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“This is really the last stage of what has been an immensely long project, starting from the early 2000s and beating so many obstacles along the way [such as] lack of institutional support [and] lack of faculty support. It was really a big student push that catalyzed this.”
After around a decade of advocacy and struggle, McGill finally approved the Indigenous Studies minor at a Senate meeting on February 19. The minor, which will start being offered in the 2014-15 academic year, will provide a chance for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to learn about history, culture, and worldviews, and develop a broader understanding of contemporary issues. Student groups have supported the minor this year, such as when the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) passed a motion regarding support for an Indigenous Studies program, but this is not the only support it has garnered.
Since the early 2000s, advocates have been pressing for the establishment of an Indigenous Studies minor, but were constantly faced with hurdles, such as lack of support from both the University and the Faculty. Since many other universities around Canada have comparable programs, some established as early as 1969, the creation of this minor is a long-overdue step at McGill. The University is complicit in colonialism, which is still ongoing: investment in resource exploitation plans in Northern Quebec is one example. Proponents see this minor as a first step toward a better relationship with Indigenous people, whose rights are still abused by the government and many institutions to this day.
“It’s not about doing more with less. It’s about finding things we don’t need to do anymore.”
2013-14 saw continued debate over the People, Processes & Partnerships initiative, the Arts faculty plan that would restructure Leacock and adjacent Arts buildings in order to consolidate administrative positions within the faculty. The discussion began in 2012-13 when the faculty unveiled plans to create administrative “hubs” within the Leacock building, though it has since backed down from its proposal to turn the third floor of Leacock into a reception area. This year has seen a continuation of question-and-answer periods and presentations to AUS Council, coming on the heels of last year’s complaints that the faculty had not done enough to elicit feedback from the Arts community.
Critics of the plan, including students, faculty, and non-academic staff, have cited failed examples at other universities. They have also expressed doubt over the feasibility of increased workload for administrative staff, if they were to become responsible for several departments instead of a single department. The administration continues to cite the context of austerity and the Quebec provincial government’s imposed hiring freeze on administrative positions as reasons for moving ahead with the plan. As of November 2013, the plan includes creating two administrative hubs in the Leacock building.
The proposed changes to the departmental structure and organization within the Leacock building are set against the backdrop of parallel changes made at the Ferrier building and 688 Sherbrooke. The Department of East Asian Studies was moved out of its rowhouse on McTavish last summer to 688 Sherbrooke, and the Department of Jewish Studies is expected to follow suit by moving into the Leacock building.
“A diagnosis can have a major impact on the way one lives, and yet here we have groups of people who can’t access resources if they don’t fit into the proper category.”
The past decade has seen a dramatic major increase in students seeking help at the McGill Mental Health Services (MMHS), following the larger trend of increased mental health issues among university students. Attempts have been made in recent years to improve services at MMHS, with the implementation of non-medicinal anxiety treatment, mindfulness groups, and an eating disorder treatment program. Yet, MMHS’ shortage of staff and expedited care require additional funding and structural reconfiguration in order to address the needs of students who may require long-term care.
Moreover, both Mental Health and Counselling Services, which receive funding from Student Services, have recently suffered a loss of almost $500,000 as a result of the university-wide budget cut. These cuts have put additional strain on an already struggling system. As a result of this, a $20 registration fee for Mental Health and Counselling services was implemented in September 2013. It was removed later in the month after being brought forward to the Fee Advisory Committee in September, since the fee was not approved in a student referendum. Officials from the Mental Health Counselling Services, however, noted that this would not have an impact on the quality of mental health services within McGill.
This February, a new mental health policy focused on creating a mental health network of student resources was adopted by the SSMU Legislative Council. The adopted policy includes a five-year plan, which aims to hire a SSMU mental health coordinator, improve student-accessible resources on mental health, and increase awareness and advocacy of mental health on campus.
—Diana Kwon and Alice Shen