“Have you tried the free fitness plan at VIU?”

It’s a common phrase used by students who have classes in the Fisheries and Aquaculture Building (380). For those students who have classes exclusively on the lower campus, this “free fitness plan” refers to the climb of 403 stairs that leads to the highest building on campus.

No one is arguing about the relationship between exercise and learning; we all know that it’s good for us as we huff into class with bright red faces, shedding layers as fast as humanly possible. The problem is that, as of late, all of those exercise benefits are being lost. Let me introduce you, fellow students, to the newest installation of the VIU free fitness plan…

The Mental Health Challenge.

Recently, the “fitness plan” has been extended to include a cool-down period that takes five more minutes to complete, because the main entrance has been fully blocked off by construction scaffolding. They’re in the midst of some much-needed updates to the building up here, ensuring that it isn’t raining on the inside anymore, replacing the windowsnecessary stuff. The construction workers are hard at work in the gorgeous(ly soggy) Vancouver Island weather, doing the job they are paid to do. The job that places them directly above our heads during class time.

We’re not talking occasional footsteps on the roof. We’re talking drilling that shakes the projector screen mid-lecture. Not to mention the constant, melodious sound of an active blowtorch drowning out the professor, who is trying his best to keep us engaged in already difficult class content. There is a vent directly above my desk in particular, through which I can hear the workers’ conversations as clearly as I can hear my classmate sitting next to me.

This is not the fault of the workers. They are just trying to finish their contract in time and nobody expects them to tiptoe around while they make this building safer for everyone. Someone is at fault, though, for thinking this is an acceptable project to undertake in the middle of the semester.

The only thing that gets heart rates racing faster than the stairs is trying to prepare for midterms, research projects, papers, assignments, and finals, all of which are fast approaching. While exercise has a positive impact on some of it, this stress still remains a huge part of many of our lives this time of year. So much so that VIU just ran a “What About Mental Health?” week here on campus to promote mental health awareness.

So “What About Mental Health” up here at the top of the campus? Countless psychology papers have reflected on the detrimental effects of external distractions on learning performance in students, not to mention increased levels of anxiety. There is no evidence that subjects get used to the noise eitherstudies indicate that stress levels continue to rise over long-term exposure to distracting noises. Motivation, concentration, and attention are all components that take a major hit due to distractions in the learning environment. I struggle with anxiety and depression, along with many other students here on campus. Some days I have a hard enough time getting out of bed to get all the way up the stairs to class, let alone possess the ability to focus on challenging course material over the sound of a banging hammer for 50 minutes.

Professors shrug and comment that “nothing will be changed” by complaining about it, that this “is just the way it is.” Apparently it’s just too difficult to move 35 students and a professor into another classroom for lectures. I am to believe there is nowhere on this rapidly-expanding campus for us to go. We must remain on the top floor of a building, directly underneath an active construction zone, in the middle of the work day. I am to believe that maybe VIU doesn’t actually care all that much about mental health, or our ability to learn in a positive environment, after all.