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As we begin a new year and school term with refreshed enthusiasm, I would like to update you on the key health, safety and wellness initiatives we have implemented to support and protect students, past and present, who are part of the Pearson College UWC community.

Emergency Preparedness and Response to the Tsunami Alert

Last week we were reminded that we live and learn in a seismically active area of the world. When word of a potential tsunami alert reached us in the early hours of 23 January, we activated our emergency preparedness protocol. Within 30 minutes, everyone on campus – more than 200 students, adults and resident families –  made their way to higher ground in the warm and dry Max Bell Building. Less than an hour later, after the all-clear was issued, all students and adults returned to their respective residences. Mornings classes were cancelled to give everyone a bit of recovery time.

During the safe, orderly evacuation to Max Bell, we kept a close eye on any students and campus residents who may have needed mental health support. We followed up with a lunchtime session the day after at which all were invited to share their thoughts and feelings. Our commitment to emergency preparedness; to practicing response scenarios and preparing, reviewing and updating emergency response manuals and procedures served us well.

Many thanks to the students and adults who comprise the Pearson College Emergency Response Team (PCERT), for responding to this situation in a calm, capable and efficient manner. Thank you as well to our adult campus community who undertook their roles with composure and authority, in particular, our Chief Operating Officer Ty Pile. Our top priority is the safety and wellbeing of the emerging leaders from around the world who are entrusted to our care.

Community Safety, Health and Wellness

Pearson community safety, health and wellness are ongoing priorities – and together they comprise the most important responsibilities that we collectively assume.

Our goal is to maintain and promote a comprehensive culture of awareness, respect and consent. Many of you will recall that we embarked on this journey more than two years ago. Senior leadership at the College identified a need to review and update safety and wellness policies and procedures to ensure that ours are best-in-class regarding harassment, bullying, discrimination and sexual misconduct/sexual violence as well as to implement transparent and effective complaint mechanisms.

With the full support of our Board of Directors, we engaged human rights lawyer Cynthia Petersen (now Justice Petersen of the Ontario Superior Court) to review all facets of our mandate, operations, policies and procedures related to community health, wellness and safety. Justice Petersen, as outlined in my earlier updates, was given a clear and independent mandate in two phases: first, given our primary duty of care to our current students, to review and recommend improvements to current policies and practices, and second, to invite anyone, including alumni, who had any concerns about past or current practices or incidents, to share these in complete confidence.

Progress Regarding Petersen Recommendations

Justice Petersen made more than 130 recommendations to enhance or rewrite existing policies and to establish new ones. Many of these recommendations were tweaks or directives simply to ensure that we always lived up to our written or established practices. Others were significant, and resulted in, among other things, the thoroughly revised or new policies I wrote about last November:

  • Respectful Campus Policy
  • Non-Discrimination and Accommodation Policy
  • Gender Diversity Policy
  • Sexual Misconduct/Sexual Violence Policy

These four key policies form a strong backbone of compassion and protectiveness. Virtually all of Justice Petersen’s proposed recommendations have now been implemented with only a handful still in progress. (For example, recommended physical plant improvements, such as improved lighting, are continuing.)

One of the important policies we implemented in 2017 provides all students and adults, including alumni, with a robust, visible and accessible method to report concerns. An individual with a concern can report to any adult on campus who will then immediately ensure that I or my designate is informed. We will promptly refer any complainant(s) to an independent investigator who will conduct a review. During this process, the College will continue to provide every level of care possible to the complainant, as well as to the respondent, so that they are well supported throughout.

In addition, a number of complementary, ongoing student health and wellness initiatives reinforce and support a diverse and inclusive community that respects and embraces difference in all forms.

Moreover, and among other initiatives, in 2017, we hired Fatma Dogus as Host Family Coordinator. Fatma has experience in similar program administration and is shepherding the program to help ensure that both students and volunteers are equipped with a better understanding of their rights and responsibilities during short-term stays with local families. Under our strengthened polices, Host Families — as with our faculty, staff and students — are taking part in ongoing training sessions that incorporate a strong foundation of intercultural competency. All Host Family volunteers must also successfully pass both standardized Criminal Record Checks and home visits by the program coordinator.

The training I refer to above is based on leading practices and I can tell you that every adult on campus has put their heart and soul into these multi-day sessions. I mentioned in an earlier update that this training is a long-term commitment essential for a modern independent school that demands much of its students and adults.

Student-centered model of care

Our policies and practices reflect an enlightened appreciation of the importance of student mental health. The pressures on young people today are huge, and at an institution like Pearson with its demanding academic and experiential curriculum, they can be even more challenging. We use a care team approach to support our students. The student is at the centre of this circle of care; each one is surrounded by trained peer supporters, their faculty advisor, caring houseparents, professional health centre staff and counsellors, as well as other trusted adults identified by students. Students who may need more mental health support can also access on and off-campus/community mental health services through the campus health centre.

Open community, ongoing input

Our campus has always been open and remains so – we embrace the area and our neighbours around us through service in the community and our burgeoning relationship with the Scia’new (Beecher Bay) First Nation. An open community should be synonymous with a safe and secure community. That is our objective and with the support of my terrific team, we are succeeding.

We have encouraged, and will continue to encourage, our alumni, our current students and all members of our community to share their knowledge and perspectives so that collective wisdom informs how we conduct ourselves in supporting the best possible experience at Pearson College. We welcome additional comments from everyone, especially our alumni. Please take time to review these policies and share with us your thoughts through our point person, Human Resources Officer Shelley Seysener, at respect@pearsoncollege.ca or 250-391-2421.

When I reflect on this journey, and it has been a challenging one at times, I believe that we are taking full advantage of the opportunity to make positive changes – changes for the benefit of the entire Pearson community, now and in the future.