Hailey, Humber College

"As a first-year student, a mental health advocate, and a person who lives with generalized anxiety disorder, I feel it is my duty to speak up as colleges across Ontario fail to prioritize student mental health during the ongoing faculty strike. As the strike enters week 5, many colleges are choosing to release potential calendar revisions for the remainder of the academic year. Humber, George Brown, and several other colleges are cancelling their winter reading week to make up for missed time. By doing so, colleges are telling us that our mental health is not a priority. Reading weeks exist to ensure we have time to prepare for exams and catch up on coursework. Student stress levels are at an all-time high; a survey by the Canadian Organization of University and College Health found that almost 90 percent of students said they felt overwhelmed by their workload, while more than 50 percent said they felt hopeless. These overwhelming feelings of stress and hopelessness are, or at least should be, the primary reason why reading weeks exist. Student mental health should never be collateral damage in the crossfire of faculty strikes. Our schools reassure us that they are committed to our success, but we cannot succeed academically if we are struggling with our mental health. By taking away reading week, schools are showing a complete disregard for the importance of student mental health, balance and well-being.

One student from Humber College shared,“I wake up everyday feeling anxious because I know I have so much work to do without the support of my professors. I suffer from panic attacks, and thinking about how much work is waiting for me when I return to class is exacerbating the issue. I feel like students are the last to know what’s going on; it feels like no one is thinking about what’s best for students.” We cannot stand by as colleges continue to put mental health on the backburner. With suicide being the leading cause of death among young people aged 15–24, now is the time to advocate for student mental health. Cancelling reading week is not acceptable; doing so will have significant negative effects on many students. It is time for a change in the way that we regard student mental health. Student unions across the country are now rallying support for the institution of fall reading weeks to support student mental health. Western University students had their first fall reading week implemented this year, and York University committed to adding a fall reading week to their 2018–2019 academic calendar. Demand is ever-increasing for support of student mental health, and cancelling reading weeks is taking a step in the wrong direction.

This is a call to my fellow students and mental health advocates, to parents of students, to MPPs, to educators who understand and empathize with student stress levels. Raise your voices about the issue of cancelled reading weeks and their effect on student mental health. If we make our concerns known, my hope is that we can reinstate cancelled reading weeks. Professors have had to condense course material to accommodate for school closures or holidays, and they can do it again for mental health. Contact your MPP’s, your school Deans and college presidents, get loud on social media, and help 500,000 students across Ontario get the mental health support that we are entitled to. We’ve also started a petition to ensure college leaders know where students stand on this issue.

Please sign it here: https://www.change.org/p/ontario-colleges-re-instate-winter-reading-week?recruiter=71586687&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition&utm_term=share_petition