Simon Fraser University's mission statement includes such slogans as “equipping students with the knowledge, skills and experiences that prepare them for life in an ever-changing and challenging world” and being "Canada’s most community-engaged research university.” So what is SFU doing to look after students’ well-being? During my co-op term with the SFU Health Promotion, a division of the SFU Health & Counselling Services, I learned that actually, a lot is being done!
The Health Promotion team is taking a settings-based approach to support student well-being through the Healthy Campus Community initiative. Now, you must be wondering what does ‘settings-based approach’ even mean. It means that the projects the team is leading are focused on making SFU a supportive place by working with faculty members, administrators and facilities to improve students’ well-being.
Let’s make it simple by using a frog to represent us students! As the saying goes…
“If the frogs in a pond started behaving strangely, our first reaction would not be to punish them or even to treat them. Instinctively, we’d wonder what was going on in the pond.”
So for us frogs to not behave strangely and to have a positive mental health, the Health Promotion team works closely with the pond caretakers represented by the campus stakeholders who directly affect our learning environment and physical spaces such as study spots. Let’s look at some projects to clear this hazy picture of what I’m talking about!
Professors and Teaching Assistants are probably the people with whom we interact the most during university. They play an essential role when it comes to shaping us for our future but also helping us take care of our mental health and responding to our concerns. Through the Well-Being in Learning Environment Project, the team encourages teaching staff to take steps towards supporting students’ well-being. You might have seen some such initiatives in your classes such as i-clickers that promote class input and participation, social connectedness start-up activities in tutorials or showing funny dog video compilations at the beginning of class to lighten the mood. These little steps do make a difference.
As a student, I feel that the environment I study in greatly affects my motivation and willingness to get things done. Personally, I would prefer studying at a cozy coffee shop with couches and would choose a seat by the window so I can enjoy the view when I want to take a break or just procrastinate a little while music plays and feel like I am in a movie scene. Anyway, putting my dramatic-self aside, what I am really trying to say is that my surroundings affect the amount of time I spend on studying without feeling too sleepy or tired. The Health Promotion Team has worked in collaboration with various campus stakeholders such as SFSS, Build SFU and Residence & Housing, among others, in order to use the institution’s design to positively impact student stress level. For example; student lounges in the AQ have been renovated using their Well-Being Through Physical Spaces guidelines (adding colours, good ventilation, window view, etc.) as seen below:
So that was the ‘settings-based approach’ part, now let’s look at some examples on how they are advancing health education on campus. You will often spot some of the Health Peer Educators in the AQ hosting a table on sexual health and sometimes a Health Nurse from the SFU clinic answering questions about birth control pills and vaccinations available at the clinic. Additionally, if you want to connect with more people on campus, they also have a cooking workshop where you can learn how to make healthy food (don’t we all love some free food, plus it is healthy, even better!!!) but also to meet new people from different cultural backgrounds. They also host Fitmix which is a free weekly fitness class.
As students, we tend to have crazy schedules and in the midst of it all, we often forget to take care of ourselves. The Health Promotion team has designed a free online course called Bouncing Back which takes only about 45 minutes to complete. It provides strategies on how to build your resilience and support your well-being. The team members already model those wonderfully at the workplace by incorporating the different self-care tips into team meetings and even via internal emails.
Now that we know that our pond is being looked after to support our well-being, I think the greatest thing we can do for ourselves is to take some steps towards self-care such as taking the Bouncing Back course, taking some time to connect with friends and family, being grateful for the little things (try the sweet crepes from Café Crepe with Nutella and banana and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, Pure Bliss!!!), go for a walk to appreciate nature or honestly take one of those power naps you don’t think you deserve.