Zen Dens introduce new winter projects

The Black Impact series and The Menstrual Equity series are being added to their workshops series.

Concordia’s Zen Dens are back following the well-deserved winter break with new projects and initiatives to be pursued throughout the semester.

Jillian Ritchie, the Zen Dens wellness coordinator, told The Concordian about her latest project, the Menstrual Equity Symposium, which will begin in May. The symposium is one of the two newest projects being launched in Winter 2024. 

Ritchie hopes her passion for open conversations, healing, and taking care of both physical and mental health will make students feel more comfortable within themselves in the long run.  

“I see relief in [the students] because it’s someone telling them we’re not expecting you just to perform and produce—you’re also a human,” said Ritchie. “You’re also not only learning all of these academic things, but also the skills of navigating adulting too.” 

The Zen Dens are starting off the semester with a “Movement to Support your Mental Health” workshop on Jan. 22 and will continue to offer workshops surrounding anxiety management, ADHD, interpersonal relationships, and self-care.

The wellness resource is also welcoming “The Black Impact series” and “The Menstrual Equity series” on their list of workshops. 

The Black Impact Series: 

A seven-part series of online workshops focusing on several topics related to the Black experience, led by Myrlie Marcelin, a wellness counsellor who started the Black Impact series in April 2023. Marcelin began the series in October with a workshop surrounding code switching—the act of altering behaviours and vocabulary depending on our work environment and the people around us—in order to dissect the impact it has on Black students. 

On Jan. 23, the Black Impact series will resume with a workshop focusing on colourism where Marcelin and students will look at “light-skinned Black folks and dark-skinned Black folks, the experiences they may experience interracially and within the black community.” From the perspective of internalized discrimination based on skin colour, Marcelin plans to explore the fear that comes in around not appearing as the typical beauty standard. 

The series will also feature workshops surrounding racial Identity and culture (which will be held with a guest speaker), racial wealth gap, the history of policing in Canada and the U.S, and Black fatigue and trauma. The series will end with a True Allyship workshop in fall 2024. 

“Those types of workshops or conversations can not only be healing, but they allow for [Black students] to feel reassured and know that what [they’ve] experienced is valid and that [they’re] not necessarily crazy or making things up about [their] experience,” said Marcelin.

She hopes that by presenting what she has researched and currently knows and understands based on her own life, she can help create a safe environment for students to share who they are and find peace—and that she herself will benefit from the experience.

“I’m very privileged to be able to work in an environment and work in a field where the work I do helps me heal too, because I’m learning a lot and educating myself,” she spoke.

For Marcelin, the Black Impact series also aspires to change the way marginalized communities approach and talk about mental health: “If I can have and do these talks, the research, or the therapy I practise with my clients—and it touches one person enough to feel like they can change intergenerational barriers or trauma in their own life, that’s already enough. If we’re having conversations about it, it’s being destigmatized.”

Marcelin is also including conversations and experiences from other marginalized communities such as the 2SLGBTQ+, Indian and other Asian communities. Marcelin believes that incorporating everyone’s culture and voice will empower students, create less isolation and a stronger sense of community.  

Menstrual Equity Symposium:

The Menstrual Equity Symposium is a part of the Menstrual Equity initiative that began three years ago, during the pandemic, to make sure all menstruators have access to menstrual products on campus without financial and social barriers. The Zen Dens started the initiative by mailing out free condoms to students in partnership with Concordia’s Health Services, and expanded by distributing menstrual products upon student demand, among other initiatives.

After receiving positive responses, the project continued by focusing on sustainable options for students to try out, such as Diva cups and reusable pads. 

The Menstrual Equity Symposium, happening on May 17, plans to bring student advocates, researchers, and other diverse voices to the forefront, in an attempt to highlight the need for accessibility of menstrual products in a higher-education environment. 

 Ritchie strongly believes in the power of student voices and hopes they will create open conversations around menstrual cycles. “We want to see change and change comes with work. So, it’s giving people those opportunities to connect with organizations that are doing [the change] and also, everything that happens at this university is driven by student voices,” she said. 

The Zen Dens are collaborating with the Concordia Student Union (CSU), Douglas College Menstrual Cycle Research Group, and Monthly Dignity—a Montreal-based non-profit organization—founded by McGill students to combat menstrual poverty in Montreal. 

Ritchie and the Zen Dens team will announce further information on the symposium soon. No specific timeline was released to The Concordian. They are also talking about an art exhibit in May as a part of the Menstrual Equity series, more details to come. 

“We hope this project will lead to further awareness and conversation around menstrual equity, while highlighting the opportunity for Concordia to fulfill its commitments to being a Next-Gen University who actively supports the UN Sustainability Goals and its commitment to equity work,” said Ritchie.

The Zen Dens will soon become “CU Wellness” later in the semester, but will keep the name Zen Dens for their five physical spaces on campus.


Simply Scientific: New semester, new stress

Many students experience stress with the start of a new semester, but few know the process behind it.

With the beginning of a new semester, you might have some questions on your mind such as, “why am I already stressed after a week of class?”

Stress is common among university students, especially at the beginning of a new semester. It might be caused by increased workload, new responsibilities, and lifestyle changes, according to NYU’s website.

The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as the “body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event.” When you experience stress, your body generates stress hormones, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. It causes a “fight or flight” response, also called acute stress response, which helps you quickly respond to dangerous situations, as stated on the Mayo Clinic.

According to Harvard Medical School, when such a situation occurs, the amygdala, a part of the brain that takes part in emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which works as a command centre.

The NIH explains this process as nerve cells linking the hypothalamus to the hippocampus, connecting the event to a past situation, as the hippocampus is the brain’s memory storage. Finally, the adrenal glands, found above the kidneys, will release adrenaline to all parts of the body so the person has enough energy to fight or flee, as stated by the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.

However, this mechanism can also harm you if the situation is too stressful or can’t be controlled, as your body keeps experiencing this “fight or flight” response, which can be overwhelming. While stress is a response to a threat, anxiety is a response to stress.

According to an article in Global News, more college students in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. have high expectations of themselves and others, meaning they expect people and themselves to act in a certain way, which causes more stress.

Stressors can be external, meaning they are situations that happen to you such as life changes or unpredictable events. But they can also be internal or self-induced, which means they are thoughts that you have, such as fears, beliefs or lack of control, as explained on the Mayo Clinic. Pessimism can be an internal stressor.

The Government of Canada shared some common symptoms of stress and a few tips to prevent it. Feeling irritated, sad, guilty or restless, seeing changes in your sleep patterns, appetite or weight, having difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and losing interest in things you used to enjoy, all could be signs of stress.

To prevent stress, avoid procrastinating and don’t be afraid to make decisions, as leaving tasks for later and worrying about them will cause more stress. Let people help you if possible and keep a positive and realistic mindset.

Have a great semester!


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Student Life

A winter semester to-do list

Once, long ago, I was a good student.

After a gap year spent working in the hellscape that is retail, I returned to university with a newfound sense of purpose and drive. Diligent and methodical in my approach, I attended every lecture, read every reading, climbed every mountain, and completed every assignment on time. Coincidentally, my grades looked pretty good throughout the entire process. Who knew?

I like to refer to this time as the golden period of my academic career. In the years that followed — the dark ages, if you will — I admittedly fell out of touch with my good habits. As my motivation diminished, so did my GPA and my mental and physical health.

Thankfully, it’s a new semester, a new year, and a new decade. In the spirit of new beginnings, I’ve consulted with fellow students and reflected on some of my old habits in order to compile a list of six tips to help me (and maybe you) get back on track this semester. So, without further ado, let my academic renaissance begin!


Start while you’re ahead 

When your professors provide assignment instructions weeks in advance, it’s usually because they want you to use that time to your benefit. This is something I tend to forget (or maybe the better word is ignore). When someone does make use of this time, however, they tend to be considerably less stressed and produce higher quality work, so get cracking!

Schedule everything

This approach might not work for everyone, but it certainly does for me. It’s in my nature to be scatterbrained and impulsive, so by setting a clear schedule for myself, I’m less likely to lose my focus. For me, this means being really specific about what I study and when. Blocking off my Saturday afternoon for general schoolwork is too vague — I need to block off Saturday 12:00-2:30 for working on my paper and 2:30-4:00 for reading and review. This schedule is subject to change, of course, but it helps me hold myself accountable.

Get friendly

Knowing at least one person in each of your classes can be extremely helpful. Whether you need a fresh perspective on some tricky material or to copy someone’s notes when you’ve missed a class, it’s never a bad idea to introduce yourself to a classmate. The same goes for your professors and TAs — the more recognizable you are, the more likely they are to help you when you’re in a tough spot. Get to know your professors by participating in class discussions and using their office hours, if possible.

Know your limits and make them known

As I sat down to outline this portion of the article, for some reason all I could think about was an episode of Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. Ned discovers he doesn’t know how to say ‘no’ to people, and he becomes so overwhelmed with responsibilities that he descends into a state of what can only be described as all-consuming madness. (This memory is lodged deep within the recesses of my brain, so I could be exaggerating some of the details here).

Save yourself the stress and know when enough is enough. Even if it means turning down a social event or a special project, there is no shame in being open and transparent about your boundaries! Despite the lame quotes business majors may share on Facebook, overworking and pushing yourself to extremes can be harmful to you in the long run (don’t @ me!).

Take care of yourself, goddammit

I know, I know, this one gets thrown around all the time, but it’s true. Getting adequate sleep, nourishing and moving your body, and not binge drinking wine coolers every other night is extremely important. Taking care of yourself also means taking care of your environment — so do your laundry and your dishes, folks.

These are added stressors that are easily dealt with, so you might as well just get them out of the way. I hate to say it, but this is the step I and many others struggle with the most, and it’s arguably the most crucial of all. Baby steps, everybody.

Use the resources available My last tip is to take advantage of the many services Concordia offers. The Student Success Centre, for example, can hook you up with tutoring, study groups, and workshops. If you struggle with writing, make an appointment for writing assistance or attend a drop-in time. Go to office hours, take a breather in one of the many Zen Dens on campus, and consult a librarian to help you with your research. There are so many systems in place that can help make your semester run more smoothly. Remember, you’re paying the big bucks to be here, so milk it!

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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