The Wellness Zone in the Reference Literature section of Feinberg Library features a full-wall mural, a charging station, seating and other wellness resources.
By Aleksandra Sidorova
Feinberg Library made changes to its study spaces to add the Wellness and Sensory Friendly Zones over the summer.
Where once was a dimly lit section within the Reference section on the second floor, with a few computer desks, is a space for students to relax, connect with each other and build study habits. On its farthest wall, it features a mural of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painted by Executive Director of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Circle David Duprey over the course of three days. Duprey spent 22 hours in total painting the piece, which he had interpreted twice before.
“For me, it’s a very emotive piece,” Duprey said. “Of course, my interpretation is a little brighter than it is, it’s a little different, but when I look at it, I do feel an escape almost, a sense of joining into my own imagination.”
Duprey said he and the previous library director Elin O’Hara-Gonya chose “Starry Night” as a recognizable art piece that tied into the color scheme of the library as well as the wellness aspect of the zone — Van Gogh is known to have struggled with his own mental health.
Against the mural are two tan armchairs, and on the wall to the right of them is a water-filled wall decoration that blows bubbles upward as the lights change color. The bubble wall was a contribution from the Accessibility Resources Office. A whiteboard filled with students’ doodles, quotes and messages hangs closer to the main Reference section on that wall. Below the whiteboard, a table displays a variety of handouts about managing stress and building good academic habits. Across from it is a stand with fidget toys and stress balls. In the middle, four navy blue bean bag chairs surround a low round table. In the far-left corner, there is a coloring station with a cork board above it for students to show off their creations. The space also offers yoga equipment, such as balls and mats.
“We talked about how to make this into a space that was more than just come and relax and use a spinner and more of a wellness place where you can actually get strategies on how to do time management and study skills and ways for students to communicate with each other,” Duprey said.
Duprey visits the space regularly, and said he sees students there every time — wearing headphones, reading or sometimes sleeping.
One of these students could have been Jazmine Maya, a first-year social work major who said she’s napped on the bean bags a few times, before going back to work. Maya visits the Wellness Zone about three times a week between her classes. Most of the time, she studies, but sometimes she just “chills” listening to music or spending time on her phone.
Maya said she likes the dim lighting and the art in the background. She also noted the lower ceilings compared to the rest of the library, making the space small, but not claustrophobic.
“I like it, I really do. I think it’s very peaceful,” Maya said. “It’s aesthetic in its own little way. It’s not too much and not too little.”
Sydnee Francis, a first-year majoring in nursing, doesn’t go to the Wellness Zone a lot because her work requires her to be on her laptop. However, when she goes to the library every day, she likes to sit at a table next to the large windows, facing the “Starry Night.”
“I think it’s a nice, comfortable, relaxing place if you don’t want to sit at a table or something, or you just want to go over there and read,” Francis said. “It allows you to relax and get your mind off of some things if you’re stressed out about school, just gives you a relaxing place to not be in the traditional library.”
Upstairs, in the back of the quiet area with a full view over the Angell College Center’s Amitie Plaza and Yokum Hall, is the Sensory Friendly Zone, marked by a sign above it. It is an area lined with two rows of carrel desk units between bean bag chairs and couches. The fluorescent lights above the desk units stay off, to prevent overstimulation in neurodivergent students, Interim Library Director Joshua Beatty said. There are also no bright colors or decorations.
“A lot of the fluorescent bulbs are just not attractive to anyone, so we’ve decided, less lighting in here, a little more direct lighting if people wanted,” Beatty said. “Everything is intentionally a little bit simpler.”
A recent study found that fluorescent lights triggered headaches in some students and prevented them from seeing class materials clearly. Another study, from 2021, found 75% of anxiety patients reported that being around fluorescent lights made them uncomfortable and — furthermore — filled them with grim feelings, reminding them of hospitals, schools and overwhelm. Instead, students can adjust the brightness to their own liking with the lamps provided in the carrels.
“I really feel like a space like this lets students explore and understand — let them decide how to use what we’ve put here,” Beatty said. “They may wind up using things in unexpected ways, which I personally think is fantastic, because it’s for the students.”
Zones that appeal to neurodivergent students are popping up in multiple locations on campus. The library’s Reading Room, to the right from the staircase leading to the third floor, has been slightly refurbished to feature more art pieces, fidget toys, headphones and a closer seating arrangement than before. There is also a cupboard with more supplies, which the Neuro Pride Space uses for its meetings every Friday, Beatty said. Director of the ARO Jennifer Curry said the office set up a Zen Den in the first-floor lounge of Hood Hall and the space shared by ARO, Student Support Services and Cardinal Achievement Program has also been turned into a sensory friendly space, with plans to create a similar space in the ACC.
The section of the third floor of Feinberg Library with the window wall now has a Sensory Friendly Zone, equipped with carrels, desk lamps and bean bags. The fluorescent lights directly above the zone stay off to make students feel at ease, without the risk of overstimulation.