Lack of space leads to demotivated research and learning, poorer mental health, and unfulfilled right to organize

DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion article. The views presented in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of UP Medics, UPCM students and administrators, nor the UP-PGH community in general. Parts of this article contain opinions specifically held by certain authors. The article also does not intend to put the blame on any of the parties or stakeholders involved, but rather to raise the urgency of the need for space.

 

——-

 

For the past three years, we have witnessed the demolition of the Basic Science Lecture Rooms (BSLR), the destabilization of the UPCM Library (F.B. Herrerra Jr. Library) and the University Library, the increase in the batch size from 160 to 180, and the futile promise of building a state-of-the-art academic center which ended up as a “sinkhole”.

It seems arguable whether issues on these have been answered, although some students remain hopeful and feel that the administration is doing their best to solve this issue. Other students feel that the growing discontent with the unanswered questions has not in any way been extinguished. However, most agree that improvements as to how they would provide short-term solutions to the problem are still needed.

In a few months, the tennis court along with the Mu Hut, MSS Tambayan, MSU (Bobby de la Paz Hall), and Pagkalma will be obliterated to pave the way for the academic center which unfortunately has unclear guarantees of being finished within three to five years or even being structurally stable for use. Other accredited organizations do not even have stable spaces to begin with. The lack of transparency despite palliative statements released by the administration on these space issues induces the demand for proper and prompt action rather than empty words.

The original academic center was promised to be completed in December 2017 were it not for the “sinkhole”. If a legal case had been filed to the contractors responsible for the sinkhole, what happened to the funds? Where did they go? What is the current status of the legal case? Given the slow processes in governmental institutions, with this new “promise” of building a new academic center that will “hopefully improve the learning experience of UPCM students”, how can we be sure that it will be worth all the further inconvenience that will be caused by the demolition?

As one may see, the lack of space has not only contributed to the discouragement and deterioration of learning and research in the college, but also an “acquired claustrophobia” among students (especially LU 4 students). Even though the administration has promised to provide container vans as a replacement for the OFS organizing locations that will be demolished, the lack of space has led to the further dismantling (failure of the college as a duty bearer) of the fundamental right of students to organize.

 

  1. Discouraging research and learning

Lack of space discourages not only research through the lack of quality facilities that are conducive to learning to begin with (which we will not focus on in this editorial), but more so the daily life of learning of the UPCM student. The university rule mandates that if a student misses 20% of his or her attendance in classes, he or she may be dropped in that course. However, UPCM students sometimes feel forced and demotivated to attend lectures not because they are boring, but because the venue lacks space.

For instance, in a way, Class 2021 is a “lab rat” in this situation, since they are the first batch that did not experience the comfort of the BSLR. They are also the “nomads” as they have to continuously migrate between College of Nursing Auditorium (CN Auditorium), Buenafe Hall, ERC 218, and ERC 220 in A.Y. 2016-2017, and between College of Public Health Auditorium (CPH Auditorium), ERC 218, ERC 220, and Sentro Oftalmologico Jose Rizal Auditorium (SOJR Auditorium) in the current academic year. This has wasted a lot of time and caused problems not only for the students, but also the course coordinators and fellow coordinators themselves.

In one instance, the whole class supposedly had a lecture in ERC 218, but since it was reserved at that time, they had to be relocated to Class ‘72 Theater in Calderon Hall. However, LU 4 (Class 2022) students had to use the lecture hall, so after one lecture, the 153 students of LU 5 (Class 2021) had to be relocated in the 80-seater Calderon Hall Room 222 (CH 222). As a result the students had to sit in between seats, on the floor, and even outside. This has also happened many times in other batches.

In another instance, LU 5 students supposedly had a parasitology lab class in the MDL Laboratories of the Paz Mendoza Hall, but this was in conflict in terms of schedule with the LU 3 students. Coordinators of different modules across different departments and year levels underwent an arduous journey in planning not only the learning materials, but even more so the learning venues, given that there was no other option but to occupy the same slot and make use of the limited space and time. Everyone did their best. Everyone did their job. Everyone planned so well, yet the students could not maximize their learning opportunities in the end. The class had to be divided into smaller groups and take turns in using a limited number of four (4) to five (5) rooms. Truly, this is beyond the control of our professors. The lack of space has led to the saturation of classrooms, leading to a very inflexible setup that fails to cater to all the learning needs of all students.

For the current LU 4 students (Class 2022), while the Class ‘72 Theater is theoretically enough for a class of 180+ people, in reality, the fact is that it is not enough to hold all students. On top of that, just as mentioned above, the venue itself is not conducive enough to hold lectures and even examinations.

The Paz Mendoza Hall is currently also serving as classrooms for LU 1 and 2 classes that were supposed to be in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), not just because of Gusaling Andres Bonifacio (GAB) being declared unsafe, but also because of CAS itself having a whole host of space problems. There were instances when classes are held even in hallways, as indicated even in the course info section in SAIS online.

Every student who underwent the arduous processof doing the THER 201 research requirement witnessed how their expectations did not correspond to the resources that were allowed. Nobody could even get their own lab without filing a ton of requests and shelling out for overtime staff pay. Nobody was given enough time for research in the week to begin with. More elaboration can be found here at a previous editorial: http://www.upmedics.org/2018/03/14/imagine-what-we-can-do-with-research/

 

In order to study outside of classes, students often go to a coffee shop because the school does not provide enough study space for them. With the absence of the UPCM Library and the University Library, the CPH Library is often congested. Student-initiated review sessions and learning opportunities are also negatively affected. Imagine if the school has enough infrastructure – a library or at least some study facilities within the campus that the students can actually use. Students won’t need to spend so much money to “buy” space and time in Starbucks, Ersao, or any shop nearby.

 

  1. Deterioration of mental health

Abstract as it may be, the lack of space in UP Manila, especially quality space, induces a gradual build-up of claustrophobia among students, especially the students who chronically undergo arduous lectures and exams in the same room – the LU 4 students.

Three years ago, when the BSLR existed, LU 3 students were in BLSR East, while LU 4 students were in BSLR West. After the block splitting, LU 4 students used the BLSR West and CH 222 in Calderon Hall for their lectures. LU 5 students on the other hand use the Class ‘72 Theater and Buenafe Hall. Classes 2018 and 2019 were probably the last students to have enjoyed the adequate space, an experience forever denied to Class 2020 and succeeding batches.

The current setup, with the BSLR demolished, involves LU 3 students staying in the Buenafe Hall [as well as CN Auditorium, ERC 218, and ERC 220 when the sinkhole rendered Calerdon Hall unsafe for student use. LU 4 students are now staying in Class ‘72 and CH 222. LU 5 students have become nomads or “illegal settlers”,  hopping across ERC 218, ERC 220, SOJR Auditorium, and even the CPH Auditorium. The sinkhole also rendered the MedCafe defunct. Compounded by the pending demolition of the Mu Hut, MSS Tambayan, and the Pagkala, the question on how long will this setup last still remains.

 

What we want to focus on, however, is this:

Being constantly exposed in a room full of allergens – the Class ‘72 Theater, several LU 4 students for the past three years – Classes 2020, 2021, and 2022 – had to always bring with them Cetirizine for their allergic rhinitis and drugs for asthma, apart from their daily dose of caffeine in order to stay awake in lectures. Consequently, some students had to take these medicines, which made them fall asleep during class.

To put things in context, LU 4, often dubbed as “HelLU4”, is historically the most difficult academic year. An ordinary LU 4 day is typically composed of three (3) to four (4) arduous lectures in the morning, and either another three (3) to four (4) arduous lectures in the afternoon, or perhaps a pathology lab rotation, a ward work, or a combination of these. For some students who are able to build their resilience and maintain their sanity, this setup affects them little, but for most students who barely fight to just live for the day, in addition to some highly discouraging and condescending verbal abuse from some professors, it is a great challenge to even step inside the Class ‘72 Theater, much more stay focused during lectures.

 

In a larger scale, several studies have been done on the association between city green spaces and mental health, and the results are quite interesting.

In a study by Wood et al, greater mental well-being was associated with greater overall number and total area of public green spaces, characterized by not just parks but also for recreational and sporting activity [1]. Their findings support a dose-response relationship [1], which shows that, just like in pharmacology, mental well-being, which refers to not just the absence of mental illness, is dependent on the “dose” of available green space. In a study by Maas et al, even after controlling the socioeconomic status of residents, the relation between public green spaces and the prevalence of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression remains to be the strongest, followed by age [2]. Even more studies agree [7] that more green space buffers life stresses [3,4], aids in adaptive functioning [6], and leads to sustained improvement [5].

[To digress, the highly bureaucratic protocol of asking for help or consultation on mental health problems by students – the requirement of answering a questionnaire by the UP Health Service, the “triaging” and arduously long “chained referral” from the nurse to the chief resident discourages the UPCM student from even voicing out their need for help. We will elaborate this further in a different editorial.]

Therefore, we predict that if we increase available space for students, and complement it with proper nurturing of mental well-being among students, we can expect a decline in the number of leave of absences (LOAs) and failing unmotivated students. They will have enough space to relax, breathe and take a break from the daily toxicities. It may be an abstract and far-fetched proposal, but this proposition is justified.

 

  1. Further dismantling (and failure of the college as a duty bearer) of the fundamental right of students to organize

In the first place, the college has already failed to champion the right of students to self-organize. Not all organizations that UPCM accredits have their own stable space to begin with, such as Regional Students Organization (RSO), Medical Students for Social Responsibility – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (MSSR-IPPNW), and literally everyone else.

The demolition of the college’s decades-worth historic places of organization – the Mu Hut, the MSS Tambayan, the MSU 2F (which serves as the meeting place for the rest of the organizations including the Medicine Student Council), and Pagkalma only aggravates this situation, in addition to the already limited space inherently present in the UP Manila area. The more upsetting and disappointing part is that these organizations were not offered a choice or given a voice before the final decision was made.

 

To date, there have not been definite plans elucidated to the students regarding the new space for organizations. Although container vans will be provided, the question on logistics and usability still remains.

Given the erratic weather, won’t the rainfall cause a lot of noise inside the container van? Will the container van be good enough to withstand flooding or the entrance of water? Will the atmosphere inside the container van be comfortable? Surely, we concede to the fact that the students can handle some level of inconvenience, but will the container van actually be conducive enough to meetings conducted by the organizations? In the first place, will the container vans actually be given ahead of time before the demolition, or will we have a period of totally no meeting places before the arrival of the container vans? There are legitimate questions to ask. A lot of them. And they must be answered.

Until the student body is appeased, it cannot be denied that the status quo of our available space in the college further dismantles the right of students to organize.

All in all, words and empty promises alone do not suffice. Would you say this a whining of inconvenience? And would you say, “You’re in UP. You need to be resilient. Tuition is cheap. Suck it up and get used to it.”? Therefore, we vehemently question our own PAASCU accreditation, or even the anticipated AUN-QA “accreditation”. We need space. We need usable facilities for learning, research, and even for our physiologic processes like micturition. We need mental well-being. We need assurance. We need answers to these pressing questions. We need our rights to be fulfilled.

 

Convenience can sometimes be tyranny, in that it does not equip us properly in preparation for adversity. Likewise, resilience can mean death, in that it sometimes promotes a culture of backward-mindedness, mediocrity, and lack of progressiveness. We should ask ourselves: Where are we? Where should we go?

 

References

  1. Wood L, Hooper P, Foster S, Bull F. Public green spaces and positive mental health – investigating the relationship between access, quantity and types of parks and mental wellbeing. Health & Place [Internet]. 2017 [cited 3 September 2018];48:63-71. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1353829216303689
  2. Maas J, Verheij R, de Vries S, Spreeuwenberg P, Schellevis F, Groenewegen P. Morbidity is related to a green living environment. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health [Internet]. 2009 [cited 3 September 2018];63(12):967-973. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19833605
  3. Wells N M, Evans G W. Nearby nature a buffer of life stress among rural children. Environment and Behavior. 2003 [cited 3 September 2018];35:311-330.
  4. van den Berg A, Maas J, Verheij R, Groenewegen P. Green space as a buffer between stressful life events and health. Social Science & Medicine [Internet]. 2010 [cited 3 September 2018];70(8):1203-1210. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20163905
  5. Alcock I, White M, Wheeler B, Fleming L, Depledge M. Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas. Environmental Science & Technology [Internet]. 2014 [cited 3 September 2018];48(2):1247-1255. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24320055
  6. van den Berg A E, Hartig T. Staats H. Preference for nature in urbanized societies: stress, restoration, and the pursuit of sustainability. Journal of Social Issues. 2007 [cited 3 September 2018];63:79-96.
  7. Barton J, Rogerson M. The importance of greenspace for mental health. BJPsych International [Internet]. 2017;14(4):79-81. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29093955

Leave a Reply