There is more behind U of T’s high rankings than meets the eye.
Despite the university’s rising reputation of high academic excellence, student well-being is plummeting. The university is drastically failing to take effective steps toward combatting the urgent mental health crisis. We need a critical re-evaluation, re-calculation, and reformation of U of T’s mental health policy and the administration’s approaches to student well-being.
Following the fourth death of a student on the grounds of UTSG in less than two years, students continue to tirelessly ask the question, “How do you sleep at night?” to administration, an admonition and a plea to raise alarms that should have sounded off far sooner.
Which resources are currently available to students in crisis?
The Health & Wellness website lists resources such as workshops, emergency hotlines, and information on counselling appointments. This digital space is one of the main places where mental health resources at U of T are accessibly described.
However, the website’s vision to improve mental health resources, exemplified by its comment that, “We all have a role to play in mental wellness on campus,” comes off as blank statements lacking proactive steps to back them up.
Without an effective path to actually move toward improving mental wellness, circulating a website link of resources for the sake of claiming that there are resources doesn’t do much for making a change.
Simply noting that ‘the resources are there’ is not enough. Making resources available on an online or physical platform only begins to take on meaning when students who require help begin to feel like they can engage and reach out to the resources in front of them.
Access to mental health resources and tools is something that every academic institution should have, but many are lacking. Mental health resources are, in theory, present on campus grounds, but they are not actively and visibly accessible to students.
The reality is that U of T’s administration is a reactive, rather than proactive, administration.
It’s playing a game of catch-up with its students when it comes to opening up the conversation on mental health. The third phase of the Mental Health Task Force makes this clear. It consists of a summary of what students have long tried to communicate to administration.
Discussions of mental health must be integrated into the various structures that affect the daily lives of students — such as classrooms — instead of separate structures outside of the academic scope of the university. They need to become a part of the university instead of something separate from it.
In a large institution like U of T, resources must trickle down into program and classroom-oriented designs, instead of waiting for students to reach out of their own volition.
While it is recognized that our professors and teaching assistants are not our therapists or counsellors, there is nothing wrong with ensuring that educators are able to identify signs and symptoms of student distress as a part of the internal structure and design of specific academic programs. In the kaleidoscopic maze that is U of T, mental health awareness and discussion must migrate from the closed doors of administration into the classrooms where students are present.
In a university where students have familiarized themselves with a toxic mindset that equates stress to success, the harmful academic culture must be remoulded.
Students can no longer stand as just a number that either stays or gets excluded from the system based on a calculated grade. As expressed by Guelph University’s approaches to mental health and commitment toward taking proactive steps to supporting the mental well-being of students, we must adopt a whole-person view of students when addressing the mental health crisis. This is especially true at a university like U of T, whose large population makes it easy to feel like just another number.
Living behind the shadow of academic success that solely focuses on U of T’s well-renowned ranking amongst other universities blatantly ignores the personal needs of students that live beyond the headlines of “top [university] in Canada.” Moreover, it sends a message of sheer ignorance that silences the voices of students who are making powerful pleas for change in the way the university externalizes mental health resources.
The personal concerns that are impacting students’ day-to-day lives as members of an academic institution must become an essential institutional priority instead of a side issue that is discussed every time a student dies.
The mental health issue on campus is obvious. U of T can send around links to resources such as Good2Talk, Health & Wellness counselling, and different phone numbers to call. But the administration needs to realize that this is not about resources and a long list of phone numbers. This is about structures that have allowed mental health problems to persist on campus, and how they must be re-evaluated and rebuilt.
Mélina Lévesque is a fourth-year Anthropology and Political Science student at Victoria College.