Canada’s universities play an essential role in building back better post-pandemic, both in Canada and abroad. They are dedicated to improving and enriching lives through research and innovation, teaching and skills development, and serving as key pillars of their communities. They engage in critical work across the country and internationally to foster a resilient and equitable future and to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
In this blog series, university presidents from across the country share their thoughts and highlight some of their institution’s initiatives to contribute to a sustainable, inclusive future.
Revamping our campuses to advocate for sustainable health
Back-to-school means setting foot on university campuses more often. Finally! For me personally, starting fresh with a more vibrant campus feels really good.
Of course COVID-19 is still a part of our lives and we need to be cautious and respect the health measures in place.
At Université Laval, like other institutions, we are undergoing a period of transition instead of a return to normal. We are offering more classroom courses than we were at the height of the pandemic, but some instruction is still remote or provided through different teaching arrangements. The research teams are very active in the lab, but still check in with each other virtually.
It’s important to do, as interaction is part of the university experience and our commitment to our communities, and because many have struggled with the isolation of the last few months.
I’m confident that what we’ve experienced through the screen and in-person with others are indeed compatible. I believe that in the future, we will be able to choose to benefit from the best of technology while continuing to make rich interpersonal connections. There’s a way to find a balance that helps us flourish and care for our mental health.
This fall, we have the opportunity to revamp our campuses while maintaining the health and safety of our communities. It’s important to do, as interaction is a part of the university experience and our commitment to our communities, and because many have struggled with the isolation of the last few months.
The longer the pandemic lasts, the more likely it is to leave long-term effects. This is why each of us should pay particular attention to our mental health throughout the 2021-2022 year.
All universities can absolutely offer more psychological support services to individuals dealing with mental health issues. That said, it’s important not to underestimate the potential of preventative measures that encourage our community to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
The challenge at Université Laval
This is the challenge we’re taking on at Université Laval: advocating for sustainable health, meaning physical, mental and social well-being, starting by organizing our campuses accordingly.
Our staff have been very creative over the last year and one team had the idea to create the Nordic Campus. Members of the university community and local residents were able to get out in the fresh air on an ice rink and on snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails while breaking isolation.
With the success of the Nordic Campus, we decided to do it again with the Summer Campus, which organized sports, food, cultural and social activities over the summer.
Committed to the well-being of its community, the Mon équilibre ULaval program also created a relaxation space, installed hammocks in a wooded area and made trails to encourage individuals to meet up for activities. We wanted to put nature at the forefront for its many mental health benefits.
Our campus’s objective reflects our vision for sustainable health in a concrete way. Many of our research projects, accelerated by Pulsar, explore how the environment affects human health and the microprogram on healthy lifestyle habits helps equip students to flourish in their personal and professional lives. Université Laval also translated the Okanagan Charter, a pillar of our approach to sustainable health, into French.
I know that making our campuses more vibrant and attractive will not only encourage a balanced lifestyle within our communities, but will also help us act as an agent of positive change in society. As we embark on a new academic year, Canada’s universities remain firmly committed to this role, and to supporting the sustainability, health and wellbeing of their students and communities.
Published by Vianne Timmons, President of Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Published by Dr. Marc Jerry, President of Luther College, and Dr. Roger A. Petry, Professor of Philosophy, Luther College and Coordinator, RCE Saskatchewan.
Published by Rhonda Lenton, President of York University.
Published by Joy Johnson, president of Simon Fraser University.
Published by Pierre Cossette, Rector of the Université de Sherbrooke.