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Let’s talk

Heather Stuart and her group

Heather Stuart and her group gathered earlier this week

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, a day dedicated to keeping mental health at the front of our collective consciousness. Certainly, it has been an important area of focus for me during my tenure as principal, particularly because we know that statistically, at least 30 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada report mental health problems. That’s why universities, including our own, are doing what they can to put better supports in place for our students.

One thing we don’t talk a lot about, however, is the question of substance use, even though the two issues can often be closely connected and may be elicited by the same factors. Mental health problems can lead to substance use problems, and vice-versa. No matter which comes first, it’s clear the issue is one that we should be paying attention to.

One of our own professors, Dr. Heather Stuart, is trying to do just that. In her role as the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair, she has been championing a new initiative that is focused on the mental health needs of a specific campus demographic: our first-year male students.

Working together with her colleagues, Dr. Shu-Ping Chen from Public Health Sciences and Dr. Terry Krupa from the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Dr. Stuart set out to create a new initiative on campus. Armed with a $1.7 million grant from Movember Canada, they developed Caring Campus, a student-led program addressing mental health as it relates to substance use. It kicked off last fall.

The 25 male students Dr. Stuart and her colleagues enlisted for the program recently gathered to talk about their experiences in the first term and their hopes for the program moving into the future. From all accounts, things are progressing very well so far: not only are the young men learning to work together as part of a team, they have reported that they already feel their efforts are making a difference.

In the fall term, they hosted an awareness-raising Battle of the Bands night, which was attended by students from across campus. They’ve also created a targeted Facebook page populated with information and reference tools. They have made videos promoting their group and ways they can support other male students. They have also created a chat room – a safe space for students to post questions and to chat about substances and substance use issues. These young men are not only developing important leadership lessons, they’re also learning how to talk about mental health and substance use issues (not to mention how to listen!).

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these young men and their initiative in wanting to go out into the community to make things better for their peers. I’m particularly pleased to hear that they unanimously agreed to continue in their roles for the foreseeable future. We’re lucky to have them.

Today and every day, let’s talk.

A Strategic Framework for our balanced academy

The image shows Queen's unique position (upper right quadrant) as the balanced academy.

The image shows Queen’s unique position (upper right quadrant) as the balanced academy.

At Queen’s, we talk a lot about being the quintessential balanced academy. It’s a vision that sets us apart from the country’s other universities. But what it means is simple: we want Queen’s to be “the Canadian research-intensive university with a transformative learning experience.” We want Queen’s to be a destination of choice for top-notch researchers and graduate students, but also for bright and curious undergraduates who will make the most of the research-informed education that faculty members deliver. With a well-earned reputation already in place, it might seem that simply building on past success will ensure such a future.

But as I wrote two years ago in The Third Juncture, in these times of economic change, technological advance, and the globalization of education and knowledge, we cannot simply take that continued success for granted. Increased competition and significant financial challenges threaten our ability to achieve our vision and to strengthen the student experience and our research prominence.

That’s why, over the past few months, I have worked closely with the Provost and the Board of Trustees to develop a Strategic Framework to guide the university’s decision making over the next five years – from now through until 2019. Queen’s will have to make deliberate, and sometimes difficult, choices to ensure that we continue to advance our vision.

The Strategic Framework serves as a capstone to a sustained period of planning at Queen’s. It saw the development of the Senate-approved Academic Plan and Strategic Research Plan, as well as the submission of our Proposed Mandate Statement and the implementation of our activity-based budget model. At last weekend’s Board meeting, the Trustees approved the Campus Master Plan, which will guide the development of campus infrastructure for the next several decades. The framework is closely aligned with all of these foundational documents and initiatives, reflecting their values and ideals.

At its core, the Strategic Framework identifies four strategic drivers – or priority areas – where we will focus our attention as we move forward: the student learning experience, research prominence, financial sustainability and internationalization. Essentially, these priorities will help support our vision and guide our decision-making over the next five years. The Framework also lays out specific objectives for each of the strategic drivers and identifies a series of performance metrics that will serve as yardsticks to measure our progress as we move forward.

Of course, the framework is not meant to be unduly prescriptive. Ultimately each of our faculties, schools and service units, enabled by our incentive-based budget model, will be responsible for determining the specific actions they will take to support the university’s objectives and overall vision. While all faculties and support units will be expected to align their priorities with those of the institution and will be regularly evaluated for their contributions to advancing the university as a whole through their own and collaborative, cross-unit activities, there is enormous scope for local innovation and creativity. In short, we all have a role to play in the university’s success over the coming years.

Here are a few links that might be of interest:

The strategic framework website is here – or you can read about it on the Queen’s News Centre. If you would rather download the Strategic Framework document, you can do that here.

Counting our students

In April, I blogged about the importance of counting Queen’s students in Kingston’s electoral boundaries. That blog was in response to an ongoing debate about postsecondary students, and whether they are considered Kingston residents.

Since then, the Alma Mater Society, a Queen’s law student and the Sydenham District Association challenged Kingston City Council’s decision to modify electoral boundaries in a way that does not represent the student population.

This process culminated in an Ontario Municipal Board appeal, and I have learned that the OMB ruled on the side of our students and their co-appellants. This decision is undoubtedly the result of much effort on the part of our students, as well as others.

As I said in the aforementioned blog post, we consider Queen’s students to be members not only of the Queen’s community but also of the Kingston community. We actively encourage them to get involved in the city in which they live, work and volunteer. Our students respond by doing just that, in a variety of important ways.

In this instance, they worked with and were supported by community members, challenged a decision they believed to be unfair, and remained dedicated to that cause through a lengthy and resource-intensive appeal process. I congratulate them on a job well done, and for their unwavering commitment to being counted.

Daniel Woolf
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Homecoming 2013: Email to the Queen’s community

The following is an email I sent to Queen’s staff, faculty and students on October 3:

Dear Queen’s community,

As you know, this weekend will mark the first Queen’s Homecoming in five years. As I said last year when I announced Homecoming’s reinstatement, the decision to bring the event back wasn’t one that was made lightly. We all remember why it was cancelled, and no one wants to see those incidents repeated.

We all have a role to play in ensuring this year’s Homecoming is a safe and successful event that is respectful of Queen’s, our alumni, and the Kingston community. Our consultation with a variety of stakeholders – Kingston police, city officials, Kingston Fire & Rescue, students and alumni – has been with this common goal in mind.

While I have been encouraged by the reduction in street parties and other unsafe activities in recent years, safety and respect trump tradition, and Homecoming must be a safe and respectful event for all. That’s one of the reasons I recently visited some student houses in the near-campus neighbourhood – to have frank discussions with students about what we want Homecoming to be. I was encouraged by how many of them shared my sentiments.

As I said in an op-ed recently published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, my hope is that 25 years from now our current students will return to campus and to Kingston as alumni to reconnect with each other, meet the class of 2042, and visit the city they called home during some of the most transformative years of their lives.

Many of you have worked incredibly hard to make this year’s events a success, and for that I give you my profound thanks. I hope to see many of you this weekend.

Cha Gheill!

Daniel Woolf, Artsci’80
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Another Successful Move-in Day Behind Us

Yesterday, Sept 1, was move-in day, which this year occurred about as early as it possibly can owing to the early date for Labour Day (today). The weather cooperated; despite the previous day (and today) being very damp and overcast, we had brilliant sunshine and clear skies until late in the evening when the thunder and lightning started (perhaps signifying the noise and high energy now unleashed on campus with the return of the undergraduate population and the arrival of new students).

First year students gather outside of residence on the September 1st move-in day.

First year students gather outside of residence on the September 1st move-in day.

My wife and I always do more or less the same thing on Move-in day. For the fifth straight year, we spent several hours walking up and down residence hallways, randomly stopping in rooms to say hello to new students and their families as they move in, answer any questions they may have, and find out a bit about where they are from, and what they are taking. We typically start out at Jean Royce Hall before coming to main campus. We took a couple of short breaks, first to join the mass Oil Thigh in front of Victoria Hall at noon, and then a couple of hours later to grab a soft drink at the Lazy Scholar before tackling the six floors and four wings of Vic, our final stop on the tour. We chatted also to dons, check-in staff, custodians, and the security squads who were directing traffic efficiently.

Queen’s does move-in exceptionally well; I have seen it and indeed participated in it at several other schools either as an administrator or a parent and I think it moves more smoothly here than anywhere else. We received lots of compliments for our staff, both on the move-in and on the pre-move orientations and welcomes that have taken place over the past several months, many of them held outside Kingston. One set of parents whose child had offers from several prestigious business schools finally picked Queen’s Commerce program because of the way their student, and they, had been treated from the point of application to arrival that day. So kudos to every staff member and student involved.Our new students are in single rooms, double rooms, and a few of our triple and quadruple rooms. They come from near and they come from far. We met several from outside the country, many from the GTA, and a whole bunch from the west, especially Calgary. Roughly half of them either have older siblings or parents who are/were Queen’s students. They are studying everything from music to life sciences, commerce to psychology, nursing to engineering. Their rooms are full of duffel bags and suitcases, computers, musical instruments, and the seemingly omnipresent mini-fridges that didn’t exist (like a lot else including the computers) when I arrived as a frosh in Brockington House in 1976, a day I still recall in extraordinary detail all these decades later. It is unquestionably one of my favourite days of the academic year, even though by the end of it Julie and I are typically drenched in sweat and pretty stiff from the stair climbing.

One room we always visit without fail is my old room in Brockington (3rd floor). This year neither of the new tenants were in when we knocked on the door, but we did get to chat with the two female students, and their parents, across the hall (in what I think of as Tom and Pete’s room because that’s who was in it in ’76-’77).

Greeting an incoming student and her parents at my old residence, Brockington House

Greeting an incoming student and her parents at my old residence, Brockington House

This year move-in was a little extra special. The previous evening Julie and I had dinner with 3 new students from Calgary (which city sends us a lot of students and has a very active and well-organized alumni branch). Louisa Kennett, Claire Gummo and Laura Pattison, now all ensconced in their residence rooms, are the children of Queen’s alumni who were classmates and friends of mine and with whom I have been in more or less constant contact for well over 30 years.  Apart from being such a wonderful opportunity to get together with old friends and greet their children, our dinner was yet another reminder of the way family dynasties are created at this university. (One family we met at move-in in fact represented 4 straight generations of Queen’s students!) But we are always starting new family traditions–many of the students yesterday are the first in their family to attend Queen’s (as was I way back when), but we would not be at all surprised if some of the younger siblings who came along for the ride catch the tricolour spirit and join us when their time comes. We’ll look forward to welcoming them at a future move-in.Wishing everyone a happy, fun and safe Orientation week,


Daniel Woolf and Julie Gordon-Woolf