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McGill University floor fellows dumbfounded after being told their jobs are being eliminated

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McGill University's floor fellows -- older students who live in dormitories alongside first-year pupils -- say they are devastated their jobs are being eliminated in favour of "residence life facilitators."

"A lot of the time, floor fellows are front-line responders, if you can imagine the kinds of situations that develop in these dorms," explains Graeme Scott, vice president of McGill University's floor fellow union. "We have hundreds of 17 and 18-year-olds living alone for the first time."

He emphasizes the fact that floor fellows, ranging from second-year to PhD scholars, undergo a wide variety of training in order to help new students.

"Floor fellows are trained in receiving disclosures of sexual violence; we're trained in managing suicidality; we're trained in recognizing the signs of self-harm and depression and mental illness," he said. "We're trained on how to talk to those people. We're trained on what to do in the case of overdose."

McGill University disagrees, saying floor fellows "attend a three-hour workshop during their orientation at the beginning of the academic year that discusses how to detect someone who might be experiencing thoughts of suicide or having suicide behaviours."

The university states, "This in no way makes them counsellors or mental health experts. And we explicitly state that during the training."

It adds, "Their role is solely to identify the students who require assistance and escalate them to the appropriate resources."

Eight minutes on Zoom

Scott, a graduate student in music, says the floor fellows received notice last Thursday that they would soon be out of a job.

"All of the floor fellows, with two hours notice, were called into a Zoom meeting, which lasted, I think, about eight minutes, in which we were abruptly told that our job was being eliminated," he tells CTV News.

Scott says they were given no warning or opportunity for questions.

This comes as the university announced it would eliminate its 65 unionized floor fellows, replacing them with a residence life advisor and facilitators.

"While the current floor fellow position will no longer exist as of the 2024-2025 academic year, there will be an increase in the number of residence life facilitator positions from the current 11 positions to 45," McGill University tells CTV News.

The advisor role, according to the university, will involve crisis intervention and mental health support for students living in residence.

"These positions, held by McGill students, provide enriching community-building programming tailored to the individual residence communities," the school notes. "Current floor fellows may apply for the positions of residence life facilitators."

The university notes it made its decision after a departmental review.

However, Scott argues the aid provided by floor fellows remains unmatched -- the main difference being that residence life facilitators won't live in the dormitories.

"What sets floor fellows apart is we are there, and we live there, and you don't need to navigate bureaucracy to interact with a floor fellow," he insists.

The 24-year-old notes part of the floor fellow mandate is to see or talk to every resident under their care at least once every two weeks.

"You have 100 new people who are 17 and 18, coming from a huge variety of backgrounds; we have Quebec, we have internationals, we have people from other provinces in Canada, and they're all living together, and they're all at university for the first time," Scott points out. "This is an environment that really changes a person, you really grow into the person you're going to be for the rest of your life."

He says he, alone, is in charge of about 45 first-year university students in his dormitory.

"I brush my teeth with those residents in the morning. I eat with them in the dining hall," he notes. "I see them when I'm out and about on campus or at home."

He adds that the floor fellows pay rent to live in the dormitories and are paid part-time hours -- at $14.25 an hour for 13 hours a week -- though it is a full-time commitment.

McGill University refutes this, saying they are paid $15.25.

"The floor fellows do not pay rent while they live in residence," the university notes. "They do, however, pay a weekly lodging taxable benefit of around $35 or so depending on which residence they live in."

Nevertheless, since sharing the news of their job loss, Scott says the union has received hundreds of responses.

"[We've received messages] from people who lived in residence going back to the 1990s saying, 'I remember when my floor fellow helped me going through this,' 'I remember when my friend was overdosing and my floor fellow saved their life,'" he said.

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