Together with the College of the North Atlantic (CNA), Memorial University is working on an initiative that will ensure an accessible and inclusive environment for students with individual learning needs associated with disability(s) and/or mental health issues. Both institutions are participating in a shared, provincial conversation to examine existing programs and services on post-secondary campuses across the province.
Dr. David Philpott, professor in the Faculty of Education, is a recognized expert in special education and is leading the project along with Elizabeth Chaulk, associate vice-president, learner services, at CNA. The process to date has included a literature review and environmental scan. As well, a series of consultations with more than 260 members of the Memorial community and organizations and individuals throughout the province has just been completed.
“What we’ve heard throughout the consultations is there’s a real interest in looking at how we respond to these students, and in becoming more proactive,” explained Dr. Philpott. “We need to create an ecology of well-being so that we have an environment in which these students can identify their needs and get effective support without fear of stigma or repercussion – creating a more inclusive and healthy campus.”
Now that the information gathering process is complete, Dr. Philpott and Ms. Chaulk will complete a report for Memorial’s associate vice-president academic and CNA’s president that will outline recommendations and a road map toward healthy post-secondary campuses across our province.
“This project is the second of three specific initiatives developed in response to the recommendation of the Teaching and Learning Framework to provide support to academically vulnerable students,” said Dr. Doreen Neville, associate vice-president academic and co-lead on the Teaching and Learning Framework. “An effective institutional response to students with individual learning needs associated with disability(s) and/or mental health will position Memorial University as a leader in the development of inclusive and effective learning environments for all students.”
Memorial presently has services that do support vulnerable students, including the Counseling Centre, Glenn Roy Blundon Centre and the Student Health Centre. The issue, according to Dr. Philpott, is that people aren’t always aware of the services or the referral process.
“Also, the services may not be appropriately scaled,” added Dr. Philpott. “When conducting the environmental scan we included a needs assessment on our campuses, and we’ve discovered that the need for support of vulnerable students has increased. So there are more students with more complex needs than ever before.”
But Dr. Philpott says this is a good thing.
“It means that more students with individual learning needs are graduating the K-12 system with the marks, skills and, more importantly, the confidence to continue on with a post-secondary education.”
However, he cautions that without the appropriate support services in place, drop out rates within the vulnerable student population will remain high.
In order to create a healthy campus for students, Dr. Philpott emphasized the inclusion of staff and faculty and the importance of the role they will play.
“They’re the ones interacting with students,” he said, “so the need to provide training for our staff and faculty is profound. While students with disabilities are the largest population of students seeking supports, mental health is the number one concern not only regionally, but also globally.”
“As mental wellness is one of the most important and challenging issues on university campuses and workplaces in Canada, Memorial is committed to further supporting a culture of psychological safety to enhance the well-being of our employees,” said Stephen Dodge, director of Memorial’s Department of Human Resources. “In fact, on April 29 our department is hosting a leadership forum titled Mental Wellness in the Workplace. This will increase awareness and provide education on the complexities of mental health and wellness in the workplace, in particular from a psychological health and safety, human rights and human resources, and business best practices point of view. This forum is one of many initiatives to be introduced over the coming months.”
Dr. Philpott and Ms. Chaulk plan to have a report submitted by fall 2013. The report will contain recommendations on processes and guidelines that will better ensure an accessible and inclusive post-secondary learning community for all students, faculty and staff.