Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The SGA discusses Okanagan Charter in weekly meeting

Wednesday’s meeting included a presentation about the Okanagan Charter, an initiative to increase campus wellbeing
Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

Assistant Vice Chancellor and Executive Director of Campus Health and Wellbeing, Betsy Cracco gave a presentation at the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association meeting this Wednesday discussing the details of the Okanagan Charter.

The Okanagan Charter, which was signed by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy last October, is an international charter for promoting health and wellbeing within post-secondary schools. According to the Okanagan Charter website, the Charter works to “embed health into all aspects of campus culture and to lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.”

The main goal of this Charter, which Cracco defined as a “very long-term project,” would be to change the culture of the UMass student body. Cracco wants to recruit students and student groups, like the SGA, to be the main advocates for this task, since 87 percent of all people on the UMass campus are students.

The solution is not to hire more faculty, according to Cracco, but to rather “create students as a force” to reduce emotional isolation within the community that also includes faculty and staff.

Campus-wide mental wellbeing declined substantially due to the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UMass surveys presented at the meeting. The surveys suggested a decrease in recent years in students with a “regular healthy mindset” when compared to 2019, when 30 percent of students expressed having a “regular healthy mindset.”

Cracco noted a communication disconnect, at the fault of administration, between the student body and faculty regarding wellness. “The University doesn’t do a great job at talking across these silos. That is the purpose of a campus wide charter,” she explained.

Cracco’s presentation, “Becoming a Health Promoting University,” raised some concerns from the SGA members. Specifically, Senator Colin Humphries, a political science major, asked how this project would address the inefficiencies of campus disability services. In response, Cracco said that the charter project is independent of disability services but vaguely added that they may intersect in certain ways.

“Independent of this project, there are plans to staff up disability services,” Cracco said.

The Charter, which is still in its early stages, would consist of five main initiatives, one being sustainability and promoting a healthy natural and physical environment for students to enjoy.

“We are going to need to make some investments in these things,” Cracco said. The pathways to get to these goals, however, were not explicitly outlined in Cracco’s presentation.

Student engagement is at the center of the initiative, and students will be responsible for a bulk of the work. Cracco stated that she would not be setting the terms of this Charter, rather “the collective will,” referring to the students.

Secretary of Health and Wellbeing Audrey Gabriel, a microbiology and public health sciences double major, expressed concern that this project is yet another responsibility placed onto students. Gabriel said it is difficult for students to always be the sole advocate for their own wellbeing.

At the end of the meeting, the senate voted in favor of re-electing Tanya Sinha, a biology and chemistry double major, to this year’s Elections Commission, which is a group responsible for running and overseeing the SGA elections.

Sinha was the only returning member interested in rejoining. “I’ve been on the elections committee all of last year and it was really fun … I hope to do it again,” she said.

Speaker Clare Sheedy also announced Feb. 15 as the beginning of elections season for the SGA, the specific dates of which will be announced on their Instagram.

Grace Lee can be reached at [email protected].

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