University of Toronto President Meric Gertler says the school is open to suggestions from students about how to provide better support for mental health following a recent suicide on campus.
“First of all, we feel your pain and we understand why you are frustrated, anxious, angry,” Gertler told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning on Wednesday. “Secondly, we would welcome their suggestions about things we can do better. I would be the first to admit that our system is not perfect.”
The university has acknowledged that “a student fell to his death” on Sunday night. But in public statements, it has not used the word suicide. No details about the student have been released.
Gertler said on Wednesday the university did not use the word suicide out of respect for the family’s wishes.
He added that the university offered to meet with students after Monday’s protest and sit-in outside Simcoe Hall, which houses the president’s office. Dozens of students called for action after a number suicides they say have gone unacknowledged over the past year.
The school needs to make sure students in crisis are aware of the resources available to them, the president added.
“We have to do a better job of making sure students know where to turn,” Gertler said.
‘University needs to be proactive’
Students have criticized the university for refusing to use the word suicide and they say U of T is refraining from acknowledging the number of recent suicides and the depth of mental health challenges on campus to protect its academic reputation.
Brian Hao, a first year political science student, knew the student who died.
“Until this is talked about and until this is acknowledged, nothing is going to change,” Hao said. “The university should be proactive, not reactive. And this, I don’t understand it.”
Gertler said the death is “really hard to take,” and said administration is encouraging faculty and staff to urge students to seek help if they are in emotional distress. He said the school’s reputation is not more important than its students.
“When you hear something like this, it cuts straight to the heart,” he said. “We’re all affected by challenges to mental health.”
Toronto police were called to the university on Sunday at 8:40 p.m. Police said officers on the scene did not deem the death to be suspicious in nature and don’t believe criminality was involved. The death occurred at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, located on St. George Street.
The next morning, the university did not use the word suicide.
Instead, the university said: “Members of our community may have been affected by the recent incident at the Bahen Centre. At this time, we wish to respect the privacy of the individual involved and acknowledge the profound effect on family, friends and colleagues.”
“We obviously want to express our deep sympathy and condolences to the family involved and also to the students who knew this particular individual and other members of our community who have been deeply affected and indeed devastated by this news,” he said.
Some classes at the Bahen Centre, which is used for IT professionals in electrical and computer engineering, computer science and IT research, were relocated on Monday following the death.