As humans, we have an inherent ability to adapt and overcome when faced with adversity. In the last nine months, we’ve learned to wear a mask, keep our distance, and lather our hands with hand sanitizer. Our routines have changed, our work has changed, and the way we learn has dramatically changed.
Students and professors have not adapted to online learning. Yes, we’ve found new ways to connect with peers, new ways to try to retain information, new ways to access resources, and new ways to try to cope with stress. Yet, these small changes in our behaviour have not amounted to a smooth-sailing educational experience.
On November 17, The Toronto Star published an article called “The pandemic is taking a terrible toll on university students.” Although the headline holds true, the overarching message of the piece was that professors don’t care about students and that they “have to consider whose future is being affected right now: students.” However, it’s really the future of all generations that are at stake, and the future of all professions. The mental health repercussions, the disorganized nature of online delivery (in all fields and professions), the lack of clarity, and the fear of this novel coronavirus have shaken the entire population.
Yet, as a student, I feel the need to focus on my own people, and the challenges we’ve been facing. The truth is, there has been no mercy. By the institution, by society, and also by professors (although I know they are trying their best).
The University of Toronto has failed to financially support its students. Over the summer, students called and advocated for a reduction in tuition fees for both Canadian and international student that went ignored. I mean, what is the point of paying for the UTM Athletic facilities if I have no access to the services? I understand that there is a price to maintain those facilities, but should it be the burden of the students? And at the same price as usual operation?
The University of Toronto has also failed to provide even minimal mental health support to its students. Personally, I’ve experienced greater mental instability and stress during quarantine than before. I’ve pulled more all-nighters than in all my years alive combined. I’ve had more mental breakdowns than I can count, and I’ve spent numerous days in bed, with no motivation or hope for the day. I truly believe that my, as well as many students’, mental health has taken a serious hit amid the pandemic.
In 2018, a petition was started by a student calling for “better mental health services at the University of Toronto.” Since then, it has amassed almost 28,000 signatures, and yet nothing has changed. The petition was created following the loss of a fellow U of T student, who took their own life. However, U of T has since endured numerous, tragic losses of life, one just a two weeks ago, on November 2. In response, another petition was created calling for “Reform in U of T’s mental health services.” It has almost 5,000 signatures, and the petition outlines the university’s hefty budget and the dire need for mental health service reform. On Friday, November 20, the university also announced it would be extending the winter break by a week, saying it recognizes the stress students are under. While the extension is a nice gesture, I don’t think one more week will significantly improve the system that students face.
It hurts to see the University of Toronto emphasize the services they offer only following tragedy and loss of an innocent life. I am certain that the emotional turmoil faced by the late student is one that we’ve all come across in the past year. However, most of us have been lucky to find ways out of this dark place. And for those that haven’t, and need to, the University of Toronto fails to deliver and highlight how they can help.
One student death is one too many. The University of Toronto needs to do better and needs to be held accountable. The article from The Toronto Star states that students’ “grades this year don’t depend on how well we know the material, but how well we navigate each professors’ interpretation of online teaching.” There is some truth in that. With the access to the internet, professors have adapted their teaching methods, particularly their examination methods. These “creative” assessments are often trying and confusing. Professors are aiming to make it “fair” for everyone, but in reality, they are often disregarding the limits of our knowledge as only what we learn in class, and not “what isn’t Googleable.” So yes, how we navigate an online class does dictate our success.
I have yet to find the answers I’m looking for to correct the mistakes I’ve made. I can’t fix the mental health crisis that encompasses my student body. I am deeply hurt when I see others hurt. It makes me question if this is all worth it. We are victims, facing adversities that we don’t have the tools to handle. Professors are trying their best; students are trying their best. Yet, our best is sometimes not enough. It is the university’s responsibility to support students because academics is not confined to one aspect of a student’s life. Our mental health, access to financial support, and the recognition of the incredible amount of stress we are all under need to be a priority for the University of Toronto. The university needs to back its statements and promises with action. It can’t come soon enough.