By Tess Weisman
The University of Massachusetts Amherst has signed the Okanagan Charter, committing itself to a transformative vision when it comes to health, well-being, and campus culture. A number of different universities across the country, such as the University of California Berkeley, Cornell University, and the University of Michigan, have joined the Okanagan Charter. The Charter has two calls of action; embedding health into administration, operations, and academic mandates and ensuring health promotion action and collaboration are being led locally and globally.
Specifically, UMass has committed to focusing on health and well-being for students, faculty, and staff; sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion; and the built and natural environment. The signing of the Charter symbolizes UMass’s effort to lead the university and the country as a model of a more holistic view of health as a university.
Present at the Charter signing were the following:
- Ann Becker, Director of Public Health
- Betsy Cracco, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Wellbeing
- Anna Maria Siega-Riz, Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences
- Tilman Wolf, Associate Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost
- Alaina Macaulay, Senior Director for Inclusion and Strategic Engagement
- Richard Yeager, Director of Campus Planning
- Shayan Raza, President of the Student Government Association
In a speech given by Raza, he commented on how important it is for students to participate in focus groups that give the university feedback on topics such as the environment, mental health, and physical health. Each university that joins the Charter determines how it will implement the values and principles of the Charter into its campus.
UMass appears to be taking a student-centered approach. In a presentation to the Student Government Association, Betsy Cracco outlined the university’s approach as not to fire more faculty but to have students be a leading force to bring attention to the mental health climate on campus. Worries were raised about whether too much responsibility is placed on students rather than the university to allow the Charter to succeed in its mission.