Health and Well-Being of Students, Faculty and Staff Brought to Light by Healing Stanzas

Students across the nation were challenged as the pandemic swept the world. An unlikely collaboration between three colleagues at Kent State University resulted in the Healing Stanzas Project, a reflective writing initiative that aims to support the well-being of Kent State students, faculty and staff.

Headshot of Clare Stacey

Healing Stanzas, a collaboration between the Wick Poetry Center, the Healthy Communities Research Institute and the Brain Health Research Institute (BHRI), seeks to combine the science of brain health and public health with the creative energy of the humanities to provide Kent State students, staff and faculty with an opportunity to improve wellness through reflective poetry.

Led by Clare Stacey, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology, Heather Caldwell, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences, David Hassler, MFA, director of the Wick Poetry Center, and funded by the BHRI, the program has been focused on the mental health of students, faculty and staff as the pandemic has exacerbated stress and mental health symptoms. It has been established that reflective writing can help people process trauma and promote resiliency and they are also interested in studying the direct impact of writing poetry on mental health.

Headshot of Heather Caldwell

“We think that Healing Stanzas has the potential to make a difference in people’s lives, helping them work towards healing. We also hope to introduce many people to the power of poetry,” Caldwell said. 

The project was launched in spring 2021 in only a handful of courses, but this fall Healing Stanzas was featured in over 30 sections of Kent State’s First-Year Experience, a course dedicated to all incoming and transfer students. 

In an in-class session, a poetry facilitator shares a “model” poem with the class and a series of prompts are shared that allow students to reflect on how the poem relates to their own experience. Students are then invited to add their stanzas to the Community Poem through the website’s “Share Your Voice” feature.

In addition, the creators of the Healing Stanzas Project hope to offer a series of online writing workshops this semester to faculty, staff, students and community members. They’ll also have a Healing Stanzas writing nook on the first floor of the Kent State library where students can share their voice at an iPad station and view responses to the prompts on a flatscreen wall monitor.

Headshot of David Hassler

“Our whole goal is to bring poetry to people’s everyday lives and to wake us all up to its inherent energy and potential,” Hassler said. “Reflective writing gives one the ability to reflect, capture and express.”

One of the main goals of Healing Stanzas is for the community to reflect on their lives. 

“The participation from students has been outstanding in their reflective writing,” Stacey said. “Students are writing down their own thoughts and how they feel about model poems being read in their class. Most of the time they are willing to share their stanza with the class and it truly is so powerful.”

Growing evidence suggests that poetry writing impacts brain health and people’s mental well-being. Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center has been creating writing for over a decade, using practices to create connection and increase belonging in the community. 

“Kent State is unique among other universities in the country because we work around the boundaries or silos and collaborate broadly,” Hassler said. “Bringing together the poetry center, along with the Healthy Communities Research Institute and Brain Health Research Institute enabled us to build a system to introduce Healing Stanzas to freshmen across the campus in all fields and majors. This is truly the first of its kind endeavor in this country.” 

If you are interested in volunteering or hosting a workshop, contact Healing Stanzas.

Read more about the project and its mission.

POSTED: Friday, February 25, 2022 09:45 AM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 05:04 PM
Cassondra Siaus/Ian Jameson