"Go There" - Chancellor Zeppos Speaks About VU Mental Health & Well-being Initiative (Part 1 of 2)

Nicholas Zeppos, Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, opens up about the new campus-wide campaign called "Go There." This initiative is focused on creating a nurturing campus environment with easily accessible resources that promotes positive mental health and well-being for Vanderbilt faculty, staff, and students. Part 1 of 2. For additional information about the initiative and available resources, visit vanderbilt.edu/wellbeing. #GoThereVandy

Begin Transcript

Janet McCutchen: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Janet McCutchen with Work/Life Connections. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos about the “Go There” campaign in part one of what will be a two-part series. Chancellor Zeppos, this is a big bold initiative and we are really interested to hear a little bit more about your passion behind “Go There.” Tell us a little bit about the initiative and how it got started and your passion around it.

Nicholas Zeppos: I would say that the “Go There” campaign really is a part of a big bold effort that we simply have to take on at Vanderbilt which is really taking on the question of our overall wellness and mental health, and we all know that we personally, families and friends, struggle with real challenges and sometimes you just struggle and the problem is that you feel very alone, you feel very isolated, and I have got to talk to somebody, and so a lot of times, we hear just don’t go there. I do not want to hear about just don’t go there, and I have always been just overwhelmed by the compassion and sense of community and love that is here at Vanderbilt, but yet, I knew in many ways we were replicating and internalizing the very, very negative messages we were sending to people who struggle and need help and need someone to go there with them. So, we listened to a lot of people and we got a lot of great ideas, and we said, well, why don’t we invert it. Rather than don’t go there, go there. Why not invite the conversation, why not say yeah… We struggle and we are here to talk about it and get some help. I am not an expert in this. I just care deeply about everyone on the campus who often hide, they are shamed, they struggle, they suffer, and they are just wearing a mask all the time, and so, this is really meant to say, yeah, it is okay to go there and say I am really struggling. I am really struggling in my class, I am really struggling in my work, I don’t feel like getting out of bed, it is even hard for me to be around people, and what people usually find is just like yeah I feel like that sometimes or my sister has depression and I remember when we were growing up and I learned about this. In many ways, I wanted to be distinctive, I wanted to be very visible, but I almost want to normalize the conversations, and in some of our town halls, people will say it was kind of heavy load to kind of have people talk about this to others and my reaction is like yeah but if your friend said I have got a 104 degree fever and I really do not feel well, would you say I do not want to hear about it or you would say oh my god, we’ve got to get you to student health, I have got an organic exam, but I know I can get you over there, let me call somebody and so that is kind of what we are trying to do, weave it into a more proactive normalized discussion that we know affects so many people, and we’re ashamed and we are hiding and we know people can be so much better. It works.

Janet McCutchen: It does work.

Nicholas Zeppos: It really, really works, and so, there’s this incredibly joyful hopeful part of it as well.

Janet McCutchen: You have so many priorities. Why is the wellbeing of our faculty and staff an important goal right now for you?
Nicholas Zeppos: I came to Vanderbilt years ago, and I really came because of the people and I did not come as the chancellor. I came as a struggling assistant professor with a new family, with a new career, and I came because of the people, I came because of the students I met, I came because of the staff I met, I came because of the faculty colleagues that I would have and the campus is beautiful. Nashville is a great city, but if our people are not well, it is not a beautiful campus, it is not a great city, and so, I think our people are simply the single most important thing about Vanderbilt, everyone at Vanderbilt, everyone, and I kind of joke if you are good sleeper and you work you pretty much are burning two-thirds of your life sleeping and working and if you are not enjoying your work that other third or whatever part is polluted. If you are suffering, if work is something that is not a place of joy, you are leading a life that I think is very, very painful, and so for many of us, we come to Vanderbilt because of the people, so how can I, how can you, how can all of us say… We are here to work, we are here to make a difference, we are here to find care, compassion, and joy together and lift each other up because that is what the real meaning of our community is and that is the real meaning of life.

Janet McCutchen: That will conclude part one of our two-part series with Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos on the “Go There” initiative. Stay tuned for part two of this conversation coming soon.

To find more information about the “Go There” initiative and Vanderbilt’s resources that support mental health and well-being, visit www.vanderbilt.edu/wellbeing. You can also search #gotherevandy on social media to see more news and stories about Go There.
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