Eight months in from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, McGill students are just weeks away from the end of their first fully remote semester. When the university moved its operations online in March, the shift was jarring: Students had to quickly adapt to a new way of learning, and many faced financial uncertainty and declining mental health. All the while, McGill struggled to support them, from unsatisfactory and inaccessible online learning experiences to insufficient mental health resources. But where McGill has fallen short, student initiatives and organizations have filled in the gaps and have continued to uphold a sense of community. Their efforts demand recognition and gratitude, along with continued material support to allow such initiatives to continue.
One of the earliest pandemic-relief student initiatives to arise was the Montreal Student Initiative for COVID-19 Response and Relief, which was founded in March 2020. The organization delivers groceries and prescriptions to those unable to leave their homes to run errands themselves. Meals for Milton-Parc is a similar project dedicated to serving those in need, providing warm meals to unhoused people and organizing winter clothing drives. These mutual aid initiatives, through which communities come together to make up for lapses in government or institutional assistance, are manifestations of social cohesion that have persevered even in the face of social distancing measures. Whereas McGill gratuitously raised international student tuition this Fall, students displayed resilience and compassion by giving up their time, energy, and money to support their communities.
Other student-led initiatives, like the McGill Scientific Writing Initiative (MSWI), go beyond material support. Established in the summer of 2020 by U3 Science students Marine Nystern and Joyce Wu, MSWI offers resources to help students with science communication, since many science courses have replaced traditional multiple choice exams with papers. Similarly, services like the McGill Students’ Nightline and the Peer Support Centre offer on-demand active listening services to help fill some of the gaps in the Wellness Hub’s meagre online mental health care.
Apart from novel support initiatives, clubs and other services have also shown resilience throughout the pandemic. For example, virtual Activities Night in September allowed students to learn about different opportunities to get involved at McGill despite the circumstances. From online dance classes like those offered by the McGill Recreational Dance Company to remote holiday gatherings like that put hosted by the Indian Students’ Association for Diwali, student groups have brought comfort to their members during these hard times. Activists have also continued to demand more equitable practices from the university even with fewer opportunities to gather in person. For instance, over the summer, a group of Black McGill students started the #TakeJamesMcGillDown movement, which gained much traction and support online.
The pandemic has reinforced what students already knew: That McGill students are not Made by McGill. Rather, McGill is made by its students. If the university is reluctant to put its financial interests aside to support its student body, students will always come together to support each other. As the pandemic drags on and the new semester looms ahead, student labour to sustain these initiatives deserve recognition and support through social media promotion, volunteering, or donating whenever possible. It is still important to recognize, however, that students should not have to take on this work all on their own. It is unacceptable that students are forced to take on this labour with little to no recognition while the university continues to profit off of them.
Regardless, although students may not currently be able to come together in lecture halls and events, the past eight months of hardship have proven that our community can prevail even at a distance. The McGill Tribune commends the efforts of those who have gone above and beyond to serve their communities during what has undoubtedly been the most collectively challenging period in recent memory.