University action plan on student mental health presented at University Affairs Board

Tri-campus review, incidental fees report among discussion items

University action plan on student mental health presented at University Affairs Board

U of T’s University Affairs Board (UAB) met on January 27 to address a three-fold agenda: the final report of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, an update on the tri-campus review, and a report on the compulsory non-academic incidental fees.

Recommendations implemented

The meeting was led by Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr as she presented the university’s action plan for implementing the recommendations made by the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health.

The university’s response to a number of student deaths on campus was centred around the formation of the task force. After a months-long consultation process, the task force released its final report on January 15.

In accordance with its recommendations, the university has put forward a multi-pronged approach to address and improve mental health services, partnerships, physical spaces, campus culture, and financial resources to combat the perceived mental health crisis.

The university has created the Mental Health Services Redesign Team, which will direct the overhaul of U of T’s mental health services. It will be led by former Principal of Woodsworth College, Professor Joseph Desloges, as well as two experts from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): Dr. Alexia Jaouich, Director of Implementation and Innovation, Provincial System Support Program; and Dr. Sean Kidd, Senior Scientist and Division Chief, Psychology.

The Redesign Team’s mandate is to “create an integrated tri-campus system with one Clinical Director, one website, one consistent approach to wayfinding, one online booking system, one electronic records system, and one institutional letter for accessibility services.” The aim of harmonizing services across campuses and colleges is to ensure a more efficient and accessible system for students to navigate.

On partnerships, the university will build a new partnership with CAMH in order to create “integrated care pathways” for students that use campus-based and CAMH’s services, provide professional development and clinical programs in student mental health for both staff and students, and establish a new initiative to encourage research- and evidence-based solutions for the student mental health crisis.

On physical spaces, the university is committed to review mental health-devoted facilities at the UTM and UTSC campuses. At UTSG, the report notes that, “Planning is already underway to modernize the Health and Wellness Centre in the Koffler building… to keep pace with demand and to provide space better suited to the delivery of services.”

On campus culture, the university found “no conflict between a culture of academic excellence and a culture of caring” — however, it recognized the importance of strengthening the latter. To achieve this, U of T will undertake a “revision of academic programs on best practices in assessment, academic support services and mental health accommodations.” Its goal is to relieve student stress that arises as a result of institutional policies, in recognition of the fact that they act as a barrier to mental wellness. The administration will also ramp up communications with student leaders to promote health literacy and improve student perception of the University Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP). Despite calls to repeal the policy, U of T remains committed to communicating its “compassionate intent” to students. The policy allows the university to place students on mandated leave from their studies if their mental health is determined to pose a threat to themselves or others, and sparked protests before its establishment in 2018.

A new Centre for Graduate Mentorship and Supervision will also be established for the School of Graduate Studies.

On financial resources, the university will collaborate with the Division of University Advancement to devote further resources for mental health services and facilities. Mental health and wellness will also be a key priority in the forthcoming 2020–2021 budget.

Both Regehr and President Meric Gertler expressed their gratitude to the task force, faculty, and students who led the way in advancing the discussion on student mental health.

Tri-campus review

Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh presented an update on the tri-campus review. The current tri-campus structure was created by the Tri-Campus Framework in 2002. Since then, the current system has been subject to review.

Towards 2030, a university initiative to ensure long-term institutional success, expressed U of T’s ambition to “create a regional ‘University of Toronto system,’ characterized by three campuses with increasingly strong individual campus identities.” In April 2018, Gertler and Regehr commenced a review process of this system in view of new challenges faced by the tri-campus structure, and also explored how the university can best take advantage of emerging opportunities.

The Tri-Campus Review Steering Committee includes five working groups that have submitted final recommendations as part of the review process: Academic Planning and Academic Change, Graduate Units, Student Services, Administrative Structure, and Budget Relationships. The steering committee will take these recommendations and create a final report of suggestions for consideration by university governance.

Incidental fees reinstated

Welsh also presented the Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees Report for 2019–2020, which lists all of the mandatory student fees for this academic year.

Due to the Student Choice Initiative — the now-quashed provincial directive allowing students to opt out of fees deemed “non-essential” by the province — the fall semester incidental fees were divided between optional and mandatory categories.

The winter semester fees show a return to the status quo, currently listed “as they were prior to the Student Choice Initiative,” wrote Welsh in her report to the UAB.

Members look to improve tri-campus relationships at Planning and Budget Committee meeting

Members discuss Tri-Campus Review, SCI, new KPE academic plan

Members look to improve tri-campus relationships at Planning and Budget Committee meeting

The Planning and Budget Committee (PBC) discussed key recommendations aimed at improving the relationship between U of T’s three campuses on January 9.

During the meeting, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr discussed updates regarding the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) and the Academic Plan Extension for the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE).

The PBC is overseen by the Academic Board, and reviews and makes recommendations on the use of U of T’s resources like funds, land, and facilities.

Regehr noted that the university has been experiencing increasing friction between the three campuses.

“We’ve seen these tensions arising over a number of things, [with] one being the balance between autonomy and collaboration, [and] another being the balance between global aspirations and institutional roles,” said Regehr.

In 2018, U of T began a process called the Tri-Campus Review, which focused on five pillars of the tri-campus relationship: academic planning and academic change, graduate units, student services, administrative structure, and budget relationships.

The Tri-Campus Review identifies issues experienced between UTSG, UTM, and UTSC.

After over a year of consultations and meetings, the working groups that focused on each of the five key pillars of the review identified the key problems faced by the tri-campus relationship, and put forward their recommendations to the steering committee, which Regehr presented to the PBC.

A recurring issue brought to the attention of members of the PBC was the miscommunication between the institution as a whole and the campuses.

This included the confusion around responsibilities of senior leaders on different campuses who share the same title, but have different roles at their respective campuses.

“So for instance, the role of the dean [at the] St. George campus, everybody reports to the Dean and the Dean is responsible for the entire vision,” said Regehr.

However, for the UTM and UTSC campuses, Regehr noted that the “[the policy] states very clearly that the principal is both chief academic officer and the chief executive officer on the [satellite] campuses.”

“What had happened over the years is that [it] created confusion around who should be in charge of various aspects of university life, such as budget, [and] such as faculty hiring,” said Regehr.

Another issues raised by the review was the hiring of graduate chairs, which is complicated by the fact that for some departments, the department chair is automatically considered the graduate chair, while for other departments the graduate chair has to be hired.

The working groups recommended that there should be increased clarity in terminology to outline clear responsibilities for senior leadership members, and to avoid miscommunication across the three campuses.

The recommendations have been submitted to the Tri-Campus Steering Committee, and a final report will be produced by the end of the academic year.

Student Choice Initiative on pause, KPE academic plan discussed

Regehr reported that U of T will wait for the results of the provincial government’s appeal of the decision that struck down the SCI as unlawful before deciding on what to do regarding incidental fees for the winter term.

The SCI, which took effect last fall, had previously allowed students to opt out of “non-essential” incidental fees, as determined by the provincial government.

Access to the opt-out portal on ACORN remains suspended.

The Dean of KPE Ira Jacobs presented the KPE’s academic plan extension for 2018–2022, which had been unanimously approved by the KPE’s Faculty Council.

The strategic goals of the plan include improving participation rates of of co-curricular physical activity and sport programs, strengthening research and scholarship, and investing in infrastructure and partnerships.

The next PBC meeting will be held on February 25, 2020.

Nominees for Governing Council positions to be announced tomorrow

Eight student positions up for election

Nominees for Governing Council positions to be announced tomorrow

The official student candidates for Governing Council will be announced tomorrow, January 20 at 10:00 am. Nominations opened on January 7 at noon and ran until January 17 at 5:00 pm. There are eight student positions that must be re-elected each year to Governing Council. These students will have the chance to sit on U of T’s highest decision making body and oversee the university’s academic, business, and student affairs.

According to Governing Council’s webpage, effective council members are expected to be informed about important campus issues and processes, ask relevant questions, and exercise their right to vote at council meetings  — which usually occur six times per year. These council member votes will decide the direction of university policy. Recent policy changes approved by Governing Council include the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy and U of T’s stand-alone policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Governing Council’s chambers has seen significant unrest from unsatisfied students fighting for better mental health services over the past four years, including an occupation of Simcoe Hall and frequent protests outside of the hall during the council’s consideration and eventual passing of the university-mandated leave of absence policy. Council meetings also present an opportunity for questioning President Meric Gertler and other senior administration to clarify various issues from the university’s weather policy to confrontations on allegations of Campus Police misconduct.

Of the 50 members on Governing Council, only 30 are elected. Elected members consist of teaching staff, alumni, administrative staff, and a variety of students. Four full-time undergraduate students, two part-time undergraduate students, and two graduate students will be elected for one-year terms come the end of the campaign period.

Equity among Governing Council has been a contested issue for years — international students were ineligible to run for Council positions until 2015 when the University of Toronto Act was amended. In 2019, The Varsity’s own analysis of governors found that the council was largely male-dominated.

Students will have the chance to vote for their preferred candidates online starting February 3 at 9:00 am. Online votes and mail ballots must be received by February 14 at 5:00 pm. Nominees will be able to campaign up until the end of the voting period, but may only begin their campaigns on January 27.

Election results will be released on February 18. There is a three-day appeals process to protest any of the election outcomes, while the official declaration of the winners will not be released until February 21 at noon.

Editor’s Note (January 19, 7:06pm): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the University of Toronto Act was passed in 2015. In fact, the Act was passed in 1971 and amended to include international students on Governing Council in 2015. The Varsity regrets the error. 

Mixed reactions from student groups over U of T’s mental health task force

Criticisms about lack of diverse student representation

Mixed reactions from student groups over U of T’s mental health task force

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

U of T’s Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health wrapped up its months-long consultation period on November 25, leaving mixed reviews from student groups that participated. The consultations touched on numerous topics, including student representation, the academic climate at U of T, and the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP).

Background

The task force was formed on March 28 as part of President Gertler’s action plan to address student mental health and wellness, following two student deaths by suicide on campus between January and March of 2019. Throughout the summer and fall, the task force has been engaging in its outreach process to review U of T’s current services relating to mental health and potential new solutions. 

Earlier this month, the task force released a draft summary of the themes that arose during its consultations, and is scheduled to provide its recommendations to U of T in December.

In addition to reaching out to individual community members through online forms and in-person feedback sessions, the task force highlighted a number of student organizations that it would consult with. The Varsity contacted these groups to hear about their experiences.

Most interviewed student groups had positive feedback to share along with their criticisms, including feeling validated during consultations. The Innis College Student Society and the St. Michael’s College Student Union had only positive feedback to report.

Concerns about representation

The UofT Mental Health Policy Council (MHPC), a newly created mental health advocacy group on campus, wrote to The Varsity that “the Task Force’s structure and mandate make it a poor [representation] of student interests.” The MHPC also took issue with the prioritization of professional and academic experience above the lived experiences of applicants for the four student representative positions on the task force.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President, Operations, Arjun Kaul, wrote to The Varsity explaining that the union “took the time to criticize their non-student-led model” when meeting with the task force. Kaul also noted that no changes to the task force’s structure were made following the UTSU’s suggestions.

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union President Chemi Lhamo wrote that there is no representation of UTSC in the student members of the task force, even though it has its own nuances as a satellite campus. The student representatives on the task force are composed of two graduate students, an undergraduate student from UTM, and an undergraduate student from UTSG.

Of the student groups that responded to The Varsity’s request for comment, only the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union confirmed that student representatives from the task force were present at its consultation.

A spokesperson from U of T clarified that in order to ensure confidentiality and comfort of students at these consultations, Professor Bonnie Kirsh from the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, and Director of Critical Incidents, Safety, and Health Awareness for the Faculty of Arts & Science Caroline Rabbat, led the sessions. Kirsh and Rabbat then shared the feedback they received with other members of the task force.   

Harmful academic culture

Kaul believes that the draft summary of themes was “a good step,” however, he does not believe that the themes have put enough onus on U of T itself. Kaul cited the section in the themes document on culture at U of T and pointed out that the task force largely used language relating to students’ perception and beliefs about harmful academic culture.

“The reality is that there is an institutional rot at the heart of U of T’s academic system, not a simple problem with students’ perception,” wrote Kaul.

Morgan Watkins, President of the Students’ Law Society, wrote that “mental health needs should be a priority consideration in all university policy areas.” Watkins gave the example of taking a wider scope when it comes to mental wellness during exam times. That is, considering the structure of curricula from a mental health perspective could mean refraining from “automatically deferring to 100% exams” in the Faculty of Law, rather than simply providing extra resources during exam time.

Watkins asserted that this type of an approach to harmful academic culture focuses in on “structural barriers to addressing mental health & wellness on campus, rather than being reactionary.”

A U of T spokesperson noted that the draft summary of themes is still in the editing process and feedback from students will be taken into consideration.

University-mandated leave of absence policy

While Mental Wellness Commissioner on the University College Literary and Athletic Society, Aanya Bahl, did “appreciate the time… and attention to detail” in the draft summary of themes, she did not feel that students’ concerns in regard to the UMLAP were adequately presented. “[UMLAP] was only spoken about twice in the drafted list of themes… they’re not admitting that it’s the policy that needs to be changed,” Bahl told The Varsity.

One suggestion for the UMLAP that Bahl had was that the policy should enter into specifics about what supports they provide a student once they’re removed from study.

The U of T spokesperson informed The Varsity that university staff are working on an awareness campaign to counter misconceptions about the UMLAP.

Disclosure: Aanya Bahl writes for The Varsity‘s Science Section in Volume 140.

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566

Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454

Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600

Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200

U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Planning and Budget Committee approves space lease for the Faculty of Arts & Science

Strategic Mandate Agreement, Student Choice Initiative, new Rotman academic plans discussed

Planning and Budget Committee approves space lease for the Faculty of Arts & Science

On October 31, the Planning and Budget Committee (PBC) of U of T’s Governing Council voted to recommend leasing the 17th floor of the Ontario Power Generation Building, located at 700 University Avenue. This would serve to accommodate additional space needs for the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS).

The PBC also presented updates from the university’s Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA) with the province, as well as the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). It further proposed changes to the Rotman School of Management’s long-term academic plan, and discussed the ongoing Budget Model Review.

The PBC, which is overseen by the Academic Board, is responsible for “monitoring, reviewing, and making recommendations” on issues that involve the use of U of T’s resources, such as funds, land, and facilities.

Leasing the 17th floor of the Ontario Power Generation Building

The PBC unanimously voted to recommend the leasing of the 17th floor of the Ontario Power Generation Building to accommodate space needs for the FAS, mainly to house the Department of Sociology.

The project, if approved, will move the Department of Sociology to this more central location, as the department is currently located in the northwest corner of UTSG by Bloor Street West and Spadina Avenue.

Part of the Vector Institute and several other FAS units will also be housed on the same floor.

Strategic Mandate Agreement

The SMAs are bilateral agreements between the province and each of Ontario’s 45 publicly assisted colleges and universities, and determine the amount of funding they receive. The current SMAs are set to expire in 2020.

The provincial government has introduced new performance-based funding frameworks for existing funds for universities and colleges across Ontario. The 10 performance metrics fall into the broader categories of skills and jobs, community impact, and economic impact. For example, graduation rates and employment rates fall under the area of skills and jobs.

To evaluate U of T’s performance as an academic institution and determine the amount of funding allocated for U of T, the provincial government will look at the trends over time for each metric. U of T will work with the provincial government to finalize the allocation of provincial funding across the ten performance metrics by March 21, 2020.

In 2020–2021, U of T projects that it will receive $170 million — 12 per cent of its total operating budget — through its SMA with the provincial government, and anticipates this amount will grow to $400 million by 2024–2025.

Student Choice Initiative

The provincial government’s SCI, which took effect this fall, allowed students to opt out of incidental fees that are categorized as “non-essential.”

Meredith Strong, Director of the Office of the Vice-Provost, presented the opt-out numbers and data on the effects of the SCI on student services and societies for the fall 2019 term.

There were a total of 523 optional fees across U of T, with 30 or more fees deemed optional for each student, depending on their program.

Fees which students could opt-out of ranged from $15 to $380 per term. If a student opted out of all their incidental fees, they saved anywhere from three to 36 per cent in incidental fees, depending on their program and campus.

Opt-outs from non-essential incidental fees resulted in a $300,000 reduction in total revenue for student services, and a $1 million reduction in total revenue for student societies.

In response to a member’s question on what would happen if the Canadian Federation of Students–Ontario’s (CFS–O) and the York Federation of Students’ (YFS) judicial review of the policy was successful, Strong said that U of T is monitoring the case and that the SCI would continue to be implemented until the government directs the university to do otherwise.

On Thursday, the Divisional Court of Ontario ruled in favour of the CFS–O and CFS, deeming the SCI unlawful and ultimately finding that the provincial government lacked the legal authority to regulate the collection of student union fees.

Miscellaneous items

Trevor Rodgers, Assistant Vice-President of Planning & Budget, spoke on the ongoing Budget Model Review. U of T adopted a new budget model in 2006, which has five pillars: inter-divisional teaching working, alternative funding sources, Strategic Mandate Agreement, operational excellence, and tri-campus budget relationships.

New recommendations from the review include aligning academic priorities according to the provincial government’s performance metrics and implementing teaching methods from UTSG to UTM and UTSC.

The Dean of Rotman School Tiff Macklem presented changes for Rotman’s academic plan for 2019–2024.

The plan centers on four core goals: advancing research scholarship, focusing on experiential learning and personal development, extending thought leadership in the global community, and strengthening alumni engagement and Rotman’s global network.

Members of the PBC also discussed a proposal to construct a new building for undergraduate Rotman students.

The next PBC meeting is on January 9, 2020.

Review of sexual violence policy finds 56 reports in three years, only one tribunal

As the policy undergoes governance review, data points toward under-reporting

Review of sexual violence policy finds 56 reports in three years, only one tribunal

At the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting on November 13, in a relatively empty Governing Council chamber, the university’s sexual violence policy went through its first three-year review. The reports presented at the UAB found that from early 2017 to late 2018, there were 56 cases reported through the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre (SVPSC), but during that same time, only one hearing was held.

That hearing saw the respondent admitting to “non-consensual touching.” The respondent was sanctioned with a one-year suspension, a five-year notation on their transcript, and a one-year probationary period after the suspension, limiting contact with the survivor.

This review was part of the mandate of the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act that was passed under former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, which sparked the policy’s creation in the first place. U of T’s proposed revised policy clarified language, but included no substantial changes.

At the same meeting, the university released its numbers for non-academic offences, which included the number of tribunals held in cases where the respondent to a report of sexual violence is a student.

“Cases can be resolved in different ways. Where the respondent is a student, cases may be referred to a hearing under the Code of Student Conduct, but may be resolved before the hearing is conducted,” wrote Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost, Students, in an email to The Varsity.

“In making a decision as to whether a matter is referred to a hearing, the wishes of students who come to the centre are always considered,” wrote Welsh. “In some cases they may not want a hearing, and would prefer the matter be resolved in another way.”

How we got here

In 2016, the provincial legislature enacted the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, which, through the then-Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, mandated that universities and colleges were to develop independent sexual violence and assault policies. Up until then, U of T’s policy was embedded among several other policies, including the Student Code of Conduct and the university’s Policy and Procedure on Sexual Harassment. Following calls to action from the U of T community, and part of a wider movement across North America in 2014, the university began the process of consulting on revisions for a new policy.

By the time the then-bill reached royal assent in 2016, U of T’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment was undergoing consultations, with the university releasing a draft in September and a final version in November of that year. The policy was the work of years-long consultations, research, and various task force and committee recommendations — including the development of a tri-campus SVPSC.

Since then

In 2017, a year after its release,  U of T’s policy received a “C” grade for its sexual violence policies from Our Turn, a coalition of 20 Canadian student unions. The policy was marked down for lacking mandatory sexual violence sensitivity training, not acknowledging the existence of a rape culture at the university, and not having clearly defined timelines for reports and investigations. The same year, Tamsyn Riddle, a U of T student, filed a human rights complaint against U of T and Trinity College, citing a failed 17-month sexual assault investigation in 2015 and failure of the college to enforce the interim measures imposed on her assailant.

Various reports were released in 2019, reflecting the policy’s first three years: the university’s own SVPSC 2017–2018 report, a report from the U of T student advocacy group for sexual assault survivors Silence is Violence, and the Ontario provincial survey on sexual violence at postsecondary institutions.

The SVPSC reported that 56 cases of sexual violence were filed under the university’s sexual violence policy from the office’s first two years of operation.

Silence is Violence, a grassroots student advocacy group, collected its own data, surveying 544 anonymous students. Of its respondents, 109 reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual violence or were uncertain whether the incident they experienced was an act of sexual violence during their time at U of T. Thirty per cent of respondents indicated that they knew someone who had experienced sexual violence on campus.

The provincial Student Voices on Sexual Assault survey released on March 19 reported that of 26,824 U of T respondents, 4,628 reported experiences of stalking and 12,293 reported instances of sexual harassment, including discrimination and online and physical harassment. It also found that 3,602 U of T students reported non-consensual sexual experiences, which makes up 13.42 per cent of U of T’s respondents.

The revised policy, with clarified language but lacking any substantive additions, will continue through the governance process, where it will ultimately be voted for approval at the December 12 meeting of Governing Council.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities was unable to comment at the time of publication.

Editor’s note (November 18, 6:00 pm): This article has been updated to clarify that the data is compiled from multiple reports. The article has also corrected that the SVPSC report is from 2017–2018, not 2018–2019.

Opinion: UTSG’s new weather cancellation policy is a step in the right direction

Administration must always prioritize student voices, safety

Opinion: UTSG’s new weather cancellation policy is a step in the right direction

This November has seen the return of heavy snow and ice — which means all eyes are on the U of T administration’s decisions surrounding campus closures. However, recent updates to its weather cancellation policy — following significant backlash for UTSG’s decisions not to close campus in light of heavy weather last year — provide hope on this matter.

The errors of the past

In the past, UTSG has been exceptionally late in its closure announcements due to severe winter weather. Most egregiously, on January 28, UTSG cancelled classes starting at 6:00 pm, notifying students just minutes before, long after the Environment Canada warning.

At the time, I was a student living on residence. When the announcement came, I was already standing outside of my class, confused. I had a 10-minute walk. If you had a two-hour transit ride — as is the case for many students — you would have already completed your dangerous commute by the time you heard that you didn’t need to be there, and would then need to make that same trek back home. 

This led to vocal criticism from students over the way that cancellations were handled. Afterward, Regehr said that Robarts Library would remain open around-the-clock, even during winter storms, and that students could always stay there overnight if they found themselves stranded on campus. Many students further criticized this solution as absurd. Cancelling classes is a much better course of action than students sleeping overnight in Robarts. 

On February 12, the Toronto District School Board closed for the first time since 2011, and Ryerson University, York University, UTM, and UTSC all closed first thing in the morning, while UTSG stayed open until 4:00 pm.

This was criticized by students as other downtown schools declared travel unsafe, while UTSG seemed to either not realize or not care about the worsening conditions. Instead, the administration only announced around noon that classes would be cancelled later that afternoon, while many students still needed to get to campus for earlier classes, putting their safety at risk.

Students should not need to worry about their safety trying to get to class. Last year a student was rear ended while driving and another fell, potentially sustaining a concussion. Both students were on their way to and from class, with one commenting on how they felt they needed to choose between their safety and attendance, a decision that students should never need to make.

The last academic year’s experiences, in sum, raised questions about the devaluation of student voices and experiences by UTSG’s administration.

A step in the right direction

But recent changes to the procedure concerning the cancellation of classes — sent out by Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat    are a step in the right direction. The changes, which were announced on October 31, signal a positive adjustment to the way the administration is responding to student concerns regarding the university’s lack of timely closure during extreme weather.

The first heading of the announcement is titled “We heard your concerns,” and unlike previous responses from the administration, I actually feel heard. Student safety should always come first, and this is a good first step in recognizing that.

This year, the university plans to have more coordination with other schools and transit systems regarding closures and to broadcast cancellations on social media, making them more accessible to students.

One positive change is monitoring the GO Train service and local and regional highways for closures and delays, which will be beneficial for many students commuting from all throughout the GTA.

All that being said, there is still room for improvement. In the announcement, there was no reference to what they would do to ensure that cancellations are announced in a timely fashion.

In an email to The Varsity, university spokesperson Elizabeth Church clarified that the administration will try to make sure that cancellations are announced by 6:30 am this year because it recognizes that many students commute great distances.

Church also wrote, “It’s important that we hear from our students on this and other areas where we are working to update our policies and practices.”

I hope that the recent update marks a new beginning in how administration treats concerns brought forward by students. As the winter begins, we can see if it follows through on the promises it has made in this statement. Moving forward, we need an administration that always listens and that takes our concerns seriously.

Laura Peberdy is a second-year Global Health student at Victoria College.

U of T responds to allegations of student handcuffed by campus police

Vice-Provost declines to comment on reports, says campus police are trained in “de-escalation”

U of T responds to allegations of student handcuffed by campus police

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

At the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting on November 13, Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh was met with questions about the recent allegations that a student was handcuffed by UTM Campus Police while seeking help during a mental health crisis. Welsh declined to comment on the specifics of the case but clarified that such instances would be separate from the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), and also defended campus police training.

Allegations

According to an article in The Medium, later reported by CBC News, a U of T student sought help for suicidal ideation at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC), and was handcuffed when the the HCC called campus police on the evening of October 2. 

The student arrived at the HCC with a friend and developed a safety plan with a nurse. Before she could leave, she was informed that it was protocol to speak with campus police. The student was then handcuffed and arrested when she disclosed that she was having suicidal thoughts.

The Varsity has yet to independently verify the reported allegations.

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) condemned the decision by the HCC to call the police. “The UTMSU believes that this student should have been approached with care and compassion, not handcuffs,” reads the press release.

University responds at UAB

Responding to a question from full-time undergraduate member Daman Singh, the former Vice-President, Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and an advocate for the UMLAP, Welsh declined to comment on the details reported in the two articles, but did say that the UMLAP was about concerning behaviour and that it would be irrelevant in a situation where a student is being taken to the hospital.

Welsh, along with UTM Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal, Student Services, Mark Overton, reiterated that police are there to assist in extreme cases and work in accordance with the province’s Mental Health Act.

In response to a member questioning the “authority and knowledge” of campus police to “put people in handcuffs,” Welsh replied that campus police officers are trained in de-escalation and work closely with the health and wellness offices of the three campuses.

A university spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Varsity, “Campus police become involved when an individual makes specific statements that [indicate] they have an intention to do harm such as suicide and are unwilling to go to the hospital.”

“U of T is reviewing its police practices in this respect. Our existing practices are consistent with those of local municipal forces.”

Community responses

The UTSU endorsed the UTMSU’s statement, writing that they “stand in solidarity,” and described the incident as an “injustice.” Other campus organizations including the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students and the U of T Students’ Law Society also supported the statement. 

Spadina–Fort York MPP, Chris Glover, condemned the incident, writing: “What is the state of our services on campus if students looking for mental health support are turned away and led in handcuffs.” Glover also criticized the Ford government for removing services and thereby creating barriers to success for postsecondary students. 

UTSU President Joshua Bowman weighed in with a tweet asking “What University can stand by a protocol that actually ‘arrests’ a student seeking help?” 

Diana Yoon, former federal candidate for Spadina–Fort York, described the traumatic experience of being sent to the emergency room “without any reasonable discussion” after seeking help for mental health issues from a guidance counsellor while in high school. Yoon declared that it is “outrageous to see this now from UTM.”

This story is developing, more to follow.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.