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NIU among first U.S. universities to adopt Okanagan Charter

September 2, 2021

Northern Illinois University has become one of the first institutions in the United States to adopt the Okanagan Charter through the U.S. Health Promoting Campuses Network.

Signing onto this international effort was a 2021 priority of NIU’s Wellbeing Initiative, which launched in late 2019 as a cross-campus collaboration to holistically support the health of the Huskie community. The initiative targets systemic wellbeing through six focus areas — overall equity, success in recruitment and retention, NIU’s learning atmosphere, built and natural environments, campus culture, and programs and services.

The Okanagan Charter was inspired in 2015 by the International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges — with the goal of leveraging institutions to influence health and wellbeing in their communities across the globe, starting on campus settings. The U.S. Health Promoting Campuses Network followed in 2020 to guide adoption of the Charter.

“I am proud to support the NIU Wellbeing Initiative and the signing of the Okanagan Charter,” said NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman. “Through the Charter, we are joining a network of colleges that are committed to advancing well-being initiatives on campuses across the nation.  This network will be an excellent resource as we continue to strive to model and promote health and wellness at NIU.”

Six universities in addition to NIU adopted the Okanagan Charter on Sept. 1 — The University at Albany, State University of New York; University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Irvine; University of Michigan; University of North Florida and Western Washington University.

The first U.S. college to adopt the Charter, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, signed on in December 2020. Several international institutions have preceded those in the states, including in Canada, Germany, Ibero-America, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

For NIU, signing the Okanagan Charter was among many layered priorities within the focus areas of the Wellbeing Initiative, specifically falling under campus culture. Aligned with the Presidential Strategic planning framework, the initiative is guided by a campus-wide steering committee, with work groups facilitating achievement of objectives.

“NIU is poised and ready because of the work of the Wellbeing Initiative on campus, which has really been a result of Dr. Freeman and NIU standing behind the wellness of our populations,” said Associate Director of Student Wellness Andrea Drott, who chairs the steering committee with Employee Assistance Program Director Brian Smith and Dr. Jeanne M. Isabel, Chair and Associate Professor of Health Studies. “We are really excited to be a part of the first cohort, and welcome the unique perspectives of Huskies on how NIU can fully support their wellbeing.”