Gathering Student Voices on Mental Health

Kate Welsh, Design Research Team Lead, Mental Health Task Force

The cornerstone of our approach at the Innovation Hub is “students talking to other students.” We believe that peers relate to each other more openly and advocate for each other more strongly and that peer-based support both provides comfort and leads to change. This belief invigorates all our projects, including our upcoming partnership with the Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, in which we are leading student consultations to gather perspectives about mental health on campus. While I, as a staff member, am coordinating this project, students are co-leading the initiative with me.

Together, we will conduct two phases of dialogue-based feedback events where we approach other students as peers to discuss their experiences of mental health on campus and the supports they did or did not receive. At the end of the project, we will provide a report to the Task Force to include among their final recommendations.

This peer-based approach reflects my personal experience, and I am thrilled to be leading this initiative. I am a recent UofT graduate, and both throughout and after my studies, I worked as a community organizer. I led the Women and Trans Centre at Glendon College, ran peer-based mental health programs at nonprofit organizations, and worked as a counsellor and support group facilitator at a women’s shelter. Through these experiences, I saw the enormous strength of peer-based support, and the more I learn about the research on peer-based programming, the more I believe that it is the best way to create change and develop better cultures.

Part of peer support is listening honestly. I help produce the Reframing Difference podcast, and I am continually struck by hearing the stories of students with disabilities at UofT. It reminds me that listening to stories is both a form of research and a way to ignite change. At an institution as big as UofT, we can all get lost; sharing stories brings us back together.

Listening to stories that touch upon mental health is not new for the Innovation Hub, though it is our first time doing so explicitly. We have collected students’ narratives on many subjects—you can see our prior work here—and the theme of mental health pervades them all. Recognizing that mental health underlays all aspects of student life, we decided to formally analyze our prior data under that lens. In June, we produced a report to support community conversations about mental health, discussing the student challenges that we saw. We described students who constantly judge themselves against a narrow standard of excellence, who feel like they are alone, and who are unsure where to turn.

We are following up on the report this fall by partnering with the Task Force on our student consultation process. Our process begins with a round of student feedback events on the three campuses, to which we invite all UofT students. The details for the first round are listed below; more events will be forthcoming, and you can find updates on the Task Force site or our blog.

We hope that our findings will reflect a diverse student population. To that end, I encourage all students to join us at the following events and share your experiences. Each event will be facilitated by fellow students who have direct connections to mental health on campus. The activities are intended to be inclusive of identity, of needs, and of personality: there will be opportunities for different kinds of learners and for students with differing levels of introversion and extroversion to participate comfortably. I know September is a busy time on campus, but I hope you will make time to share your thoughts with us.

If you want to provide feedback anonymously, you can show up at any time during the events to fill in our written feedback cards. You can also contribute online through the Online Consultation—Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health.

I look forward to the privilege of hearing your stories over the next four months. Some of these stories may be difficult, yet I am hopeful that this collaboration between the Innovation Hub and the Task Force on Mental Health will lead to real changes. I take this project seriously, and I know the entire team is committed to listening honestly. It is a huge undertaking to get inclusive feedback from such a large and diverse student body, and we do not take that lightly. I hope to meet lots of you at the following events across all three campuses.

With Respect,
Kate

Event Details

Registration is recommended but not required! Please drop in if you have time to share your thoughts.

UTSC

Wednesday 18 September, 3:30 to 5:00 p.m.
Highland Hall, BV 264
Register here

UTM

Thursday 19 September, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
Spigel Hall, Davis Building, DV 1102
Register here

UTSG

Tuesday 24 September, 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.
Sidney Smith Hall, SS 1087
Register here

Wednesday 25 September, 12:00 to 1:30 p.m.
Woodsworth College, WW 126
Register here

Friday 27 September, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.
Bahen Centre, BA 2175
Register here

Saturday 28 September, 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
OISE, OI 5250
Register here

We are committed to protecting the privacy of participants and fostering an inclusive environment. If you have any concerns about anonymity or accessibility, please contact us.

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