As part of a continuing effort by the U of T Mental Health Policy Council (UTMH), an advocacy group created in the wake of a student death in September, students protested outside of Simcoe Hall during a meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on October 7. Speakers included student representatives from the Black Students’ Association, Leap UofT, independent student activists, and local elected officials.
Bhutilla Karpoche, MPP Parkdale–High Park, spoke at the rally in support of greater access to mental health care: “In the past year, I have listened to young people, listened to families, listened to frontline workers, and the state of our mental health care system in this province is shameful.”
Even with the resources that are available, mental health support “is virtually non-existent for young people. It is a group that has been completely ignored,” said Karpoche. “We have to continue to organize so that we don’t just leave today’s rally and come back next time when there is another crisis.”
Chris Glover, MPP Spadina–Fort York, agreed with Karpoche, saying, “Absolutely, the university must do more to support mental wellness on this campus.”
He additionally criticized the provincial government’s cuts to education as being a factor in the rise of mental health issues. “Cost and access to education is an incredible stress on students,” said Glover.
Inside the Business Board meeting, four students were given speaking rights, though comments were heard from other students who attended the meeting.
One of the four students, Sarah Colbourn, appealed to the Business Board and its financial power at the university: “You have power that students don’t.”
She criticized the Boundless fundraising campaign, which raised $2.6 billion, while the university has only allocated $3 million in additional funding for mental health in the past three years.
“We are here because we are asking you to use your power and your position to enact the changes that we can’t,” said Colbourn. “It is clear from your public posturing and media stance that you have the money.”
She pointed out that between 2014 and 2019, the number of students registered with accessibility services with a mental illness as their primary impairment doubled. “But we have not seen the staff and funding capacities of those bodies double.”
A U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that the money has gone in part to double the number of accessibility counsellors.
“We are equally as concerned about the issues that you raised. We do need to do better when it comes to issues around anti-Black racism, when it comes to issues around mental health,” responded Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice President, Human Resources and Equity.
In an interview with The Varsity, Mercer Palmer, an organizer with UTMH and recent U of T graduate, explained what the protestors are demanding from the administration.
Their first demand is that the university accepts “students with the intention of having them graduate,” meaning that the university needs to provide better services for students’ mental and physical health. Secondly, they demand “serious policy change,” such as the repeal of the university-mandated leave of absence policy.
“The third demand is nothing about us without us,” he said, referencing the eponymous report put out by U of T students last April, where they demand majority representation in all mental health policy creation.
“We cannot allow the university to continue to make decisions on our behalf without consulting us.”
Editor’s note (November 3, 4:48 pm): This article has been updated to correct that the university allocated $3 million in additional funding, not standalone funding, to mental health services. U of T says that the money was spent in part to double the number of accessibility counsellors.