Senate Meeting — January 10, 2022

The Senate discusses the mental health of students and SFU’s scholarship programs

View of AQ building from the pond
PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By: Karissa Ketter, News Writer

The Senate receives concerns on mental health resources for students 

The Stronger Together Party at SFU saw the student body voice concerns online about remote education. Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences undergraduate representative senator Helen Pahou and member of the party brought these concerns to the Senate. 

The student group conducted a survey to gather information. “As students revert back to online learning [until January 24], a key concern rests on maintaining their mental health. Students have expressed concerns towards the increase of suicide ideation, drug misuse, and drug overdose while furthering their undergraduate degrees online,” said Pahou. 

She noted this risk is most prominent for marginalized students and those who live in inadequate living conditions. 

“Students have voiced prominent dissatisfaction towards the shortage and unavailability of mental health counselors to consult with on so-called ‘accessible’ resources like MySSP [ . . . ] While the pandemic progresses into a second year, students are continuing to lose trust in the effectiveness of the resources set up by our institution,” said Pahou. 

“Does [sic] our executives have any plans to solve the shortage of counselors within our existing mental health resources and does our institution have any updated priorities to protect the mental health needs of our marginalized students?” asked Pahou. 

Vice-president academic Catherine Dauverge noted Dr. Bonnie Henry has strongly urged post-secondary institutions to return to in-person instruction, citing data on how remote learning negatively impacts young adults’ mental health. 

“One of the reasons we are trying our best to be back in the classroom by January 24 is because the evidence is that this is the single most important thing we can do [ . . . ] for the mental health of our students,” said Dauvergne. 

She added that SFU has hired more counselors during the Fall semester and MySSP has hired more Indigenous and Black counselors. 

Dauvergne also encouraged students to reach out to the Multifaith Centre, the Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office, or the Indigenous Student Centre for mental health resources or support. Currently, SFU health and counselling only offers virtual appointments. 

According to Dauvergne, at the rate students are using the mental health resources at SFU, it’ll be near impossible to implement enough of these resources, “especially as [SFU faces] declining revenue related to the pandemic.”

In SFU’s 2021 financial report, the university noted a revenue of $825 million, a 2.3% increase from 2020. With an expense of $784 million, SFU has a surplus of $41 million. Expenses grew but were “fully covered by revenue, providing a net annual surplus.”

The Senate discusses international student financial aid programs

Senator Daniel Leznoff raised a question to the Senate regarding the amount of financial aid SFU offers to domestic students in comparison to international students. Since the pandemic, SFU has increased their international student support and proportionally decreased the domestic student support. 

“The bursary funding for international students, which is already high, has gone up immensely in the past year or so because the domestic students are able to get support from all levels of government,” said Leznoff. 

He questioned if the levels of funding would return to normal or if international student financial aid would remain higher.

Senator Colin Percival noted “it is anticipated that it will move back in the direction it was before.” He explained this is because, as federal and provincial support programs have ended, the need for financial aid for domestic students is increasing again.

The Senate discusses their open scholarship program

Leznoff also noted a concern regarding the way in which SFU regulates their open scholarship programs — those that are based on student GPA. 

He found some faculties are more likely to have students with higher GPAs. So the open scholarship program — that is based entirely on GPA — is biased towards some faculties who consistently have higher GPA rating requirements to be in the programs. 

Senator Brian Krauth reported alternatives other institutions use is to allocate a set amount of funds to each faculty. However, he also noted “awarding by faculty would actually reduce the number awarded to the hardest grading faculties.”