Reflections on Mental Health Week

Mental heath is a persistent issue at the University of Toronto.  This past week, as part of U of T’s Mental Wellness Month, ASSU hosted a Mental Health Week. Cupcakes, laughter yoga and free coffee – all of that good stuff. While our week consisted of de-stressing events, it’s important to remember that mental health is a systemic issue – not an individual one that will be corrected by telling students to take more breaks, or to relax more. When students have four midterms in a week, taking time out to attend a meditation session is not necessarily feasible.  Before our week began, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities announced $12 million dollars for mental health initiatives and services for universities.  This is a good start, however – it’s time we stop approaching mental health through service implementation perspective and look more broadly at what exacerbates these issues in the first place.

U of T is chronically underfunded and as provincial funding continues to drop, tuition fees continue to go up.  The yearly enrolment goes up, students are placed in larger class sizes and have less resources available to them. The educational experience becomes impersonal and out of touch for some and extra pressures are placed on the shoulders of students. Financial pressures, academic pressures as well as anxiety over one’s future all serve as stressors that can worsen an individual’s mental health.

ASSU Executive, Ariel Charney is involved in a group, Unite U of T – which seeks to address mental health concerns on this campus through the medium of creative expression. Students were invited to write their concerns and “how U of T made them feel” on a piece of paper and post it on a board. The results were telling, students overwhelmingly felt depressed, out of place, stressed, etc.  Since then, many creative solutions have come up to solve these problems and I encourage you to check them out here. But what is clear is that for things to change at the university, for pedagogical practices to advance , for us to get a truly high quality of education – our university must be adequately funded.  While providing funding for mental health initiatives is good, the Government of Ontario should know that they are merely treating the symptoms of a larger problem of chronic underfunding – a problem that the government has created and can easily rectify.

Welcome to the first post on the blog!

So, this is the new ASSU Executive Blog.  And this is where executives will publish blog posts, from everything having to do with policy positions, education and campus life.  My name is Abdullah and I am the spirtiualleader President of the Arts and Science Students’ Union.  We represent 23,000 students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. This blog will serve as a way for you to get to know your executives better and for us to communicate more effectively with y’all.


At U of T, it can feel easy to feel out of place and lost within the crowd.  You may love what you’re studying but feel like you aren’t getting the best in Row 300 of Con Hall, you may find it ridiculous that you have to pay $3 for a banana and you might feel like the school can be a bit hard to navigate bureaucratically.  Have no fear – your student union is here.  We are your academic union and we’re here to address any concerns you may have about your educational experience, both within the Faculty and within the university at large.  Keep up with us on twitter at @assu_uoft, on Facebook and on instagram!

More posts to come! Follow me on twitter at @assupres.


ASSU Executive Statement: Missing Students in Mexico

The ASSU Executive expresses grave concern over the situation of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College in the Mexican city of Iguala, who have been reported missing after attending a protest against proposed changes to the education system. Students, across the world, have the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest. It is the actions of students like these, that have defended accessible, affordable post secondary education throughout history and across the globe. We stand in solidarity with the students and teachers of Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College, and our thoughts are with the families of those missing. We join Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International among others, in demanding that the students be safely returned to their homes.


ASSU Executive Statement on MRA Poster

Earlier this week, it was brought to the attention of the executive of the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) that a large banner associated with the group Canadian Association for Equality was prominently hung in the Sidney Smith Hall lobby. ASSU does not control what goes up in the lobby nor who uses the space as it falls under the jurisdiction of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

This banner is currently allowed to be displayed because CAFE operates on the U of T campus under the guise of a student group called “Men’s Issues Awareness at University of Toronto”. While the names of these groups may seem to imply that their goals include equality and engaging in public discourse, this is not the case. CAFE has in the past invited speakers who have denied the impact of rape culture, over-exaggerated the rate of false-allegations made by female victims of sexual assault, engaged in transphobic and misogynistic rhetoric and questioned the very existence of the patriarchy. Broadly, the Men’s Rights movement claims that feminism has gone beyond improving the position of women in society, suggesting that feminists are part of a system which actively oppresses men. It has become clear that these groups use talks about legitimate issues facing male-identified members of our society as a means of legitimizing their sexist ideology.

CAFE and its affiliate on campus have been linked to a Texas based website called “A Voice for Men” (AVfM) that has actively targeted and harassed female members of the University of Toronto community, posting photos of them online along with threatening and derogatory comments. The well respected Southern Poverty Law Center has called out AVfM for misogyny and threats, overt and implicit, of violence. When these groups are allowed to circulate their hateful materials on our campus, our peers are exposed to triggering and violent rhetoric.

In recognizing students’ diversity of lived experience, ASSU is committed to supporting our members in addressing the systemic oppression they face –including sexism. While universities play an important role as sites of societal critique and free speech, we must strive to ensure that they are safe(r) spaces for all members of the university community. Issues facing men and boys, and critiques of feminist theory and feminist praxis are important topics that should be debated openly, but this discourse must not be allowed to devolve into hateful and threatening rhetoric.

We must not forget that the horrible massacre at École Polytechnique de Montreal a mere twenty-five years ago was perpetrated by an individual espousing an anti-feminist logic. We cannot forget that women are harassed, sexually assaulted and raped on our campuses. We cannot ignore this group’s complicity in the victimization of women here – on our campus.

The University of Toronto is our home. The ASSU executive calls on the administration to reconsider the policies which allow groups to circulate such material, with the aim of ensuring that all community members feel safe.

– The ASSU Executive