With Okanagan Charter, Cornell to become health-promoting campus

On Oct. 26, Cornell administrators will sign the Okanagan Charter, a formal pledge to promote health and well-being across all facets of university life.

The charter, developed in 2015 by health promotion scholars, researchers, practitioners and administrators from 45 countries, aims to guide institutions of higher education to lead in developing and modeling health-promoting strategies in their campus settings.

President Martha E. Pollack and university leaders representing all areas of the campus community will sign the charter, which embraces Cornell’s commitment to prioritizing health and well-being and ushers in the next phase of the student Mental Health Review.

 “The Okanagan Charter is an important way for Cornell to both reaffirm and formalize our commitment to supporting the health of our students, faculty and staff,” Pollack said. “It will support us in seeking new ways of incorporating health-promoting behaviors into our campus culture, and in identifying and sharing best practices to support community well-being.”

More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities are currently exploring adoption of the charter; Cornell is one of around a dozen adopting it this fall. Formal charter adoption signals institutional willingness to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, from the administration to operations to academic mandates. It also affirms a commitment to lead health promotion and collaborations locally and globally.

“Cornell has long recognized that health and well-being are foundational to the academic and personal success of all students and their ability to thrive on campus and into the future,” said Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life. “The Okanagan Charter provides a robust set of principles for how we will continue to approach health and well-being across all domains both inside and outside of the classroom. I’m proud to be making this important public health commitment that will support all members of the Cornell community.” 

Two collaborating advisory groups for campus well-being – one focused on students, the other on faculty and staff – will employ multidisciplinary approaches to explore and implement changes and sustain momentum over time. The alignment of student and employee needs recognizes overlapping interests and opportunities for positive change, administrators said.

“It’s wonderful to be part of an effort to support the well-being needs of all members of our community, including faculty and staff,” said Christine D. Lovely, vice president and chief human resources officer. “I feel fortunate to have joined a university where a collaborative approach to campus well-being is supported at the very top of the institution. Our existing employee well-being efforts are well aligned with this approach.”

The Cornell community is invited to attend the adoption of the Okanagan Charter on Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. in front of Cornell Health on Ho Plaza and hear remarks from Cornell leadership including Lombardi; Lovely; Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education; and Kathryn Boor, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education. Representatives from Cornell Health and Human Resources will be on hand to discuss available resources for well-being.

Additional campus programming will take place throughout the semester, including the Employee Benefair on Nov. 9 for faculty and staff, and stress-relieving activities for students in mid-November. Related information can be found at mentalhealth.cornell.edu and on the Cornell Events calendar.

Jennifer Austin is the director of communications at Cornell Health.

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Rebecca Valli