Wellness Champions: Chronic Disease Club is creating safe spaces, connections, and awareness
Starting a club at the very beginnings of a global pandemic was a daunting task, but for Ashley Kruchka and Samantha Morin, it was important. As students living with chronic disease, creating the UW Chronic Disease Club was the culmination of years of advocacy for themselves and their unique journeys at the University. Morin and Kruchka wanted to create a place for other students with Chronic disease to come together in both support but also awareness raising of both the different paths students have to take, as well as the supports available. “I wanted to do something,” said Samantha. “I wanted to meet other people who were going through the same thing. I wanted to feel less alone.”
The club creates a community that connects students and creates an understanding of the common issues students with chronic disease face while navigating university. Many of these students are in the unique position of “having a constant need to tend to health throughout their university careers, while also pursuing their other life goals like completing their degrees, co-op terms, or other university opportunities”, said Ashley. Right now, the club is running virtual meetings which create a safe place for the club’s 40 members to connect and talk. Samantha mentioned that common concerns for students with chronic disease can be “accessing services and advocating for yourself at university”, noting that students with chronic disease sometimes have to miss a lot of class to deal with their health, citing hospital stays or symptoms like chronic fatigue that can be debilitating. “It can be embarrassing asking others for their class notes over and over again.”
Ashley and Samantha said that one way the club helps students with chronic disease is by raising awareness of the services available to them on campus. In particular, Accessibility Services is an important one. Ashley speaks glowingly of her experience with the service, noting that “Accessibility is the reason I’m still in University”. Samantha said that she herself and other students in the club were initially hesitant to reach out to the service because they didn’t feel like they would qualify, that their struggles weren’t somehow “enough”. “Don’t be ashamed to ask for help,” she says, “a disability is a disability, whether it is visible or not, temporary or permanent, and they are there to help you.”
One bright spot of the pandemic for students with chronic disease has actually been the online delivery of classes. Ashley passionately talks about how online classes “can actually help students with chronic disease because the accessibility of attending class while experiencing physical or mental symptoms is easier. Many of our members have flourished and seen an improvement of grades during the pandemic.” While Ashley and Samantha acknowledge that classes will have to return to in-person delivery eventually, they are hopeful that some of the lessons learned from online learning will be paid forward into the new environment. Making video recordings of lectures available after class for example, can help students who might have to miss class for frequent doctor or hospital visits, and also students who struggle with learning disabilities who benefit from being able to rewatch the lecture at their own pace.
Both noted that the club represents a variety of chronic diseases and every individual has a spectrum of needs, but all the members can relate to the common feelings of navigating the university experience from a unique perspective with unique challenges. Samantha and Ashley shared that they hoped in the future the club could move into an active advocacy role and spoke about how many of their students must make sacrifices all the time. For example, some have to sacrifice their health to work or sacrifice their marks to take care of their health. Samantha and Ashley hope that in the future they can increase visibility for the need for more campus related funding, such as bursaries, food support systems, and health and medical expense funding. “It can’t just be the provision of health care that we’re focused on, there needs to be a focus the encompasses the full spectrum of the social determinants of health.” Ashley says.
If you’d like to learn more about the UW Chronic Disease Club, visit their Instagram account.