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University devising first ever Healthy Campus Strategy

The University of Alberta is opening the floor to students in developing its first-ever long-term university health strategy.

The Healthy Campus Strategy, currently in the consultation phase, will guide the institution’s future approaches to physical and mental health in the university community over the next five years.

The strategy is being drafted by Human Resource Services, the Office of the Dean of Students and the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.

The objective of the strategy is to set smart goals for campus, student health advocate and former Students’ Union president William Lau said.

“There’s a lot of talk about student mental health, that’s usually the overwhelming narrative,” Lau said. “Campus health would encompass not only physical health but other determinants of health as well.”

A holistic approach parallel to World Health Organization’s Health Promoting Universities model will focus on the campus environment’s relation to wellbeing. The Healthy Campus Strategy could address everything from inside the classroom to how campus buildings are built, Lau said.

Currently, many different initiatives work separately to improve health and wellbeing, including Campus and Community Recreation, the Campus Food Bank, The Landing and the Student Success Centre. The new strategy would integrate student services and health into the overall university culture.

The advantage with the Healthy Campus Strategy is its top-down approach, Lau said. Previous challenges with U of A health strategies came from their ground-up structure, meaning they were student-driven without the support of higher administration, Lau said.

Students are encouraged to voice their experiences and suggestions to the university in consultation sessions. Any point relating to wellbeing can be brought up, ranging anywhere from physical health, finance, academic workload to just not having a sense of direction, Lau said. Students can also bring up who they interact with on campus — such as professors and classmates —and how these people can help. The advantage of participating right now is to include student interests in the university’s plans, instead of having to advocate for interests later on, Lau said.

“After spending so much time on campus and having an awareness of what’s available, we often lose that perspective of what it’s like being a fresh student stepping into a new environment,” Lau said.

Talks about creating a campus-wide health strategy have been going on for years, but haven’t materialized into a plan until now, Lau said.

Consultation sessions began on Feb. 10, but these are reported to have low attendance. Students and staff can join upcoming consultation sessions on March 11 at 1 p.m. at Lister Centre, March 17 at 1 p.m. Campus Saint-Jean and March 24 at 9 a.m. in SUB 4-02. Discussion forums are scheduled to be three hours long.

The university move on to the planning phase once consultation ends in March. There is no estimated completion date for the strategy’s draft or implementation.

“We all bring a different perspective to health and wellness, and on a topic as broad as this, each perspective matters,” Lau said. “Each idea you have is one you can bring to the table.”

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