Valedictorian calls for more mental health supports for UPEI's international students

·3 min read
Ngozi Agwagom, who is from Nigeria, says she felt like the odds were stacked against her.  (UPEI - image credit)
Ngozi Agwagom, who is from Nigeria, says she felt like the odds were stacked against her. (UPEI - image credit)

A UPEI valedictorian used her convocation day speech to highlight the challenges facing international students at Prince Edward Island's only university.

Ngozi Agwagom also called on UPEI to hire more people of colour as counsellors on campus.

Agwagom is from Nigeria, and majored in both biology and psychology. She was one of more than 950 students to graduate Friday, and delivered the valedictory speech for the Faculty of Science.

Agwagom says she felt like the odds were stacked against her on campus, mentioning financial challenges that caused her to "crumble" in her third year.

'More has to be done'

"So believe me when I say that more has to be done in the consideration of the mental health of international students," Agwagom said in her address, which was online because of pandemic protocols on P.E.I. that limit large gatherings.

In a statement to CBC News, UPEI says it's impressed by the graduates 'resilience and optimism' noting the challenges created by the pandemic.
In a statement to CBC News, UPEI says it's impressed by the graduates 'resilience and optimism' noting the challenges created by the pandemic. (CBC)

"Support does not seem to be practically existent for international students. For this reason, I implore that there be more people of colour employed as counsellors on the campus. This cannot be overemphasized, as most of the time the struggles of international students cannot be properly understood or acknowledged by those who have not been through what it is we go through."

Agwagom said hiring more counsellors of colour would encourage more international students to seek help when they need it.

UPEI said it's always interested in hearing from its students.

In a statement to CBC News, the university said it's impressed by the graduates' "resilience and optimism" — especially given the challenges created by the pandemic since March of 2020.

COVID-19's toll on normal life was reflected in the fact that UPEI's graduation ceremonies this past week were a mix of online and in-person celebrations.

The university said in its statement that it will continue to work with students to create a "supportive and welcoming environment" on campus.

'We listen to our students'

The statement went on to say, "We listen to our students, and learning from them is an integral part of our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion."

In November, the UPEI Student Union released a survey of students that painted a sobering picture of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic had taken.
In November, the UPEI Student Union released a survey of students that painted a sobering picture of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic had taken. (CBC)

In November, the UPEI Student Union released a survey of students that painted a sobering picture of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic had taken.

Nearly two-thirds of the students who replied to the voluntary survey reported struggling more with mental health issues and 11 per cent said they had had thoughts related to suicide.

UPEI said at the time that faculty and staff were working alongside the student union to "support our students during this difficult and unprecedented time."

'Supporting ourselves and each other'

Dr. Zoe Rutledge, valedictorian for the faculty of veterinary medicine, also addressed the mental health challenges students faced this year.

"We know that the field of veterinary medicine can be tough. We know all too well the toll that it can take on our mental health, on our lives. As we embark on this wonderful career doing what we love — caring for our beloved patients, their families, and our communities — let's make sure that we are also supporting ourselves and each other," Rutledge said, according to a release sent out by the university.

"Let's check in, let's keep in touch. Let's hold each other up and strive to make this profession one of kindness, inclusivity, and care for ourselves and for one another."

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