Our new policy on Student Health and Wellness provides insight on student priorities to provincial government and institutional stakeholders. We offer recommendations on Health Promotion, the structure of Campus Wellness Centres, youth Mental Health, Athletics and Recreation, Nutrition, Access to Care for Marginalized Groups, Campus Security and Safety, and Sexual Violence on campus. The ratification of this policy broadens our organizational stance beyond physical and clinical health concerns and applies to the whole campus environment. We want to ensure that students are well taken care of during their transitional years.
When it comes to our Health Promotion section, this paper encourages a proactive and ongoing view of healthy living during university. Research shows a strong link between a student’s first year experience and their future academic fortune, so we focus strongly on the unique health needs of first year students to help them meet their academic potential while avoiding health pitfalls. Additionally, we address structural and procedural issues that lead to stress and problematic physical health habits. We explore solutions such as reading breaks and redesigned exam structures, in the belief that these preventive measures can protect students from the ill effects of poor mental and physical health.
University health services need to expand their focus beyond students’ physical health by offering holistic services that promote overall student wellness. This would involve establishing a single point of access for health, counselling, and accessibility services. We refer to these access points as Campus Wellness Centres. These wellness centres should work to increase their standards of care, first, by integrating on-campus services and then by developing community partnerships.
Adequately addressing Mental Health on university campuses begins by breaking down barriers of stigmatization. These barriers work against students as well as faculty; students are often times reluctant to seek care while faculty are sometimes ill-equipped to address mental health concerns in academic settings or refer students to the best resources. Managing mental health and mental illness is a campus wide effort that requires robust institutional policies, structures, and organization that reflects the importance of student mental health and wellness.
Optimal nutrition and levels of physical activity offer excellent benefits to students–specifically related to stress reduction, improved self-esteem and academic performance, as well as positive impacts on mental health. By placing greater emphasis on low-commitment recreational activities and introducing more extensive promotion for first-time gym users, the Athletics and Recreation section seeks to encourage institutions to commit to increasing the number of students that benefit from athletics and recreation services. Accessibility should be made a priority through improved adaptive sport equipment and programming. For much the same reason, women-only hours and spaces should be made available to all students who identify as female.
In regards to Nutrition, campus eateries should introduce point-of-choice nutrition information to empower informed dietary decision-making. These eateries should strive to offer nutritious food at a low cost, while also providing a variety of portion sizes, to help discourage overeating. Extensive information regarding common dietary restrictions and allergens should be made available in these establishments, and staff should be trained accordingly. Finally, these food providers should be chosen following extensive student consultation, and once introduced should regularly seek student feedback regarding the food they offer.
Our policy seeks to increase Access to Care for Marginalized Groups including students from visible minority groups, those who identify as LGBTQ+, students with disabilities, or those managing chronic illness, as well as students who are pregnant or have recently given birth. While wellness services should be broadly accessible to the entire student population, we want to recognize that some students have unique health care needs. All staff should reflect the diversity of the student population and be trained to address the disparate needs of marginalized groups. Institutions should ensure that mechanisms for special accommodations–academic or medical–are easily accessible and readily available to the students who need them. Lastly, we recognize that there are current limitations to health care and accessibility service delivery on university campuses, however the improvement of long-term care needs to be made a priority for these groups.
By ensuring that all Campus Security and Safety is under the purview of special constable services, all universities in Ontario could better maintain safety. By working alongside regional police forces, students would be offered continuous security throughout a wider territorial jurisdiction. This would also take the student volunteers who run “safe walk” programs out of harm’s way. Institutions should also keep a public record of criminal activity on and near campus, giving prospective and current students pertinent information about the security of their surroundings. It would also encourage implementation of adequate security infrastructure that would make students feel comfortable.
It is crucial that universities acknowledge the occurrence of Sexual Violence on campus and prepare their communities to treat incidents with care and sufficient gravity. Universities must provide consistent and well-communicated policy and processes for reporting and recourse related to sexual assault and harassment on campus. Survivors need to be treated with dignity and respect. We recommend that every institution establish support centres for students who have experienced sexual violence. Again, academic accommodations should be made for any students who need them and steps need to be taken to improve the provision of long-term care.
Addressing students’ concerns for their own health and wellness will ultimately improve the quality of the PSE system. Our current policy recommendations also seek to increase the accessibility of all wellness services. We hope that these recommendations will contribute to the personal growth and success of current and future students in ways that complement their academic achievement.
Read the policy paper in full at our research centre: http://www.ousa.ca/research-centre/