By Devinya Nakandala, November 8 2023—
A Student Legislative Council (SLC) meeting took place on Oct.17. It was focused on the consultation meeting between the University of Calgary Student Wellness, Access and Support (SWAS) consultation committee and the SLC regarding the improvement of services offered by the university’s mental health and wellness services to support students in a post-pandemic environment.
This committee is focused on listening to student needs and expectations and aligning their resources with the priorities of students while improving the model that currently exists.
“We’re looking to engage in health support, primary health, mental health support in different ways. And we’re acknowledging that post-pandemic, maybe we need to revisit how we support our students moving forward with their health and wellness. And so this review is an opportunity to hear from students. Your voices, your needs and expectations,” said Verity Turpin, the vice-provost Student Experience at the university.
The lack of coordinated care and the inconsistency in providing health and wellness services at the university was the main concern that was brought up. They discussed how this inconsistency leads to re-traumatization of the student, as well as receiving the wrong type of treatment. The inconsistency regarding the paperwork in such services puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the student to remember all the specifics of their diagnosis which were given to them by many individuals.
“I felt like coordinated care was kind of lacking in both mental and the medical sides. I understand that everyone has a purview and a scope, but having to retell my story over six times now can be traumatic,” said Faculty Representative Nursing, Kristi-Anne Wingert.
Not having sufficient counsellors and therapists from diverse ethnic backgrounds and immigrant backgrounds was another important concern of students. Having a therapist from the same ethnic background helps students form a stronger connection and leads to receiving more than adequate care.
“I met with one of the Caucasian counsellors, and I think I got adequate care, but it almost felt like it wouldn’t go past a certain level of care, because I felt the inability to connect with my counsellor, and I’ve actually switched to seeing another counsellor, because I know he is of a different background,” said Vice-President External, Mateusz Salmassi.
The Faculty of Arts representative Ruvimbo Mutyanada noted that black students at the university wish for therapists and counsellors who are black and that they were unable to find black therapists or counsellors on the student wellness services website.
“I guess another concern that I have heard from, especially black students, is that they do wish for the diversity of either a therapist or a counsellor that they would like to see. From a personal experience, it might be easier to open up to somebody who’s from the same background as you. And we did take a look at the website for student wellness services, and we tried to look for black therapists and we were not able to see any.”
Having to go through the accessibility process at the university was identified to be very flawed and daunting. Students have to continuously prove that their disability meets all the standards to obtain their accessibility needs and that they are disabled enough to access accessibility services such as parking passes offered by the university.
“I tried to access a parking pass for this year, and I was told that I missed the deadline, I explained that part of my problem is fatigue and coordination. I started having hemiplegic migraines and losing function on one side of my body, and I was met with being told that unless I can qualify by not being able to walk 50 meters I can’t get any sort of parking pass,” said Faculty Representative Social Work, Jeessica Klaassen.
Students also fear that they will fall behind and not reach their academic goals in time by meeting with the counsellors at the wellness center due to being told that they should drop some courses to reduce their course load instead of offering guidance on how to cope with an academic course load and offering the needed accommodations.
“When I first went through the accessibility program I was told by the advisor that I should reconsider my course load, and drop courses because I’m probably not gonna make it through. I’m now in my fourth year and I’m doing my practicum,” said Klaassen.
This week’s SLC ended with the post-report of the Board of Governors meeting held on Oct.13. given by the Student-at-Large representative Taimur Aktar. It was noted that the Alberta government has given an incentive of 58.5 million dollars to expand the veterinary medicine discipline. However, it is 10 million dollars short due to inflationary impacts. This project is set to start construction this year and it is scheduled to run for 18 months until 2025.
“Obviously, it’s never a good idea to have 10 million dollars up in the air and in question. As far as the timeline goes, we are pretty well covered until the end of 2025,” said Aktar.
The university also has a target of 25,000 students participating in community projects. Questions still remain on how they are going to measure that amount, but it was ensured that they will help students engage with the community with creative learning programs and provide partnerships with the community.
Part of the university’s strategic plan is to lead in research impact. The University of Calgary has received a significant amount of fund grants such as a 20.3 million grant for innovations and research in medical devices, healthcare and space research.
The university also has an increase in the amount of student retention especially in Indigenous students. Due to COVID-19, the retention of students at university declined in the years 2020 and 2021 but things are starting to pick up now. There is also special enrollment support for enrollment in countries that are affected by political conflict. The application deadlines in these countries are pushed back and required support is given to students in these regions.
“Special support has already been provided for enrollment throughout Ukraine and Afghanistan, where they work with these students, they work on the deadlines. These deadlines are pushed back on a need basis, and those supports are provided to countries in need,” said Aktar.
For agendas, minutes and upcoming meetings visit the SU website.