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Yuki Yeung remembers being a first-year Geography and Environmental Management student and sleeping in the living room of her residence. The hot temperatures made her bedroom unbearable and the cross-breeze of the living room provided some relief.

I remember thinking: How will students in the future tolerate increasingly warmer summers due to climate change?”

That experience motivated Yeung to complete an undergraduate thesis investigating student perceptions and vulnerability to heat stress in Canadian post-secondary residences. The findings from her thesis have now been published in Canadian Geographies.

Yuki Yeung

Climate change in Canada is increasing the frequency and severity of heat waves. These heat waves can negatively impact physical health by exacerbating pre-existing conditions and adding pressure to our cardiorespiratory and metabolic systems. They can also impact mental health, with disturbances to sleep and added stress on psychological disorders. Individuals with low incomes, are socially isolated, or lack access to air conditioning are at increased risk during heat waves. Included in this vulnerable population can be post-secondary students living in residences.

Yeung focused her research on the U15 Group of Canadian Research Universities, which includes the University of Waterloo, where 80 per cent of institutions report having some residences with air conditioning. Instead of deploying interviews or surveys, Yeung used Reddit for her qualitative analysis.

“Reddit has been used to understand perceptions from different population subgroups as it provides researchers with a community of people with similar identities and values, which can provide rich descriptions of experiences, behaviors, or perceptions for qualitative research.” 

By searching each institution’s widespread themes and pulling posts and comments related to heat, Yeung identified key themes that were widespread in institutions across Canada.  Students used Reddit to complain about the heat and share their frustrations towards their respective institution. They mentioned how the heat harmed their well-being by disturbing their sleep and negatively impacting their academics. Others offered solutions to heat stress like purchasing portable air conditioning or fans. Lastly, students acknowledged the existence and impact of climate change and heat waves.

Yeung’s findings show that post-secondary students living in residence are not immune to the impacts of climate change-induced heat. Institutions have an opportunity to address these impacts through heatwave adaptation strategies. However, these strategies must balance cost and environmental impact with effectiveness to reach the best solution for students.

Yeung’s experience in her undergraduate thesis solidified her plans to continue into graduate studies. She is now pursuing a Master of Arts in Geography in the Faculty of Environment, working with the same supervisor to investigate adaptive interventions for impacts of climate change on well-being.

“I hope that in the future, I can produce research that can be informative to public health and policy.”

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