Sarah Comandante and Carl Miller discuss the legacy project
Bowen Assman interviewed Sarah Comandante and Carl Miller on January 24, 2019.
BA: Can you explain to me what the bursary is and how much money is involved in it as of right now?
SC: The emergency mental health fund is essentially a bursary that can be accessible to students in every year concerning mental health problems or mental health difficulties. It’s going to be distributed under the purview of the Health and Counseling Center. This isn’t going to be a bursary that people apply for and we’re trying to eliminate that third party in there because one of the biggest problems with mental health is breaking down that stigma. For a lot of people just applying for something to say, “I’m having a hard time” is something that’s going to deter them from even wanting to go and get help. This is something that the psychologists, the doctors and the nurses can distribute as they see fit within the Health and Counseling Center. The bursary is intentionally very open-ended, and we purposefully did not put strict stipulations on it so that it has the potential to reach as many students as possible. We’re kind of using the same examples. They’re very arbitrary but it could range from someone who is having a really hard time and isn’t able to work so they’re having to take some time off of work and this money is giving them a grocery card because they’re not able to pay for their groceries right now or if someone experiences a death in the family and needs to fly home, it could potentially cover the cost of a flight. It’s something that we’re really trying to make very open-ended. We got off to a bit of a slow start around X Ring and the Day of Giving but just in the past week and a half we’ve gotten some pretty substantial private donors and we’re speaking to all of the local businesses in town, as well as Bell Alliant, so I don’t have a number right now because there’s so much in limbo.
BA: How will the Health and Counseling Center distribute money?
CM: Yeah, so it is tough because you say, “What is mental health?” With an emergency fund, people immediately think, oh it is for counselling or therapy sessions. What it is intended for is, let’s say you broke your leg, or something really serious happened physically, ok, we have resources for that. If somebody dies in your family or you get into a really tough situation which you know everybody does, this isn’t going to fix it but it could be one more support for people who find themselves in a situation where it’s just not going to work. If income is limited in a specific time span or something you know personal happens and they just need a hand, the councilors will have access to that funding.
SC: The money is going to go into an endowment fund, and it is going to be paid out on the interest rate. The money that’s going to be given to the Counseling Center every year is going to be the fixed amount from the interest coming out of that endowment fund, and that will be the money that they can work with for the year. Essentially, they can use it on one student or they can use it on ten. If there is a rollover from year to year, then maybe the next year will have some more money. The intent is that all the money going in right now is going to go into that endowment fund and the money coming off annually is going to be from that interest rate so that the bursary is sustainable for itself.
BA: And you don’t have to specifically ask for it? Is it given out?
SC: It’s a tricky thing that when we were discussing the terms and conditions with the Health and Counselling Center, one of the hardest things was how do we assess who to give this money to and we kind of came to the conclusion that physicians and psychiatrists and psychologists are going to be the people that are going to be best able to assess the need of individuals and so we’re hoping that by people knowing that this is a potential support for them, it can also encourage people to go get some help and to go in there. We don’t know yet if it’s going to be people going in and saying that they think they need help, but a lot of times, things that get disclosed in counseling sessions can be a trigger for a counselor to say maybe this is something where I could help make this person’s life easier. It is tricky because you really have to be careful that people aren’t going to go in and ask for this money and take advantage of it. But because it’s not going to be done by an application basis, it’s not like anyone can write themselves up a story.
BA: It’s kind of tough to balance?
CM: Yes, it is broad enough but not enough to abuse it.
SC: Yeah, this was really the best way that we could find that it was going to be distributed appropriately under these professionals. If you had a committee for bursaries and scholarships where there’s a committee of people who decide who gets what, we didn’t think it would be appropriate to have people have to disclose personal details of their life and then who are those people on the committee to decide whether or not they deserve the money right?
BA: Yes, so why the focus on mental health, especially in 2019 today?
SC: Over our last four years at least here, I think we really spoke about how this campus has seen a lot of change. There’s been a lot of major events that have happened here, and we wanted this legacy project for the class of 2019 to be something that really encompassed what we’ve experienced. Breaking the stigma around mental health as well as sexual violence has been a huge thing that’s plagued our class. We wanted to find a way to kind of bring those two things together and really work towards it, because as much as there are a lot of efforts towards breaking down the stigma of mental health, it’s something that is constantly prevalent and no matter what everyone has mental health and everyone will experience a mental health problem in their life whether or not that be a mental illness but that is how statistics are shown. If it’s not you, it’s your roommate or it’s your best friend. It really can be applied to everyone.
CM: Yeah. I think the strong point is if you’re lucky enough to get to university without it happening to you directly, it is happening to one of your friends who have found themselves in a situation where there isn’t really a noticeable change in behavior so you just hope they can kind of tough it out. I think it resonates with a lot of people, if not on the personal scale then definitely somebody close to you.
SC: Yeah, we were talking about for X-Ring is that the idea of students contributing to this bursary is a way for students to directly give to other students and to show their support to other people. So, how much more positively we can affect others when they’re going through something like this is to show that our community is behind them and that money coming from the students is going directly back to the students. So, it’s a way to keep it within where it matters.
BA: Branching on that, the decision to start the mental health bursary was from whom?
SC: It was from us, we made the idea. There was a lot of just like trying to bounce off ideas and we had a couple ideas for the bursary. This was the way we could meld them all together. Then, we put out a poll and we put out a form asking, “this is an idea we have right now. Do you support it or not support it or do you have another idea?” So that was like our best way to grasp it and we had almost unanimously people support it. We probably got around ten responses of people that had other ideas, but it was like nine out of the ten other ideas were actually for this. It was just that we hadn’t explained the bursary well enough or we weren’t able to explain it well enough in those stages. So, it was kind of a common theme.
CM: Yeah, and I think one of the good things about me and Sarah’s presence is that we had the two perspectives of a student who lives far away and a student who comes from here. I think this was a good center point and something that everyone understands because if not, it’s kind of like focused towards one or the other, but I think this really applies for everybody
SC: We found that we wanted to make a bursary for literally everyone because a lot of the scholarships or the bursaries, there is such specific criteria that it’s almost like some groups are just always not able to access it. We were like, how do we make something that has the potential for everybody to actually access?
BA: Last year’s was for refugee students?
SC: Yeah, and that was with WUSC (World University Service of Canada).
BA: Does that one continue on and then this one will continue as well so there’ll be numerous bursaries?
SC: Yeah, so this is the fourth year of the legacy project and it’s basically like they’re all always there. So, the whole point of the endowment is that in 30 years there will be 30 bursaries for 30 different things. This got started by the class presidents I think four years ago and they had the idea of leaving a legacy project. The idea was that you could do a capital project or you can do like a bursary and it’s just happened that all of the classes have found that the bursaries are most successful. They’re still even fundraising for last year’s bursary. The amount of money that bursary is providing every year is going specifically to that bursary and then when people donate, they can direct their donation. When you go to the StFX website, you can direct it to a certain year’s bursary.
BA: How long are these bursaries expected to last for?
CM: If you take the interest year-by-year it’ll always be there.
SC: The whole goal is to have as much in that endowment fund as possible so that the yearly payout is as high as it possibly can be.
BA: What are your other roles as class presidents?
CM: Right now, that was kind of the big thing (bursary), that and X-Ring really had been the first semester of, “Whoa, okay let’s get these things under control.” But now, second semester we are really trying to plan some activities for the senior class to come together one last time and meet some new people.
SC: We are having a grad fair, it’s going to happen hopefully at the end of March. We’re working it out with Alumni Affairs right now. We are doing a grad fair that’s going to be just a little thing probably in the McKay room one afternoon and it’ll be things like getting fitted for your gowns, photos, selling tickets and stuff for all the events for the weekend. Another thing we’re working on is the time capsule. All of the classes have a time capsule. We’re going to put it out pretty soon, but we were going to enlist the help of hopefully some seniors to create the physical box because it is a cool artsy project, but we’re both science students so that’s not going to work (laughs). We need people to do that.
We’re also working on developing a digital time capsule where every senior has a chance to put in a 30- second video or some pictures or something of themselves. We’re working on that and the time capsule is like a whole event during Xaverian farewell. We’ve raised some money from first semester from some different events like one-month raffle tickets and X-Ring tickets. We’re really trying to find ideas for stuff that people would be interested in doing and planning events, but essentially from here on out there will be new senior class presidents in like a month and we will have to help plan grad. Grad is pretty low key compared to X-Ring.
BA: I hear that it is not a big deal (grad).
SC: It’s just that it happens after the fact but there’s some really cool events happening. I had no idea there was like a lobster dinner. They put on a big lobster dinner, as it is hard to get dinner reservations. If we can put some money towards subsidizing the ticket, everyone can go to that and there’s like three nights at the Inn. The last night of grad you stay up all night at the Inn as the party doesn’t even start until late and then they serve breakfast at 4am there. There’s actually a lot of cool events. The hard thing is that it happens after we have all left. The only reason I know this stuff is because I work at the Inn, so we worked grad weekend and it has the potential for a lot of cool stuff.
Anyone interested in donating to this year’s bursary can visit the website stfx.ca/class0f2019.