This letter is for the professors of my classes at the University of Ottawa,
My name is Nelson Mahmoudi (300051746) and I am a Joint Honours Political Science and History Student (FI – African Studies Option) student currently enrolled in one of your various classes.
First and foremost, I would like to thank you for the semester thus far. I could not imagine the difficulties that came with transforming an entire in-person course into an online format. That being said, this does not mean that this semester is flawless for us students, and it is for this reason which I am contacting you today.
I am concerned
It is no secret that the University of Ottawa has struggled with its student relations in recent years. From the bruised and broken relationship with the former SFUO to, and rather, more importantly, the tragic string of five student suicides in ten months which shook the student body to its core, the U of O and its 43,000-odd students have had a tense relationship recently.
Much of this tension, particularly in response to the latter example, stems from the University’s lackluster (in the eyes of the student body) response and addressing of student mental health concerns, especially in the way which the University addressed each student’s suicide with (in my opinion) a tasteless, unhelpful, and frankly, disgraceful email sent to the community. In February of this year, President Frémont acknowledged the presence of a ‘mental health crisis’ on campus and, while unbeknownst to him at the time, the present pandemic made matters worse for many students – including myself and many of my peers.
What I am about to tell you is not only my lived experience, but rather it includes the voices of many of my peers from a variety of faculties and programs. My concerns stem from this mental health crisis which has been exacerbated by the uncertainty of a pandemic; I worry about the mentalities professors have adopted in wake of all classes being shifted online.
From the general demeanor to the amount of work assigned for this semester, it seems that professors have adopted a view that, seeing as all our classes are online and that we are living in a COVID world, absolves all of us from any other duties and we can use all 24 hours in a day preparing and studying for our classes. Obviously, this is not the case; many of us work front-line jobs, are struggling to make ends meet, have other classes, live at home with our families, are raising families, or even any combination of all of these – with so many more variables at play.
I am worried about the tunnel vision not just of my professors but many professors at this university that their view only encompasses their course and that no regard is given for other courses their students might be taking. And while I understand that University was never going to be a walk in the park, it was also not supposed to lead to the deaths of five students and be so taxing on your student population that they have to decide whether they will eat or sleep or finish a reading on time. The amount of people I know who have had to make that taxing of a decision is absurd and post-secondary institutions at large should be ashamed of the position they have put students in.
So seeing as I do not have a single week between now and the end of the semester in which I do not have a minimum of five (5) marked assignments, I am worried about myself and my mental health as I try to maintain this regiment while also working a part-time job and maintaining some semblance of a social life and living at home with my parents – all of these are again issues not only issues faced by myself but many in our university community.
I am fortunate enough to say that I have not contemplated suicide nor do I suffer from any major form of mental illness – that is problematic that I have to state this seeing as all mental health is important – however I do not speak for all 43,000 University of Ottawa students, and I worry that this semester may be a tipping point for some due to the sheer levels of stress placed on each and every one of us.
What I am asking for today is for you all to come to a realization. Should we not all be cooped up inside our homes and living in a pandemic world, (as my past years have shown) we would not be facing the same workload which professors have unloaded on to us. I don’t have a universal solution as each of you are conducting your courses in your own ways (some drastically different from others), but as I am a student in each of your classes, I know that there is the ability to make some changes to better accommodate students and to lessen the burden on each one of us as we live through a time period which none of could have predicted nine months ago.
Nelson Mahmoudi is a third-year Political Science and History major originally from Keswick, ON. As an active member of the university community, Mahmoudi recognizes the challenges many face in their day to day at the University and within the post-secondary education system as a whole, particularly when it comes to student well being. He currently lives east of the U of O campus with his parents and his dog, Heidi.