Although the holidays are meant to be a period of rest, relaxation, and revitalization, students who live in residence and wish to stay on campus during the holidays face numerous challenges during this period.
Additional fees are required for students to remain in some residences over the break, whereas four of the nine undergraduate residences on campus prohibit students from staying over winter break at all. For these students, off-campus accommodations often leave them shouldering a heavy financial burden as they temporarily move off campus — often into more expensive rooms.
While the university provides information on alternative living arrangements, it has no alternatives for those who are unable to afford these options, or for those who have failed to secure housing in time for the holidays. Furthermore, even those students who manage to find a place to stay have to seek out living arrangements themselves, which is yet another stressor added on to an already frantic student experience.
Not all residences allow students to stay past their exams, and for those that do, some of their everyday facilities, such as dining halls, do not operate over the winter break, forcing students to spend more money on food if they do not have access to a kitchen. Some residences, like those at Trinity College, only offer accommodations for a maximum of three nights during the break and charge $100 per night.
UTM seems to have a more standardized process for staying in residence over the holidays: students are required to state their reasons for wishing to stay in residence, since “accommodations during this period may be made available to residents with extenuating circumstances (e.g. international students, out-of-province students, etc.).”
No additional charges apply as long as students are able to note their circumstances on time. However, rules appear to be much stricter than usual in the residence, as “No overnight guests or social gatherings are permitted; it is 24-hour quiet period for the duration of the Winter Break.” Furthermore, no services beyond emergency services are available to those staying on campus.
Some may question why students would even stay on campus. After all, the holidays are often painted as a time to reconnect and celebrate with loved ones. However, many people stay on campus for a variety of reasons.
Many international students cannot afford to go home for the holidays. Some students may wish to stay due to work commitments or difficult family relations. In any case, campus is a common denominator among these students — a way to bridge the burdens of finance, stability, and community.
However, the current system only furthers isolation and the deterioration of mental health, since it doesn’t foster connection through community and increases the financial burden on many who take out loans to access education and living arrangements.
There are no efforts to connect students who are cut off from friends, resources, and communities that act as support throughout their university experiences.
It is clear that there has been little consideration given to the needs and experiences of these particular student populations. Oftentimes I have found, from my own interactions with peers, that they are left vulnerable with little time to research or plan for new accommodations given the frantic pacing of a semester filled with deadlines, extracurriculars, and attempts to maintain mental and physical health.
Finances are also difficult to account for, with students who require loans also having to work to support themselves. The burden of seeking off-campus accommodations only exacerbates this stress.
Social isolation and financial stress are two key factors that impact students’ mental health, and therefore their ability to participate within the university community and academia. This is especially true for the holiday season.
Cultivating safe spaces and communities on campus is vital for establishing better mental health practices. For many, residences are these safe spaces. They are places of support given the frantic pace and demands of the semester.
The university must make a greater effort to provide affordable housing and community support for students who choose to stay on campus during the winter break. This means allowing students to remain in their on-campus accommodations and continuing to provide community-building social opportunities for these students.
Rehana Mushtaq is a fourth-year English and Religious Studies student at University College.