UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Carol Block, and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt attended the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center’s year-end celebration last month, joining the hundreds of students, faculty, employees, friends and honorees involved in the 11-year effort to create a culture of preventive health and well-being on campus.
The initiative, launched in 2013, was born out of a question posed by Jane Semel as to why UCLA is so good at treating disease — but not at preventing it. Leadership and academics came together to find innovative ways to promote healthy living on campus and in 2018, the center — supported by Jane and Terry Semel — was established.
“The Semel HCI Center grew out of a recognition that we were looking at our health in a reactive way — responding to illness rather than encouraging healthy lifestyles in the first place,” Chancellor Block said. “The center introduced a proactive and comprehensive approach to wellness that has become an integral part of the UCLA experience.”
The initiative has been replicated systemwide with all UC campuses participating in the UC Healthy Campus Network to enhance efforts and share best practices. The center was also recently cited in a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine consensus study report as a collective impact model that works to prevent mental health and substance abuse problems on a university campus.
“We are building a culture of health as the foundation for a resilient, equitable and thriving community,” said Dr. Wendelin Slusser, clinical professor of pediatric medicine and public health and associate vice provost of Semel HCI. “To do this, we meet regularly, set common goals, agree on metrics, break down silos and leave our individual agendas at the door.”
Semel HCI, which views “the healthy choice as the easier choice,” invites students, staff, faculty and community members to attend meetings focused on seven themes: BEWell (stands for “Built Environment”), BreatheWell, EatWell, EngageWell, MindWell, MoveWell and ResearchWell.
“Participants come together to work toward something bigger than themselves,” Slusser said. “When we do that, magic happens.”
Changes sparked by Semel HCI include making UCLA the first tobacco-free UC campus, implementing healthy beverage policies, opening teaching kitchens to help combat food insecurity, founding a food studies undergraduate minor, placing pianos for student and public use around campus, and creating a community garden at Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.
At the year-end event held in the teaching kitchen and community space of the university-run Tipuana Apartments, posters on research projects funded through the center’s student group grant program were on display as attendees enjoyed a menu following the theme “food as medicine,” prepared by UCLA Dining and guest chefs. Students performed in dance and singing groups, and nature films by Louie Schwartzberg, who received a lifetime achievement award and is also a UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television alumnus, were screened.
Other honorees included the jane b semel HCI Appreciation & Recognition Awardees: Chris Dunkel Schetter, distinguished professor of psychology and psychiatry and associate vice chancellor of faculty development, for her dedication and commitment to improving the health and well-being of the campus community; Elizabeth Schiffler, a Ph.D. candidate in theater and performance studies, for her work that intertwines storytelling and performance art into food literacy efforts; Tiffani Garnett, associate director of student health education and promotion, for leading dialogue and community-building; and Derica Su, who graduated with honors this spring with a major in psychology and a minor in environmental systems and society, for her leadership and commitment to the on-campus community garden.