The U of T Faculty of Music fiasco hit a milestone on Monday with a report on the program’s toxic workplace culture published by CBC. U of T’s long running issues with adverse forms of discipline and racial discrimination received a profile, while the experiences and frustrations of the department’s students received deserved centre stage via statement. The Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association’s heads and alumni of the Royal Conservatory of Music Ness Lee and Victoria Ng, as well as other current UofT students received attention in May when the student’s association staged a protest in the form of a “Clothesline” full of requests and experiences written by the program’s students. The FMUA has published several open letters collecting 1,000 signatures and more than 50 UofT music stories of sexual assault or harassment that date back to the 70’s.
The students are asking that the university hire an Equity, Discrimination and, Inclusion Officer and implement mandatory sexual harassment training. The former request, the university began fulfilling by hiring Tyler Greenleaf, who will be joining the staff September 2021. The University has released a statement and open letter from the Dean, both condoning sexual violence and discriminatory behaviour.
It’s a messy situation to say the least.
U of T’s Faculty of Music is currently experiencing a turnover in management, with longtime Dean Don McLean currently orienting recognized scholar and former Columbia Dean of Music Ellie Hisama. Hisama will be presumably cleaning house on the through the university’s appropriate deparments: The Anti-Black Racism Task Force, Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, and Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.
The unions have become involved, with Amy Conwell, chair of the CUPE Local 3902 Union expressing the union’s dissatisfaction with the complaint and reporting process at U of T for staff and students. Conwell also explains how her union’s members have faced legal threats from an alleged legal team in regard to their supportive social media posts.
"The idea that not only survivors can be silenced, but just folks who are standing in solidarity with survivors would be silenced actively by the university and by folks in power in the music world is really unacceptable," Conwell told the CBC.
June 2018: A student commits suicide on UofT campus in the computer science building. Two more students commit suicide in the Bahan Centre for Information Technology, in March and one year later.
March 2019: After the second oncampus suicide, UofT students and faculty stage a protest.
May 7, 2021: After allegations of sexual harassment begin showing up on student’s social media profiles that Spring, the University issues a message to the Faculty of Music decrying sexual violence and discrimination.
May 23, 2021: The FMUA publishes their open letter, the first of three to UofT’s administration with a series of demands to address the toxic culture within the faculty and lack of safety.
June 9, 2021: Budget is approved for Tyler Green is named to U of T’s Division of University Advancement Office’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.. Fulfilling #4of4 of the open letter.
July 1, 2021: Former Columbia Dean of Music and "soft skills expert" Elie Hisama, arrives at the school as staff.
It is no secret how limited mental health services are in post-secondary institutions. Mental health is a rampant issue among university students. A 2016 survey by Ontario's Universities showed that 65 per cent of surveyed students reported overwhelming anxiety where 48% reported depression as an interference on studies and overall functions. Three students at UofT have committed suicide on campus since 2018.
Students have made it clear that there is a clear lack of access to mental health services such as counselling on campus that makes it difficult to find the help they need. To put this in perspective, let's use Ryerson University's Centre for Student Development and Counselling as an example. In 2017, there were approximately 36,000 students enrolled at Ryerson U. There were 18 counsellors on staff. That is one counsellor for every 2000 students. Even keeping in mind that only 2253 students accessed CSDC that year, that's still one counsellor for every 125 students, leading to wait times for ongoing therapy that can vary from a few weeks to a few months. This is unrealistic for any student in need of serious mental health support. Sure, universities offer funding to seek support off-campus, but this funding is limited.
For women on campus, sexual assault and mental health concerns severally converge. One in five women will experience some form of sexual assault during their time at post-secondary school which can lead to depression, flashbacks, PTSD, and self-harm among other conditions for survivors. Lack of mental health support at universities means a lack of support for survivors of sexual assault.
This lack of mental health support goes as far as institutional oppression towards people with severe mental illness in an effort for Ivy League schools to preserve their prestige reputations. Esmé Weijin Wang details her own experience with this in her 2019 essay "Yale Will Not Save You":
"In 2014, Katie J. M. Baker published an article in Newsweek titled “How Colleges Flunk Mental Health.” It was the piece I'd been waiting for—after blogging about my Yale experience, I'd received a flood of emails from students battling to stay in their colleges, students on enforced leave from their colleges, and former college students who, like me, were never allowed to return to school. In her article, Baker makes the case that psychiatric illness is punished by colleges and universities that instead ought to be accommodating students under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Rather than receiving help, mentally ill students are frequently pressured, as I was, into leaving—if not ordered to do so—by the schools that once welcomed them. The underlying expectation is that a student must be mentally healthy to return to school, which is difficult and unlikely to happen to the degree the administration would like. This was saying, essentially, that students should not have severe mental illness."
Wang was demanded to take a medical leave from Yale because of her experiences with schizoaffective disorder on campus and was never deemed healthy enough to come back to campus. This is not solely an American problem. It exists right on the campus of UofT. The mandatory leave policy that Wang discusses was implemented by UofT in 2018 as a way to address on campus suicide. This is not addressing anything. It is institutional marginalization of people experiencing mental health issues. If people do not suffer the results of mental health concerns on campus, UofT doesn't have to suffer the repercussions it has on the institution's image. It is the school throwing the problem into someone else's backyard as opposed to providing genuine support. More funding is being put into in campus mental health services, but it is policy implementation like that shows not enough is being done.
Follow the FMUA’s change blog for updates on progress at the school and save these resources if you are being harassed at school and HRM isn’t doing anything:
PO Box 40569, Etobicoke, ON M9B 6K8
Helpline in GTA: 416-863-0511
145 Front St E Suite 105, Toronto, ON M5A 1E3
557 Dixon Rd, Unit 122, Etobicoke, ON M9W 1A8
215 Wellesley St E, Toronto, ON M4X 1G1
Sheridan Mall; Box 90, 1700 Wilson Ave Ste 105, Toronto, ON M3L 1B2
Women's College Hospital 76 Grenville St, Toronto, ON M5S 1B2
76 Grenville St, Toronto, ON M5S 1B2
40 College St Ground Fl, Toronto, ON M5G 2J3
Visit here for more information on what your school can do to improve access to mental health services.