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Letter to the Editor: U of C needs to make student needs a priority

There are crises on this campus that the University of Calgary’s negligence has exacerbated, yet everyday students have no oversight of administration and are prevented at every turn from asking questions of the highest governing body of the university.

The ability of everyday, grassroots-organized students to participate directly in university decision-making would prevent what is now a U of C tradition — lip service to urgent student issues.

Student issues should be tackled in a holistic manner because when they are, the root of the problem is often exposed.

Since we launched our Mental Health campaign, we’ve realized through our research and discussions on campus that this is the only approach to take.

If the University of Calgary wants to prevent the rising rate of suicidal ideation on campus, it will have to open its wallet, which is filled by students and our tax dollars, and help stymie this crisis with an increase in direct services of the kind we describe in our Mental Health Campaign petition. Stigma reduction can no longer be the end of the conversation, especially considering that in three years the amount of students that would consider seeking help from a mental health professional in the future increased by six per cent to a total of 80 per cent.

Given that “the generally appropriate metric is one counsellor per 1,000 students,” and our campus of about 32,000 students has only about six counsellors (that’s about one counsellor per 600 suicidal students using 2016 NCHA data), then U of C morally cannot be complacent about the provincial government’s claimed willingness to maintain current levels of mental health funding. It is not enough.

And let’s remember the holistic perspective.  There is a myriad of institutional factors that affect one’s mental health.  At a time when the SU Campus Food Bank is suffering a severe shortage due to an increase in demand of “more than 20 per cent, especially among international students,” the U of C is now free to increase tuition seven per cent per year with the newly released Alberta budget. At a time when 52 per cent of Calgarians struggle to afford basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing, U of C is planning on increasing the price of residence fees and meal plans.

Will these increases hurt student mental health?  Do current costs hurt student mental health? We say that struggling to afford basic necessities, accruing huge amounts of debt, suffering from food insecurity, all while attempting to juggle going to university does hurt mental health.  

Surely if the U of C prioritizes mental health and well-being, they would have done everything in their power to warn students of their plans to increase fees. This does not look like proper consultation. They held one town hall (before their suddenly-cancelled public Board of Governors meeting) on late notice, in the morning, during midterm season.  

And surely if the U of C Board were so concerned with and recognized the mental health crisis on campus, they would have allocated extra funds to mental health services within the last five years — when austerity wasn’t about to blow a hole through their budget — when university funding increased.  

But of course, the mostly unelected, highly-paid administration and board doesn’t represent the average student or worker, nor does a government that aims to gut public funding during a recession. The question is what will those who are elected by average students do about this.

Because we know we’ll be organizing.

—Students for Direct Action

Letters to the Editor published in the Gauntlet‘s opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board. The Gauntlet retains the right to edit submissions for brevity and clarity.

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