I am thrilled to share the text of Dr. Frankie Condon‘s speech at the March 30th Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance’s (OUSA) Partners in Higher Education Dinner. Dr. Condon was there to receive the UWaterloo Federation of Students Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award for 2017. Each year, the Feds awards one instructor at the University of Waterloo who has exemplified innovative teaching and has shown dedication towards ensuring academic success for undergraduate students.Dr. Condon used the opportunity to discuss mental health. The text of her speech follows:
“Thank you so much. I am more touched, more honoured than I have words to express. For me—and I know for my colleagues as well—there is no greater reward than to have earned the respect of our students. The students I have met at the University of Waterloo have taught me, have delighted me, and have challenged me. I have been moved to do the best I can as both a scholar and a teacher by the depth and breadth of their intellectual curiosity and engagement, by their delight in learning, and most of all by the integrity of their commitment not only to their own success, but also to that of their peers—by their courage, their humility, their compassion, and their kindness. To be recognized by them is the greatest honour I can imagine.
But I would be remiss, I think, irresponsible even if I did not say this—to all of you, especially to you. Imprint, the University of Waterloo’s campus newspaper reported this week that during the last 365 days, an estimated 596 of our students have attempted suicide. I am sure many of you know that the University of Waterloo has lost two students to suicide this term. Their tragic deaths have devastated students, faculty, and staff, as well as their families and friends. I did not know the two students who took their own lives at my university, but many years ago, during my second year as an undergraduate student at York University, I lost my father, who was also a professor, to suicide. And so this loss hits particularly close to home for me. In such a moment, when sorrow seems to overwhelm joy and despair threatens to isolate us even as we need each other most, this much seems clear to me: intellectual growth and development can never be separated from emotional and spiritual well-being. We cannot teach well if we do not attend to the fullness of the humanity of our students. There are many matters about which I am uncertain, but this much I believe: we will serve our students, our institutions, our communities, our nation, and the world far better by putting humanity at the centre of our curricula and humaneness at the heart of our pedagogy. There is, in reality, no intellectual cost, no abandonment of “rigour” required to do so. The truth is that kindness, respect, generosity—love—is the enabling condition for all learning. More than our disciplines, more than the subjects we teach, more than the assignments we design, more than the grades we give, the humanity of our students and the quality of humaneness with which we treat our students is at the heart of teaching and learning. I don’t know why our two students chose to end their lives, but I do feel certain that we must change—our institutions, our teaching, ourselves. This is the least we owe to the students who have died, to their families, and to the students now before us in our classrooms. It is to my students and to the labour of humanizing my classrooms and my institution that I dedicate myself; I hope you all will join me, because I really do believe that when we put our hearts and minds, our will and our hard work together we can make a world worth staying for.”