Much Ado About Studio Culture Pt. 1: Toronto’s students are restless

Much Ado About Studio Culture Pt. 1: Toronto’s students are restless

 

Editor’s note: On March 29, 2014 we wrote commentary on the news that students at the University of Toronto were up to no good, making noise about the worrisome state of mental health in the architecture school. In an ArchiteXX exclusive, we are excited to follow up our report with a note from the students themselves.

By the Graduate Architecture, Landscape, and Design Student Union at the University of Toronto

On December 4th, 2013 the Graduate Architecture, Landscape, and Design Student Union of the University of Toronto launched its very first mental health survey. The survey was born out of a desire to better understand the needs of our membership. Each of us had our own perspectives on common behaviours in architecture school, but none of us could back our claims with substantial evidence. It took a couple of months to process the results of our first survey to measure behavior and mental health among our colleagues, and it was not until March 2014 that we published the report internally. Reaction to the report was incredible, and on March 24th we made the decision to go public with our findings, hoping to spark a conversation beyond U of T’s walls.

It has been an eventful couple of months since we made the report public. Many websites have reported on our study, from ArchDaily to Archinect (and, of course, ArchiteXX). We have been overwhelmed by invitations to events and requests for more information. We could hardly believe that a single report from an unknown student union could spark so much debate! The reaction clearly indicates that many of the issues our report brings to light—sleeplessness, self-esteem, depression—resonate far beyond our school, causing us to question the broader culture of architectural education today, of which we are a small part.

While many by now have seen the survey, few know the origin of the report, much less how we hope to instrumentalize the findings down the road. Let’s start with how the Mental Health Report came about in the first place. We have all either personally experienced or heard of architecture school’s reputation as a potentially unhealthy environment. However, we needed metrics in order to move beyond the anecdote; we needed to take the time to study ourselves and represent our findings. As mentioned, the survey was part of our attempt to better understand the behaviour patterns of our membership–graduate students in architecture, landscape and urban design–in order to tailor GALDSU initiatives to meet their needs.

Café 069, one of the most important student spaces at the University of Toronto Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design,  crucial to the health and well-being of the community.

Café 069, one of the most important student spaces at the University of Toronto Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, crucial to the health and well-being of the community.

The survey is also just a small part of our larger Mental Health Initiative, a student-led project to improve working conditions at the faculty. Currently universities across Canada are re-examining their approaches to dealing with issues of mental health. From the get-go, we  reached out to faculties within the University of Toronto and other universities in order to gather as much background knowledge as possible on the subject. We sought out the help of PhD candidate Alex Daros from the Department of Psychology, an invaluable voice in helping shape the survey. Currently, we are in discussions with the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union’s Mental Health Committee to organize surveys similar to our own at other graduate departments and run mental health focus groups organized by the University administration. Last but not least, we are reaching out to architecture schools across Canada to brainstorm creative ways to tackle such difficult issues as mental health together.

While we know architecture education cannot be reformed overnight, we envision our school as a centre for broader discussion on the future of how architects are educated and trained. The time has come for the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff to be considered as an important factor when judging the quality of architecture education. We know there is a lot of work to be done, so let’s get to it!

Readers, please contact us at galdsu@daniels.utoronto.ca if you are interested in doing a similar study of mental health in your institution.

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