VUB, a Compassionate University

On 19 November 2019, as the first university in all of Europe, our university signed a declaration of intent to become a Compassionate University.

Through that, we officially emphasise our aspiration to make everyone within our community aware of the importance of support and compassion during times of serious illness, death, loss and long-term care.

Obviously, anyone at the VUB who has been confronted with such situations has already been able to count on many different kinds of care services and professional health-care provision.

Still, even though that formal health-care infrastructure is indispensable, to anyone who has to deal with serious suffering, informal tokens of compassion – a sign of understanding, a sympathetic ear, an encouraging pat on the back – are at least as important.

To ensure that this insight is adopted (even more) by students and employees, a whole range of activities will be organised, like exhibitions, debates, lectures, theme moments, seminars and press presentations.

On this website, you can find a current overview of those activities.

Sensibilisation via actions

Klik hier voor alle info in het Nederlands

Being able to empathise is a human quality. Still, sometimes, we handle someone’s passing too easily, and don’t always consider the feelings of a fellow student or colleague who is dealing with something serious the way we should. Suffering and sorrow come in many forms and compassion can be expressed in many ways. By organising activities, the VUB wants to show everyone in its community the numerous forms in which support and compassion can be expressed. Below, you can find an overview of some previous actions.

15 November 2021 - remembrance moment 

On 15 November 2021, the third remembrance moment was held at the silence spot at the Monument of Comfort. Student Montana Tachelet held a speech in which she reflected on the suicide, almost exactly one year before, of her brother Ingo, a student at the VUB just like her. She was not the only one among those present who had lost a partner, friend or family member in the past year. The names of those who had passed away were projected on a screen. At the end of the commemoration, everyone was invited to lay a rose at the Monument of Comfort.

28 September 2021 - the empty chair

During the academic opening ceremony a moment of silence and remembrance was held. An empty chair on the stage symbolically highlighted this moment. The VUB has become a member of PEN, for writers and academics who are persecuted and imprisoned. From Ahmadreza Djalali to the now released Ahmet Altan, from whose book a short fragment was read during the ceremony. The chair also symbolised all members of the VUB community who have passed away in the past year. During an impressive minute of silence, their names were projected on the big screen. 

22 December 2020 – “I thought, why not send a card?”

The year 2020 was a difficult year for the staff members as well as for the students. Especially during times when we cannot meet in person anymore, it’s extremely important to stay connected. At the end of December, all employees, as part of an end-of-year package, and all students were sent a number of cards at home. Those cards can be used as a virtual hug, to make contact with people we cannot meet right now and to feel connected as VUB community.

27 October 2020 – Adjustment to business expenses regulations concerning gifts to people with long-term sickness

Except in the case of some specific situations (marriage, retirement or death), expenses concerning gifts to staff members cannot be refunded to the department or faculty according to the business expenses regulations. Because of that, it is difficult for departments to send flowers, for example, to a staff member who is absent for a long time due to sickness. 

In the new version of the business expenses regulations, there is now an exception to the general rule, namely that it can be allowed to offer a gift of moderate cost to a staff member with long-term sickness.

May 2020 – Extra day of mourning during corona lockdown

During the first corona lockdown, in some cases, it was impossible to say goodbye to a lost loved one because of the strict measures. Because of that, the VUB offered every employee and scholarship student the possibility of mourning one extra day for each loved one who passed during the crisis. The measure applies to a loved one who passed during the period between the middle of March and the end of September 2020.

19 November 2020 – Online support and commemoration action: #IAmWithYou #IkLeefMee

On 19 November, the VUB commemorates its passed loved ones during a ceremony at the ‘Monument of Comfort’. Because gatherings in person were impossible due to the corona measures, there was a call to the university community to write messages of support and to post and share those via social media. Read more about this action here.

19 November 2020 – Virtual commemoration ceremony

Since the unveiling of the piece of art by Philip Aguirre y Otegui, the place of reflection at the Monument of Comfort is used as the place where a commemoration ceremony is held every year on November 19th. In 2020, the ceremony could not take place due to the corona measures. Instead, a modest and poetic commemoration video was published online, which you can still watch here.

19 November 2019 – Declaration of intent Compassionate University and unveiling of the Monument of Comfort 

On 19 November 2019, rector Caroline Pauwels and university chair Eddy Van Gelder signed a declaration of intent to turn the VUB into a ‘Compassionate University’ by 2021. After the declaration of intent was signed, a place of reflection for individual or collective mourning was unveiled at the Monument of Comfort. It was a beautiful moment, which you can relive here.

24 June 2019 – Preparation of plan concerning passing

When we deal with a passing in our VUB community, we provide guidance and care for the loved ones left behind. When someone passes, it brings up a lot of emotions, but at the same time, a lot of administrative actions have to be taken. To handle those in an organised way, a plan was constructed in which it is clearly settled who should undertake which action.

Besides dealing with the administrative  side of a passing, the VUB also provides care and support to the loved ones – family as well as fellow students or colleagues of the deceased. We attach great value to the fact that everyone has the opportunity to process the loss in his or her own way. The university community of the VUB is a very diverse community. In the case of mourning and loss, that diversity can enrich the way we deal with a difficult event.

18 February 2019 – Stakeholder meeting Compassionate University

How do we turn the VUB into a compassionate university? That was the question about 40 stakeholders from the entire university community tried to answer during a big brainstorm session. From that exercise, a lot of suggestions arose, some very operational, some concerning policy. During the brainstorm session, one of the suggestions was a declaration of intent in which the VUB states that it dedicates itself to becoming a compassionate university. 

December 2017 – The VUB must become a “warm university”

In December 2017, the General Strategic Plan 2030 is accepted by the Board of Directors on the basis of the policy declaration of rector Caroline Pauwels. One of the big domains that need work is the intention to turn the VUB into a ‘warm’ university. That means we will take initiatives to improve the well-being of staff members and students. That way, we want to ensure that the VUB is a pleasant and inspiring place for everyone to work and study at. 

Klik hier voor alle info in het Nederlands                                                                                                                                                                         

The Monument of Comfort

On 19 November 2019, the Monument of Comfort  was officially inaugurated near the rectorate building of the VUB. The piece of art and the place of reflection that is part of it are to offer support to students and staff members in the events of passing, mourning or serious illness, among others.

The piece of art was designed by the sculptor Philip Aguirre y Otegui. He was inspired by a press photograph from 2003 of a Spanish police officer using a blanket to try to keep warm someone who had been drowning. Thanks to the abstract shape of the piece of art, you cannot distinguish its sex, age or origin. That way, the monument symbolises a universal gesture of human warmth.

Compassionate Communities center of expertise (COCO)

The Compassionate Communities centre  of expertise (COCO) wants to do pioneering work through developing, implementing and evaluating the Compassionate Communities model in Flanders, Belgium, Europe and even further. It is carrying out an extensive and interdisciplinary research programme which links fundamental research and action research. The main goal of COCO is researching the processes that lead to the successful development of a Compassionate Community in different contexts.

To realise that, COCO brings together eight research teams, who all contribute specialised scientific expertise, in one big interdisciplinary consortium. COCO will act as an interdisciplinary consortium of

  1. scientific expertise in compassionate communities at the VUB,
  2. valorisation of knowledge through working together closely with organisations focused on practical and policy subjects, and will develop interventions and programmes which will lead to a lasting change in empathic behaviour and support base in our society.

 Read more

The Compassionate idea: a foothold in Bruges

On 30 September 2020, 'Compassionate Brugge' (Bruges) was officially launched. It made Bruges the first official Compassionate City of Flanders. On 1 February, Bert Quintiens and Lousie D'Eer, both affiliated with the VUB End-of-Life Care Research Group and involved in the development of compassionate cities, held a workshop in which the state of affairs of 'Compassionate Bruges' was drawn up. They also looked at which actions could help spread the Compassionate idea (spoiler: Compassionate Bruges people, Compassionate schools and Compassionate employers). 

If you are interested in the structure and results of the workshop, you can view them here.

Personal testimonies

Student Montana Tachelet calls: “Come on, people, let’s help each other more often.”

In the beginning of September 2020, Montana Tachelet receives horrible news: her brother Ingo has taken his own life while he was staying at his ‘kot’. Just like Montana, Ingo was a bachelor student at the VUB. “Of course his death hit me very hard, but wat also struck me was how little we know about each other’s mental health. That’s why I want to create awareness around it.”
Read more…

Personal testimonies and condolences messages

In memoriam: prof. dr. Peter Clement, faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy and UZ Brussel (April 2022)

In memoriamHenri De Knibber (1943 – 2022), Administrative Staff Member

In memoriam: prof. dr. Luc Corne, faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy and UZ Brussel (January 2022)

In memoriam: prof. dr. Daniel Urbain, faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy and Uz Brussel (November 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember prof. dr. Georges Severne, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, faculty of Science and Bio-Engineering Science.

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember  prof. dr. Veerle Hermans, Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences (September 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember prof. dr. Rik Pintelon, faculty of Engineering (September 2021).

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember prof. dr. em. Ingrid Ponjaert-Kristoffersen, former dean of the Faculty of Psychology & Educational Sciences (September 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember Rudi Janssens, faculty of Social Sciences and Solvay Business School (august 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages  to remember prof. dr. em. Raymond Hamers, faculty of Science and Bio-engineering (August 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember prof. em. Helmut ('Jean') Loeb, faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy (August 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember prof. dr. Frans Gordts, faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy (June 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember Daan Simons, PhD-student, faculty of Law and Criminology (June 2021)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember Febryan Maulana, master student Electromechanical Engineering (December 2020)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember Prof dr Jan Vandevoorde, Department General practice (October 2020)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember Ingo Tachelet, bachelor student Criminology (September 2020)

Personal testimonies and condolences messages to remember Frederic Vanclooster, master student Computer Science (January 2020)

Step-by-step plan in the case of the passing of a student or staff member

Every now and then we are confronted with the passing of a student or a staff member. At such a moment, many (administrative) procedures are started to ensure the right guidance.

Support offer well-being and health

VUB Survival Guide for students

The corona epidemic is hitting our university students hard. Instead of having the time of their lives on the campuses, they sit at home in front of their screens. It leads to stress, feelings of loneliness, discouragement. To give them a helping hand in this difficult situation and to point out ways to deal with negative feelings, the Student Counselling Service of the VUB published a handy survival guide for them. You can download the guide here or have a look at it

I want to know more about the initiative compassionate VUB:

Coordinator core group Compassionate University
Jeroen De Samblancx
T. +32 (0)2 629 22 59


I want to know more about the research project Compassionate Communities centre of expertise (COCO):

Prof. Sarah Dury

Steven Vanderstichelen