Campus Council held its second meeting of the academic year on November 20, where they discussed the ongoing mental health crisis at U of T and campus policies.

The meeting began with an announcement by the Campus Council chair, professor Mohan Matthen, regarding the upcoming elections for the Campus Council. The nominations for the elected positions will open on January 7 and continue until January 17.

Acting vice-president and principal, professor Ian Orchard stated that the presidential and provostial task force on Student Mental Health is continuing its consultations and have been having good discussions.

“There’s been some additional community attention to our responses to suicide-related cases that involve students,” said Orchard. “This is part of an appropriately greater level of attention to mental health as a tremendously important concern that cuts across society, but with the recognition that most of our students are in an age group that is especially vulnerable.”

Orchard invited dean of Student Affairs Mark Overton to provide information regarding campus mental health services.

Mark Overton began his speech by assuring the council that the medical professionals at UTM are equipped to assist individuals who are experiencing both physical and mental health crises.

“Hospitalizations related to suicide are relatively rare, and of those most are voluntary hospitalizations, so [they] require no security measures for police involvement. Campus Police become involved when an individual shows warning signs of acute risk of suicide indicating the heightened risk of harm,” said Overton.

“In these most challenging cases where these warning signs adhere, our campus has a greater responsibility to keep individuals safe and we need to absolutely be certain that they reach the hospital for the more in-depth and specialized emergency medical attention that they need,” continued Overton.

Overton went on to state that the practices and policies of the UTM Campus Police were aligned with those of the Scarborough and St. George Campuses, as well as the Peel Regional Police and Toronto Police Services.

However, the university “has indicated that it will undertake a review of police procedures on all three campuses,” and that the Mental Health Task Force is anticipated to release its report in the upcoming month.

“Our Health and Counseling Centre colleagues, our Campus Police partners, and others serving students keep one goal most in mind when making decisions on these cases and that is quite simply to keep our students safe,” said Overton, concluding his speech.

Council Chair Matthen announced that, although it wasn’t formally a part of the agenda, they had received a speaking request from the president of the UTMSU, Atif Abdullah.

While Mark Overton did not comment on specific cases that have occurred at UTM for student privacy reasons, Abdullah did discuss the recent incidents in his speech.

“There is a mental health crisis at the University of Toronto regardless of what campus we talk about today,” said Abdullah.

“On October 2, on our campus, a deeply disheartening and disappointing experience happened. A student seeking mental health support from our Health and Counseling Centre went in for help but left with handcuffs,” said Abdullah.

“It is important to note that this was not a one-off incident,” continued Abdullah. “Since that day till today, we have had students come to our office to say, ‘me too.’”

“While U of T’s policies say it is best practice to handcuff students seeking support, it sends the message that it is not okay to ask for help and that seeking support somehow means punishment,” continued Abdullah. “Though we want to continue to encourage students to access the supports, and believe me we will, we cannot in good faith do so without addressing the unsafe positions that they are put in when they’re seeking help.”

Abdullah concluded his speech by going over the Mental Health Report released by the UTMSU on November 19 and stating that the UTMSU is looking forward to working with the university administration.

Vice-Provost, Students, Sandy Welsh responded to a question by community member Ziyaad Vahed regarding the policies on how mental health is addressed and policing on campus.

“The healthcare professionals are guided by their training and their responsibilities as particular healthcare professionals and we trust that judgment in terms of the physical and mental healthcare that they provide,” said Welsh.

“We will have tri-campus discussions that take into account campus differences, especially when campuses are located in different cities,” continued Welsh, “and this can refer to policing practices that can refer to our relationships with community healthcare providers, hospitals, amongst others.”

Campus Council Chair Matthen made some concluding statements before moving on to the next agenda item.

“We’re all deeply moved by the situation,” said Matthen. “Mr. Abdullah has referred to it as a crisis which suggests, and I think correctly, that it’s not something which is ongoing for a long time, but something that has taken on considerable urgency in the last few months or in the last year and I get the sense that there’s a great deal going on to address it.”

The next Campus Council meeting will be held on January 29, 2020.

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