By Kiana Norman-Slack '17
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, WASH. (Feb. 28, 2017)- As Michelle Obama congratulated a room full of healthy-campus advocates last month at the White House, one of the three Lutes in attendance couldn’t contain her emotions.
“When she stepped in the room, I immediately started crying,” said Tolu Taiwo, prevention coordinator for the Center for Gender Equity. Taiwo was visiting Washington, D.C., on behalf of Pacific Lutheran University’s Health and Wellness Committee, which recently won the Healthy Campus Challenge along with 60 other institutions from around the country.
The outgoing First Lady, who was among a variety of speakers at the Jan. 13 event, touted the importance of spreading health and wellness initiatives. PLU was one of at least 350 community colleges and universities to participate in the White House Healthy Campus Challenge, which focused on health care as a primary objective this year.
The largest population of people without any kind of health care are young adults — including college students. The purpose of the White House Healthy Campus Challenge was to motivate community colleges and universities in the U.S to get the word out about the Affordable Care Act and provide students with health insurance literacy, as well as opportunities to enroll in health insurance plans.
At PLU, the Health Center provides the Wellness Access Plan to domestic, international, graduate and undergraduate students enrolled at the university. Students who take advantage of the plan have access to free exams for athletics, employment and travel purposes. The Health Center also offers free same-day medical appointments, and will reimburse for deductibles and copays up to $1,000.
The Access Plan does not require students to carry additional insurance, but students are strongly encouraged to have it.
Taiwo joined Kim Riano, director of the Health and Counseling centers, and Monica Richardson, a student-government representative from ASPLU, to accept PLU’s certificate. The university was recognized for fulfilling its open enrollment goals: hosting on-campus enrollment activities, raising awareness of health care options and deadlines among students, and partnering with community organizations to help reach those goals.
The effort started small, with a letter of encouragement from PLU President Thomas Krise, Riano said. She stressed that Taiwo and others on the committee laid the groundwork to uplift the campus-wide effort.
Upon arriving at the White House ceremony, Richardson, Riano and Taiwo all spoke fondly of their brief experience with the now-former First Lady.
“The way she spoke was so beautiful,” Richardson said. “She knew we were all very passionate.”
Mrs. Obama also offered words of encouragement to attendees, urging them to keep their heads up amid the impending repeal of the ACA and the unknown future of health care in the U.S.
“She just stood there in all her grace and said, ‘the fight never ends,’” Riano said.
Richardson says health insurance is a very complex language, and she urges her fellow PLU students to learn as much as they can about the topic. Being well versed in health care now ensures students will pick plans that are right for them and move through their lives as healthy as possible.
The White House targeted young adults for the Healthy Campus Challenge in hopes of lighting a fire under them to seek information and get serious about their well-being. PLU’s Health and Wellness Committee members hope to keep the flames hot and continue health care growth by building upon their original outreach goals.
“It saves lives,” Richardson said.
If students want to learn more about or get involved with the Health and Wellness Committee at PLU, they are encouraged to contact Tolu Taiwo (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Eva Frey (email@example.com), who is the chair of the committee.