Respecting Differences in Student Residence Support

Although UBC offers services that address the issue of loneliness within its student population, it’s important to consider the type of loneliness; who experiences it and in what way. As an international student, the student residence services website was the most accessible to me and coming from a very similar context (Australia to Vancouver) I found this information relatable and relevant. However, this information may not be as useful for international students coming from other contexts or cultures. Similarly, people who don’t gain satisfaction from interacting with others, people who are highly introverted, may experience and therefore find solutions to loneliness, in different ways. In this way, the support services UBC provides online may serve only to further alienate individuals who do not find “eating with others” or “leav[ing] your door open” as comfortable ways to overcome their personal sense of loneliness.

Chandra Mohanty, a feminist scholar, discusses in her article “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses” about the need to view things from different perspectives, and different cultures. Our different contexts can change our understanding of the world and our experience within it. Although UBC’s methods of combatting loneliness are relevant to its physical location within British Columbia, the students on campus come from many different walks of life. It is important to recognise and honour these differences through cultural sensitivity and respect.Furthermore, it is important to not conflate loneliness with being alone. Most of the solutions suggested

Furthermore, it is important to not conflate loneliness with being alone. Most of the solutions suggested involve interacting with others. For an introvert, this may not be the preferred method of remedying the feeling of loneliness that can come with such a significant and abrupt change of location and lifestyle, as often happens when starting university in a new place. There are already so many instances that require interaction with unfamiliar people when first integrating into a new community that for some, staying in with a good book, or trying meditation may be the best way to overcome a feeling of loneliness. Feeling lonely is a natural reaction to being in a new environment where everyone and everything is foreign, but being lonely does not mean you are physically alone. Sometimes, the best way to not feel lonely, is to be counterintuitive, and spend time on your own.


Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. 1984. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship And Colonial Discourses”. Boundary 2 12 (3): 333-358.

Robinson, Janice. 2016. “Feeling Lonely?”. Vancouver.Housing.Ubc.Ca. http://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/feeling-lonely/.

The Friendship Bench: Cons

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In this blog post we’ll be exploring why the Friendship Bench doesn’t work and how it is ineffective in combating loneliness.

  • The Weather
    • They don’t call it raincouver for nothing. Putting the Friendship Bench outdoors doesn’t seem very practical for everyday use. This year in particular it rained hard almost everyday during the months of October and November. Students are less likely to want to be outside when it’s ugly outside, let alone sit on a bench and chat. Unfortunately UBC didn’t pick the most practical or encouraging spot to put the bench, it may have been better placed somewhere central and indoors – perhaps the nest (main student hub).
  • Othering
    • The Friendship Bench encourages conversations about one’s mental health. This begs the question: do we label ourselves as mentally ill just by sitting on the bench?
    • A  piece by bell hooks entitled “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance” explains that within society, there is “pleasure to be found in the acknowledgement and enjoyment of …difference” (21) and therefore exploitation as well. It’s an interesting topic to explore. Do we label ourselves just by sitting on a yellow bench? Does this bench actually promote judgement by the people walking by, rather than acceptance and honesty? Is this in so some way a form of public humiliation that we inflict on ourselves with good intention? Unfortunately this bench equates loneliness with mental illness, which is problematic because then by sitting down the bench, one might be labelled as mentally ill rather than labelled as trying to make a friend.
    • While this is exactly the stigma that the bench is working against and there are no right answers to the questions posed above, passers by must explore whether or not this bench actually feeds into the stigma it’s trying to break down.
  • Time
    • Students and faculty are very busy. There are ten minutes in between classes and if students do have a break between classes, they often want to use this time to get ahead on school work. I can’t imagine a time where I would feel that I had the time to sit and wait for someone to sit next to me.
    • The bench is supposed to be a reminder to take time out of your day to breathe and to stop for a minute and chat with someone, but will anyone actually do it? Time will tell.
  • What if?
    • It takes courage to sit down on the Friendship Bench. There are a lot of uncertainties involved: What if no one sits down next to me? What if I don’t like them? What if they judge me? What if we don’t click? What if it’s awkward? What if other people are judging me?
    • The people that the bench is designed to help (people who are lonely or who suffer from mental illness) would likely struggle with these questions more than anyone. They are the least likely to put themselves in such a vulnerable situation as to sit down on a bright yellow bench that screams “I’m lonely and want to talk about my mental health” for all of UBC to see.
    • While the bench was designed to bring attention to the conversation surrounding mental health and loneliness (which are not the same thing), it may end up bringing more attention to the individuals rather than the conversation, which can be quite harmful to someone who may already be struggling with these issues. The Friendship Bench is not exactly approachable and may be considered a safe space for conversations surrounding mental health, but might not be a safe and comfortable space for an individual to put themselves in.

hooks, bell. (1992). Eating the other: desire and  resistance. In Black looks: race and representation, pp. 21-39.

The Friendship Bench: Pros

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In this post we will be exploring the ways in which the Friendship Bench works and some of the positive ways that it works to combat loneliness on campus.

  • Inclusive
    • The best part about this bench is that it doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can sit here no matter their gender, race, class, ability, or age. If the person is on the UBC campus, this bench is available to them.
    • Lynet Uttal has a written piece called “Nods that Silence” in which she expresses her frustration for complacent agreement when it comes to conversations surrounding social justice . This bench is a way for students to “learn to listen as well as hear on another” (319). Therefore combating the complacent agreement surrounding loneliness, this bench breaks the silence and forces a conversation surrounding mental health and loneliness. Once one sits on this bench, they get to reclaim their subjectivity and feel free to say exactly what is on their mind to a stranger who is willing to listen.
  • Initiation
    • Initiation is easy. All you have to do is sit. There is no pressure to sit or not to sit, only if you feel like it. Once you have initiated by sitting on the bench, other people are more likely to come and join.
    • The bench itself is an icebreaker. There is no need for awkward small talk because the bench itself is something to talk about. The whole idea behind the friendship bench is to start a conversation about a person’s mental state, whether they’re in a good place or a bad place, the idea is to get a conversation started. So no need to worry about being awkward – the conversation topics have already been chosen.
  • Face to Face
    • Another great part about this bench is that it requires face to face action. This is a way for lonely people to come and find another lonely person and talk in real life – not behind a screen. One of the biggest contributors to loneliness, according to Forbes magazine, is technology. While we may think that social media is keeping us closer to the people we love, it actually makes it easier for us to avoid human contact – contributing heavily to loneliness. This bench is an awesome way to combat that, by sitting on this bench it forces a face to face conversation and encourages meeting new people who may even become friends.
  • Free
    • The best part about the Friendship Bench is that it’s free. You can sit on the bench all day if you like and you won’t be charged a penny. Unfortunately, our capitalist society often takes advantage of the issues that we have by commodifying them. Many companies have taken advantage of loneliness by selling a solution, charging for professional cuddling services is an example of these.
    • Even going out with friends is rarely a free activity – coffee, dinner, drinks can all add up, making socializing and combating loneliness an expensive necessity.
    • This bench is a free way to create human contact and conversation which is a rarity in our society today.

 

Utall, Lynet. (1990). “Nods that Silence.” In Anzaldua, G. (ed.), Making Face, making soul, hacienda caras,  pp. 317-320.

The Friendship Bench: What is it?

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UBC recently put a Friendship Bench on West Mall. The Friendship Bench is a yellow bench that encourages students to sit down and chat to each other. The bench is supposed to be a safe space for people to talk honestly and openly about mental health and really answer the question “how are you?” with more than just a few words.

The Lucas Fiorello Friendship Bench is a not-for-profit initiative that started when Lucas Fiorello took his own life in 2014. His family and friends remembered him as someone who reached out to others who were suffering from depression and anxiety, even though he was facing those issues himself.

With the hashtag #yellowisforhello, the bench is a reminder to students to take time to everyday to “to sit, breathe and talk (or think) about their mental health and that of their friends”. It has been implemented in universities and secondary schools to help students combat loneliness by creating face-to-face connections with other students.

 

“The Friendship Bench – About.” The Friendship Bench, Dec. 6 2016, https://thefriendshipbench.org/the-lucas-fiorella-friendship-bench/

Student Residence Support

The University of British Columbia offers a page of useful resources for student residences, particularly aimed at new students, to help them find their place on campus. This site offers advice for making friends, living with a roommate, making good choices and maintaining mental health. One particular section, titled “Feeling Lonely?” provides ten steps to combat loneliness, including advice on being more social and seeking assistance. This site is useful in that it doesn’t conflate loneliness with a mental illness, it presents it as a human experience that has small and simple solutions.

1. Live in residence. It’s one of the best ways to meet people, adjust and succeed at university.

2. Hang out in the residence lounge, not in your room.

3. Eat with others. If you live in Totem or Vanier, your floor or house has special tables in the cafeteria where residents regularly sit. Just ask your Residence Advisor. If you go by yourself, and there’s someone at the table you don’t know, sit in the next free seat and introduce yourself.

4. If you want company, leave your door open when in your room. Others will stop and say hello.

5. Read bulletin boards and flyers around residence. See what’s going on, and go check it out. It’s fine to go by yourself.

6. Talk to a Residence Advisor about upcoming activities and programs you might enjoy.

7. Go to the Residence Involvement Fair (September) to learn residence committees like football, ultimate, musical, newsletter, sustainability and more.

8. See about getting involved with your residence association.

9. Go to Alma Mater Society Clubs Day (mid-September) at the Student Union Building (SUB). See if there’s a club that interests you. Getting involved in campus organizations is a great way to build campus connections.

10. If you’re still having a hard time, talk with a Residence Advisor or the Residence Life Manager. They can’t fix the problem—but they’ll listen and try to help you find answers.

(http://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/feeling-lonely/)

As an international student coming to UBC to live on campus, I accessed this site prior to the beginning of semester and found it to be a helpful resource in normalising an experience I was very apprehensive about. Although the site does offer further support links, it doesn’t imply a more serious problem must be at hand. It offers straightforward and easy to follow steps that are relevant to students living on campus and experiencing the sense of loneliness that is almost unavoidable when first embarking on your university career in a new and foreign environment.

 

Robinson, Janice. 2016. “Feeling Lonely?”. Vancouver.Housing.Ubc.Ca. http://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/feeling-lonely/.

UBC Collegia

The first year at a University is the hardest for all students to overcome as it is a whole new experience that we aren’t prepared to go through on our own. There are different struggles that students face when they live on-campus or off-campus but they are still difficult.

From my own experience, my first year was the hardest year for me to handle as I lived on-campus in a town far away from home and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. This had a serious effect on my schoolwork since I was feeling very depressed and lonely and as a result, I was put on Academic Probation after my first year. I ignored my dorm mates and had a roommate who moved out after the first month so it was very difficult for me to have anyone to turn to and yet I felt as if I had to hide this from everyone.

My main regret from my first year at University is that I didn’t look out for any communities for me to join or seek out any assistance to cope with my depression before it led up to me ending up on Academic Probation.

One example that I have come across during my campus tour is the UBC Collegia Program.

The UBC Collegia Program is a community for first-year students, who are living off-campus, to join in where they have access to a kitchen, a study area, and just a place to meet friends.

There are various pros and cons about this program.

As a pro, this is an effective way for students to get to know each other since they meet people from various faculties who are all first years. Another example would be that it could help students with their studies since they have an extra space for them to study in but they could also create study groups more easily. There are also workshops and programs within UBC Collegia that student’s are allowed to attend as well that can help their University experience.

A con are the fact that there is a fee to become a member for this program which not every student is able to afford. Another con would be that there is no control over who gets to join so it would be difficult to control the type of space that UBC Collegia could create that other students might not find welcoming.

 

“The UBC Collegia Program | Student Services”. 2016. Students.Ubc.Ca. http://students.ubc.ca/campus/discover/collegia.

 

CBC claims that ove 70% of Students battle loneliness

As reported by CBC, a recent survey was done for the National College Health Assessment with 43000 students from Canadian Universities. It was reported that 66% of students experienced a sense of loneliness over the past year. Over half of the students also reported that they felt very depressed throughout the year and it was ‘difficult to function’.

The article goes on to state that this is a phenomenon that most of the counselor’s at Universities (such as the counselor’s on the Winnipeg Campus) are aware of. David Ness, the director of student counselling at the University of Manitoba, suggested for students to join groups as a way ‘to stave off loneliness’ and that they should ‘reach out before it reaches a crisis’.

“Nearly 70% Of University Students Battle Loneliness During School Year, Survey Says”. 2016. CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/university-loneliness-back-to-school-1.3753653.