University of Toronto Students Hold Protest After Third Reported Suicide

Students say a new mental health initiative has led to a “toxic campus environment.”

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Mar 19 2019, 4:58pm

All images by Alex Forgay. 

Students at the University of Toronto held a silent protest on Monday to demand better mental health services and to call out the school’s inaction after reports of a third suicide on campus.

Paramedics responded to a call the night before after a student was found dead on the first floor of the Bahen Centre of Information and Technology at U of T’s downtown campus.

The university released a statement on Monday morning via Twitter to inform students that the incident was deemed non-suspicious.

“This is the third suicide on campus this year, and the second to occur in this building,” Joshua Grodin, a student representative from the University of Toronto Students’ Union, told VICE.

In June 2018, paramedics were called to the Bahen Centre when a student died after jumping from the eighth floor into the main foyer.

Grodin says he went to speak with the vice-provost of students shortly after this incident occurred.

“I mentioned the idea of installing safety nets in the building because we had a similar incident happened earlier this year,” Grodin said. “They told me they would look into solutions.”

The news of yet another suicide on campus has sparked outrage among many students, but hasn’t garnered much attention elsewhere. Students say this is because the university goes to great lengths to keep the incidents separated and quiet.

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The university did not respond to a request for comment from VICE by the time of publication.

Gemima Pickles, a second-year student, said that she was left in the dark after someone in her dorm was found dead in January of this year.

“The dean’s office never specifically mentioned a death or suicide in any emails. I had no idea what was going on, but there was definitely this feeling that something was not right,” Pickles said.

“One of my close friends lived a few doors down from the person who died and she overheard emergency personnel talking. That’s when when we discovered it was a suicide.”

In the wake of these tragedies, students are renewing calls for comprehensive mental health services.

Sheila Rasouli, a third-year neuroscience student, says she has written a letter to senior administrators calling for 21 changes to the current mental health system at the university, including: more health and wellness staff, shorter wait times and increased hours during exam periods.

Back in June 2018, the university’s governing council passed a policy that allows the school to place students on a nonpunitive, but mandatory, leave of absence from classes if their mental health poses a risk to themselves or others, or if it negatively impacts their studies.

Students protested the policy saying it would prevent others from coming forward about their struggles with mental health. Now they are calling out the “gross negligence that has led to a toxic campus environment.”

“By treating each death as an isolated incident, instead of part of a wider pattern, the university relinquishes themselves from making any substantial changes. The reality is, three young people died in less than a year. This isn’t isolated,” says Alex Forgay, a second-year student at the University of Toronto.

“There are obviously deeper issues about the flawed culture of this institution that need to be addressed, but in the meantime the school needs to give mental health services the funding they need to keep students safe.”

A 2017 survey of 20 universities in Ontario conducted by the Toronto Star found that very few track the number of student suicides. Public health advocates across Canada have been pushing for better data collection around suicides to better inform prevention methods.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Kids Help Phone

Live Chat

Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Canada Suicide Prevention Service
1-833-456-4566

University of Toronto Health & Wellness 416-978-8030 or in-person at Koffler Student Services

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