by Jennifer Ingram
Whitworth kicked off National Eating Disorder Awareness week on Feb. 26, lead by a Whitworth University student committee in partnership with the non-profit organization National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).
For 25 years, NEDA has been working with schools, organizations and volunteers across the nation to develop a better understanding of all the different types of eating disorders. NEDA is geared toward making a difference in the lives of brothers, sisters, parents, cousins and friends who struggle with or know someone who struggles with disordered eating.
In 2007, Whitworth became a member of the awareness week thanks to former resident director Janae Brewster.
Brewster said that after sharing some of her own struggles with eating disorders with former resident director Tyler Pau, he really encouraged her to talk about this issue with other various student leaders.
The inspiration of a week-long program came to Brewster in Judy Mandeville’s Sacred Movement class. Mandeville had spoken to the group about how tough issues in a Christian community can sometimes be very difficult to talk about.
“Obviously eating disorders aren’t something that are easy to talk about,” Brewster said. “But the facts are that they are rampant on college campuses.”
Brewster said being on a Christian campus does not exempt Whitworth from the problem, and it also creates more stigmas for people to help each other work through those problems. Therefore the point of NEDA program was not only to bring awareness onto the campus, but also to bring students closer together by grasping the reality of this problem on Whitworth’s campus.
She said she also wanted to offer support, resources and a spirit of hope for those who are struggling.
The slogan for this year’s NEDA team is “everyone knows somebody,” and its goal is to keep spreading awareness until people across the globe recognize the seriousness of the disease. Ultimately, Brewster’s goal was to use the week to end and prevent those life-threatening sicknesses and further explore the negative attitudes students have about body images.
Junior Mathew Eardley, who has been a part of NEDA program for two years, said he hopes the events during the week moved discussions past just the eating disorders and try to unmask what goes on behind those struggles. He and the entire NEDA team plan to dig into the core of students to learn the actions, attitudes and pressures that both male and female students have to cope with daily.
“It does happen at Whitworth,” Eardley said. “Every comment that is made, people fixate on that.”
Eardley said he hopes to use the week as a time to promote conversation and allow students to communicate how hurtful language can truly affect how people view each other.
“Someone once told me I don’t look good with my shirt tucked in,” Eardley said. “Now I always think twice when deciding whether or not to tuck in my shirt.”
It’s comments like this that has led the student committee to start Operation Beautiful, a project created by WU students to promote inner beauty across the campus.
The committee covered mirrors in the Hixon Union Building, Dixion Hall, Weyerhauser Hall and other academic buildings in black construction paper and write words of affirmation in white chalk across the mirrors. The goal was to allow others to reflect on how they are perfect just the way they are, and not just based solely on the external.
Eardley said the committee was very intentional about how it planned the awareness week. Not only did members want to spread awareness and understanding, but provide hope and empowerment so students know they are never alone in this.
“It’s a reality, and we’re just trying to encourage people to talk about it,” Eardley said.
To help get the conversation started, the committee has been working non-stop since the end of November on ways to get the ball rolling.
The committee has hosted a total of three events in the duration of the week.
Sunday night the program kicked off with “Beauty Undressed,” a presentation by Shannon Cutts about the image of beauty. Cutts is a speaker, writer and recovery ambassador who struggled with an eating disorder for 15 years. Now, she travels the globe to reach out to others who are hurting and tries to help them piece back together broken lives and relationships.
Also starting Sunday night, NEDA started handing out purple ribbons for students to pin on their clothes to signify the awareness week. NEDA has also joined with Mind and Hearth in spreading the awareness by stamping stats on each and every coffee cup for the entire awareness week.
Posters have been hung up, fliers will floating around the dining hall — anything they can do to show the importance of this cause, they are trying to have it covered.
Wednesday Feb. 29, NEDA had a panel of guests who have either struggled with eating disorders or know someone who has. That allowed students the chance to come and listen to stories of how people have coped with the disorder in many different ways.
Among the guests on the panel were former staff members, a few Whitworth students and faculty members, and a nutritionist. The variety of people gave the event a chance to be seen from many different objective stand points.
Friday night will conclude the awareness week with a mosaic evening in the chapel. This will be a time for artistic reflection.
Senior Alex Rowan, who has also played a part in NEDA week, said there will be several stations set up throughout the chapel designed to help people reflect and respond in their own personal way.
“Not everyone has suffered from eating disorders,” said Rowan, “but many have experienced some associated struggles like self-esteem issues or feelings of insufficiency.”
There will be several artists playing music, reading poems or speaking throughout the event.
“Friday will be a place for hope, healing and growth,” Eardley said.
He said he hopes this final night will give students the chance to reflect on how beauty can be found in each and every person. There will be music and art and a comfortable environment to hopefully restore to health the wounded and broken students upon campus.
Contact Jennifer Ingram at firstname.lastname@example.org.