Meet the Lit — Mental Health & Sustainability

By Shania Perera

Hi everyone! Here are our sweet Mental Health and Sustainability Commissioners! They care very much about these two very important topics, and they encourage you to engage with their respect commissions in 2018. Hope everyone’s having a great semester so far. You can check out Thomas’s Spotify playlist here and Michelle’s here

Thomas Pender:

What’s your role on the Lit, and what brought you to it in the first place?

I am the Mental Health Commissioner on the UCLit. I was mainly drawn to it because last year was the first year that the commission ever existed, and as a first year I joined it and was ratified to it as a first year rep. I really liked the work they were doing, the whole concept around it: advocating for mental health for students here on campus. I wanted to get more involved, so when the commission opened up again for this year I applied and got it.

What do you think is most important about advocating for mental illness awareness, especially on college campuses?

Well, it always seems to be that one thing that’s just pushed aside, you know? There are so many student issues and mental health seems to be the one thing that admin pushes in the corner. UofT is all about competition and success at all costs, but in a lot of cases the cost is your mental health. Especially in an extremely academic-oirneted campus it’s really important to have groups that go out and are like, “Hey! We should not be pushing people to their extremes.” A 4.0 is good, but at what cost, you know?

I think it’s just good to have groups that advocate for better services her eon campus because a lot of people say that what we have is not good enough. We need better policies on mental health.

What’s you opinion on the Mandate of Leave Policy?

Not a big fan… I think it’s really just blaming students for having issues. I think it just puts someone who’s not a medial professional in the power to just completely remove a student from campus against their will, with very little information. They say that they’re only doing it in very extreme cases, but opening that door is very dangerous.

I think the better thing to do is create better services on campus for students. The priority should be helping students get better instead of just putting them out when they need help.

I figured you would say that. What has your commission done in the past, and what do you plan on doing this semester?

I’m going to be real, the past semester has been a little slow. But there were a few errors and things like that. This semester we’re really looking forward to a few things. We’re planning a movie night with Peer 2 Peer towards the end of January. Peer 2 Peer is a group on campus that does facilitated group discussions. So we’ll watch a movie and have a group discussion based on the themes from the movie. Later in February we’re having a yoga night in the middle of midterms as a de-stressing event. And towards March we’re looking at something that the commission did last year, which was have a panel focusing on student issues towards mental health here on campus. Those are the big three things we’re looking to do this semester, and I pray they all go well.

Let’s talk about you for a bit. What are your interests and hobbies?

I would say that I’m definitely one of those people who you think is really quiet and then as soon as you know me, you want to get rid of me. My interest range from standard movies, TV shows, etc., to, like, biochemistry. That’s kind of my thing. I play a few instruments, just your standard stuff.

What kind of instruments do you play?

I play piano, I sing. I play French horn.

That’s so cool! I played the French horn when I was in high school. Do you have any favourite TV shows/movies?

Let’s see… I’m on my third binge-watch of Parks and Rec at this point. Definitely a favourite, there. There have been a lot of great TV shows this past year, like the Handmaiden’s Tale.

Since the Commission is fairly new, what are your plans to keep it going for the next few years?

It being a newer commission is kind of nice because we get so much trial and error. There’s a lot of freedom to do whatever you want. It’s nice to have stuff like — we have the Zen Zone on the balcony of the JCR. I’m not sure how many people know about it.

People know about it… for different reasons.

Well, yeah. But it’s nice to have that one constant thing for everyone to use for years to come. At the same time, we can try out different events and what sticks. They did the mental health panel last year, for instance. Hopefully that can be something that continues annually. Our traditions can form out of all this trial and error.

What do you do to de-stress?

As much as I advocate for it, I’m not the best in practice. I would definitely say to just make time for yourself to de-stress and step away from everything. Take three hours on a Saturday and just lie down and do nothing, you know what I mean?

How would people get in touch if they wanted to work on the Commission?

We do have a Facebook group, like any other UC Commission. So you can find us under the UCLit group tab on the Facebook page. If you want to directly contact me, I’m on Facebook or you can e-mail me at We’re going to have more commission meetings every month, so look out for the event pages and if you see one that interests you definitely come check it out!

Michelle Zhong:

Did you do anything fun over the break now that we’re back?

I went back home to Vancouver. It was great. I got to rest well. My mom let me sleep in until whenever.

That’s sounds great. Whenever I sleep in my parents are like, “Why are you waking up at 2pm everyday?”

My dad yells but my mom is forgiving.

It’s a lot warmer there too, I guess.

Yeah, I basically skipped the coldest three weeks in Toronto.

Lucky you! What year are you in? What do you study?

I am in fourth year, so I’m graduating this year. I specialize in geography and minor in environmental education to understand how people interact with the environment and things like that.

What do you do on the Lit, and how did you come across this position? How is it fulfilling for you?

I’m the Sustainability Commissioner. The role was created last year, actually, as a new commission, along with mental Health. It was a position based on application, so I applied and got in. This year is my second year as Sustainability Commissioner and it’s been really fulfilling in the sense that I’ve been able to advocate for sustainability in the UC community and sort of bring that to people’s attention because it hasn’t exactly been an issue of awareness before.

What do you guys do on your commission since it’s quite new?

One event that went on last year and this year was the Pumpkin Spice Coffee event. So basically people can bring their own mug to campus and then we collaborate with Diabolos to bring you all free coffee in the Fall. It ties people’s interest into environmental behavior. Actually, if you bring your own mug to any coffee-selling stations on campus you get 4% off, as well as other discounts. Diabolos mug service is great if you come to the JCR a lot. If you leave your mug with them, they’ll clean it afterwards.

We also had a salad event last month with Dig in! Campus Agriculture. They are a group that grows vegetables on campus. During the event we ate food that was grown on campus, and organic foods that were grown in Ontario.

That’s so cool!

Yeah, that was really great. We’re hoping to do another planting event soon. That’ll be a take-home plant event. Campus Agriculture and Wellness will be there to teach us how to grow our own herbs and vegetables at home. It’s meant to bring about awareness that our food actually comes from global cities; all around the world, and that actually creates quite a few problems with abuse of fertilizer, things like that. Local agriculture is always a really great way to participate in a more community-based and local-based environmental movement.

I have a succulent in my room from an exam de-stressor event that Daniela ran a few months ago, and apparently I keep overwatering it because the leaves keep falling off. I still need to develop that green touch.

That was actually our commission! We collaborated with Mental Health. Plants actually make you feel better. Just don’t water your succulent, water it once a month and leave it by a window.

What do you do in your spare time?

I recently watched The Greatest Showman, and I’m telling everyone to watch it. It was such a good movie! It’s very much about self-acceptance. I was in tears throughout the entire first half.

I also like to draw. I haven’t really been drawing recently but it’s therapeutic for me. It helps me de-stress a little bit and it puts me back to my center and back on track. It also helps me procrastinate.

What does you commission have in store for the upcoming semester?

We are planning to do a Clothing Swap. You can find treasure in other people’s stuff. We’re also thinking about taking people on a thrifting trip in Toronto. We know there’s a thrifting district, so we’ll probably just take the TTC there and just walk along the street.

How would people get in touch with your commission?

Our Facebook group page is linked to the UCLit Facebook page. You can also e-mail me at My Deputy’s name is Kristen Stevens, you can find her on Facebook. You can also find me there. Just get in touch with me in whatever way is more accessible to you.

Do you have any environmental sustainability tips as Sustainability Commissioner?

I always keep a water bottle and a tote bag in my backpack, just in case I need to go do some emergency grocery shopping. If you don’t have a tote bag just carry some plastic bags in your backpack. It doesn’t take up any space, it doesn’t get dirty, so it’s really convenient and saves up on a lot. Also, Bulk Barn accepts personal containers. So if you’re going to buy something that you’re going to move into a mason jar afterwards anyway, just bring the mason jar.

There are a lot of small tips and tricks, but I think the more important thing is to become aware that our society is integrated in the sense that our personal behavior isn’t necessarily going to change a lot of things. A lot of that is still socially, structurally, and systematically set up in a way that the Environmental Movement isn’t necessarily going to do anything. I feel like environmental sustainability isn’t necessarily how we behave but it’s also a political movement. I would encourage people to become more aware of the policies on campus and in the city/country. Get more educated!

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