Negar Borghei was a human nutrition and dietetic credentialing master’s student at McGill. She was well-connected on the university’s MacDonald campus and adored by her friends and classmates. Along with 175 other passengers, Borghei was on Ukranian International Airlines flight PS752 on Jan. 8 when it was shot down in Iran. Everyone on board, including one McGill alumni and 57 other Quebecers, lost their lives.
On Jan. 16, McGill held a memorial service for Borghei at which friends and peers united to speak in her memory and mourn her loss. The emotional toll of Borghei’s passing still echoes through campus; however, classes will continue, and much will be asked of a portion of the student body still struggling to cope with the toll of global conflict. This tragedy is just one example of how international events and domestic politics have tangible ramifications for many members of the McGill community. McGill’s administration, professors, and student body must be cognizant of this reality, and, in response, create more robust mental health resources, exercise leniency when considering requests for extensions on class work, and remain staunchly supportive of McGill’s international community.
The diversity of McGill’s international and domestic student body, and the plurality of these students’ experiences, should not be overlooked. However, McGill students with connections to Iran and the Middle East share the experience of their emotions and needs being dismissed by faculty, administration, and other students within the McGill community. One issue students face is the severe deficiency of mental health resources on campus: However, these shortcomings have particularly harsh consequences for students who are, for example, directly affected by Borghei’s death, come from countries such as Iran where the current political climate is tumultuous, or come from places like Lebanon or Algeria, where full-fledged revolutions have been taking place over the past several months. These global events have direct consequences on the mental health of many students and, as a result, the inadequacy of McGill’s mental health infrastructure is even more damaging for them.
Further, the demanding nature of McGill’s academics is more difficult for students dealing with stress or grief. McGill professors who fail to exercise measures of leniency with respect to devastating events such as Borghei’s death exasperate these challenges. The demand for sick notes to validate student absences, inflexible deadlines for assignments, refusal to offer extensions or pardon absences, all demonstrate a naivete to the realities of the student experience. When students offer reasons for missing classes or requesting extensions, they should be believed, not pressed for personal details they may not feel comfortable sharing. Professors should strive to create a learning environment that does not abet the stress of the student body, particularly because events which affect international students’ mental health often glean less university-wide recognition and understanding.
Finally, not only international events, but domestic politics as well affect members of the student body in different ways. Specifically, legislation enacted by the Quebec government, including Bill 21, and previously proposed changes to the Quebec Experience Program (PEQ), are discriminatory policy developments that have damaging ramifications for marginalized groups within the McGill community. It is in response to such legislation where solidarity and support from the rest of the student body, and particularly those in positions of privilege, is most important.
So far, attempts to organize and protest against Bill 21 have been disappointing: On Jan. 17, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) held a general assembly (GA) at which a quorum of 500 members was required to enact a strike in protest of Bill 21. The GA followed a separately organized protest against Bill 21, one which was not organized by the AUS but rather by third-party, unpaid constituents who had to sign a petition. The protest was poorly promoted by AUS and both it and the GA were poorly attended. The Education Undergraduate Society (EdUS) also held a general assembly on Jan.17 to organize a strike in protest of Bill 21. While the assembly did not reach quorum for in person members at the meeting, EdUS was able to pass the motion to strike through online voting. In contrast, the GA held by AUS to organize a strike for the Climate March was attended by 900 members, drastically exceeding the quorum requirement. While a variety of factors affect the attendance of such meetings, the stark contrast in the number of members present at each sends a troubling message about what kinds of issues that McGill’s student body cares about, and those issues which it chooses to neglect.
The McGill Tribune commends the AUS on its efforts to organize a strikes but encourages the society to consider committing greater effort to organizing, advertising, and promoting GAs which are of particular importance. In conjunction, the Tribune implores the McGill student body, and those in positions of privilege in the community, to show greater support for their peers who are experiencing hardship due to the entropy of global and domestic politics. This means attending protests such as those held on Jan. 14, but also being available and sensitive to fellow students who may choose to reach out for support. McGill professors, should also practice empathy and understanding for those in the student body who are striving to learn and be engaged in the classroom but face challenges in doing so. Finally, recent events shed further light on the need for improvement to McGill’s mental health resources, a task incumbent upon the university’s administration.