them head-on is essential to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use disorders in the profession.”
The school also wants to reduce stress for students, even when they leave law school. Throughout the spring semester, the school has provided financial literacy pop-up classes for students. Topics covered include how to budget and how to manage student loans.
“We want to be proactive at Ole Miss Law and provide our students plenty of resources to manage their well-being, time, energy and even finances,” said Susan Duncan, law school dean. “I am thrilled with the programs we’ve implemented thus far, and I look forward to the growth of our wellness initiative.”
Partnerships with other entities, including the university’s Counseling Center, the department of psychology, the Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment and others, have made these programs possible.
“For example, we have a mandatory session for all first-year students where the Director of the Mississippi Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program, our wellness counselor and students who are willing to share challenges of mental illness come together to help students recognize warning signs and know where to seek help, if needed,” Edmondson said.