Despite the snow and cold temperatures on the morning of Thursday Mar. 8, a crowd of about 200, consisting of students, faculty, and other members of the University of Waterloo community gathered in the Arts Quad to rally for action towards remedying the dire mental health situation on campus.
Throughout the two-hour walkout, individuals cried out, “I want to talk,” and the crowd answered back, “we want to listen” in a call-and-response, making the purpose of the rally clear for everyone present.
“Addressing mental health issues on campus goes beyond the improvement of counselling services because students are facing a range of pressures in our community,” said Kai Butterfield, a student and one of the organizers of Waterloo Walkout for Mental Health. The event came to fruition as a response to the suicide of a fourth-year student that occurred on Monday, Mar. 5 in the Claudette Millar Hall residence.
“If this young man took his life at a residence in the heart of our community, what does that tell us about our community. The reality is that this young man is not here to respond, but that does not justify silence because all of us know the reality of this campus,” said Butterfield.
Many individuals stepped up to speak about their experiences, not only with counselling services, but to address a more extensive problem present within the community.
“We know that [the University of Waterloo] brand asks students to innovate at all costs because it tells them that their individual worth is bound up in their productivity,” Butterfield said. “It is bound up in their ability to get the best grades, the best co-op positions, to reach the unreachable deadline. It may not be said explicitly, but it is written in every unrealistic syllabus, every unrealistic deadline, and every harmful narrative that exists on this campus.”
Speakers expressed hope that the walkout would prompt the university to work more effectively in providing accessible counselling services and address the harmful narratives and practices on campus, but there is also recognition that all members of the community, from administration, to faculty, to students, who must work in tandem to enact change.
By staging the walkout, students, faculty, and members of the UWaterloo community remove their consent to insufficient mental health services and a harmful brand.
“We do not consent to practices and narratives that do not affirm life. We do not consent to this institution’s notion of productivity,” Butterfield said. “Because it is productive to be here in relationship. Supporting one another, discussing, and mourning the life of a 22-year-old young man, a fourth-year student, who was nearly finished. Who was made to believe that something that did or did not happen here would haunt him for the rest of his life. Because there is no education or degree that this university can offer us that was worth his loss or the loss of anyone. So let’s continue in conversation.”
Photos taken by Lea Clarin