NMU adopts charter for campus well-being

Northern Michigan University President Brock Tessman speaks at a Wednesday ceremony where he signed the Okanagan Charter, which focuses on health and well-being. The charter, in part, calls for integrating health into all aspects of campus life. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University has adopted the Okanagan Charter, an international charter that calls for post-secondary schools to embed health into all aspects of campus life, and lead health promotion locally and globally.

NMU President Brock Tessman signed the charter document on Wednesday at the Northern Center.

“Today is a great day to be a Wildcat,” Tessman said at the signing ceremony. “Today marks a very important step forward in Northern’s commitment to promote health and well-being across our campus, in the local community and globally through the signing of the Okanagan Charter.”

The purpose of the charter, the university said in a news release, is to inspire action by providing a framework relevant to the Health Promoting Universities and Colleges movement; generating dialogue and research that expands networks and furthers action on, off and between campuses; and mobilizing international action to integrate health in all policies and actions.

NMU is one of 17 Health Promoting universities and colleges in the U.S., one of two in Michigan and the only one in the Upper Peninsula to adopt the Okanagan Charter.

“The Okanagan Charter defines the complexity of well-being and the role a higher-education campus may have to impact well-being, health and sustainability, and provides clear direction and concrete action,” said Abigail Wyche, special adviser for campus well-being at NMU, on Wednesday.

Wyche said the charter also calls for accountability on taking “transformative action,” which includes leading by example.

Caring for the campus community comes first, she said, after which it will expand outward.

“When this snowball effect takes place, the potential for influencing global health and well-being strategy becomes real,” Wyche said. “The key is moving beyond traditional approaches focused on individual behavior to upstream, systems-level, environmental strategies that influence the health and well-being of person, place and planet.”

The focus on mental health goes beyond NMU and its age group, she said.

“We’re facing increased rates of depression and anxiety, and so as those needs of our student population change, it’s really important that we be ready to adapt and change to meet those needs,” Wyche said.

James Haveman, a former NMU trustee who recently led a comprehensive review of the university’s mental health services, on Wednesday spoke remotely on the charter.

“It allows the campus to really rally around a theme of wellness and health and community, and I think this charter will really go far to really encourage the campus to become a healthier campus,” Haveman said. “When it’s a well campus or a healthy campus, there’s an atmosphere of learning. There’s an atmosphere of community, an atmosphere of relationships and paying attention to people in need, and it also is an environment for learning.”

Wyche noted that at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, NMU students became vocal and active about the need for improved mental health services across campus.

“That’s really what kicked off our relationship with Jim Haveman and his ‘heathy NMU’ report,” she said.

Former NMU President Kerri Schuiling also spoke remotely on Wednesday, saying the charter is more than a guide to becoming a Health Promoting campus.

“By placing health first, our actions demonstrate we are yet again a campus that cares for one another,” Schuiling said.

The charter, NMU said, also has two calls to action regarding institutions of higher education: embedding health into all aspects of campus culture, and leading health promotion and collaboration locally and globally. Actions include:

≤ embedding health in all campus policies;

≤ creating supportive campus environments;

≤ generating thriving communities and a culture of well-being;

≤ supporing personal development;

≤ creating or reorienting campus services;

≤ integrating health, well-being and sustainability in multiple disciplines to develop change agents;

≤ advancing research, teaching and training for health promotion knowledge and action; and

≤ leading and partnering toward local and global action for health promotion.

Key principles for mobilizing systems and campus action include:

≤ using settings and whole system approaches;

≤ ensuring comprehensive and campus-wide approaches;

≤ using participatory approaches and engaging the voices of students and others;

≤ developing transdisciplinary collaborations and cross-sector partnerships;

≤ promoting research, innovation and evidence-informed action;

≤ building on strengths;

≤ valuing local and indigenous communities’ contexts and priorities; and

≤ acting on an existing university responsibility.

Zora Binert, president of the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University, called the charter a “strong commitment” to the well-being of students on campus.

“Well-being is not just about physical, mental, emotional health, but also about academic success, housing security, financial security for students, because those all play a huge role into what we’re doing here at this university,” Binert said at the signing ceremony.

The Okanagan Charter was an outcome of the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges held on the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, Canada.


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