Is there any sort of plan?

Regarding student affairs, Mt. A students are unsure

On February 9, 2024, at 10 a.m., student society Instagram accounts across the Mt. A community posted a press release from student leaders. The title read, “Mount Allison University Student Leaders Express Concerns to the Board of Regents: Leadership & Funding in the Department of Student Affairs.” Approximately 30 students signed a letter that detailed questions and concerns regarding a perceived decline in “essential supports and resources which are the responsibility of the Department, hindering the academic and personal growth of students.” As described by Isabella Gallant, fourth-year honours student in sociology, “Many of us work very closely with staff members who work under the department of student affairs, and we have had amazing experiences working with [them], but it has become very clear to all of us that they are all very overworked and understaffed. … As a result, we are seeing this decline in the quality of resources available to students and even just the presence of these resources in general.” 


Gallant—who organized the letter—had been chatting with other students about issues “directly related to student well-being,” when she had the idea to put together an email list to “come together and put together a document highlighting our concerns and raising some questions.” 


The 32-page letter is divided into five main categories: Mental Health & Wellness Supports, Supporting & Uplifting Racialized Students, Supporting & Uplifting our 2SLGBTQIA+ Community, Inaccessibility & Access to Resources on Campus, and Food Security & Social Supports on Campus. Each section included a personal letter from a student whose leadership role has showcased expertise in addressing the subject. 


The first category was spearheaded by Gallant, who is also the Co-Lead of the Mt. A chapter, a mental health and advocacy group on campus. Last year, she worked with the Mental Health and Harm Reduction Coordinator—whom she greatly admires—to develop the Garnet Guide, which launched in the fall. It is, according to Gallant, “a holistic guide about navigating mental health and wellness at Mt.t A, and a really comprehensive guide of all the resources that are available on campus and how to support your own mental health.” Gallant noted that many people underestimate how much work it takes to develop resources, and that staff do not have time for this work. She also noticed that many of the supports she detailed were inaccessible, or had long backlogs of waiting and decided to hold a mental health forum in October. After meeting with students and creating a report of key areas for improvement and recommendation, Gallant has heard nothing back and witnessed no change. “I have been working and working and working behind the scenes to try to make change, but I can not make change in a system that is so broken. I have officially just reached a point of burn out in trying to make change in this system,” Gallant explained.


The second category, regarding racialized students, includes a letter from the President of the Black Student Union (BSU), Beyonce Gibbons. Gallant mentions the recent vandalism of the Black Resource and Information Centre, and how Black students were not consulted immediately afterwards. In the letter, a quote from Gibbons reads: “[Mt. A] has not shown that they value the voices of racialized people and have continued to prove they will protect their reputation at the expense of harming the Black community.” The category includes concerns regarding high turnover of racialized staff, limited supports, limited engagement of Black students, safety and well-being concerns, and racism among staff.


The third section, on supports for 2SLGBTQIA+ students, was led by Isabella Matchett, a fourth-year honours student in sociology who is also President of the Sociology Society and former 2SLGBTQIA+ Community Engagement Leader. Matchett was employed by the Sexual Violence and Prevention Education Coordinator to develop positive space training modules for Mt. A, to provide “education and empowerment for our campus and community members to be caring allies and knowledgeable advocates for the 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals.” Matchett has seen no action on releasing these modules, describing that “to my last knowledge, the person who is in charge of looking over and executing and distributing these positive space training modules has not looked at it in over 200 days.” She also expressed instances in which students were in need of these resources, “especially in November, when there were national protests going around about Policy 713 and other queer and trans issues around the country.”


The fourth section focuses on inaccessibility concerns. It addresses physically inaccessible spaces, financially inaccessible services, and inadequate education of faculty on accommodations. The fifth and final is on food security and social supports, and the neglect of the food bank during the Winter 2024 semester. 


According to Gallant and Matchett, one problem is that staff are overworked and underfunded. Gallant observed that “many positions in the Wellness Centre […] are ad-hoc, supported by grant funding.” Matchett added that “If it is up to the staff to apply for the grant, that is also work. It takes time away from other resources.” The gaps in responsibilities due to stretched-thin staff resources lead to much of the responsibility, work, and stress to be passed down to student leaders. As Gallant described, “I have been approached daily by students telling me that they are really struggling [and] they do notknow where to go, they do not know who to go to…We are just not getting that feedback or attention from the higher ups and it just starts to feel like you are swimming around in an ocean and no one is paying attention to you.” 


These student leaders are also unsure of what the plan is for long-term sustainability of resources. Gallant said, “I do not see this as a proactive approach. I see this as a reactive approach…What is the plan here? Is there one? Or are we just treating student wellness as if it’s just something we’re going to just deal with as it comes up?” Matchett also worries about what will happen when student leaders graduate, asking, “Where are our resources going to be in a few years?” 


The student leaders have requested a formal address of each question raised, and will follow up in early March if no response is given by the university. In the meantime, students can continue to raise awareness by sharing the press release posted on many student group social media pages, or can add their emails to the sharing list by emailing Gallant at [email protected]

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