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Ontario College Students Back - What About Their Mental Health?

Updated on November 20, 2017
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

No One Wins


An Untenable Situation For Students

It's hard to imagine college faculty walking away from their jobs for nearly six weeks, fighting for improved working conditions while their students pray and hope for a quick resolution so they can move on with their lives, but that's exactly the state thousands of Ontario college students have found themselves in since mid-October.

The not-so-funny thing is about educators talking about strike action is students are generally at the forefront of the discussion. You won't see educators going on strike during the summer, usually; part of the power of going on strike is that people will notice and who notices when teachers attempt to strike during the summer months? No one; there's no students, at least at the elementary and secondary levels, so where's the message being sent? So, strike action, when it occurs, naturally will occur at some point during the 197 or so days of the school calendar year, and as a natural consequence of that, students get caught in the middle.

Based on what's occurred in Ontario over the last five and a half or six weeks, it seems to be pretty much the same philosophy at the post-secondary level. While colleges run over the course of the summer months, there are fewer students impacted, and unfortunately, strike action is a very public event. It has to be so that the voices involved in said action are loud and can be heard. Again, students are caught in the middle. No one wants that to happen, as people presumably got into the business of education to teach young minds, but when educators talk strike, invariably as a consequence of that, students are at one point or another going to become casualties. People try and minimize the damage done, but the stress level felt by students in particular is palpable.

That stress level is about to probably get worse.

"We Don't Know What's Going To Happen"


Saving The Semester, But At What Cost?

I'm certain students are thrilled that the strike is finally over and that they are no longer in what feels like limbo. There's few things that are worse than feeling as though your life is on hold while the rest of the world makes decisions that are well beyond your control. Students who have just graduated high school and students that are looking at a second or a third career have been waiting for something - anything - to happen to bring an end to this strike, and now that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has finally stepped in and legislated the faculties at the various colleges back to work, students can actually look forward to getting their educational lives back.

Hold on, though. Isn't it mid-November, with exams to end the first semester looming in December, just prior to Christmas?

Certainly, each college has its own contingency plan to get students back on track, but in many ways, the solution is far from ideal. Some, such as St. Clair's College, are shortening their Christmas break, while Georgian College appears to be keeping their Christmas break at full length and potentially shortening their winter Reading Week.

There are students who are gripped with higher anxiety, thanks to the financial burden of the strike and not knowing when they'll finally be able to return to class. Not every college student is part of the local community; there are those students who were admitted from out of area and because of the uncertainty around the strike, weren't able to return home and wait things out while leaning on their families for support. Now that classes are back as of Tuesday, students are wondering just how badly they're going to have to scramble - and whether the integrity of the courses they're taking is even valid with so little time left in the semester.

Students are having to make up six weeks of lost time and are losing their much-needed reading week in the second semester as a result at colleges such as Georgian, and their mental health is taking a toll. Some students are planning sit-ins to protest the forced changes to their academic plans, while others are simply fighting for their own survival as a way to get through the semester.

It's not going to be easy. Few things ever are, but certainly, college administrations across the province had better get some contingency plans in place to deal with the mental health toll of students who are returning to class, feeling uncertain about where they're going next and hopeless, at this point, that the semester can be properly salvaged.

Mental health supports for the returning faculties would also be nice, given they are often the front lines in dealing with students.

Support these college students that are returning to school Tuesday. The effects of the last six weeks of strike action will be weighing heavily on them for far past the extended end of the semester.


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