British Columbia

UBC president Santa Ono tackles rape culture, student depression

Santa Ono says returning to UBC as president is a return home and his hope is to 'move UBC from being an outstanding university to an eminent one.'

Biomedical research pioneer takes UBC post a year after controversial resignation of Arvind Gupta

UBC's newly named president Santa Ono says," frankly I'm not very concerned," about strife that erupted between the last president and the board of governors. (UBC)

Santa Ono says taking his new post at UBC is like returning home.

The Vancouver-born medical researcher who won accolades as University of Cincinnati (UC) president practically grew up at UBC. His father —Takashi Ono — was briefly a professor of Mathematics, his first tenured position after immigrating to Canada in the 1950s.

"We were immigrants. UBC played a transformative part in my family's life, allowing us to stay in North America. The small apartment we lived in is still there," said Ono, adding that his father is "bursting with pride" over the recent news that Ono will take over as UBC president in August, a year after the controversial resignation of Arvind Gupta.

Gupta's term was marred by strife with UBC's Board of Governors over his leadership style. After Gupta's departure, former president Martha Piper took over as interim president while a 21-member committee conducted an international search for a permanent replacement.

Ono says he's not worried about the past because UBC has come a long way since the transition a year ago.

Santa Ono, UBC's new president, is comfortable talking about everything from strategies to tackle 'rape culture' to his own history of depression. (UBC)

"Frankly I'm not very concerned," Ono told CBC, noting that UBC has joined the Association of Governing Boards and put new practices in place such as increasing transparency and livestreaming administration meetings.

"I plan to move UBC from being an outstanding university to an eminent one," Ono told The Early Edition's Stephen Quinn.

News of Ono's departure sparked an outpouring on Twitter for the beloved leader, who's earned the hashtag #HottestPresidentinAmerica.

UBC's 15th president is noted for his large following on Twitter, and his media savvy responses to crises ranging from sexual assault to a shooting on campus.

Experience with campus violence

Ono took his post in Cincinnati in 2012 and brings with him significant experience handling difficult issues on campus.

When an unarmed black man named Samuel DuBose was shot on July 19, 2015 by police during a traffic stop at the University of Cincinnati, under Ono's watch UC released an independent report on the officer-involved shooting. The Kroll report  eventually determined that the "tragic loss of life, was entirely preventable."

Sexual attacks at universities, including UBC, have been a overriding issue in recent years.

Ono feels he has experience on this issue, noting that at the 44,000-student UC campus hundred of  sexual assaults were reported yearly.

"Unfortunately it was a weekly occurrence," he said.

Ono plans to bring in experts and work hard to promote a "culture of consent."

History of depression

Ono also answered questions about his own history of depression, expressing a keen desire to promote support for students dealing with mental health issues on campus.

"Thank you for asking ... It's a worldwide problem," he said.

Ono noted that mental health issues affect up to half the total student population at many universities, so he is committed to finding supports to help people who are dealing with these issues.