Many were incensed after news broke last week about the University of Toronto evicting a student from residence, following a suicide attempt. For many students, the story was proof of their longstanding suspicion that the university simply does not care about them. Yet, simply blaming the University of Toronto glazes over the complexity of the problem, and the multifaceted response it requires.
In fact, James, the student in question, has since met with the Dean that evicted him, working to protect others from what he went through. There is much that the rest of us can learn from this gesture. Blind anger leaves no room for reflection.
To understand why these issues are more complex than first meets the eye, it is essential that we recognize the university as a sum of many parts. The administration, student services, different colleges, the students themselves, and so on, make up the university. The people behind the services and bureaucracy are just that — people. Many of them do want to help.
As such, there is no one entity whose insensitivity is to blame for James’ experience: it is a systemic failure. Students like James fall in between the cracks because the different parts of the university fail to collaborate.
Had the administration that spoke with James collaborated with Student Housing Services’ crisis assistance, he would not have been rendered virtually homeless. Although this is easy enough to do, there is no precedent for such collaboration.
Many can vouch for this lack of collaboration between parts of the university. When approaching one authority for help during a crisis, they are read out a list of other campus services they can go to. But when students are in need of urgent support, what are we to do?
Speak up —ask for a better, centralized and swifter response system.
You can get creative, or just write to the authority in question, asking that they collaborate with student services. Or, rally together with other students and call for a conversation with those in charge. If you are unsure about how to do this, approach student groups, unions, communities, and leaders to help you find a way to make your opinion heard and your experience count.
76 per cent of U of T students feel their thoughts and opinions don’t matter to the university. To be heard, students will need to communicate these thoughts and opinions to the university first.
Another facet of the problem is that there is often a wall between needing and receiving help on campus, be it made of stigma, bureaucracy, or unawareness. Many simply do not know of the services and resources at their disposal. There is not yet a culture within the university that promotes working with these services and getting help — unless it’s help for something with a deadline.
Student leaders can be especially influential by increasing awareness and normalizing the idea of seeking help. Throughout my own frosh week, for instance, the students organizing it were more than effective at getting across the message of safe sex and the importance of consent.
Each one of us can influence our university environment. We can look for those around us who might need help, and ask after them. Life here can often feel isolated, and we can all try to be more vigilant, so that others do not feel like suicide is their best option.
Doing all this might still not be enough. The university administration certainly needs an overhaul to better deal with it’s students —hiring designated staff trained in accessibility to work in the many administrations, or instituting recuperation policies for after trauma would be a good place to start.
We may not be able to simply will these changes into place, but we can certainly pressure those in power to do so. There are ongoing conversations about bridging the shortcomings in campus services — as a student you have the right to weigh in.
Start by finding out your rights, resources, and all the services available to you. Don’t just be a spectator in your university — if you don’t like something, contribute to changing it. The cycle of blame is endless, but the change we want can, and should, start with us.
Shahin Imtiaz is a second year student at Woodsworth College studying cognitive science and computer science.