Mental Health

Grad House closure makes way for mental health friendly cafe

The Muse Cafe and Pub gives Dalhousie graduate students a place to 'relax with the arts'

Corey DeGagne, president of the Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students, says students need a place where they can escape their stress.   Julie Lawrence

After over 40 years as a Dalhousie University campus pub, the Grad House has closed and become the Muse Café and Pub.

The café at 1252 LeMarchant St. is still run by the Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students (DAGS), but now it has a different purpose.

“It’s all about mental health for students, so we thought rather than it just being a campus pub, it could be a space where students can come and relax with the arts,” said Corey DeGagne, president of DAGS and a third-year mathematics PhD student.

The Grad House had been a fixture on campus since opening its doors in 1974 as a gathering place for Dalhousie graduate students, a group that Dalhousie archives report was “a highly varied” one and “many felt, an invisible one” at the time.

The pub became a hangout for graduate students, but DeGagne said a shift in drinking culture prompted a need for change. With more students opting to cab to downtown bars and nightclubs, the campus pub scene has suffered.

The name has been changed from the Grad House to the Muse Café to make it a more accessible, safe space for all students – including undergraduates. However, many of the mental health services are targeted at the unique needs of graduate students, said DeGagne.

“Unfortunately, grad students don’t have as much access to mental health resources as undergrad students would. A lot of counselling is focused on the undergrad experience. Plus, the stigma of being seen by a student you may have taught makes grad students feel more hesitant to go into the mental health building on campus.”

The Muse Café offers a wide range of therapeutic, stress-relieving activities like colouring books and musical instruments that students can use at their leisure. But DeGagne said there are also more formal mental health activities.

“We understand that the graduate student experience is just different. School goes from being this super fun experience, where you party and have fun and find yourself, to more of a job with a lot of responsibility. Your studies become more specialized so it can be very isolating. Plus there are unique struggles like ‘imposter syndrome,’ where people don’t think they’re good enough or smart enough.”

So far, DeGagne said the feedback on the new space has been overwhelmingly positive.

Jeremy Allen, a Dalhousie graduate student, said it’s a cool place where he can come and unwind. “When I’m stressed out, I just come in here and relax and pick up a guitar or drum sticks and just make really bad music. It’s great!”

DeGagne said the overall goal of the Muse Café is for all students to know that there is a place they can go to escape the stress of school. If they’re experiencing depression or anxiety, they can come in and express themselves through the arts.

“Know that if you’re going through any kind of mental health issues, if you’re alone, whether you feel isolated or stressed out, that it’s OK and everyone goes through that,” said DeGagne. “We have resources available to students and we’re here to help.”