VUB signs charter to become a ‘compassionate university’

Summary

Based on the Compassionate Cities campaign, a new initiative at VUB to give space to grief, loss and compassion is a first in Europe

‘An essential part of life’

Inspired by the Compassionate Cities movement, the rector of the Vrij Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Caroline Pauwels, has launched the Compassionate University initiative. The idea is to apply the Compassionate Cities principles to the university community.

VUB unveiled its new Monument of Compassion (pictured) last week, and Pauwels and university chair Eddy Van Gelder have this week signed a declaration of intent. “Serious illness, death, mourning and long-term care form an essential part of life,” reads the declaration. “These situations have an impact on everyone who is confronted with them and can put pressure on a study or work situation. This can lead to excessive stress, social and psychological problems, burn-out or failed studies.”

New research centre

According to VUB, this is the first Compassionate University in all of Europe. “Based on the values and philosophy of our university,” reads the declaration, “the Vrije Universiteit Brussel wants to be a university community where everyone encourages, facilitates and supports each other during such difficult moments.”

As part of the initiative, VUB is investing €500,000 in an interdisciplinary research centre on loss, grief and serious illness. The university’s End-of-Life Care research group will be instrumental in staffing and co-ordinating the new expertise centre.

In addition, VUB is launching a series of staff trainings in responding to loss, grief and illness, whether they are affecting a colleague or student. Exhibitions, debates and readings will further open up conversations about illness and death.

In the kind of caring and connected community that VUB aspires to be, there needs to be a space dedicated to compassion and sorrow

- Rector Caroline Pauwels

And a ceremony will take place every year at the Monument of Compassion in recognition of VUB staff and students who have passed away. This will take place on 19 November, the day before the annual St V Day, a student party shared with the ULB in honour of the universities’ founder, Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen.

The first ceremony took place this week just before the signing of the declaration. The new monument was made by Antwerp-based artist Philip Aguirre and shows a figure covering another figure with a blanket. It is based on a recent media photo of a Spanish soldier covering a drowned refugee.

“With this new place of reflection, we are giving suffering and comfort a place in the heart of our community,” Pauwels said during the ceremony. “Because in the kind of caring and connected community that VUB aspires to be, there needs to be a space dedicated to compassion and sorrow.”

Photo courtesy VUB