A University of Toronto Students' Union frosh concert. Courtesy University of Toronto Students' Union.

Student groups at the University of Toronto expanded the equity training provided to frosh leaders for this year’s orientation week. The Office of Student Life, which runs the Joint Orientation Leader Training (JOLT) program, also expanded its program. These changes come as issues of sexual violence and mental health have moved to the forefront of campus conversation, and the provi nce begins its campaign to combat sexual violence and harassment on university campuses.

Recent years have seen various frosh week scandals. From St Mary’s University to the University of British Columbia, it is clear that acts once seen as harmless and childish, such as misogynistic cheers, are now being viewed as intentionally exclusive and actively dangerous to campus communities. At the heart of these scandals were the orientation leaders who decided to lead said chants in the first place. U of T has not experienced such issues, as student leaders and administrators at all levels have undertaken efforts to ensure that frosh leaders receive the appropriate training in issues of equity and inclusivity.

Training at colleges and professional faculties

This is the first year Innis College has included an equity component to frosh leader training. According to orientation coordinators Brianne Katz-Griffin and Marta Switzer, this year will include “a plenary equity presentation, a plenary session on healthy relationships, and a system on how to handle potential situations [of consent].”

University College’s (UC) orientation training used to focus on discussions on the difference between equity and equality. However, UC orientation coordinators Kimia Karbasy and Rochelle Coelho said that they plan to “go further in depth about what it truly means to be equitable,” adding:

“We want to provide scenarios so that the leaders can identify the feelings of the people involved, identify all the issues, what they see [as] their role and responsibility as a leader and how to deal with a scenario to promote a positive and safe environment for everyone.”

Other student-run orientations, such as the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education (KPE), enhanced their existing equity training. KPE orientation coordinators Breanna Bitondo and Michelle Lukasik already hold equity workshops led by the vice-president equity of the KPE Undergraduate Association. “[There] is not much change in the training, rather further development, to ensure that the KPE leaders, executives, and spirit crew learn and get the most out of this workshop,” Bitondo and Lukasik said.

“This workshop has been held in the past, however the vp equity has revamped the work that she has done to make it more engaging… for those participating,” they said, adding that the training “coincides with the expectations that the [KPE] has.”

Changes to JOLT

JOLT is a training program provided to frosh leaders from all colleges and faculties at the St George campus by the Office of Student Life. Colleges and faculties must send their leaders to JOLT if they wish to be eligible for a grant from the university to run their own frosh. Other groups such as the Muslim Students’ Association who run frosh events also attend the training.

“The goal of JOLT is to ensure that all orientation leaders on the St. George campus have the same core skill set around safety, bystander intervention, equity, and inclusivity,” said Josh Hass, Student Life coordinator, orientation and transition. JOLT organizes its training into modules that cover the three elements of that goal. Hass is in charge of organizing JOLT, which he does in consultation with members of various divisions including Health & Wellness, the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office, and U of T’s other campuses.

This year, suggestions from the mental health framework study conducted last year were incorporated into JOLT. These changes come from Hass’ consultations with U of T’s recently assembled sexual violence task force. “We’re trying to push from all angles, not just from training. It’s one of those things which are happening mid-summer and by next year we’ll have a concrete plan starting in the very beginning what it’ll look like,” he said.

Bigger changes may also be coming to JOLT next year.  “There have been conversations about the possibility of expanding JOLT,” Hass said, adding that the administration has not “really identified what that expansion would entail.”

The Office of Student Life will be conducting a direct assessment of the leaders training after frosh week in order to identify what changes need to be made. They will use situational questions to gauge what the leaders have learnt from their training as well as collect their experiences during frosh week. Hass encourages frosh leaders to take the assessment, saying “we want that information before we discuss any sort of expansion to the program.”   

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