Photo by Kyle West

By: Sam Marchetti

McMaster University’s campus is truly a beautiful place. The Hamilton property is situated on a literal paradise with astonishing natural beauty surrounding the school. McMaster also offers a wide range of spaces for students to use, from the basement of H.G. Thode Library of Science and Engineering to the open tutorial rooms across campus that many students consider ‘hidden’ study spaces.

It is disappointing then that McMaster has seemingly taken the approach that these two things, nature and study spaces, will never intersect. Most of the advertised study spaces on campus are similar in respect that they are cramped, near-windowless and almost always packed to capacity.

For a university that boasts a large focus on mental health, this seems counterintuitive. Many studies show that exposure to nature and open spaces has a strong correlation with good mental health, and it is not difficult to understand why.

The amount of pressure and stress placed on undergraduate students often leads to feelings of hopelessness and entrapment. Being forced to study in spaces that are literally closed off from the outside world and provide only four square feet of personal space definitely worsens these feelings. When taken into account the overwhelming amount of time students spend in these spaces, further evidenced by initiatives like 2 a.m. Thode, the problem becomes even more evident.

There are solutions. We can build new study spaces that are large, open and leave plenty of room for students to move around. The new Student Activity Building may serve as such a space. We can even take this initiative further and build spaces intertwined with the natural beauty of our campus.

McMaster has very few spaces that embody this idea. The two key examples would be the Health Sciences Library’s reading pavilion or the atrium in the Michael DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery. While the reading pavilion gives students a massive window to the outside world, the atrium space takes this one step further by featuring a waterfall and other elements like synthetic and natural plants.

From the moment you enter Michael DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery’s atrium, it is clear that students enjoy the space. The limited number of benches are always filled with students uncomfortably trying to study without the assistance of tables or desks. A space like this, but built with the intent of being a study space, would be a massive step forward for McMaster.

Around the world, other universities have already implemented spaces like these. For example, the University of Aberdeen New Library in Scotland situates its dedicated study areas near large windows and a central atrium with a high ceiling. Hillman Hall at Washington University, which has similar designs to McMaster University Student Centre, boasts panoramic outdoor views as well as a floor full of tables and chairs for students to use.

While McMaster attempts to publicize itself as a school focused on the mental health of its students, its focus is solely on students with diagnosed mental disorders. Implementing more open, natural study spaces could positively influence the everyday mental health of a large proportion of students and should thus be a priority for McMaster.  

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