After 21 days, the strike by the University of Manitoba Faculty Association (UMFA) has concluded.
The UMFA bargaining team accepted an offer presented on Nov. 20 and took it to the membership for ratification on Nov. 21, who approved the one-year collective agreement – marking the end of the longest UMFA strike since 1995.
Even though the strike is over, students are concerned about the long-term impact it may have on campus. Lasting for three weeks, the strike was far longer than anyone thought it would be.
As a second-year student and mental health advocate, who also serves on the National Youth Council for the Kids Help Phone organization, I’ve noticed the mental health of many students has suffered.
Students who were away from home for the first time lost the guidance of their professors, and a few were confined to their rooms on campus since they felt lost and afraid.
As someone who lives with mental illness, I know the effect a strike of this duration can have on students and their mental well being.
The collective agreement is for one-year. So, the question is if we will be in this same situation a year from now. It would be difficult for the same students who suffered this year to go through another strike.
Aly Raposo is in her fourth year of the women and gender studies program at the university. All four of her classes were canceled during the faculty strike, and she said the loss of structure and class relationships had sent her into a “complete depression spiral.”
Raposo said, “Without having that structure and that feeling of home and feeling of equality [at school], it’s really hard for somebody with mental illness.”
The damage caused by the faculty strike cannot be reversed, as some students have voluntarily withdrawn from courses affected by the strike over fear they may not be able to complete them – and others were worried that content would become condensed to make up for the shortened semester.
Students hoping to obtain a summer job out of the city or province may no longer be eligible, as training or orientation is often held in late April – precisely when final exams for the winter term will occur.
The possible loss of a lucrative summer job, which in some cases leads to a full-time career post-graduation, can create stress and anger in students towards the university, which shifts focus away from their course work.
First-year students were among those affected the most by the strike, as this is their first year in university and for some, first time away from home. Many were not familiar with the governing bodies on campus, or where to find accurate, unbiased coverage of the labour disruption.
The labour dispute resulted in professional and personal relationships being damaged as the campus was divided by the strike. Student associations at the university remained neutral or publicly endorsed the faculty association, while others chose not to release a statement.
Students-at-large were vocal of their support for the faculty association, with many playing an active role in the coordination of on- and off-campus rallies along with events at the picket lines. However, those who did not support a specific side or remained neutral were not welcomed with open arms.
My observation was that individuals who supported a particular side – or supported neither side – intimidated individuals online and offline, simply because they didn’t share their opinion. It was either choose a side or be bullied – and if you chose the wrong side, you’d still be bullied.
Students essentially got stripped of their rights to freely express themselves without persecution, as they were repeatedly told they were wrong and they had to support a certain side.
The National College Health Assessment survey report released this past September by the American College Health Association and the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services, revealed the following statistics regarding mental health on campus:
- 33,566 students said they’d seek support from a mental health professional.
- 15,992 students reported seeing a counselor, therapist or psychologist.
- 14,218 and 3,128 students reported having moderate or languishing mental health, respectively.
- 8,823 post-secondary students reported being diagnosed with depression.
- 5,128 students said they received support from a psychiatrist.
- 8,806 students said they received support from another medical provider.
- 1,999 students said they received support from a minister, priest, rabbi or another clergy.
Awareness campaigns are great because they’re able to help remove the stigma associated with mental illness, but at the end of the day, conversations need to lead to funds being raised to provide for services and preventative measures. As this divisive and emotionally draining strike concludes, now would be an appropriate time to make sure we are addressing mental health issues on campus.
We’re nearing the end of 2016. We don’t need more anti-stigma campaigns, we need more funding.