The bustle at the University of Saskatchewan comes to a standstill during the holidays, making this a potentially hard time for those who do not spend the break with family.
While most campus buildings will be closed, one will be available for students, faculty and staff to help curb their loneliness around Christmas. The GSA Commons are staying open during the holiday break with programming for all ages, regardless of whether or not they celebrate Christmas.
The idea was spearheaded by Peter Hedley, director of student affairs and services at the U of S, after he and others noticed that some students lacking a sense of community around the holidays experience a negative impact on their wellbeing.
“Connections support students’ wellbeing at a very dark and cold time of year,” Hedley says, adding that students can feel especially lonely “when [they] feel that everyone else’s with friends and family, and [they] are not.”
Hedley says that he is excited for this new initiative as it is a simple way to bring together the campus community in a way that aligns with the Wellness Strategy, a set of goals to promote wellbeing among students, faculty and staff.
Both the Graduate Students’ Association and the U of S Students’ Union are co-hosting the community event. The organizers see the Holiday Hangout as an opportunity for people to make meaningful connections with others on campus.
GSA President Mery Mendoza explains that the holiday break can be different for everyone. While some are unable to get home due to distance or financial strain, others might not want to go home due to strained family relationships.
Students might go from spending all their time studying on campus to suddenly having the university closed for nine days, with many of their friends travelling. The Holiday Hangout means that for four days over the break, these students can go to the GSA Commons for lunch, conversation and activities.
Mendoza highlights that for new international students who arrive to campus early while the university is closed, the option to attend the Holiday Hangout is a great help. The event is also co-hosted by the International Student and Study Abroad Centre.
“If the university [closes], all the services that we provide here also close, so they don’t have a space to go. And it’s very difficult for them to connect with other people as well because everyone’s gone,” Mendoza said. “There is a huge need for for them to have a place to go spend Christmas.”
Another university program going on during the holiday break is pairing up international students with host families for holiday dinners. The program is being planned by the Faith Leaders Council, and interested students can sign up on the Student Wellness website before Dec. 13 to participate.
Hedley says the university will also consider hosting community gatherings in the summer, another time outside of the regular academic year when it can get lonelier for students.
“Wellness, particularly mental health, is about connection and community,” Hedley said. “And a lot of students at any time of year, they may actually lack that connection with other people, and that makes them really vulnerable and we need to keep an eye out for students.”
The GSA Commons will be open on Dec. 25, 27, 30 and 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone interested in attending can register online.
Nykole King/ Editor-in-Chief
Graphic: Mỹ Anh Phan