SSMU’s Equity Policy measures favourably against other universities, according to a report presented at the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Council meeting on Feb. 20.
Equity researcher Chelsea Barnett presented on the SSMU equity research study. Structure, finance, and complaints were the factors observed in the study, which compared data from SSMU to that of the University of Toronto, the University of Virginia, the University of British Columbia, Concordia University, and Cornell University at both administration and student-union levels.
According to Barnett, SSMU was the only student organization among the universities that had its own equity policy, independent from university policy.
She also mentioned that the policy is more progressive in terms of its coverage of issues.
“It includes things not mentioned in other university policies such as fatphobia [and] sizeism,” Barnett said. “However, on the flipside of that, the jurisdiction of SSMU’s policy is much smaller. If we didn’t have our own policy, we could be putting pressure on the university policy to include [these] things.”
Barnett noted the low number of discrimination complaints on campus.
“There are three possible hypotheses: students overlook the SSMU policy because they don’t think it applies to them [or] they want to [go] to McGill for bigger consequences; they don’t feel SSMU’s jurisdiction would even include them; [or] students don’t know the policy exists,” she said.
Arts Representative Ben Reedijk offered an alternative possibility.
“If you look on the website when it talks about how people make an equity complaint, the first thing it says is to read the Equity Policy,” he said. “But if you read the Equity Policy, it’s filled with typos and grammatical errors, which I don’t think inspire confidence.”
Barnett responded that while a copy-edit of errors could be beneficial, her research did not address syntactical details.
“A project to professionalize the Equity Policy—I think that would be a useful way to spend some time and energy around equity as well,” Barnett said.
In terms of suggestions for the future, Barnett said SSMU would benefit from having an executive in charge of overseeing equity affairs on campus. While equity is currently under the portfolio of the vice-president university affairs, Barnett said equity deserves an executive position.
“For U of T, the notable feature is their executive position [VP Human Resources and Equity],” Barnett said. “ I’m advocating for [also having] an executive commissioner who would be in charge of overseeing equity. It’s becoming a large issue [….] Equity is in the forefront.”
New mental health policy adopted unanimously
Councillors voted in favour of adopting a new Mental Health Policy, which will aim to promote mental health support on campus. Joey Shea, SSMU vice-president university affairs, worked closely on the policy’s development.
“[The Mental Health Policy Committee] started by just discussing what we thought SSMU’s approach to mental health should be, and then from those very broad objectives, we narrowed it down to a very tangible five-year-plan which is reflected in the policy,” Shea said.
David Benrimoh, medicine representative, presented an overview of the policy.
“This is going to be a network of services, of listservs, websites, and events that are going to together improve access for students for mental health care and promote mental health wellness,” he said.
Benrimoh also emphasized the renewability of the new policy.
“This is a living document,” he said. “This document is going to keep changing, keep improving over the years, and it will serve as a foundation for a new mental health network.”
Sue Jeong, Arts representative, asked what set the new Mental Health Policy apart compared to other mental health services available at McGill.
“We want to encourage overall wellness,” Shea said. “A large part of our approach [is to] facilitate the growth of these other groups to perpetuate a culture of wellness and overall well-being at the university.”