Cornell University

Health Promoting Campus

Cornell University's commitment: People. Places. Planet.


President Pollack signs the Okanagan Charter

Cornell's journey...

In October of 2022, Cornell University formally adopted the international Okanagan Charter to become a Health Promoting Campus. Adopting the charter allows us – and over 200 Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) – to advance existing institutional priorities in a systemic, sustainable way, both on campus and beyond.

Our work as a Health Promoting Campus is designed to transform the health and sustainability of our current and future societies, strengthen communities, and contribute to the wellbeing of people, places, and the planet.

Cornell has long-recognized that promoting the health and wellbeing of all students, staff, and faculty is foundational for academic, work, and life success. Examples of this commitment include:

  • Cornell's student Mental Health Framework, a comprehensive and integrated public health approach that reflects best practices to suicide prevention and mental health promotion
  • Our student Mental Health Review, a comprehensive review of Cornell’s campus climate identifying over 130 recommendations to support student mental health and wellbeing.
  • The university priority for Employee Wellbeing which spans seven different facets of wellbeing. 

In addition, our institutional commitment to sustainability and climate change research, teaching, and engagement directly impacts the wellbeing of our university and of the planet. Our campuses are living laboratories for developing, testing and implementing solutions that address these most challenging issues. 

Our commitments to people, places, and planet closely align with the guiding principles of the international Okanagan Charter.

What is the Okanagan Charter?

The international Okanagan Charter is a guiding and aspirational document that was developed as an outcome of the 2015 International Conference on Health-Promoting Universities and Colleges.

Health promotion scholars, researchers, practitioners, and administrators from 45 countries created this document with the purpose to guide colleges and universities, using their unique positions and roles in research, teaching, and service to their communities, to be leaders for the world in developing and modeling health-promoting strategies in their campus settings.

Local communities can learn from this example and modeling, thus influencing global health and wellbeing strategy. The key is moving beyond traditional approaches focused on individual behavior to upstream, systems-level, environmental strategies that influence the health and wellbeing of person, place, and planet.

Calls to action 

  • Embed health into all aspects of Cornell culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates
  • Lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally

Guiding principles

Use settings and whole system approaches

Use holistic settings and systems as the foci for inquiry and intervention, effectively drawing attention to the opportunities to create conditions for health in higher education. Set an example for health promotion action in other settings.

Ensure comprehensive and campus-wide approaches

Develop and implement multiple interconnected strategies that focus on everyone in the campus community.

Use participatory approaches and engage the voices of students, staff, faculty, and others

Set ambitious goals and allow for solutions and strategies to emerge through use of participatory approaches to engage broad, meaningful involvement from all stakeholders, including students, staff, faculty, administrators and other decision makers. Set priorities and build multilevel commitments to action.

Develop trans-disciplinary collaborations and cross-sector partnerships

Develop collaborations and partnerships across disciplines and sectors, both within the campus community and with local and global partners, to support the development of whole campus action for health and the creation of knowledge and action for health promotion in communities more broadly.

Promote research, innovation and evidence-informed action

Ensure that research and innovation contribute evidence to guide the formulation of health enhancing policies and practices, thereby strengthening health and sustainability in campus communities and wider society. Based on evidence, revise action over time.

Build on strengths

Use an asset-based and salutogenic approach to recognize strengths, understand problems, celebrate successes and share lessons learned, creating opportunities for the continual enhancement of health and wellbeing on campus.

Value local and indigenous communities’ contexts and priorities

Advance health promotion through engagement and an informed understanding of local and indigenous communities' contexts and priorities, and consideration of vulnerable and transitioning populations' perspectives and experiences.

Act on an existing universal responsibility

Act on the “right to health” enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to ensure health promotion action embodies principles of social justice, equity, dignity and respect for diversity while recognizing the interconnectedness between people’s health and health determinants, including social and economic systems and global ecological change.

Benefits of becoming a health-promoting campus

Adopting the Okanagan Charter to become a health-promoting campus has many benefits:

  • Demonstrate leadership: Formal adoption of the Okanagan Charter by senior leadership reaffirms Cornell’s commitment to furthering health, wellbeing, and sustainability and sends a powerful signal to the broader community.
  • Engage our community: The Okanagan Charter generates dialogue and research to inform health and wellbeing initiatives at Cornell and in the broader community.
  • Support the wellbeing of our community: Guide and inspire action to help faculty, staff, and students achieve their full potential in teaching, learning, research, and engagement. Evidence shows that people who are well are more productive, better able to engage in deeper learning, have a greater sense of belonging, and a stronger sense of community.


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