To Michel Laurier, outgoing vice-president academic and provost

During my two year term I have only successfully met with you twice, despite having agreed upon holding monthly meetings to discuss student issues, particularly those pertaining to academia and mental health. Therefore, I will gladly respond to your letter to the Fulcrum in order to deepen the public discourse on mental health services at the University of Ottawa.

When you say that the university community was saddened by this tragic incident, you did not mention that this is not the first time that a U of O student has taken their life. Although we appreciate seeing the university administration speak directly to students about mental health, we must also acknowledge that the current system is absolutely unacceptable. The U of O is not merely imperfect, it is unrealistic; I don’t know how much longer the wait times have to be or how many more lives have to be taken for our school to react. Everyone must understand that this issue runs deeper than a need for additional counselors. In fact, we truly need to re-evaluate every inch of this campus, and as a result, radically shift our priorities.

Michel, you have seen professors and deans abuse their power and take advantage of students by imposing ridiculous academic sanctions, refuse to accommodate physical or mental accessibility needs, and intentionally create hostile and oppressive classroom settings. Our campus is all about “survival of the fittest,” whereby the very definition of the word “fit” is steeped in ableism and elitism. Students are forced to succumb to an educational system that teaches us nothing except how to regurgitate information for an exam. We are taught to suppress our feelings and stifle our cries for help. We are taught to push through everything—even when it becomes dangerous to our own well-being and health.

We live in a society where students are expected to maintain stellar grades, work full or part time, and suppress their feelings of anxiety and burnout. I think that no student should have to choose between buying textbooks and putting food on the table. However, the reality is that many students are starving and suffering with little to no support. This compounds their struggles navigating through our overburdened mental health system. Moreover, both our course content and our counselling methods do not reflect the diversity of our student body. Where are the Indigenous elders? Where are the culturally appropriate and faith-based programs? Where are all of the racialized counselors and tenure-track professors? I surely can’t answer these questions, because the U of O simply does not provide these services to students.

There are systemic issues regarding post-secondary education. Until you acknowledge all the ways in which academia intersects with our identities, our lived experiences, our health, and our socioeconomic status, then there is no way you can be “fully committed to ensuring the well-being of our students.”

I am a student who got help before it was too late.

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) is committed to advocating for better mental health services. Students deserve better, and I will always make myself available for conversations about this issue.

Vanessa Dorimain, outgoing SFUO vice-president of university affairs.