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On May 12, 2022, higher education campuses around the world gathered to discuss how they are activating the Okanagan Charter to lead health and wellbeing promotion action and collaboration locally and globally. Read UBC student Sarah Stuttaford’s reflection on the full-day Symposium below.

As a UBC student, sometimes I feel as though conversations surrounding health and wellbeing are frustratingly juxtaposed by the university’s inaction. The impetus to support student, staff, and faculty wellbeing seems to be diluted by social media posts that suggest taking a walk or sleeping more as opposed to more reified solutions. So, when I received the opportunity to attend the International Health Promoting Campuses Symposium May 12, I was intrigued to learn more about UBC’s progression towards concrete action. Nearly 800 participants virtually convened for the main event “Wellbeing as a priority: Presidents & Vice-Chancellors in conversation,” with a special panel of guests, including our very own UBC President Santa Ono, along with renowned Pamela Gillies (Principal and Vice-President Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University), and Ray Watts (President of the University of Alabama). 

Topics for discussion included the Okanagan Charter, an International Charter for Health Promoting University and Colleges, examined in today’s context. The importance of intersectional approaches to wellbeing such as addressing climate anxiety, racism, and Indigenous Reconciliation were analyzed along with the challenges of collaboration at a university level. While these types of panel discussions prove to be fruitful in knowledge, is it just more talk?

In short, not necessarily. When addressing the question “How are you leading your university to promote health, wellbeing and sustainability by embracing a whole system approach?” President Ono responded with the Wellbeing Strategic Framework. This framework was developed to embrace collective action through its six priority areas, encouraging campus community growth in terms of wellbeing while also addressing and advancing intersecting priorities, including sustainability, equity, and Indigeneity. For instance, an example of the Collaborative Leadership Priority Area in action is the UBC Sustainability Hub: a student, faculty and staff driven initiative aiming to “catalyze change for a just and sustainable world”. The Social Connection Priority Area is another example, including the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP), discussed by President Ono as well. The ISP is a framework to uphold indigenous human rights in accordance with the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This strategic plan restructures budgeting processes broadly to prioritize wellbeing programs with individual involvement through a lens of anti-racism and Indigenous Reconciliation.  

As panelists Ray Watts and Pamela Gillies described how they have implemented the Okanagan Charter on their campuses, UBC has grown to become a world leader in terms of intersectional wellbeing. While linear progress is idealistic, UBC and a growing number of universities still strive to support their campus communities, often starting with students who are the future for tangible change.

Written by Sarah Stuttaford, 3rd year UBC Student, for UBC Wellbeing.

Watch keynotes, dialogues, and presentations from the full-day Symposium here.

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We all have a hand in shaping campus environments that support health, wellbeing, and sustainability. By championing wellbeing, we can build stronger and more inclusive communities at UBC and beyond.