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REF NO.: 31

SUBJECT: Six Canadian universities partner on groundbreaking health promotion movement

DATE: Oct. 31,2016

Canadian universities are leading an international effort to create campuses that will improve the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff.

Memorial University joins the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), Mount Royal University, the University of Lethbridge and the University of Calgary as the first universities to formally adopt the Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges. The charter calls on post-secondary institutions to commit to embedding health and well-being into all institutional policies and practices.

“Memorial University is proud to partner with five other Canadian universities to be among the first to sign the Okanagan Charter, a commitment to the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and communities,” said Dr. Gary Kachanoski, president and vice-chancellor, Memorial University. “Health and well-being are essential to learning, productivity, satisfaction and building a sense of community. When we establish healthy living as a priority, we will be happier, more successful and better equipped to handle challenges.”

UBC and SFU led the development of the charter with international partners. The charter was an outcome of the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges held at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. A charter working group with members from the U.K., Chile, Ecuador, Germany, the United States and Canada used an intensive development process to engage people interested in higher education from 45 countries. 

Higher education leaders and delegates signed a pledge to bring the charter back to their settings to inspire and catalyze further action toward the creation of health-promoting universities and colleges. Representatives from the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) joined in the pledge.

Dr. Peter Cornish, director, Student Wellness and Counselling Centre, Memorial University, says that universities and colleges have a unique capacity and responsibility to promote well-being through education, research, policies and practices that can be developed on campuses. The Okanagan Charter provides a framework for post-secondary institutions to lead this movement.

“The Okanagan Charter will encourage us to continue innovating, because it will serve as an accountability measure, encouraging us to track, celebrate and communicate our progress as health-promoting institutions,” said Dr. Cornish.

The newly formed Canadian Health Promoting Universities and Colleges Network, headed by these first university signatories, is working collaboratively to advance the charter and encourage health promotion on campuses across Canada and globally.

Each institution has made individual commitments to enacting the Okanagan Charter on their campuses in different ways — from campus-wide mental health strategies to developing campus spaces that support connection and community.

As part of Memorial’s adoption of the charter, Dr. Cornish announced several mental health and wellness initiatives planned for Memorial’s St. John’s campus, including a new Interprofessional Student Wellness and Counselling Centre, an online peer support program, a 30-day mindfulness challenge and a new space for the university community to gather, sit and share openly for well-being.

Presidents from the six universities will adopt the Okanagan Charter during the week of Oct. 31, 2016. Dr. Kachanoski, Dr. Cornish and Dr. TA Loeffler, School of Human Kinetics and Recreation, will sign for Memorial on Monday, Oct. 31, at 2:15 p.m. as part of Memorial’s Thrive Week events.

Running from Oct. 31-Nov. 4, Thrive Week is a week-long series of events focused on building mental health for all. Thrive originated at UBC in 2009, and is now celebrated at many campuses across Canada.

More information about the Okanagan Charter can be found here.

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For further information, please contact Laura Barron, communications co-ordinator, Memorial University, at (709) 864-4570, (709) 699-0487 or l.barron@mun.ca.

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