Public Editor: How can journalists ethically report on a student’s death?

Experts say reporting can cause contagion; where does The Varsity stand on principled journalism in these cases?

Public Editor: How can journalists ethically report on a student’s death?

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

Some journalistic practices, such as including details about suicide or adding the word “suicide” in headlines, can potentially make suicide contagious, according to a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

The study identified significant associations between elements of media reports and suicide deaths. It touched on how reporting on suicide can have a meaningful impact on suicide deaths. In short, it says that journalists and media outlets should carefully consider the specific content of articles before publication.

Following the death by suicide of a University of Toronto student at UTSG more than a month ago, the question of whether The Varsity does a good enough job reporting on suicide is something worth looking into.

For the most part, The Varsity has noticeably taken steps to ensure that its readers are properly being walked through sensitive storytelling. For example, every story pertaining to the topic of suicide begins with an advisory message, such as “Content warning: discussions of suicide.”

It’s a popular belief in many newsrooms that one should only report on suicide if there is some overriding public interest in doing so, an example of this is the Toronto Star’s policy on the matter.

In our case, reporting on a student’s death can be of public interest, seeing as this was the third death by suicide of a U of T student in the span of  over 16 months, and students across all three campuses have been demanding better access to mental health support for some time now.

In an interview with Time, Dr. Ayal Schaffer, a psychiatry professor at U of T who co-authored the CMAJ study, said that reporting on suicide is not the problem, rather it’s how it’s being done where the trouble lies.

“Our goal is not to blame journalists; it’s not to tell journalists how to do their jobs. But it is to provide a pretty strong research base to support specific guidelines about how reporting on suicide should be done,” Schaffer said in the interview.   

Time noted that the research analyzed stories published between 2011 and 2014 on the topic of suicide that appeared in 13 publications with wide circulations in Toronto. It found nearly 17,000 stories that mentioned suicide, including 6,367 articles where suicide was the major focus. It is worth noting that about 950 people in Toronto reportedly died by suicide during this timespan.

When searching for how many stories The Varsity has written with the word “suicide” mentioned, there were over 500 results. To some, this is a large number of stories circulating around suicide, and to others — given that The Varsity has written countless stories over the years — it is an insignificant number.

According to Josie Kao, Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity, she found herself, like many journalists, covering an “alarming number of deaths on campus” when she was acting as News Editor last year. Kao then decided that The Varsity needed a responsible guide on reporting on suicide.

“We know that we have a huge responsibility as a media organization to prevent contagion and at the same time de-stigmatize mental illness,” Kao wrote.

These guidelines included which terms to use when reporting on suicide, as well as in the event that a death occurs on campus in a public place, on campus in a private place, or off campus.

“Not all situations warrant reporting on… because the risk of suicide contagion is so high. I’m extremely proud of the work that the paper has undertaken since I began working here, and I truly believe that student journalism is at the forefront of responsible reporting on suicide,” Kao added.

It’s important to ask how students on all three campuses at U of T feel about upsetting stories that are told every day. Does it make them feel informed about what is going on on campus and equip them with all the information needed to confront the school and demand change?

Or does it instead make them feel scared that someone who walked the same halls, sat in the same lecture hall, ate at the same cafeteria, wrote the same exams, might one day want to end their life? Or what if they themselves feel that they can also take their life because others are doing so?

I would like to know how readers feel about this topic and where they stand, reading the tragic circumstances surrounding one of their own.

As your newest public editor, I want to make it my mission to look at both sides of the reader’s perspective so that we can work together in creating an educational, yet safe, environment for all.

Osobe Waberi is The Varsity’s Public Editor and can be reached at

Disclosure: Osobe Waberi is currently a staff writer at the Toronto Star.

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.

Opinion: Elect to explore your academic options

Experimenting with courses can help you find your passion, benefit you academically

Opinion: Elect to explore your academic options

Although each university is challenging in its own way, and each student may experience these challenges differently, I think we can all sympathize with how daunting and tedious our studies at U of T can be.

The culture of academic excellence at U of T — fueled by demanding professors, competitive students, and threats of grade deflation — becomes a huge component of our lives from the very first step we take on campus.

When you take into account assignments, midterms, and of course, readings, our studies may almost become as demanding and time consuming as full-time jobs.

This being the case, I think that many people ignore the importance of choosing the right subjects to study and how significant this decision may be to their university experience.

People often feel pressured to take certain pathways to success, even though these paths may not necessarily lead to positive experiences or even financial stability. When choosing courses, we need to sincerely consider our interests and our ability to perform in these positions.

Many people choose areas of study that are traditionally thought of as high-paying and secure, even if they do not enjoy doing the work. This might be great if you develop a love for what you study or show great skills in your work, but it may also be damaging if you’re forcing yourself into a field that you don’t find fulfilling.

I believe that choosing to study something you will not enjoy can only worsen the anxieties associated with a challenging academic culture.

At U of T, most programs — even those with rigid and unalterable requirements — give students the ability to take a number of elective courses. Electives are a great opportunity to explore other subjects, and to indulge interests beyond your field of study.

In fact, many people often find themselves gravitating toward areas of study related to their elective choices. The flexibility of U of T’s degree programs allows students to take extra years to complete degrees, especially if they choose to switch majors halfway through their program.

For instance, when I enrolled at U of T, I had no idea how much I would enjoy studying philosophy. Instead, I chose to study social sciences. I was taking courses in five different departments when I enrolled in an introductory philosophy course by chance.

I soon came to realize that I really love the subject, and I am relatively good at studying it. I decided to take more philosophy courses, and eventually became a philosophy specialist.

This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Studying something that I love makes me enjoy the journey and tolerate the challenge. If it wasn’t this easy and convenient to experiment in courses from different departments, I might be studying something that I do not enjoy as much and, consequently, feel less enthusiastic about school.

I believe that when we find and study something we truly enjoy — even if only as a minor or a single course we are interested in — U of T may become less challenging.

So do not be afraid to enroll in different courses. You might find your passion where you least expect it to be, like I did. In turn, you may find U of T’s academic environment less toxic, more enjoyable, and more endurable — a challenge that you might even enjoy.

Efe Akan is a third-year Philosophy student at St. Michael’s College.

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.

Opinion: On the climate crisis, we need sustained action

Youth activism is taking the world by storm, but Toronto is a worrisome exception

Opinion: On the climate crisis, we need sustained action

Internationally, youth activists and youth movements are creating unprecedented change. In a survey of over 6,000 participants in the current Hong Kong protests, a Chinese University of Hong Kong survey reported that more than 57 per cent of participants were under the age of 30. Sixty-one per cent of Sudan’s population is under the age of 25, and many of them were on the streets earlier this year, demonstrating against the corrupt government of President Omar al-Bashir. In Chile, the protests against the rise in transit fares, which sparked the current movement, were started by high-school students.

Of course, the trials Hong Kong, Chile, and Sudan have faced are incomparable to the day-to-day lives of Torontonians. However, the radical action that each youth-led movement embraces in those protests sends a very clear message, especially as we face Canada’s role in the climate crisis: we can do more. If, against all odds, these movements have managed to change government policy, we certainly should be able to do so as well.

Consistency is key

This past September, the Global Climate Strikes in Canada were a wonderful expression of just how many people cared and wanted to see change. The protests amassed around 500,000 people in Montréal and 100,000 in Vancouver. Toronto, however, saw only 15,000 people march ­— a relatively disappointing number. Students here at the University of Toronto are also not doing enough. Aptly put by fellow student and  head of the Friday’s for Future Toronto chapter Allie Rougeot in a previous Varsity article, “This school doesn’t feel like it’s resisting at all.”

Rougeot initially believed in a moderate transition instead of a revolutionary solution to the climate crisis. But after taking into account the fact that the root causes of the crisis were profit-seeking companies denying the climate crisis and extractive colonialism, she could no longer continue to ask for or invest in minor, moderately applied bandage solution to a rapidly-growing wound.

While the protests generated great energy across the country, we have not since seen the tangible, radical change that is necessary to address the crisis. When the same numbers are needed in subsequent efforts, when the cameras are gone, we simply aren’t there. Looking back now, it’s become an expression of just how, in Toronto, we aren’t as committed as we claim to be.

When Greta Thunberg began her movement in 2018, she protested in front of the Swedish parliament in order to demand Sweden meet their emissions reduction target. Now, she strikes every Friday, hence the name Fridays for Future. In Toronto, what we can take away from Thunberg and other youth-led protests is that consistent, sustained action is key.

Had they stopped their fight when the cameras were no longer on — when all there was to post on social media were dumpster fires and tear gas — nothing would’ve changed. They only have the power they do because they were persistent in their passion. They knew that if they did not protest, no one else would.

The clock is ticking

It is vital that we do the same here when it comes to our own political action.

Political dissent isn’t ineffective, but the limited scope of action that we’ve been seeing at the University of Toronto and in Canada as a whole, is. Considering that the future of the planet is at stake, we simply cannot allow this to continue.

Especially now, as we stare down the barrel of the climate crisis, we must act. Just recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the “climate crisis [is] reducing land’s ability to sustain humanity.” The document should be read as a terrifying plea for life.

That is exactly what the climate crisis is. People have died and will continue to do so, populations have been displaced, and here in Canada, we are warming at a rate twice as high as any other country in the world.

There are droves of solutions, most including widespread, aggressive divestment in fossil fuels. We cannot continue to build pipelines and invest in the tar sands. The list goes on and on, yet students with the power to demand change are simply not showing up. We are not consistently and aggressively holding our government and corporations responsible for their lack of action.

When we do act, when we show the power we have, change is made without fail. The government has to listen when we speak. It might be cliché to reiterate, but the power is truly in the hands of the people and especially in the hands of the students.

The government is not doing nearly enough. And yet, apathy on campus and in the country could convince anyone that they are. We seem to be waiting for someone to tell us when the next march is and whom to follow.

But the longer we wait and the more time we spend agonizing over the fact that our leaders aren’t listening is time we could spend making them listen. Those in power with the tools to create the change we need are ready to say how high — we need to stop waiting for somebody else to say “jump.”

Nadine Waiganjo is a second-year International Relations student at University College. Waiganjo is a columnist for The Varsity’s comment section.

Opinion: It’s not enough to simply link to resources, mental health care must begin in classrooms

We must re-orient academics to include mental health education

Opinion: It’s not enough to simply link to resources, mental health care must begin in classrooms

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.

Opinion: The University of Micro-transactions — Top Hat and iClickers are barriers to equitable education

Lack of standardized learning tools cause unnecessary academic and financial stress

Opinion: The University of Micro-transactions — Top Hat and iClickers are barriers to equitable education

U of T students are no strangers to unexpected fees. From the exorbitantly-priced Pearson Education software that is required in many first-year science courses, to textbooks, living costs, and tuition — students can’t seem to catch a break from all these extraneous educational costs.

Another brick in the paywall

Top Hat and iClicker software are essentially redundant technologies that reinforce the pay-to-play trends emerging in U of T undergraduate programs.

This is a slippery slope for U of T, which I have heard described by students as “Wayside-like” and “the University of Micro-transactions.” My experience has shown that required and strongly recommended textbooks cost around $100 each, are barely used, and are rendered dated the following year when a new edition comes out. In a time when many universities are becoming more accessible to students by doing things like posting lecture recordings online, U of T seems to be moving backward.

There is something to be said for the lack of faculty coordination in regard to the use of these tools. Top Hat and iClickers serve the same purpose of recording attendance and engagement through multiple choice questions, yet students may need to purchase both depending on their different instructors. This is no small cost, as a new iClicker costs $47.50 at the U of T Bookstore and a yearly subscription to Top Hat costs $48 on its website. Lack of cohesion on these educational technologies means that fees are often doubled as students have to buy both unnecessary technologies.

These costs don’t need to exist in the first place. Attendance and participation grades could also be measured through discourse during lecture and roll call at the beginning of class — both free options.

professors would better retain student attendance and engagement through the delivery of engaging lectures

The regulation of iClickers and Top Hat can seem arbitrary and impotent. Students may bring their friends’ clickers to class, and Top Hat’s live content and attendance can be responded to outside of the lecture hall. Bigger lectures in Convocation Hall have started getting their teaching assistants to circle the balconies, looking to catch students using multiple clickers, yet it’s still easy to cheat this system.

Furthermore, absence and lack of engagement during lectures are not really affected by these pricey countermeasures. The concept that attendance and the ability to answer questions is something to be purchased devalues academic merit, and elevates the role of one’s wallet. Students from lower-income backgrounds see lower rates of postsecondary educational attainment, and the addition of unregulated, inconsistent, and costly technologies only exacerbates this financial stress.

What more screens mean for attention

For students with attention deficits, TopHat poses a new challenge: staying focused. The presence of the necessary devices to run the software during lectures is potentially distracting to students.

Top Hat’s claim of increased student engagement rests on the assumption that everyone is using their phone during class, but this simply is not the case. The requirement that Top Hat creates to interact with your mobile device during lecture means that distractingly-lit phone screens frequent the lecture hall in the name of learning.

Exposure to hundreds of screens potentially prevents lectures from becoming conducive learning environments.

Besides the distracting screens themselves, students can also misuse the anonimized Top Hat quizzes by flooding the response box with joke answers, further diverting the lecture’s focus.

While students engage with Top Hat content, they are also likely to simultaneously engage with less course-related content on their phones. Smartphones are tempting, especially for our generation, which has grown up with them. All you need is a simple flick or tap to check your text messages, Facebook, WeChat, Instagram, et cetera. As such, professors would do well to prevent the use of them at all costs, rather than obliging students to bring them to lecture.

A rejection of individual learning styles?

Beyond the challenge to attention, Top Hat can frustrate students by challenging their attempts to engage less with electronic devices in their learning. Students who have recognized that they learn better without the distraction of devices are prevented from doing so.

Beginning in first year, students are encouraged to study in the ways that work for them by encouraging individual habits. Yet the introduction of Top Hat into classrooms prevents students from making individual consumer choices.

It’s also an unsettling precedent, contributing to — rather than countering — a shift in contemporary classrooms toward overdependence on technology. While this is not an overwhelmingly negative shift, its implications can be harmful for some.

Whether or not a student brings a mobile device to class should be their own choice, not something that the school requires. Digitizing lecture engagement without proper reasoning feeds a culture of consumption and normalizes smartphone ownership.

The requirement of Top Hat in some courses contradicts a familiar narrative: don’t pull your phone out during lecture — or, even better, don’t bring your device at all. This sentiment rings true, as studies show that people retain information better when handwriting notes, rather than typing them.

Perhaps rather than turning to technology, professors would better retain student attendance and engagement through the delivery of engaging lectures that students wouldn’t want to miss.

Tif Fan is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College.

Opinion: UTM students take a breath of fresh air thanks to institution-wide smoking ban

Transition period, designated smoking areas lead to a cleaner campus, healthier students

Opinion: UTM students take a breath of fresh air thanks to institution-wide smoking ban

Following the legalization of cannabis last October, U of T announced plans to ban smoking on all campuses by the start of 2019. According a report by the Canadian Cancer Society, the legalization of marijuana “will pose a challenge for campuses that are not 100% smoke-free, and provides further rationale for adoption of a comprehensive smoke-free policy.”

Few need a reminder of the negative impacts of smoking. Health classes from elementary school to high school extensively cover the adverse effects that smoking can have on your body. Furthermore, cigarette packages feature grotesque images, tragic stories, and startling facts that warn buyers of their harmful nature. And yet, Statistics Canada reports that smoking is still “the leading cause of premature death in Canada.”

Smokers between the ages of 18–34 account for 19.2 per cent of all smokers in Canada, making up the second largest age group for smokers. This translates to 1.5 million people, a number which has remained consistent between 2017 and 2018.

While the common perception may be that smoking poses more harm to the smoker than to those around them, smoking affects all. Non-smokers experience an almost equivalent risk as smokers, since “Most of the smoke from a lit cigarette is not inhaled by the smoker. It fills the air around the smoker. This endangers everyone in the area.”

Many students, myself included, can attest to the plumes of cigarette smoke that used to cloud the entrances of many buildings. At UTM this is particularly true of the Instructional Centre. Smokers would congregate less than the regulated nine metres away from the entrance, with puffs of grey smoke billowing from the butts of their lit cigarettes. We, the non-smokers, trekked to class with breaths held and steps hurried in order to avoid inhaling any of the over-4,000 chemicals present in the cigarettes.

Designated smoking areas

With the smoking ban and the introduction of designated smoking areas, I saw a decline in the number of smokers assembling in front of the building entrances. Moreover, students previously burdened by the smoke-filled air can now take a breath of fresh air thanks to the ban.

Conversely, for smokers who have become used to the designated smoking areas, the end of the transitional phase may raise concerns. Designated smoking areas are a decent remedy, but they unfortunately fail to address the real issue: the addictive nature of nicotine and nature of withdrawal, both of which will not dissipate like vapour with the smoke-free policy.

The physical effects of smoking

In recent weeks, a number of newspapers reported on the surge of vaping-related deaths in the US, with 34 deaths reported this year. Much of the marketing for vaping frames it as a “cessation tool,” despite there being little research on its effects on health. One user cited the switch to e-cigarettes as a measure to stave off cigarettes. This unsubstantiated narrative of e-cigarettes being a safer alternative has encouraged its popularity, especially among young people.

More frightening is the fact that more than half of the 1,604 cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarettes were under the age of 25.

The Ontario Lung Association reports that in Ontario, “13,000 people are killed annually by smoking, which translates to 36 people a day.”

The troubling and unfortunate reality is that smoking kills.

Governing bodies

Universities exercise the right to govern student bodies when their actions negatively affect other students. While students should, and do, have the right to choose whether they smoke or not, inhaling secondhand smoke is an involuntary action and policies such as this one offer a way to protect these students.

Additionally, for university students concerned about their GPA, studies by the Tobacco Technical Assistance Consortium have found that “students who use tobacco are shown to have lower GPA’s than those who do not.”

The smoking ban seeks to further the university’s goal of a cleaner and healthier campus. However, a more in-depth study on the reasons for smoking may be beneficial to promote healthier lifestyles and address the real concerns behind smoking.

Belicia Chevolleau is a fourth-year Communication, Culture, and Information Technology student at UTM.

Opinion: Ford burst our bubble — university health care coverage suffers under new policy changes

The UTSU can only do so much to mitigate Ford’s damage

Opinion: Ford burst our bubble — university health care coverage suffers under new policy changes

The Ford government’s changes to OHIP and introduction of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) have brought a number of pressing issues, including access to health care for university students. The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) health care plan is bearing the brunt of the damage.

The UTSU health care plan is meant to fill gaps in other coverage students may have, including OHIP. However, Ford’s cuts to OHIP have made covering all gaps unfeasible, prompting major shifts in the UTSU Health and Dental Plan.

The UTSU’s coverage for prescription drug costs has been reduced from 90 per cent to 80 per cent of the cost of each prescription, up to $5,000. This applies not only to drug prescriptions, but also to vaccines — which have been fully covered to a maximum of $200 in past years.

Mental health services have also been affected: as opposed to providing $125 per visit for up to 20 visits, the new health care plan only covers $100 per visit for up to 15 visits. It’s important to note is that unlike prescription drug care coverage, mental health funding is being capped by both cost and number of visits.

In an attempt to offset these cuts, the UTSU has implemented coverage for visits to registered psychotherapists, in addition to visits to standard psychologists, clinical counsellors, and licensed social workers. This change may seem minute, but it will go a long way to help students.

What is most worrisome about the UTSU’s changes is not its immediate effects but rather its implications for U of T students. In the statement that the UTSU released regarding changes to the health and dental plan, the union acknowledges that there is a mental health crisis at the university.

Mental health is a high priority for the UTSU: in a statement following a student’s death in September, it committed to continue to place its “resources behind addressing the mental health crisis.” Even though it must contend with Ford’s difficult cuts, it should put all its efforts into tackling this crisis. In terms of policy, this means collecting as many resources as possible.

At the UTSU Board of Directors Meeting in late August, Studentcare, the health and dental care provider of the UTSU, sent a message noting that “a lower claims trend was had for mental health coverage in comparison to other parts of the plan.”

In response to this, the UTSU decided to concentrate more on other areas of health coverage, as mental health seemed to be of lesser concern. This projection was also based on the fact that the UTSU would no longer be covering students at UTM, meaning that fewer resources would be needed. However, these predictions do not necessarily translate as facts, meaning that the students at UTSG may be left without sufficient access to resources.

The UTSU is cognizant of this and is taking active measures to improve health care coverage for the following school year. UTSU President Joshua Bowman explained that the executive team is working on restructuring the Student Aid program to “bridge the financial gap in coverage.”

The UTSU hopes to establish a referendum which would allow for students to re-appraise the cost of the plan and possibly charge students more in certain areas and less in others, depending on their needs. These changes would aim to both meet the individual needs of the student while accommodating for financial barriers.

Of course, the UTSU is only a student governing body, and as such, some changes are beyond its reach. The greatest barriers to equitable access to health care are Ford’s changes to OHIP and implementation of the SCI. The true arbiters of change are the members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Just as they were the ones who created these barriers, they are the ones who can break them down. And in light of the mental health crisis, these policies are only driving us further away from the help we need and straight into the arms of physical, emotional, and financial instability.

The Ford government must recognize the harm that is already stemming from these dangerous policies and do everything it can to mitigate this harm and reverse it. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time until Ford bursts our bubble.

Yana Sadeghi is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College.