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Mizzou Law student transforms Hulston Hall’s student spaces

Mary R. Russell (center) speaks while being flanked by Patricia Breckenridge (left) and Paul C. Wilson

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary R. Russell, middle, highlights Hulston Hall’s wellness and maternity room as just part of pioneering solutions at Mizzou Law designed to alleviate law students’ mental health. During the law school’s 150th anniversary celebration, Missouri Supreme Court Judges Patricia Breckenridge, left, and Chief Justice Paul C. Wilson also gave presentations as part of a Sept. 23, 2022, CLE panel. (Photo by Jack Rintoul from the University of Missouri Communications Department)

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary R. Russell sang the praises of Hulston Hall’s wellness and maternity room during a Sept. 23 CLE presentation. In the audience was the Mizzou Law student who had designed the space.

More than a year ago, the room was a storage closet for spare office equipment. In 2021, Brandon C. Bethel transformed it into a space devoted to relaxation for students and faculty, complete with a massage chair. Lactating parents can use part of the space to privately feed babies. Once a month, a licensed therapist visits for a few hours free of charge for students.

Russell mentioned the room’s benefits during her CLE panel presentation on attorney well-being, joined by two other high court judges on a panel that was part of Mizzou Law’s 150th anniversary celebration.

 “I hear it’s being used a lot, so that’s a wonderful thing that we’re recognizing to help our law school students,” Russell said.

Russell noted that law students made up 26 percent of those surveyed in the legal community who reported depression symptoms. This was the highest rate of depression from any group surveyed, though solo practitioners slid into second place at 19 percent.

American Bar Association accreditation standards have tasked law schools with addressing law students’ mental health via support services for mental health and substance abuse, as well as food pantries and other needs.

Mizzou Law has implemented these standards via a pilot elective course, “Life Skills for Thriving Lawyers.” Russell also highlighted an assistant dean of students’ weekly meditation programs and an initiative that centers the effects of mindfulness on student well-being — Russell said this is the first law school in the state to do this.

Meanwhile, the wellness and maternity room’s transformation as well as other student spaces in Hulston Hall have been the work of Bethel, a 3L student.

Russell’s presentation wasn’t the first time Bethel had heard her speak about attorneys’ mental health. A few years ago, he had worked as one of her winter interns, and it was a core issue for Russell then and now.

“I think I mentioned to her when I was working for her that we had built the wellness room, or we were going to, and she loved the idea,” Bethel said.

Bethel and the rest of his 1L class took remote courses in 2020. Upon students’ return to Hulston Hall, he saw promise in its student spaces. He needed a creative outlet, and these spaces just needed an update.

Bethel wasn’t done after this first room. Depending on the season, Bethel spends his days in classes and extracurricular activities or in a full-time internship. His nights since he began tackling student spaces, however, are spent updating rooms.

At first, Bethel was using his own time and money to paint, buy and re-upholster secondhand furniture, and pick out décor for the space. 

Dee Arrington, a 2L Mizzou Law ambassador, likes to joke that Bethel is a triplet.

“Because I can’t figure out how he makes it to every social function, his grades are awesome, he’s in every student organization, he works in the literal dead of night to paint,” Arrington said.

By now, he doesn’t work alone. He eventually roped in student government and the dean’s office, applying for funding and recruiting extra hands to work. That funding secured the massage chair and reimbursed at least most of what Bethel had personally spent. Ongoing space updates are now a group effort through the Student Bar Association (SBA).

In an email welcoming students back to campus, Bethel listed the updated spaces up to that point.

 “Our environments are often invisible in connection to our moods and learning apparatus, yet they are fundamental to both and to our overall experience,” Bethel wrote.

Wellness room

The wellness and maternity room at Mizzou Law after transformation.

Wellness room

The room at Mizzou Law before transformation into a wellness and maternity room.

Bethel and the rest of the SBA group have since tackled and maintained offices for the Board of Advocates; Black Law Students Association; Business, Entrepreneurship and Tax Law Review; Journal of Dispute Resolution; Missouri Law Review; and SBA.

Bethel said his hardest project to date was updating promotional display cases in early summer 2022, which he also designed in collaboration with the admissions office. He also has updated the student café and replaced student community fridges, along with a free donated wardrobe for students who need it.

Bethel said that the purpose of each space is at the core of his design choices, from painting to updating furniture and choosing ergonomic chairs and other furniture.

To transform the wardrobe room from a stark storage closet into a private fitting room, Bethel repainted the wardrobe room and updated it with clothing storage solutions that increased the number of suit sets, blouses, dresses and shoes available to students. He also added a curtained-off changing room, complete with a lit-up mirror and makeup station.

Referring to the wardrobe, Arrington noted that Bethel’s final touches add a level of respect to students’ work.

“It allows people to use the space with dignity,” Arrington said.

Missouri Lawyers Media was a sponsor of the 150th Anniversary celebration during which the CLE discussion took place.