We catch up with Ramata Tarawally, Associate Director of Community Wellness, and Co-Chair of the Trinity College Task Force on Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion at Trinity College.
1. You have a Masters of Nursing degree from U of T, and worked as a hospital nurse before joining the staff team at Trinity after alumna Anne Steacy donated to create the Anne Steacy Counselling Initiative and your position. What motivated you to take on this role at the College?
I wanted to have a more upstream approach—helping people before they are acutely ill or requiring hospital care. I was also interested in working more within the realm of mental health and health promotion, especially with young people. I was excited to take on a position where I could create programming and initiatives, and mentor students in their growth and development. And I love working within a university setting—this is an exciting time in students’ lives, and it’s great to be a part of providing them with the academic supports and opportunities they need to thrive.
2. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of change for students on and off-campus. How has that affected your role as Associate Director of Community Wellness?
I continue to see students and create programming, but now the majority of these efforts are taking place online. I have worked with my teammates in the Office of the Dean of Students to create new (and evolving) policies, procedures and process related to COVID—what to do if someone is sick, how to safely isolate people, how to provide support to socially isolated people, and so on. I also have been working with [Trinity’s Dean of Students] Kristen Moore to support U of T’s efforts regarding pandemic response at the University level.
In 2020 I worked with the Student Services team to create a new virtual orientation program that ran for 10 weeks last summer. It’s called Trin101, and it worked really well. We had student staff and volunteers create weekly content, videos and programs for first-year students. We continue to have student staff creating video and social media content to connect students, build community and promote wellness through Trinity’s YouTube channel and the @fortrinstudents Instagram account. More than ever before I am working with students from across the globe—this has been wonderful and has also presented new challenges, as connecting students with supports is different depending on where they are located geographically. For students outside of Ontario, MySSP, U of T’s 24-hour student support program, has been an essential resource.
3. What are the most significant challenges facing Trinity students right now? How do they differ from what alumni might have struggled with in the past?
Mental health, loneliness, isolation, struggling to transition to adulthood—these are big issues that almost all students have been struggling with lately. I assume that this has always been a struggle for students, but I think the pandemic has really exacerbated these challenges. Social media is constantly a struggle for students—managing being online, balancing the pressures of social media, suffering from “imposter syndrome”…. These I assume are very distinct issues, as even my experience being 10–15 years older than the students is very distinct. With the pandemic and the swift change it created in students’ learning environments, many students have also expressed difficulties with working from home, creating a schedule or managing their time effectively.
4. What can alumni do to support Trinity’s current students?
For those who can, consider giving to the College to support student bursaries, financial supports and wellness programs. There are other ways to give as well—by continuing to engage in the ConnectTrin online hub and other student-focused programs that connect students and build community. We can all support students by leading by example—taking care of ourselves and continuing to participate and contribute where we can.
5. What can you tell us about your work as co-chair of the College’s Anti-Black Racism and Inclusion Task Force?
Our Task Force was a diverse group of students, staff, faculty, alumni and experts from the wider community. We met weekly throughout the fall semester, both as a larger group and as working groups, all of which were very productive. Our report includes 44 recommendations for change that I feel have the potential to significantly impact student experience, not only for our Black and BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Colour] students, but also for the larger student body. It was submitted to the Provost in December and presented to Trinity’s governing bodies before being shared with the Trinity community. [Access the report here.]
Bonus Question: What is your personal wellness strategy/tip for getting through stressful times?
I engage in self-care every day! I believe it’s important to do at least one simple thing each day that gives you energy and joy. Some of my self-care strategies include sleeping eight hours a night, reading every day (my goal is to read 30 books in 2021… last year I read 26), drinking lots of water, and meaningfully engaging with my family and friends.