Amani Rauff (2L) and Maud Rozee (2L)
Resiliency is a complex concept. One part of it, U of T Law’s Manager, Academic/Personal and Wellness Coordinator Yukimi Henry explains, is the idea that students should foster a mindset which recognizes and focuses on the control they have over their wellbeing. For instance, students should realize that although they may not be able to make immediate changes to law school policies, they are able to more immediately change the way they experience those policies.
Take the Health and Wellness Advisory Committee which Ms. Henry co-chairs. It’s an opportunity for students to exercise their agency and try to make change. Ms. Henry hopes that students on the Health and Wellness Advisory Committee will guide her agenda, and take ownership of initiatives like a peer mental health support program, or improving the law school’s competitive atmosphere. “The students have a heck of alot of ownership there; this is a community.” Ms. Henry said, “If you want to make it look different, you have the power to do that.”
Ms. Henry is also looking forward to awareness-raising, stigma-reduction initiatives like screenings of mental health-related movies, a mini mental health in the law conference, or a speaker series. “Just having those conversations is incredibly powerful in creating stigma reduction and promoting help-seeking behaviour,” she said.
In terms of the degree to which the Health and Wellness Advisory Committee can influence policy changes made through other committees, however, Ms. Henry is pragmatic. “I’m not saying don’t bring a more critical viewpoint, I’m down with that, let’s do that, but let’s do that in a way that’s actually going to generate change.” Ms. Henry said. “Criticism without constructivity doesn’t get anything… That’s true from a clinical perspective and it’s true from a broader policy perspective.”
When asked what would happen if the committee wanted to focus on making changes to policies like the grading system, Ms. Henry asked Ultra Vires, “Can I— can students make the professors change the grading system? Is that what you’re asking me?” Ultra Vires confirmed the question. Ms. Henry asked, “Is that really what you’re asking me? Do you not know the answer to that yourself?” She then explained that, “Of course you can make recommendations… There’s a set process for how these changes happen… If the committee decided they wanted to make that recommendation, there’s a forum within the existing process.”
Ms. Henry later elaborated in a lengthy email to Ultra Vires that the existing forum is the Standing Curriculum Committee, which is chaired by Professor Kerry Rittich and includes three SLS members, as well as the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (DACSMH), which is chaired by Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold and also includes three SLS members. Ms. Henry wrote that the DACSMH has consulted with and will continue to consult with the Health and Wellness Advisory Committee.
In reference to the curriculum change process, Ms. Henry suggests that “fostering a mindset whereby student well-being is entirely subject to forces outside of their control [is] not a productive use of student resources nor conducive to wellbeing.” In our interview, she gave an example: “No matter what kinds of policy recommendations you engage in, the evaluation methods in your Trusts class are the evaluations you’re going to be stuck with [for your Trusts exam]. We can devote a lot of resources to the fact that this generates negative results for us, but those resources aren’t actually going to generate any positive change for you [by the time of your Trusts exam].” Ms. Henry pointed out in her later email that there are “factors and changes very much within your control that can impact the way in which you and others experience these circumstances [like evaluation methods].”
Ms. Henry wants to focus more on giving students the priorities, values, and skills that they need to balance the demands of their work and personal lives. “In the legal profession, there’s this idea that it’s all about product,” Ms. Henry said. ”What I’d like to see fostered in the next legal generation is a sense that ‘how I feel actually matters. How my colleagues, and loved ones, and families feel actually matters.’”
She also hopes that mental health initiatives could eventually reduce the demand for clinical support services. Recently, students have expressed concerns that current demand for these clinical support services may overwhelm Ms. Henry’s capacity. A student who requested an appointment on September 19th was disappointed to find out that Ms. Henry was booking for the first week of October—a wait of between fifteen and nineteen days.
Ms. Henry said she was “disheartened” by comments about her wait times that she believes to be inaccurate. Ms. Henry explained that she is always careful to leave time in her schedule to help students dealing with immediate crises. Although she recognizes it was not the intention of commenters to discourage vulnerable students with immediate problems from seeking help by “promoting that kind of misinformation” about her wait time, she says, “This really runs contrary to the efforts I’d like to see the law school engage in around promoting help-seeking behaviours.”
Overall, Ms. Henry wanted students to know that she wants to hear from them. “I want us to have conversations. I want students to be engaged in these issues. I don’t have a specific agenda for what this role looks like or what student wellness is supposed to look like,” she said. “I just think we have to take responsibility for our feelings and behaviours and how they engage and interact with one another.”