Opinion: U of T needs to address student opposition to the UMLAP

Lack of acknowledgement from administration is hurtful and dismissive
Students protest in opposition to the university's Mandated Leave of Absence Policy. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
Students protest in opposition to the university's Mandated Leave of Absence Policy. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

On October 24, students stood outside Simcoe Hall in solidarity as a Governing Council meeting took place inside. This was the second time since September that students gathered in response to the university’s continued lack of policy changes regarding mental health issues, both for student inclusiveness in decision-making processes and general disregard of student well-being on campus.

There is a lack of open communication between the student body and Governing Council. The valid concerns of students are not being addressed — and we have had enough.

Time and again, student organizations have tried to create an open dialogue with university administration. Following a year of mental health protests and discussions, student activists released a report titled “Nothing About Us Without Us.” The report is a well-researched and direct statement that highlights mental health resources that need improving, policies that need to be changed, as well as long and short-term recommendations to benefit student wellness.

As discussed at the rally in front of Simcoe Hall, the recommendations outlined in the report have not yet been adequately addressed, and the lack of action from administration has been interpreted as hurtful and dismissive. Students should have a say in the policies that affect them, and if the university continues to exclude students in these decisions it will only worsen the divide between administrators and the student body.

A poignant example of this is the highly contested university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), which allows the administration to place students on a leave from their studies if their mental health is determined to pose a threat to themselves or others. Understandably, this policy was one of the main topics of discussion during the rally.

“Cut the crap, repeal UMLAP,” was the catchiest chant of the gathering.

Protestors were able to communicate with a few students who were attending the meeting inside. According to these students, the council reacted to these chants by saying that the opposition to the UMLAP was not backed with evidence. The university’s ombudsperson also recently doubled down on UMLAP, causing understandable backlash.

The UMLAP works reactively. The administration is shirking its responsibility to provide preventative mental health services and fix ineffective systems. This policy does little for students seeking help. If a student is forced to leave school, being left to fend for themselves can further harm their mental health and intensify suicidal thoughts.

This policy may claim to help students, but, as discussed at the rally, it only makes matters worse. Individuals are potentially less inclined to share their struggles with the university in fear of being placed on a mandated leave.

The UMLAP fails to effectively accommodate various student experiences, and students will continue to voice their concerns on this topic until a change is made.

The decisions made by Governing Council impact each and every person on campus, and the community that students have built around solidarity and genuine care for one another is inspiring and powerful. The university cannot ignore this resistance forever.

Sonia Uppal is a third-year Equity Studies student at St. Michael’s College.

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