Sudbury

Laurentian University students vote to each pay $50 to mental health services

Laurentian University students voted this month to double the budget for mental health services on campus and the extra money will be coming out of their own pockets.

Only 13 per cent of the 9,800 students at Laurentian voted in the referendum

Students at Laurentian University have voted to each pay $50 a year to support mental health services on campus. (Erik White/CBC)

Laurentian University students voted this month to double the budget for mental health services on campus and the extra money will be coming out of their own pockets.

Two-thirds of students who voted in the referendum approved a $50 non-refundable fee to be paid for by all of 9,800 students at Laurentian, only 13 per cent who actually voted in the plebiscite.

Chris Mercer, the university's vice-president of student Life, enrolment management and international, says that will double the existing budget of $400,000, which comes from the school's operating budget. 

"So this is about the students meeting us at our investment level, where together we can define and develop a mental health program and suite of supports that is more responsive to their needs," says Mercer.

He says decisions have yet to be made on where the money will be spent when the fee takes effect next year, but he says extra staff and longer hours for the on campus counselling centre are being considered.

Tommi-Lee Gauthier is the president of the Student General Association at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC)

Students' General Association president Tommi-Lee Gauthier was thrilled with the result, especially after a similar mental health fee was voted down in a referendum last year.

But she feels these services should be paid for by the Ministry of Health.

"It shouldn't be on a student's back, but the unfortunate reality is that it is. And so this will help for now, but this is a Band-aid fix. This isn't where the funding should be coming from," says Gauthier.

"Although not every student may need these services, somebody they know does."

In the same referendum, 55 per cent of  students rejected a proposal to pay $50 more to varsity athletics, which each Laurentian student already gives $90 to every year.

Mercer says the fees haven't changed in 20 years and rising costs have made it difficult to run the Voyageur sports teams on a $1 million annual budget. 

Laurentian University students each pay $90 a year to support varsity teams, like cross-country running, but recently voted against paying $50 more. (Supplied/Dick Moss/Laurentian Track Team)

"I don't think that's a vote against the value of varsity athletes," says of the referendum result, guessing it might be a sign that students generally "are feeling sufficiently taxed and are unwilling to invest in other areas."

The referendum also saw Laurentian students vote down fee increases for Laurentian Pride, the World University Service of Canada and the Indigenous Students Circle.

President Christine Trudeau says a $3 fee paid by all Laurentian students would have tripled her group's budget and allowed them to better advocate for Indigenous concerns on campus.

"This would have been a great notification that yes the students of Laurentian do recognize the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada," she says.

Students vote for a $3 annual fee to be paid for by every student to fund the activities of the Laurentian women's centre and the campus emergency response team. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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