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Jamie Ghossein (right), the BOG’s undergraduate student representative, consults with U of O president Jacques Frémont prior to Monday’s BOG meeting. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum
Jamie Ghossein (right), the BOG’s undergraduate student representative, consults with U of O president Jacques Frémont prior to Monday’s BOG meeting. Photo: Aaron Hemens/Fulcrum

A disconnect in communication exists between the university and students, board member says

Content warning: Mental health, suicide

Following an update on the University of Ottawa’s Mental Health and Wellness Action Plan during Monday’s Board of Governors (BOG) meeting, several board members highlighted the school’s inefficiency in creating awareness around mental health resources and services on campus.

The meeting followed the announcement of a student death on Friday, the fourth in eight months.

“I think there’s a lot more on campus that’s offered that students don’t know about,” said Jamie Ghossein, the BOG’s undergraduate student representative. “I think the biggest challenge right now is communicating that and keeping students informed.” 

To emphasize the disconnect in communication between the school and students, Ghossein said that a comment that he frequently hears from students is that they don’t see the university invest in mental health services — despite the fact that the Student Academic Success Service (SASS) received a budget increase in September.

“There are a lot more resources financially put into SASS that students don’t know about, including the extended hours, evenings, weekends, drop-in sessions,” he said. “This is a lot of increased resources that students have been wanting and that they have received, but they just don’t know about.”

Keeping students informed, he continued, “is really important.”

“That’s something that we need to improve,” he said.

Fellow board member Jennifer Quaid, an associate professor for the faculty of law, proposed that the school enlist faculty members to help spread the word about the different services and resources that are available on campus.

“There’s not going to be one silver magic bullet. We have to do it in different ways. But I can tell you, it’s exams and people are talking about this suicide,” said Quaid. “The anxiety level is there and we have to be able to point them (students) to services. They’re here.”

Creating more awareness of such campus services, she said, must be done through constant repetition.

“But you need partners. People like me, who teach first-years and have students in my office all the time, I need to have the six bullet points that I can quickly reference,” she said.

The recommendations and concerns were raised following a “Roadmap to Wellness at uOttawa” presentation that was facilitated by Michel Guilbeault, the associate vice-president of student services.

During the presentation, Guibeault detailed the different developments in mental health initiatives that were conducted by the Campus Action Group (CAG) this past year, a mental health action plan that he helps oversee.

“We’re really trying to create a culture of wellness on this campus,” said Guibeault.  “We want to support our students, but we also have to support our employees who are often those who are taking care of our students.”

While training professors, staff, faculty and students in promoting wellness is a priority, Guibeault said that promoting awareness for campus services and resources is at the top of his list.

“It’s been an ongoing chore, but there’s still a lot of work to do around awareness,” he said.

U of O president Jacques Frémont said that the action plan’s 2019 status report, which will be tabled at the next BOG meeting on Jan. 27, will show the full extent of the university’s commitment to improving mental health services and awareness.

“We don’t expect students to read the report, but it will be on the table. Maybe on that occasion, we can try and spread the message that there’s more than meets the eye,” said Frémont.

Ghossein argued that once the report is made public, it should be in a format that students can easily digest, rather than in the form of a 100-page report.