Recently, fourteen thought leaders from both NIRSA and NASPA, along with two leaders from the American College Health Association (ACHA), gathered at the University of Miami to discuss emerging strategies and best practices for fostering cultures of health and wellbeing on college campuses.

Over recent years there have been significant advances, as well as examples of new models, to address mental and physical health challenges. However, even the most progressive schools benefiting from widely supported healthy campus initiatives have experienced fundamental challenges inherent in the higher education structure.

The importance of health and wellbeing

NIRSA and NASPA have long recognized student success is tied directly to an individual’s health and wellbeing; as members continue to evolve the work they do with students, volunteers and staff from both associations agreed it is integral to the future of higher education to create an opportunity to provide joint leadership and direction on building campus cultures of wellbeing. This forum served successfully as the first of many strategic steps in that pursuit.

The forum was designed with two general outcomes in mind. Firstly, it provided dedicated time to learn from one another about promising and best practices from the diverse expertise and various institutional types assembled. Secondly, by scaffolding the dialogue, experiences, and learning from one another within the forum, attendees and participants were better able to explore larger strategies for impact at the professional associational level.

This was the first inter-association dialogue about emerging issues and opportunities to improve the wellbeing of students across North America; attendees embraced that fact, focusing on moving past questions of ownership in regards to campus wellbeing strategies. Rather, the conversation centered on ways to work across boundaries and structures.

In addition to discussing their own campuses’ best practices and successes, participants also reflected on data and research in this area—both that which existed and that they would like to see. The forum was greatly benefited by having Devin Jopp, CEO of ACHA, present to overview the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), the widely relied upon, nationally recognized research survey regarding students’ health habits, behaviors, and perceptions.

Attendees also considered the multiple and nuanced aspects of health and wellbeing – from physical activity to sleep to equity – as well as how and when prioritization should enter the conversation. Dovetailing from this was a dialogue on institutional challenges and barriers faced, as well as ideas, frequently involving collaborative approaches, as to possible ways to overcome these challenge.

More collaboration between NIRSA and leading organizations

In this vein, the associations involved are dedicated to continuing to assist their members in working together to build cultures of wellbeing on their campuses. NIRSA is a co-sponsor for ACHA’s upcoming Mental Health Symposium Crisis on Campus: Addressing the Rising Mental Health Demands of our Nation’s Students.

NIRSA and NASPA are continuing to work together in this area, through avenues both old and new. In January, NASPA is offering a new Strategies Conference for Wellbeing and Health Promotion, which several NISRA members are contributing to and will be attending.

Stay tuned to NIRSA news as more outcomes from this forum are activated upon and the initiatives and dialogue within this space of building campus cultures of wellbeing continues to grow. The strategies and principles discussed during this forum, while significant, are only the begging of our shared mission to create an envisioned healthy campus.

  • For more information, contact NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships, Erin O’Sullivan.
Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships at | NIRSA Profile

Erin O'Sullivan is currently the Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships at NIRSA.