Students in a new course were trying art therapy one week and wheelchair basketball the next. On other weeks, they cooked nutritious meals together and practiced mindfulness on walks through the Highland Creek Valley.
Each class had students getting hands-on experience with different campus resources that support their health and wellbeing, including counselling services and activities at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. The course, launched last summer and titled “A Healthy Campus for Students: Prioritizing Mental Health,” is part of the school’s healthy campus initiative.
“The course had a significant impact on our students and their health,” says Sheila John, who leads the healthy campus initiative and is assistant dean of wellness, recreation and sport at U of T Scarborough. “Students reported feeling more confident about prioritizing their mental health and accessing resources on campus.”
The course is also one of the ways U of T Scarborough is demonstrating its commitments to the Okanagan Charter, which was signed in October. The charter is a pledge undertaken by universities and colleges around the world with two calls to action: to integrate health throughout all parts of campus culture, and to lead actions and collaborations that empower people to gain control over their health — a process known as health promotion.
U of T Scarborough will celebrate the signing with an event on Jan. 31, a milestone the campus has worked toward since 2016. That was the year the healthy campus initiative was formed, driven by an advisory committee of staff, faculty and students. Their goal is to make sure everything the campus does enhances health, from embedding health promotion into classrooms to designing buildings that facilitate social connections.
The committee focuses on six pillars to promote wellbeing on campus: arts and culture; food and nutrition; mental health; physical activity; equity and diversity, and physical space. U of T Scarborough’s commitments to the Okanagan Charter bring together these pillars, the principles of the charter and the goals of the campus’ strategic plan, Inspiring Inclusive Excellence.
“A commitment to a caring and healthy working and learning environment is a defining characteristic of our campus,” says Wisdom Tettey, vice-president of U of T and principal of U of T Scarborough. “We continue to pursue actions at the individual and collective levels that promote good health, advance a caring culture and foreground the wellbeing of every member of our community as a shared responsibility.
“A community that supports the health and wellbeing of all its members thrives together and succeeds together.”
U of T Scarborough also became the 37th member of the Canadian Health Promoting Campus Network, a national network of signatory universities and colleges. Each school must submit commitments to formally adopt the charter and join the network, all of which can be found on the network’s website.
“By adopting the charter, we’re joining a network with other institutions of higher learning around the world who share the same vision of wellbeing on campus,” John says.
The initiative has hosted vaccine clinics, wellness workshops, fitness challenges and an event that gave students free professional massages during exams. It has also funded equity-related conferences, meal planning for students living in residence and improvements to the campus’ bike-sharing program. And its website includes a one-stop-shop webpage that lists all the resources and supports available to students, staff, faculty and librarians.
Plans are underway to integrate the healthy campus course, which is offered in partnership with the department of health and society, into U of T Scarborough’s student orientation. Also in the works is a series of events and activities themed around each pillar.
“Everyone plays an important role in creating a healthy campus community,” John says. “Through the adoption of the charter as part of the healthy campus initiative, we are fostering a campus culture that prioritizes wellbeing through our U of T Scarborough community that comes here to learn, work, and connect.”