SFU’s pandemic promises have not been actualized

Students are still suffering from the lack of action on words stated last year by the administration

Petter’s words last year have been proven to be hollow. Photo courtesy of Greg Ehlers

by Dev Petrovic, Staff Writer

It’s been just over a year since we put campus life on hold and transferred our school lives online. It’s also been just over a year since SFU promised to maintain a certain standard for students, despite this virtual shift. Yet, the standard SFU claimed to be committed to maintaining isn’t supporting students as promised. 

In April of 2020, former president and vice-chancellor Andrew Petter released a statement in which he addressed how SFU is planning on “remaining engaged” throughout the pandemic. He stated that SFU has sought to uphold their “high standard of support for students through new channels, expanding communication and, just as importantly, listening.” While I can appreciate the optimism in this statement, based on what has happened since, it is entirely unclear what systems of support Petter was referring to. 

Certainly, the heightened use of Zoom and Canvas couldn’t count as a channel for student support. Other than the use of these platforms, SFU continues to function the same way it did at the beginning of lockdown, and it’s questionable whether this is a high standard.

It doesn’t seem that SFU has implemented the “listening” aspect of this statement either. As far as I’m concerned, it feels like an ongoing battle to be heard by the administration. I am not the first to express that the lack of communication between the administration and students has not improved over the course of COVID-19. These vague statements don’t actually promise anything of concrete value. 

The statement mentions that SFU has added resources in housing, financial support, and mental health. SFU set up an Urgent Response Fund, which was available for students requiring access to technology, to afford travel expenses to return home at the beginning of the pandemic, and living expenses for students disconnected from family or support systems. I don’t doubt that the fund was of assistance to some students, those who received the fund’s support are more than deserving of the financial assistance. On another note, it seems as if the fund only applied to a certain body of students with very particular extenuating circumstances, which can be limiting in a time where so many students are struggling. 

Students who are just barely getting by and/or don’t fit the criteria for the fund are left behind from receiving support from SFU even though they would greatly benefit from the aid. Besides, SFU isn’t even losing money with the initiation of this fund — it all came from alumni donations. There really isn’t very much stopping SFU from expanding the criteria for who can receive this fund. The tuition increases that went forward despite the concerns students expressed regarding financial stability during the pandemic especially didn’t help this exclusion. 

Additionally, the form of ongoing mental health support that SFU prides itself on rests on the apps MySSP and Here2Talk. However, these apps have received a lot of negative feedback around their lack of truly assisting students with their mental health. They are also not a replacement for quality in-person counselling services — which are currently unavailable due to campus restrictions. Supporting students during a global crisis takes more effort than pushing the already available phone services or simply reminding students to prioritize their mental health. I expected SFU to introduce some alternative options for students who are facing mental health obstacles at this time. These alternatives could include increased attention towards video call counselling, or an adjustment in the student healthcare insurance plan so that students can gain better access to a registered clinical counsellor. Alas, this clearly never happened. 

SFU has neglected to fulfill the empty words they promised students. Moving forward, this will continue to be an issue once classes resume in-person unless SFU finally decides to implement feedback given by the student body. Petter said that SFU had made it their “mission to do everything we can at this time of crisis to support our communities.” Though it’s clear that SFU has not done everything they can to support the SFU community.

New president and vice-chancellor Joy Johnson has not been in the role for very long, and although she’s made her own promises, we have yet to see concrete changes in mental health services and in the virtual learning experience. Of course, changes to this degree can be a long process, but it’s important that we as students don’t forget to hold the SFU administration accountable for failing to commit to what they promise to do. We are paying thousands of dollars for them to serve us, after all. It isn’t fair to feel like we can’t believe anything they tell us. Hopefully Joy Johnson will be more willing to communicate and listen to student concerns because we deserve to feel like we matter, not like we’re being lied to.