The University of Michigan prepares students to become global citizens – leaders who will challenge the present and enrich the future. Our students draw upon the university’s intellectual rigor, academic excellence, and breadth of expertise to help set new standards of excellence for future generations, both within and outside the classroom. The completion of a U-M education is a noteworthy accomplishment, one that signals an ability to succeed at the highest level. 

Yet a growing body of evidence suggests that more students are struggling to maintain both academic endeavors and mental health and wellness. The growing mental health needs of students, amplified by the persistent effects of the global pandemic and exacerbated by the pervasive impact of institutionalized racism, has created an emerging imperative for higher education. 

Assessing Resources and Needs

In the fall of 2020, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Susan M. Collins and Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon charged a committee of deans, faculty and staff across Academic Affairs and Student Life, co-chaired by Senior Vice Provost, Dr. Amy Dittmar and Dean of Students, Dr. Laura Blake Jones, to review the mental health and well-being needs and resources on the Ann Arbor campus. Specifically, the charge asked the committee: 

  1. To explore and recommend innovative approaches to addressing student mental health and well-being; and, 
  2. To examine the current resources at the U-M and provide recommendations on how these may be improved, expanded, measured for effectiveness, and communicated to those who might need them. 

Through an evaluation of existing resources and focus groups, the committee recommended a strategic and innovative change to holistically address health and well-being across the U-M Ann Arbor campus community, transforming campus culture and positioning U-M as a health-promoting university through four broad themes:

Theme 1: Utilize a holistic approach to create a strategic plan and comprehensive infrastructure of faculty, staff, and students for addressing complex health and wellness needs of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

Theme 2: Foster a culture of empathy, care, and compassion to mitigate academic and other forms of stress in our community.

Theme 3: Strengthen the continuum of care for students through innovation and ongoing improvement in service offerings and coordination to address the complex health and wellness needs of undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

Theme 4: Ensure that the wealth of resources available on campus is visible and easily accessible.

Adopting the Okanagan Charter

As part of this comprehensive plan, U-M adopted the Okanagan Charter and joined the United States Health Promoting Campuses Network, a cohort of seven U.S. universities committed to becoming health-promoting institutions, in September 2021.

The Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting University and Colleges calls on postsecondary schools to embed health into all aspects of campus culture and to lead health-promotion action and collaboration locally and globally. It provides institutions with a common vision, language and principles, and calls them to action. 

The Okanagan Charter

  • Health promotion requires a positive, proactive approach, moving beyond a focus on individual behavior towards a wide range of social and environmental interventions that create and enhance health in settings, organizations and systems, and address health determinants. 

  • As such, health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector but must engage all sectors to take an explicit stance in favor of health, equity, social justice and sustainability for all, while recognizing that the well-being of people, places and the planet are interdependent.

In order to more comprehensively address the two calls to action in the Okanagan Charter, U-M expanded its current Health and Well-being Collective Impact efforts to be institutionwide, and renamed this effort the Well-being Collective. This broadened approach combines academic schools and colleges with Student Life units, to establish a sustainable infrastructure for addressing the complex and ever-changing health and well-being needs on the U-M campus, as well as bringing diverse stakeholders to the table to be part of the process.

Collective Impact Approach

The work of Well-being Collective is also informed and adapted from the Stanford Social Innovation Review article on collective impact (Kania & Kramer, 2011). This framework emphasizes that no single unit, however innovative or influential, can foster personal and community well-being alone. Instead, collective impact brings people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. Individual health and well-being issues are interdependent and do not impact campus culture in isolation. collective impact efforts prioritize looking at health and wellness through a holistic lens that acknowledges the interdependence of personal and community well-being.

Committee Work Teams included:

  • Identity and Well-being
  • Technology Usage in Service Delivery and Resource Mapping
  • Faculty Capacity Building
  • Access Improvement
  • Wellness Coaching Expansion & Creation of Well-being Academy
  • Student Engagement
  • Graduate/Professional Student Needs
  • Academic Policies Impacting Well-being