Flags fly at half-mast, what can be done?

Sensitivity Warning

Eli Ridder | Analysis

On April 5, Radio Broadcasting student Simeon Weber died in a Humber College residence building at North Campus amidst the end of semester exam period — there was no cause of death yet specified, and it would be wrong to assume one, however, it is clear there was no murder and no one is being charged.

That means it was either an intentional or unintentional death which could have been caused to himself. Many students are whispering that it was a suicide but it would be inappropriate to guess, especially as the family and friends of Weber mourn his passing.

But where do you go from here as a campus? It’s not as a tight-knit community as other post-secondary institutions because of its stature as a so-called “commuter school” and now that it is April, a solid chunk of students are leaving to never return and mostly everyone else for the summer.

After four suicides at the University of Guelph in the spring of 2017, the university’s Residence Life team utilized an old program in which faculty members join their staff, go door-to-door to check on students’ health and hand out information on various supports available.

There was criticism later that year, however, in a tweet from a student that went viral saying that said the university had the “worst mental health support [out] of all the universities in Ontario.”

In the aftermath of two student deaths within 10 days in the fall of 2017, Western University triggered a process to increase the presence of mental health supports on campus through a strategic plan. Other schools have developed their own plans.

Humber College has a department dedicated to mental health in the form of the Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre’s health and counselling services. SWAC offers same-day and walk-in availability with no appointment necessary.

Mental Health Services On Campus and Beyond

Again, it is not clear whether the Humber student died of a mental health issue and no one should presume until when, or if, the family or college confirm the cause. However, it has impacted the mental health of students in residence and beyond.

Humber did note in its first email to students, in a statement to The Avro Post and in a press release that mental health supports were available on campus. It is in-line with how other institutions have reacted to death on campus.

Will there be a push now like the University of Guelph or Western University?

It is unclear what, if anything, the college will change in response to students at this time. It is the end of a semester and so the range of impact of anything the administration might do would be limited.

Funding for colleges and universities have been significantly cut by the Ontario government. Optional student fees have been introduced and come into play this fall via the Student Choice Initiative. Both of these should not have an impact on funding for mental health supports, however.

The government told Global News in March that fees supporting mental health counselling should be compulsory. However, there was criticism over the apparent exclusion of mandatory accessibility funding.

It remains to be seen what, if anything, will change in the wake of the passing of a Humber College student in terms of mental health supports, whether or not it was a mental health or physical health-related incident. However, funding should remain in place and the doors of SWAC will likely remain open.

Image of flags at half-mast on April 9, 2019 from Emily Werginz of The Avro Post.

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