Thursday 16 November 2023 – Students and staff at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) gathered at dusk today around the Monument of Compassion on the campus in Etterbeek. Together, they remembered the colleagues and peers they have lost in 2023. The annual moment of remembrance is one of several initiatives with which VUB makes space for sorrow and compassion in its community.
With music and comforting words, the annual Moment of Compassion allowed the VUB community to pay tribute to the people they have had to say goodbye to. Students and staff also took time to think about colleagues who are sick, caring for others or otherwise going through difficult times, so they feel supported and not isolated.
“With the remembrance ceremony, we’ve created a moment to reflect together on the people we have had to say goodbye to,” says rector Jan Danckaert. “To express our appreciation. To fill the space they have left behind. It helps us to make space for sympathy and sorrow, for warmth and connection, at times when our community is struggling. That is the kind of university we want to be. A Compassionate University. A university that recognises and supports illness, loss and grief and involves the whole community in its support.”
In 2019, under the initiative of former rector Caroline Pauwels, VUB signed a declaration of intent to become a Compassionate University. The annual Moment of Compassion, the Monument of Compassion, and training for managers and lecturers about how to deal with grief, loss or illness among colleagues or students are just some of the outcomes.
Also in 2019, VUB established the Compassionate Communities expertise centre, or COCO. This collaboration of eight research groups from various faculties aims to contribute to a more compassionate society by offering communities the knowledge and capacity to provide care and support in times of serious illness, death and loss.
The remembrance ceremony takes place each year before St V, in which VUB and its francophone sister university ULB commemorate their founder, Pierre-Théodore Verhaegen. For the second consecutive year, St V is spread over two days, with the first part on the same evening as the Moment of Compassion.
Before I Die wall
In the last academic year, VUB expanded the Moment of Compassion with a wishing tree, where the names of colleagues who had died were read out and their names hung on the tree. For this year’s edition, the university presented a permanent Before I Die wall.
“The wall is part of a global art project in which the whole VUB community is invited to reflect on our mortality and think about what really matters to us,” says Jan Danckaert. “The concept was developed by artist Candy Chang in New Orleans. There are more than 5,000 walls in 35 languages and 75 countries, including China, Argentina, Italy, Iraq, Finland, India, Japan and South Africa. And now there is one in Brussels too, on the VUB campus in Etterbeek.”
The remembrance ceremony was also the closing event of Compassionate Week. Throughout the week, students and staff have taken part in activities around grief and loss, on campus and online. Through workshops and seminars, writing message of remembrance or sharing a drink in the Compassionate Café, together they have made loss, illness and grief more bearable and easier to talk about.
- Hanne Bakelants: [email protected]
- Compassionate Week: https://www.vub.be/nl/evenement/compassionate-week
- Monument of Compassion > https://www.vub.be/nl/dienstverlening-op-de-vub-campus-etterbeek-en-jette/cultuur-aan-de-vub/humanistisch-sculpturenpark-op-de-campus-elsene/philip-aguirre-y-otegui-monument-van-troost-2009