New student wellness director plans upgrades for Emmons


New Director of Student Wellness Services Sara Semal has only been at Occidental for three months, but she already has big plans for Emmons Student Wellness Center (Emmons). And that includes getting rid of the periodic table of vegetables hanging in the waiting room.

“I came in the first day and I was like, really? We’re that kind of health center? Periodic table of vegetables?” Semal said.

Semal’s first order of business was to extend walk-in hours. Walk-ins were previously only permitted a few hours each day, but Emmons is now open to students 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the exception of 11 a.m.-12 p.m. on Tuesdays.

“Having extended walk-in hours is incredibly helpful for the student body since everyone has such varied schedules,” Student Wellness Advisory Council (SWAC) co-chair Frances Kim (senior) said via email.

Semal also hopes to address smaller details that she believes will improve the overall Emmons experience. One such detail is the array of pamphlets displayed in the health center, which Semal said are outdated. To solve this issue, she has hired graphic artists to design new pamphlets that she hopes will be more accessible, humorous and reflective of Occidental’s diverse community. Semal also wants to make waiver and insurance forms electronically accessible, allowing students to complete the necessary paperwork prior to physically entering Emmons.

Semal is also in the process of requesting spacial renovations from facilities management. In addition to designing a more private waiting room, she has expressed a desire to repaint and redecorate the space with new artwork. She foresees these renovations taking place over the summer so it will not interfere with the day-to-day operations of Emmons.

“It would make the most sense to have this all come together over the summer with some renovation, and open our doors next fall really shiny and new,” Semal said.

These larger changes, however, will require increased funding. Semal has been working closely with Dean of Students Erica O’Neal Howard to draft a realistic budget for the renovations. The plan will be submitted to the college as part of the dean of students’ overall budget and then sent to the budget and finance committee for approval.

“I try to stay really positive, and I try to make my plans really realistic,” Semal said. “You can’t always count on a big bucket of money to be thrown your way to get all the changes you want, and all the staff you want.”

Associate Director of Student Wellness and Director of Psychological Services Matthew Calkins appreciates Semal’s unique approach. He noted that Semal’s experiences working as a sexual assault survivor advocate, psychotherapist and medical administrator allow her to see the multiple angles involved in running a successful clinic.

“A lot of times people who end up running clinics like this think only about the [medical] operation,” Calkins said. “[Semal] really sees this wellness center as a part of a college, and I think she brings a great perspective in that sense.”

The perspective that Semal values most, though, is that of the students. She credits her collaboration with SWAC as a helpful source of student feedback.

“We relay information about what students want and need in a college wellness center,” Kim said of herself and fellow SWAC co-chair Seth Cohen (senior). “We believe that both SWAC and Emmons want to achieve one thing: to be there for the students.”

Although Emmons has been criticized for its general inaccessibility, Semal and Kim agree that raising awareness of the services available to students will help improve this reputation.

“Probably the single most important change that needs to be made at Emmons is the image it holds with the students,” Kim said. “A lot of students have a problem with Emmons, and this can sometimes prevent them from getting the help they may need for an injury or something else.”


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