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Finding the balance between productivity and self-care is sometimes difficult for first-year college students. Taking a few minutes away from the demands of coursework to focus on creativity and community is what EKU students are doing as part of the Colonels Create series. 

The first session of the fall semester was held September 30 with the next three sessions scheduled for October 14, October 28 and November 9. All sessions take place on the fourth floor of Whitlock at 5:15 p.m.

EKU leaders established the Colonels Create series in 2019 to help first-year students form connections and find purpose, said Dr. Travis Martin, administrator of the First Year Courses & Learning Communities program. During the 2021 fall semester, the program serves the LGBTQIA+ community, a perfect partner to the Living Learning Community established this year for those students. 

“Events over the past few years have reinforced to colleges across the country the importance of creating welcoming, inclusive campus environments for their students,” Martin said. “Colonels Create, as a therapeutic arts intervention, lets students build community and engage in mindfulness so they can center themselves in the moment and see themselves as part of the Eastern family.” 

Each session begins with mindfulness meditation techniques led by psychology students before being led into an art session by art educator and program director for KY READY Corps Julie Struck. 

“Visual art is more than just expressive, it is empowering,” said Struck. “It especially benefits vulnerable or otherwise marginalized populations. Collaborative art projects are also a way to build community and foster a feeling of ownership.”

During the first session, students drew labyrinth designs on individual canvases. Students will paint and further embellish the canvases with meaningful words and phrases in future sessions. Ultimately, all the canvases will combine to form a large mural intended for public display. 

Bay Walden, first-year art student from Corbin, traced a circular labyrinth design onto a canvas and noted the practice was calming. 

“This is therapeutic,” Walden said. “I go to art when I feel stressed or tensed up.” 

While most students used tracing paper to trace a design from template to canvas, accounting major Gabrielle Durham from Versailles drew the circular labyrinth design free-hand. 

“I wanted to do something that would challenge me,” Durham said. “But it ended up being pretty stressful because I wanted it to be perfect.” 

Both Walden and Durham said they enjoy art so the Colonels Create event offered an artistic outlet during a difficult part of the semester. They both said they look forward to returning to the next session to add to their canvas creations. 

Struck decided to make the labyrinth a focal design element for the mural because of the uncertainty surrounding living life during a worldwide pandemic. 

“I immediately thought of the amount of stress students must be dealing with, long term, trying to learn and reach their goals and dreams during the time of COVID,” she said. “When I did a bit of research on the history, symbolism and styles of labyrinths I came upon one that is shaped like a rainbow — and saw its obvious connection to an important symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Colonels Create is sponsored by the Office of First-Year Courses and Learning Communities, the Department of Psychology, the Counseling Center, and the Center for Equity, Inclusion, and Global Engagement. Sessions hold up to 24 students and advance registration is required.