Sophomore year, Alexa Ain made the decision to join a sorority. Only one semester later, she would be elected for a position on the Panhellenic Council executive board for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Her job isn’t quite “ordinary” — at least not yet.
As a rising junior, Ain (junior-political science) was assigned to spearhead the first full year of perhaps one of the most progressive Panehellenic Council-driven developments Penn State has seen in recent years — the wellness committee.
As the wellness committee leader, Ain leads a team comprised of 10 Panhellenic women whose duties are to advocate for security and healthfulness, both physically and mentally, on Penn State’s campus.
“It’s been really productive,” Ain said. “I think as time goes on wellness is going to be not a staple, but something girls know more about so that by the time this year’s freshmen are seniors, it’ll be an expected position.”
The Panhellenic Council’s idea for a wellness committee sprouted from the Inter-Sorority Council’s Wellness chair position at University of Virginia. Following University of Virginia’s general idea, Ain noted that Penn State is one of the first schools across the East Coast to implement an executive wellness division within their sorority council.
The yet to be “molded” structure of the Wellness Committee has not only put Ain up for a challenge, but also leaves room for change and creation for all of Penn State’s Wellness chairs to follow.
The spark in Wellness committee interest from women of the Panhellenic community is already jumping drastically. When the position was first being developed by senior Devon Fischer during the spring of 2016, there were only three people on the committee.
Once Ain was elected, she was only expecting “around seven” applications. She received 20, then having to choose between half of those applicants to accept for her team.
Two of those 20, now current wellness committee members, Emilie Gazzerro and Halle Smith knew as soon as they heard about the committee that they wanted to be hands on with it however they could.
“I’m Vice President of my chapter but I knew I wanted to do something more than that,” Smith (sophomore–pre-med) said. “Wellness is something that’s very unique that no chapter really has individually, so it was kind of a way where I felt like I could make the most impact where girls didn’t have a source.”
Smith added that many resources wellness offers are not limited to the Panhellenic community, but to all women and men across the Penn State community regardless of greek affiliation.
Recognizing that physical and mental health concerns can affect anybody, especially through her own personal experiences, Smith has made it a priority through her position to send the message that it’s okay to discuss stigmatized topics people might be afraid to approach.
“The main reason I ran for this committee is because I’ve had struggles with eating disorders in high school and it was a huge impact on my life,” Smith said. “Being able to step up now in college and take what has affected me in the past to help me be a leader and rise above it has been a really big thing for me.”
Gazzerro (junior-communication sciences and disorders) relates her leadership drive for this cause back to what she is most passionate about sharing, as well. She wants to emulate and spread the uplifting female values she was taught growing up to inspire other women and men.
“It’s things my mom has instilled in me ever since I was little that women really need to stick together,” Gazzerro said. “We do such a terrible thing by just tearing each other down all the time, but through wellness we’re uniting women. This is something that applies to every woman on every campus across the nation.”
The committee has organized countless success this year, such as Greeks Care, The Body Project, Women’s Empowerment Week, this past week’s Lighting Tour across campus and plenty more.
As the first official Year of Wellness is coming to a close, Ain, Gazzerro and Smith can agree that while wellness still needs time to fully develop, the committee will definitely be sticking around for a long after all three of them are gone.
“Every single individual at this university deserves to feel at home on this,” Ain said. “I think, even if it helps one individual, that’s a huge success.”
While the program still has some growing to do, Smith believes the changes currently being made by the small number of students involved with the Wellness committee are about to create a positive wave sometime soon.
“We have the opportunity to be a driving force of supportive women,” Smith said. “Once you have a group of people take a stand, then a lot of people come and join.”