Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide
In the aftermath of the “incident” at the Bahen Centre Sunday night, the University of Toronto student body has taken rightful action against the administration they hold accountable for maintaining “gross negligence towards its students”.
This was not an isolated event. Rather, this would be the third “incident” (as the administration has called them) on campus this year. The university administration has yet to label it as a suicide, and judging by UofT’s social media, they seem to be handling the matter as if it were a snow day: a few tweets about class cancellations and relocations. At this stage in the administrations artificial grief protocol, they would direct us to seek help at facilities both on and off campus, and then carry on as if nothing happened.
You may have come across numerous admin posts, suggesting that students in need of mental health counseling should reach out to the UofT Health & Wellness Centre, which seems to have become the epicenter of the problem. The centre is often severely understaffed with inconvenient hours, it often takes students weeks to get an appointment, especially during the exam seasons when help is needed most.
In a recent (fantastic) article by The Varsity, Executive Director of the Health & Wellness Centre, Janine Robb was quoted defending her department’s inadequacy saying: “to me it seems we’re never seen as supportive enough, despite our best efforts, and I’m just not sure how to change the dialogue on that.”
This isn’t good enough. I’m sure they think they do an adequate job once they get the student in for an appointment, but they fail to recognize the sheer amount of students that desperately need their services, and they do little to nothing to accommodate it. But even when students are seen, it doesn’t seem to translate to any actual solutions in the classroom if medical notes are not accepted by profs, or the Wellness Centre limits the amount of visits. Playing possum and acting like the department is doing all that it can possibly do to help the student body are, frankly, just crocodile tears.
In an appalling interview with the CBC, Robb continues to beat around the bush and appears to blame the student body for the campus’ toxic mental environment; “We can continue to throw councillors, psychiatrists, and medical doctors at this issue and it’s never going to be enough… We’ve got to get out in front of it, we’ve got to skills-build, we’ve got to give them opportunities to develop better coping strategies. They’ve got to be more connected with others on the campus, a lot less of this FaceTime and texting; actually have a conversation. They need to feel that they’re not the only one on campus."
This statement is tone deaf, patronizing, and insulting. If she wholeheartedly believes that the internet was a greater threat to these victim’s mental state than the academic pressure on their shoulders and the noted incompetence of her administration, she is unprepared and unable to lead her department and be placed in charge of assisting the students that she has been belittling in the media.
As easy as it is to point the finger at one single entity or person, other factors are to blame as well. It’s become a known fact and running joke that Computer Science program, which calls the Bahen Centre home, is arguably one of the most mentally and emotionally tolling programs in UofT. With such a small acceptance rate and a bottomless course load, it’s easy to see how some CompSci students feel as if they have to choose between their GPA and mental wellbeing. But why is this the case? Is a degree from UofT worth that ?
The University of Toronto has failed us. It has been evident throughout this process that UofT as an institution does not give a fuck about the safety and well-being of its student body, and is willing to throw us under the bus at the first opportunity to receive more endowments and higher rankings. Yes, the mental health facilities are in shambles, but this is a far broader institutional problem that reaches every facet of the University of Toronto, from individual programs, to student support services, to the upper echelons of UofT’s power structure, it’s clear they show little regard for their students. So let’s make them give a shit about us.
We commend the work being done over at The Varsity on this topic, and we especially commend the protesting student body on Monday afternoon, fighting the good fight.
If you or anyone you know is in distress, we urge you to reach out to the following call centres:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at (1-833-456-4566)
Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at (1-866-925-5454)
Ontario Mental Health Helpline at (1-866-531-2600)
Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at (416-929-5200)