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If you browsed through social media on Jan. 30, chances are you saw #BellLetsTalk circulating around. Political leaders, celebrities, corporations and even McMaster University shared the hashtag in support of “ending the stigma” around mental illness.

Success and meaning can be found along many paths, but the paths can be rough and winding. | @McMasterSWC #BrighterWorld #BellLetsTalk https://t.co/fzBIjSte6G

— McMaster University (@McMasterU) January 30, 2019

But like #BellLetsTalk, McMaster’s mental health initiatives seem more performative than anything else. While offering “self-care” tips and hour-long therapy dog sessions can help students de-stress and perhaps initiate conversations about mental health, it alone is not sufficient.

This sentiment is shared amongst many other students and has been brought up time after time. It is truly disheartening then that the university seems to do little to meaningfully address students’ concerns.

https://twitter.com/calvinprocyon/status/1090777829510397952

Instead of investing in more counsellors at the Student Wellness Centre or restructuring their support systems on campus, starting Feb.4, McMaster is running Thrive Week. Thrive Week is a week-long initiative aimed to “explore [students’] path to mental health”. The week boasts events including yoga, Zumba and meditation circles.

There is no doubt that engaging in wellness and mindfulness activities, including activities like yoga and Zumba, can help alleviate some of the stresses of university and can positively benefit your mental health.

However, it is in itself not enough to actually help students overcome mental health issues. McMaster acknowledges that most students seem to experience, at least during some point in their undergraduate career, mental health issues. This is telling of a systemic issue. Mental health issues are largely attributable to socioeconomic factors. Financial strain, food insecurity and lack of a responsive administration can all factor into developing mental health issues as a student.

The best way to help students is to address the root of the problem, which often lies within the very structures of the university. Until McMaster addresses these systemic issues, yoga classes and wellness panels will do little to remedy students’ concerns.

Beyond addressing systemic issues, students struggling with mental health issues can’t colour their issues away; they require professional help. It is true that the university offers trained peer-support volunteers at services like the Student Health Education Centre and the Women Gender and Equity Network, but again, this is not enough. The responsibility of students’ mental health should not fall on the shoulders of other students.   

If the university truly cared about their students’ mental health, they would invest in more counsellors and actively work towards ensuring that waiting times at SWC aren’t months on end. They would make systems for receiving academic accommodations more accessible, as they currently require students to provide documentation of diagnosed mental health issues.

Talk is cheap. So are free Zumba classes. While raising awareness and reducing the stigma around mental is important, what students need is real change to ensure there are actual support systems on campus. The university has a responsibility to make that change happen.

 

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By: Sunanna Bhasin

Lady Gaga’s video for her latest song “Til It Happens to You” opens with a trigger warning explaining that it contains graphic content but “reflects the reality of what is happening daily on college campuses.” In other words, this video needs to be seen. The video challenges common views regarding sexual assault. There’s no “obviously-shady-looking character” that initiates the first attack.

Gaga reveals the truth behind many sexual assault cases: the perpetrator is often a friend or someone close to the victim.  It also calls out those who question the victims when they come forward. The irony is that the victims should feel supported enough to speak out, yet the reason they often don’t is because of people – who, in most cases, have never experienced sexual assault – shaming them for getting involved in such egregious acts, implying that they had a choice.

In the music video, a young woman is raped by a colleague in her music studio. In this way, Gaga brings the notion of victim blaming to the forefront: would you really think to blame a girl who is attacked by someone she considers a friend in a work environment?

The pop singer doesn’t stop there. In fact, she explores the stereotypical party setting in order to question the common accusation victim blamers tend to make—“oh, well she shouldn’t have been drinking.” To this Gaga argues, no, he shouldn’t have drugged her drink. This exact instance of sexual assault is depicted in the video when a young man drugs two women at a party by slipping pills (Rohypnol, no doubt) into their drinks. This case is all too familiar to anyone who pays attention to the news. Gaga captures almost every case involving male perpetrators and female victims. While these do not comprise all rape cases, they do make up the majority.

While some may criticize Gaga for excluding scenarios where men are raped, it is imperative to understand that she does this purposely. She makes it clear that she is focusing on sexual assault (which describes less violent cases as well) on college campuses. While she could have broadened the scope of her video, the message she leaves behind can be applied to either of the aforementioned situations: support victims, and don’t be too quick to make assumptions about what happened because you won’t understand “‘til it happens to you.”

Although the video starts out overwhelming and heart wrenching, the most beautiful aspect is the solidarity you see towards the end. Slowly, the victims come together to share their traumatic experiences, and then the community begins to reach out. At the end of the video, the victims march out of a college building together confidently with male and female supporters urging them forward. Gaga encourages viewers to be among those who listen to the victims and try to understand them, but she doesn’t allow you to become complacent just because she has proposed one small solution to a much larger problem. When this group of survivors leave the building, there is the silhouette of a victim who hasn’t been able to speak out yet looming in the background. Gaga’s lesson is clear – make sure that no victim feels isolated or blamed for what happened. This is demonstrated by victims, who had previously tattooed self-hatred on their arms with messages such as “I am worthless” and “Believe me”, writing words of encouragement and love on their bodies: “I am worthy” and “I love myself”.  One in five college women will be sexually assaulted this year unless something changes. It’s a haunting statistic mentioned at the end of the video which has resulted in positive changes at McMaster, such as the #consent campaign during welcome week. As the issue of sexual assault becomes more large-scale, international superstars like Lady Gaga address it openly. However, as a McMaster student, I encourage all of you to understand the urgency of dealing with this atrocious rape culture that has encroached onto college campuses across North America and ask yourselves: which role will you play?

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