The Inclusive Campus: Changes to Documentation Guidelines for Mental Health Disabilities

Group of young people standing together speaking (one black man and three white women)

Consistent with York’s culture, history and values, our University has earned a reputation for providing high-quality support to students with disabilities. This is captured — superbly — in the quote below from a student who offered the following when asked to comment on the support received from Counselling & Disability Services (CDS).

I would like to say that the academic accommodation that I received through CDS . . . was the single greatest aid I had in completing my degree. I truly don’t know if I would have been able to complete my degree or get As in my last few courses if I did not have that accommodation. . . . I don’t know how else to explain my gratitude . . .  thank you, CDS.

This is an affirmation of the great work being done to support students with diagnosed disabilities by our disability services staff in Counselling & Disability Services. This work is further supported by Personal Counselling Services (PCS), which strives to assist all students — regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosed disability — to reach  their full personal potential, maximize their University experience and build resilience. On behalf of the Provost, our faculty colleagues, staff from across the campus, and — most notably — all our students: thank you.

With that as context, Marc Wilchesky, the Executive Director of CDS, and I want to provide an update related to academic accommodations. Specifically, Mental Health Disability Services adopted new documentation guidelines in January 2016. Simply put, students no longer have to disclose their specific mental health diagnosis to register for academic accommodations and supports. These changes align with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s recent Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions (June 2014).

Some students may voluntarily choose to disclose their specific diagnosis to MHDS because professionals therein have expertise that can inform the accommodations process. It’s important to emphasize, however, that students are not required to do so. Instead, the medical documentation only needs to confirm a diagnosed mental health disability and list the specific functional limitations. Students will be eligible to receive the full range of appropriate academic accommodations based on any functional limitations related to the disability.

This change is in keeping with York’s commitment to promote a healthy, inclusive and supportive learning environment that fosters mental health and well-being. It’s a progressive approach being emulated across the province — and yet another example of York’s leadership. It’s but one of the many reasons I am so proud to lead the Division of Students.

More information about MHDS and the new documentation guidelines can be found at: MHDS Registration Information

Divisional Successes and Improvements in 2016

Interior winter holiday decorations

As the year draws to a close and we get ready to spend a few quiet moments with our friends and family, it is also a good time to look back at what lies behind us and to acknowledge the successes and improvements we’ve worked so hard to achieve as a Division.

Here are the highlights from 2016:

Structures — Physical & Organizational

  • Renovations have been completed to Hart House for use by Aboriginal students, staff and faculty. Stay tuned for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in early 2017 as the Centre for Aboriginal Students (CASS) and others continue the Indigenization of York’s Keele campus.
  • We have secured funding for and begun construction of the expanded Accommodated Test & Exams Centre.
  • The Student Success Centre has been established, and in that context we also welcomed the Atkinson Centre for Mature and Part-Time Students (ACMAPS) into the Division.
  • Learning Skills Services moved to the Learning Commons and expanded its reach through the launch of the Learning Skills Peer team.
  • We improved and strengthened the Enrolment Management Group in support of Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM).
  • We restarted Retention Council.
  • The Sexual Violence Response Office (SVRO) was launched and is being supported by the Office of Student Community Relations (OSCR).
  • Student services planning has begun for the Markham campus.

Strategies, Programs & Processes

  • We have a Peer Mentor Program for students with disabilities and mental health issues led by students with lived experience in these areas. This means two-way support.
  • We have expanded our Mature Student Peer Mentor Program from ACMAPS.
  • We received a large donation to address mental health issues for varsity athletes.
  • The Career Success Symposium for Students with Disabilities proved valuable and popular.
  • We secured more than $40,000 in sponsorship dollars from throughout the University to implement the 2016 LeaderShape Institute.
  • We took the Leadership & Career Strategy from a test to a pilot, allowing students to recognize value, identify skills and articulate their ideas. The pilot was rolled out to 200 students and 39 supervisors.
  • We, the only university in Canada to have such funding, continued to grant it for the Autism Spectrum Disorder Pilot.
  • We expanded the It All Adds Up campaign, which focuses on helping students identify the many sometimes unacknowledged successes and accomplishments they’ve already achieved in their academic careers.
  • The Integrated Voice Response System was redesigned.
  • We initiated a number of process reviews including one for OSAP in readiness for Net Tuition.
  • We rolled out development plans.
  • Students (as well as faculty and staff) can now draw on the support of weekly visits from York’s very own Therapy Dog, Barnaby.
Three women with a dog, who is licking the face of one of them.
Barnaby and his affections.

Launches & Implementations

  • the Pan-University Mental Health strategy;
  • initial mental health stress-relieving strategies for exams at the Aviva and Tait McKenzie Centres;
  • the Gluco Fit program in partnership with the Canadian Diabetes Association, supporting community members from the Jane/Finch area who have been identified as pre-diabetic or have diabetes, and assisting them with fitness and nutrition;
  • the YUAdvise professional development competency framework for advisers;
  • Electronic Fund Transfers (Direct Deposits) enabling students to receive refunds faster;
  • the Alcohol Strategy for Students;
  • Manage My Academic Record;
  • the Visual Schedule Builder;
  • the revamping of the Undergraduate Academic Calendar;
  • the Undergraduate Academic Calendar online editor;
  • a new Curriculum Management System (initial stages);
  • the Degree Progress Report to 400 users;
  • a February Convocation in Absentia for more than 800 graduands;
  • the reporting of course waivers;
  • a new process for scheduling forums;
  • revised forgiveness policies;
  • a quality-assurance program to assess the student experience.

Successes

  • We collected more than 9,000 prospect leads during Fall recruitment.
  • We exceeded our digital marketing campaign goals.
  • Ontario 101 confirmations were up 6.7 per cent.
  • We witness a 10 per cent increase in offers made to 105s (that’s 1,650 more).
  • Our international applications and offers were up by more than 35 per cent.
  • We organized the largest one-day Orientation event east of the Rockies, hosting more than 4,000 first-year students in the Lion’s Stadium for York Orientation Day.
  • We saw a 55 per cent increase in the number of students engaged with the Disability Services Career Mentorship Program.
  • We accommodated a 15 per cent rise in volume through Alternate Exams.
  • One of our Residence dons, Maseh Hadaf, received the Julianne Pettigrew Award, which recognizes the top conference presentation at OACUHO (the Ontario Association of College and University Housing Officers), to which our Residence Life Team sent a delegation.
  • The TRY (Toronto-Ryerson-York) Cup once again resides with York University as the Champions of the Intramural world for Toronto.
  • We won the National Championship in women’s tennis.
  • We made our presence felt at the 2016 Rio Olympics:
    • 5 York Athletic Therapy grads worked there;
    • John May (current women’s volleyball coach) coached the Olympic beach volleyball team;
    • York Lions Khamica Bingham (4×100 sprint) and Britt Crew (shot put) competed for Canada.

York Lion mascot high-fiving a male student in a hallway (Accolade East)

There’s a lot to reflect on and even more to be proud of — York’s Division of students clearly takes it mandate as Partners in Student Success very seriously.

We hope that these successes and improvements will serve as motivation for all of us to work even harder in 2017 to bring them to their full fruition, and to add even more points of pride to the Division.

York Launches Strategy to Advance Campus Mental Health

York's Campus Mental Health Strategy
York’s Campus Mental Health Strategy

Do you know someone who has struggled with their mental health? Perhaps a family member, close friend, colleague or even yourself? Given that 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, chances are the dialogue around mental health taking place at York, in Canada and across the world directly impacts you or someone you know.

As this conversation grows, the impetus for change falls to institutions such as York to lead the charge to raise awareness around mental health and ensure support is readily available and accessible to all of our community members – students, staff and faculty.

The University has recognized this need and has responded by developing York’s Campus Mental Health Strategy that seeks to address the needs of our campus community. The strategy officially launched this past October 18 at Founders College Assembly Hall. More than a hundred people attended.

National College Health Assessment Findings
National College Health Assessment survey data

Among others, key stakeholder Vice-President Academic & Provost Rhonda Lenton and Mental Health Steering Committee Co-Chairs Lesley Beagrie, Suzanne Killick and Stephanie Francis spoke to the importance of York paving the way for other institutions to prioritize and support the advancement of mentally healthy campuses.

The strategy highlights mental health priorities for three key campus groups: students, staff and faculty, as identified during the community consultations spearheaded by York’s Mental Health Steering Committee. The plan will continue to reflect York’s commitment to health and wellness promotion; facilitation of care and support; and collaboration and discussion. New principles developed as a result of the consultations include:

  • deliver a long-term approach for the management of mental health challenges;
  • outline initiatives to help achieve improved mental health outcomes for members of the University community;
  • identify support aimed at helping individuals becoming more involved in managing their own mental health;
  • advocate for accessible services to be made available to the community, both on and off campus; and
  • focus on partnership with the University community and working together to achieve a mentally healthy campus.

The plan will also focus on four key priorities: leadership; planning and promotion; campus engagement; and service delivery.

Stephanie Francis, Division of Student’s mental health & wellness project lead
Stephanie Francis, Division of Student’s mental health & wellness project lead

Stephanie Francis, Coordinator, Health Education & Promotion, Student Success Centre, and the Division of Student’s mental health & wellness project lead, is encouraged by the gain made so far.

“We have already witnessed signs of progress towards advancing a mentally healthy campus within the Division of Students, and will continue to provide support and resources for students to meet strategic goals. This year, we developed and provided Mental Health training to 1000 Orientation-Week leaders; welcomed more than 600 Grade 12 students from the York Region District School Board to campus for a full day of games and lectures dedicated to educating young people about mental health; and helped conduct more than 50 community consultation sessions with students, faculty and staff to help inform the Strategy.”

Mental health extends beyond our borders here at York. It is prevalent at campuses across the country and the globe. Founder and student ambassadors from Jack.org echoed this sentiment, sharing their personal struggles and encounters with mental health issues inside and outside school communities. Led by Eric Windeler, and created in memory of his late son Jack, Jack.org is Canada’s only national network of young leaders advocating for youth mental health and aims to put an end to mental health stigma.

Jack.org
Jack.org is Canada’s only national network of young leaders advocating for youth mental health.

The investment of community members in York’s Campus Mental Health Strategy was made clear by the attendance, engagement and concerns brought forth during the question and answer period of the launch. Questions posed ranged from how York plans to simplify access to counselling services for students and increase availability of counsellors. Staff and faculty raised the need for clear resources to help them address and respond to student mental health concerns, as well as support when dealing with personal and professional issues.

While York does already offer a number of resources to aid its community members – accessible through the Mental Health & Wellness at York website – the University will also soon be adding specific, actionable recommendations that address day-to-day mental health concerns that arise on campus. Additional short-term goals include: further development of existing supports, identification of resource gaps and a continuation of community roundtable discussions (similar to past consultations) to support an open campus dialogue.

York students, staff and faculty members in attendance
York students, staff and faculty members in attendance

By re-evaluating progress every three years, the University hopes to ensure a progressive movement toward creating and maintaining a mentally healthy campus that empowers our community to thrive.

For more information about York’s Campus Mental Health Strategy and community updates, please visit: yorku.ca/mentalhealth.

The Student Self-Assessment Survey: Supporting and Building Agency for York Students

Shot from above of people walking along a path, their long shadows showing

Under the auspices of the Division of Students’ Strategic Plan, and in pursuit of our vision to be Partners in Student Success, York has adopted a highly strategic approach to enrolment management. Simply put, Strategic Enrolment Management (SEM) engages key constituents to identify, define and organize themselves around clearly articulated enrolment goals. It also mobilizes the campus to pursue those goals purposefully to produce dramatic, sustainable results. Key to SEM is enrolment intelligence, data that helps us understand the student experience to inform how we recruit, retain and communicate with our students. The intelligence is gleaned from a comprehensive review of existing enrolment-related data, as well as through new research. A great example of the latter is the Student Self-Assessment Survey.

Since 2013, incoming students to York have been asked to complete an online survey that is aligned with Alf Lizzio’s work on transition theory. Developed by our brilliant colleague Mark Conrad (Director, Institutional Enrolment & Resource Planning, Office of Institutional Planning & Analysis), the survey uses a combination of published measurement scales to give York baseline data about our students and what supports they require to be successful: (i) reasons for attending university (internal and external motivation); (ii) academic and career-goal clarity; (iii) self-concept as a student (academic self-efficacy); and, (iv) general coping skills (personal/social resourcefulness and grit). Although it’s entirely voluntary, last year almost 50 percent of our new students chose to participate. As a result, we know a lot more than we did previously about how prepared our students are for postsecondary study, about their reasons for attending university and about their capacity to persist. We are using that information to develop and deliver support resources for the students who need them most.

A hand writjng, with a coffee mug in the background

At the beginning of this week, invitations to participate in the survey this fall went out to incoming first-year students. After they complete the survey, each participant will receive a report that includes their score, an explanation about each dimension and some suggestions/tips to help them build their personal capacity. In October, we will follow up with those students and invite them to log into a portal using their Passport York ID to review their results again, see average scores for all respondents and view additional resources for each dimension of the survey. Those resources include some fantastic new videos that feature continuing student role models.

The Student Self-Assessment Survey serves multiple purposes. For one, it is helping us learn a lot more about our students and what they need to be successful. It also, however, helps develop agency (or resourcefulness) in our students, making them more self-aware and better equipped to seek out campus resources. Consistent with the Division’s commitment to evidence-based decision making and assessment, the survey and its outcomes remain a work in progress continually informed by student feedback. To date, it’s been very positive, with 78 per cent of respondents in 2015 agreeing or strongly agreeing that the site provided helpful resources, while 69 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that the videos provided useful tips. Among the qualitative comments was the following:

The videos and links were very helpful and stirred up motivation in me to do a better job in University. Sometimes stress can cause the motivation to drop drastically, but seeing all the resources available on campus spurs a new fire at the core.

A hearty thanks to Mark Conrad and Michelle Miller for their tremendous leadership on this project. What a great, real-life example of our commitment to being Partners in Student Success.

Let’s Talk Divisional Values: Collaboration

A sign with the word "Collaboration" laid across a green, lined index card.

Embedded in the Division of Students’ strategic plan are seven values: respect, excellence, innovation, collaboration, accountability, care and inclusion. Individually and collectively, these values — nested deeply within those of York University as a whole — reflect who we are and who we aspire to be. Collaboration is particularly important because it describes how the Division will achieve its priorities.

Collaboration and cooperation reject competition as the best way to secure resources and achieve success. There’s a simple quote I like by the comedienne and actress Amy Poehler: “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” That has certainly been my experience.

In the context of the Division’s work at York, I think about collaboration as a strategy for transcending silos and driving innovation (more on that value later!). Ample examples indicate how collaboration guides the Division of Students’ vision to be Partners in Student Success. One that comes immediately to mind is YU START, our flagship transition program that we profiled on this blog recently. Quite simply, YU START would not be possible without the engagement of key partners including associate deans, College masters, College Council presidents, Orientation chairs and a variety of student leaders. Working collaboratively and cooperatively, these women and men are challenging our amazing colleagues in the Student Success Centre to continually improve their programming for incoming students. All the while, they are supporting and fueling a student experience at York that stands out for its fresh ideas and supportive character.

Another great example is the York Orientation Directors Association (YODA), the group of student leaders who organize and deliver Orientation Week at York each fall. With representation from every College and several Faculties, YODA is accountable for pan-University decisions that have a significant impact on students and York as a whole. They take their responsibilities very seriously, particularly, for example, in the context of organizing large-scale evening events for thousands of students new to the independence of a university environment. They also live the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We’re going to continue learning from their example, because, further to Amy’s quote, collaboration changes people and processes for the better.

Division of Students Ice Cream Social

What better way to celebrate summer and the spirit of collaboration and community than with cool, sweet treats and games outside? That is exactly what happened  yesterday, July 20, on the lawn in front of the Bennett Centre when VP Students Janet Morrison invited all members of the Division to the 2016 Ice Cream Social as a token of thanks for the work done daily to support student success at York University.

We captured a few moments of the afternoon on camera. Find a sample below and the entire set on Flickr. Enjoy!

 

Division of Students Ice Cream Social, July 2016-01305Division of Students Ice Cream Social, July 2016-01267Division of Students Ice Cream Social, July 2016-01266Division of Students Ice Cream Social, July 2016-01297Division of Students Ice Cream Social, July 2016-01286Division of Students Ice Cream Social, July 2016-01272

Exploring Pathways to Career Success for Students with Disabilities

White glass indoor bridge leading up to a doorway opening in a white wall

Earlier this month, I finished my term as the Chair of the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (H-B) Board of Trustees. Volunteering at this outstanding organization has taught me so much about care for kids with disabilities, their goals and aspirations for the future and — perhaps most importantly — the resilience of the families who rely on H-B for a wide array of services and supports. During my years of service, I have been humbled by their endless courage and strength.

When I met recently with members of the Family Advisory Council to seek their input on the hospital’s 2016–2017 priorities, “transitions” emerged as a dominant theme. Specifically, clients and families expressed concerns about how kids with disabilities transition out of the pediatric health-care system into adult services, and out of secondary school to postsecondary education and/or into the workforce. This last issue was particularly important to parents: individuals with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in the workforce and can face challenges with the job-search process.

At York, equipping young people with the tools they need to lead fulfilling professional and personal lives is one of our priorities. Through a multitude of means, we are working to provide particular support to students who might face special challenges. One specific example is the Disability & Career Committee, which was established in 2010 and includes representatives from Counselling & Disability Services (CDS) and the Career Centre (CC).

The goals of the committee are twofold:

  1. to create an event that would provide York students with disabilities (e.g. physical, learning, mental health) with an opportunity to connect with employers, community service providers and employees to learn more about employment supports, workplace disclosure and accommodations in the workplace;
  2. to build partnerships with community agencies and employers that support students with disabilities, not only to nurture these relationships for future career opportunities but also to build York’s reputation as a professional and supportive environment in which ALL students have equitable access to a range of campus services that assist in facilitating their success.

Smiling woman sitting behind a sign saying "Devices 4 Disabilities" and in front of a CDS banner

To further both aims, we started small in 2011 — with a panel discussion that attracted nine students with disabilities and four community partners/employers. Five years later, that event has evolved into a full-day symposium, the Career Success Symposium for Students with Disabilities, with a keynote speaker, breakout sessions and increased participation from both students and community partners. In 2016, the event featured as its keynote speaker Michael Landsberg, a Bell Let’s Talk spokesperson and the host of Off the Record on TSN; 101 students participated and 14 employers/community partners attended. This marks fabulous progress on our strategic plan to be Partners in Student Success.

This event evolved from a strong partnership between two units within the Division of Students in which we shared our areas of expertise to help meet students’ needs and to encourage their success. We have also created lasting partnerships with community agencies and employers, further strengthening York’s reputation and building future opportunities for York students.  While the symposium takes place once annually, it has created awareness about and “opened doors” to the many workshops and services offered at the Career Centre throughout the year.

The event has also fostered professional development. While the Career Centre has one staff member with expertise in serving students with disabilities, the symposium provides more exposure to these students. As a direct consequence, the whole CC team has gained tools to better support this cohort in their career exploration and job search.

Two young men standing in front of a projected image thanking participants for joining attending the symposium of career opportunities for students with disabilities

Student participants found great value in the event, as these select testimonials from the 2016 event make clear:

Thank you so much. . . . The event was really awesome, and it was a pleasure meeting all the other attendees and hearing about the different services that work to help create an accessible environment for job-seekers with disabilities. I really appreciate all the planning that went into this event; everything was so well coordinated as well. Thank you.

—Tyler Cenac

 I left the event feeling empowered about my future. The event introduced me to resources I didn’t even know existed. Michael Landsberg was such an inspiring speaker. Meeting him has allowed me to meet someone in my area of interest. The workshops were beneficial, as we got to explore areas of interest or weakness in a smaller group.

Ian Wilgus

The career symposium was a great experience for students with disabilities, as it was very uplifting and a morale booster, because you were around like-minded people coming from different walks of life. They were all battling different obstacles to make a mark for themselves, and this gave an opportunity for everyone’s true potential to come out. . . . I felt like employers, organizations and fellow colleagues were looking past these visible and invisible disabilities to be able to give individuals advice on the basis of their merits.

Alamgir Khandwala

Attending the career success symposium at York University for students with disabilities really impacted the way I see myself achieving my career goals and being successful in the workplace. Getting information from various employers about work accommodations and when to disclose to a potential employer was truly empowering. These tips helped me consider the contributions I can make within an organization by knowing how my disability affects me, using my skills and working to my strengths. Most importantly, the takeaway message for me was that as a person with a disability, I can move forward and achieve my career goals successfully and feel confident in applying to a number of opportunities available in the workplace.

—Esther Lawrence

Please join me in congratulating those members of the VPS team who have contributed to making this event happen, and the students who made the time to participate. My hat goes off to all of them!

 

Janet

 

For further reading:

 

Let’s Talk Divisional Values: Care

Scrabble pieces spelling "Care"

Embedded in the Division of Students’ strategic plan are seven values: respect, excellence, innovation, collaboration, accountability, care and inclusion.  Individually and collectively, these values — nested deeply within those of York University as a whole — reflect who we are and who we aspire to be.

In this context, care is both a noun (serious attention applied to doing something correctly) and a verb (to feel concern; to look after and provide for the needs of). Both uses are central to fulfilling our vision to be “Partners in Student Success.” Demonstrating care — by being thoughtful and considered in what we do and how we do it — is fundamental to engagement and success. In a nutshell, students excel when they believe that people are attending to their needs and are invested in their well-being.

In recent years, campus colleagues have been testing a number of hypotheses about how to support students who are at risk of failing a course or becoming academically ineligible to continue. Faculty leaders in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science and in the Department of Biology, for example, have twinned early alert systems with a suite of academic-recovery interventions. A number of Colleges — including Bethune, Calumet and Stong — have implemented an array of retention initiatives, including peer mentoring and supplemental instruction. These efforts reflect York’s commitment to fostering student success. At the end of the day, however, here is what ongoing assessment has revealed: academic performance is positively impacted by even the smallest expression of interest and concern.

We show that concern by making available to students invaluable services through departments such as Counselling & Disability Services, the Office of Student Community Relations, York’s RED Zone and Registrarial Services, and in partnership with other important on-campus partners (i.e. Learning Commons, Community Safety, dean’s offices). We can and must, however, also demonstrate that interest in our everyday interactions by listening to students, showing empathy, coaching them toward solutions or simply greeting them with a smile.

Caring matters and must continue to guide our work.

Warmly,

Janet

Honouring Indigenous Heritage and Knowledge

Door square

Greetings, York community,

Wishing everyone on campus and beyond a happy National Aboriginal Day! In honour of the long-standing relationship our University has to Indigenous heritage and knowledge, and in full acknowledgment of York’s presence on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Huron-Wendat Nation and the Métis Nation, as well as on territory of the Mississaugas of the New Credit Nation, we encourage you today to take a moment to think about this connection and the importance of open dialogue.

To find out more about York’s Centre for Aboriginal Student Services (CASS) and young Indigenous voices on campus, follow the conversation our colleagues at the YUBlog had with two Work/Study students at CASS.

Skennen (in peace)

 

Things to Remember in the Face of Orlando

York University Sign 2 (for Just Janet blog post)

I hugged my children and cried last night as I watched the London Gay Men’s Chorus sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at a vigil for Orlando in the United Kingdom. In the face of hate and unfathomable violence, the strength and compassion of the LGBTQ2S community shone like a beacon of light. Like President Shoukri, Provost Lenton and Vice-President Brewer last night, I want to extend my condolences to the families of those killed on Sunday, as well as my unwavering support to LGBTQ2S students at York, in Toronto and around the world.

York University is a large, richly diverse learning environment; collectively we hold sacred the values of respect and inclusion. Students, faculty and staff on our campuses pride ourselves on working hard to create safe spaces for everyone. Particularly in this time of shock, sadness and profound grief, however, please take the time to be there for your peers and colleagues — at York, let’s make sure that community remains the fulcrum of support and engagement. Also remember that if you would like to talk to someone, you should contact Personal Counselling Services, the Office of Student Community Relations or Good2Talk.

If you’d like to talk to me personally, email me at vpstdnts@yorku.ca or call me at 416-736-5955.

Please take care of yourself and each other.

Janet