Quiz: So you wanna be an astronaut?

Are you unsure about whether to apply for NASA's Mars program? Take this simple quiz to determine if you're qualified.

Quiz: So you wanna be an astronaut?

Has the faint glow of space drawn your gaze and awe endlessly, just like the great wanderers of time immemorial? Do you know why July 20, 1969 is a pivotal moment in human history? Have you watched Chris Hadfield’s “Space Oddity” music video just a few too many times? If you answered yes to all of those questions, then your time has finally come.

NASA has announced that they are accepting applications for a new generation of cosmic explorers on December 14. Take this quiz to see if you might qualify to be one of the first to step on Mars by 2030.

P.S. There is no age limit.

Poll Maker

Content and its creators

As the job market becomes dominated by informal work, young people emerge at the forefront of a group that is redefining success

Content and its creators

Hypertabs is The Varsity‘s online features subsection about all things Internet. Our goal is to explore the depths of the online world and understand how it shapes our habits and affects our communities. You can read the other articles included in this project here.

In his poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers,” Walt Whitman called upon western youth, “impatient [and] full of action,” to “debouch upon a newer, mightier…varied world.” With the exception of the name by which we now address young people, and the context in which they forge their generational impact, Whitman’s language is still easily recognizable today when older generations address millennials. Millennials have been subjected to scores of criticism regarding their social and academic lives. These critiques often reference young people’s measures of achievement (or lack thereof), and their rejection of traditional values.

This is partly symptomatic of the fact that we, as the millennial generation, are beginning to remove ourselves from the perception that education begets employment. The cultural zeitgeist may be switching back to something resembling the baby boomer model, where effort begets income. In recent years, this mentality has been manifested in a tremendous focus on digital literacy. The worldview on success is going through a colossal change as the Internet is increasingly becoming integrated into successful career options, and a subset of creative millennials is leading the charge. 

A critical awareness

One of the most daunting challenges of today’s job market is that the jobs many students will want to have by the time they graduate simply may not exist yet. After all, the 2015 job market is swimming with positions that did not exist only five years ago. Dr Siobhan O’Flynn, a sessional lecturer at the University of Toronto whose research has centred around digital media, confirms that, “Anywhere where digital technologies are changing the possibilities of what you can build or how you can communicate, there is a strong likelihood that the career you will have in 10-15 years may not exist yet.” 

This reality frames digital literacy in a new way. When your job prospects hinge on your ability to keep pace with changing technologies, gaining digital skills and critical skills across a range of disciplines that allow you to adapt when new opportunities arise should be a central focus for those entering the labour force today.

In the digital era, interconnectivity and incessant exposure to digital platforms has created an increase in digital literacy to the extent that it has become a de facto skill, says O’Flynn. Through her extensive academic research and artistic practice in the digital humanities, O’Flynn has noted that the entirety of the millennial generation is already digitally literate — and yet “it’s how critically aware you are of your digital literacy” that indicates how prepared you will be for the challenges of the emerging job market. In this area, some young people are making noticeable gains, despite an education that has hardly prepared them for these particular challenges.   

Formality versus freelance

Some millennials today are assailing customary expectations in a landscape where the vast majority of conventional careers are already oversaturated with candidates — it becomes difficult for youth to penetrate these industries without a unique advantage. With current youth unemployment at 13.5 per cent in Canada, roughly double that of the national average, it is unsurprising then, that a subset of Generation Y has been compelled to reinvent their ideas of success, using the connectivity of the Internet to excel in informal, adaptable careers in which they posses an advantage over older generations.

Lauren Nostro, the music news editor for Complex, contends that, whether or not one is “naive and still believe[s] in print,” it is “delusional” to think that it is possible to “have a career without the Internet.” She attended the University of Toronto in 2007, and New York University afterwards for a postgraduate degree in journalism. While Nostro is appreciative of her graduate school classes and the experiences they lent her, she regrets that much of what she learned she was able to gain “through real life experience at a publication.”

Nostro notes that the traditional education path that brought her to graduate school was not ultimately helpful in her career. While a graduate degree may once have been a ticket to gainful employment, for Nostro, “experience is more important than formal education,” due to the fact that her program — one that caters to an industry that relies heavily upon freelance work — “rarely looked at freelancing as some reliable means to live.”  From within the thick of the competitive creative community that is New York City, she remarks how “some of the most successful writers I know — who make…twice what I do — are freelancers.” 

Nostro demonstrates that, for a subset of millennials, digital metrics and informal work arrangements are dictating how they view success. Across the board, university students in highly academic environments lust for similar milestones: high grades, a paid position within a viable field, and a payroll that will provide lump sums of consistent cash. Though it may have once been a unique advantage to achieve an undergraduate degree, the reality is that formal education is no longer guarantees anything besides a diploma. It seems as though educational institutions are behind the curve when it comes to embracing these new conceptions of success. 

Patricia Recourt, a freelance portrait photographer, left the formal education system during her second year at Sheridan College to move to New York City. The rapid change of the Internet’s landscape between 2005 and 2015 implicated itself in what she saw for her future, which allowed her “career [to] unfold very quickly based on the international responses [she] was receiving online.” For all intents and purposes, Recourt has penetrated a creative industry, much like Nostro, to tremendous critical acclaim; she has had her artwork published by scores of internationally recognised publications such as Vogue Italia, and sports an internship with Annie Leibovitz on her curriculum vitae.

Recourt fervently believes that creative and freelance industries are penetrable but agrees with Nostro that formal education has little to do with success in these areas. She contends that the Internet has played a fundamental role in her career, and describes herself as “a huge advocate of social media.” “It is single-handedly the most reliable way to network…especially in the industry of fashion, media, and advertising.”

To Recourt, this experience is the essence of digital literacy’s “influence on businesses and entrepreneurs,” and it plays an essential role in “becoming successful” — much more so than formal education. She feels that “going to school for an art based program is extremely challenging and quite limiting,” especially since the merit of one’s work is often subject to criticism by a single individual. The negative feedback that “you’ll always get” is not necessarily representative of the work’s quality.   

This begs many students who are hoping to embark on creative and digitally informed careers to question where the value in education lies altogether. A competitive edge in the job market is increasingly reliant upon the extrapolative and creative uses of skill sets that are not typically acquired in a classroom. The rigid environment that characterizes formal education can dissuade some from pursuing careers in freelance industries, causing some students to undoubtedly graduate with degrees that will have few applications in the future. Perhaps the experiences of Nostro and Recourt — which are increasingly ubiquitous in the modern market — indicate that formal educational institutions are behind on offering programs tailored to digital, informal contexts. Or perhaps, it means that formal education is simply losing some relevance in the changing job market. The reality is that creative people find ways to innovate and to use platforms in new ways. This is a skill that the classroom — whose primary focus is criticism — does not usually grapple with.

Intelligences in the modern market

Considering the cultural landscape of the Internet, one might assume that there is a greater weight attributed to ‘creative’ intelligence than there is ‘academic’ intelligence in these emerging fields. It would be easy to assume that students with very academic priorities display their intelligence through good study habits and the eventual pursuit of professional careers, whereas students with creative priorities will allow their abilities to manifest themselves through alternative media; however, the two are far more relative than their topical impressions may suggest. 

The more meaningful fissure, according to O’Flynn, falls not between creative versus academic intelligence, nor between creative versus non-creative industries. O’Flynn believes that “the more meaningful split [asks] how university education can best serve you,” with adaptable skills. In other words, responding to the challenge of the changing job market, from the vantage point of educational institutions, is not a matter of diverting a certain subset of students to learn practical digital skills, but of integrating critical digital literacy and adaptability into all areas of study.

While professional areas of study, such as pharmaceuticals, medicine, and engineering, seem to have permanent demands, these disciplines are still bound to evolve over time. Meanwhile, degrees in the humanities have the potential to generate flexibility, enabling individuals to move laterally across industries, as well as vertically within specific lanes. This is to say that, a strong academic student –regardless of their area of study – will need to thinks creativity in the changing job market.

The Economics of Social Sharing

In digital spaces, quantifiers of success have been reimagined, largely by a group of pioneering young people. With the Internet, millennials are able to exploit their creative abilities for capital in ways and that previously were not possible. 

In the digital era, success has a variety of definitions, and these definitions can be represented by anything from Instagram followers, to the number of retweets on Twitter, to the numeric value of a network on Facebook. The principle of connectivity and access underlies the Internet, and this produces a notion of boundlessness that allows millennials with the requisite know-how to invent and create a digital marketplace of ideas. Within Internet communities, digital metrics constitute feedback on  the products that people publish. This happens in real time, and all the time, because of the way that people are constantly connected through smartphones and other computing devices.  These modes of interconnectivity have added a new frontier to the way that we think and the way that we communicate. By effect, the criteria for success in the digital age have likewise changed. We find ourselves, therefore, at a critical juncture, in which pioneering individuals navigate new careers in digital spaces, and educational institutions no longer hold a monopoly over the path to success. 

The millennial generation has brought new meaning to the notion that the ‘content is the creator’ in digital space. O’Flynn says that, as people increasingly pursue success on the Internet, “not everything will be brilliant, but something will.” This sentiment is at the crux of this generation’s efforts to incorporate digital presence into waking life. The rapid growth of digital media outlets permits youth to penetrate new, emerging industries, and to innovate in ways that were previously impossible. The education equals employment contingency has become obsolete, leaving the definition of success in the digital age largely up to the ambitions of a determined group of millennial pioneers.

Three U of T students win prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Jessica Phillips, Kaleem Hawa, James Flynn to study at Oxford next fall

Three U of T students win prestigious Rhodes Scholarship

Three University of Toronto students have claimed Rhodes Scholarships and will be continuing their post-graduate education at Oxford University next year.

Jessica Phillips, Kaleem Hawa, and James Flynn are all active members of U of T’s academic community. Phillips is the president of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Club and she has completed field research in evolutionary biology at the Salmon Coast Field station in British Columbia. 

Flynn is the managing online editor and former news editor of The Varsity, and founder of CodeNL, an initiative that offers free coding classes to students in Newfoundland.

Hawa is a member of the Hart House Debates Committee, director of the G8 Research Group, and co-president of the International Relations Society.

Flynn and Hawa and are both alumni of SHAD, a summer program that they attended as high school students, which they say helped prepare them for success at university.

The Varsity spoke with Phillips, Hawa, and Flynn to discuss the scholarships, their defining moments at U of T, and their plans for the future. 

The Varsity (TV): “What is your major?”

Kaleem Hawa (KH): “I am in my fourth year at Trinity College studying towards a BSc in International Relations and Global Health.”

James Flynn (JF): “I am working towards a double major in Economics and Political Science.”

Jessica Phillips (JP): “I am working towards a Specialist in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a Major in Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, and a Minor in Psychology.”

TV: “What is the most rewarding experience that you have had at U of T?”

KH: “Serving as Chair of Trinity’s lively student government has been the great honour of my time at the University of Toronto. And one that I never wish to repeat again.”

JF: “Working for The Varsity, first as an associate news editor and news editor, and now as managing online editor. At The Varsity, I have had the opportunity to work with an incredibly talented team of student journalists. They are some of my best friends, and I continue to learn from them each and every day.”

JP: “Though it’s very hard to decide on one most rewarding experience, I would probably have to say that it was spending two months living and working at Salmon Coast Field Station while doing an independent project under the supervision of Professor Martin Krkosek after my second year. Prior to this I knew that I liked the idea of doing field work but was unsure of how I would handle the reality of working in the field. This experience made me realize my passion for field work, and marked a turning point in my time at U of T after which I became much more involved in the University’s research activities.”

TV: “What program will you be taking at Oxford?”

KH: “I hope to study an MSc in Integrated Immunology and an MSc in Global Governance & Diplomacy. I’ve long been fascinated with the changing face of national security and foreign policy — and the emergent risks that are now preoccupying policymakers in these spaces. In my case, I’ve focused on two substituent areas: pandemic threats (like SARS, Ebola, MERS, and influenza) and climate change, which will present significant challenges to the well-being of Canada’s indigenous populations and to global food security.”

JF: “I plan to pursue a Master of Science in Social Science of the Internet, followed by a Master of Public Policy, beginning in October 2016.”

JP: “I hope to do a DPhil in Zoology at Oxford University.”

TV: “How much of your success do you owe to your time at the U of T?”

KH: “Most of it! U of T and Trinity have taught me to balance multiple competing priorities: the ever-piling mounds of schoolwork, the importance of staying close with your friends, extracurricular commitments in debate and global health, and keeping in touch with family. Attending this school here has been a phenomenal learning process that has no doubt shaped me for the better!”

JF: “At the University of Toronto, I have had the opportunity to study under truly outstanding professors, like Dr. Kanta Murali and Dr. Lynette Ong. Both have expanded my interests, helped me approach problems from new angles, and helped me develop academically. I owe a great deal to their advice and guidance.”

JP: “I would definitely not be here today if it was [sic] not for the amazing opportunities U of T has which allow undergrads to participate in research and many other extracurricular activities.”

TV: “Who is your mentor or role model?”

KH: “I’ve benefitted to a large extent from the mentorship of many people throughout my U of T career: I owe a great debt to Professors Joy Fitzgibbon, John Kirton, Arun Ravindran, Helen Dimaras, Arne Kislenko, Mairi MacDonald, and Robert Bothwell. I’ve also received phenomenal support from Provost Mayo Moran at Trinity College, Andrea Levinson and Janine Robb at Health & Wellness, Danielle Thibodeau and Jennifer Newcombe at Hart House, and the staff at the Loran Scholarship Program. Overall however, at the risk of being unimaginative, my role models will always be my parents, whose struggles in immigrating to this country and making a life for themselves will forever overshadow my own paltry trials.”

JF: “My mother. She has worked so hard to give me opportunities to succeed, and she has supported me in every single one of my endeavours. She is always the first one I go to for advice; I owe so much to her.”

JP: “I find Emma Watson’s work very inspiring.”

TV: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

KH: “After working for a few years for an international organization like the World Bank or WHO, I hope to be serving as a policy advisor or political staff at Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs or at Environment and Climate Change Canada.”

JF: “Learning, whether in a formal, academic environment or an informal one. Education is such a valuable experience — no matter one’s age.”

JP: “I see myself researching Antarctica’s biodiversity and being involved in efforts to protect the continent and the species that inhabit it.”

Bruce Kidd installed as vice-president, principal of UTSC

Kidd talks athletics, public transit, campus growth

Bruce Kidd installed as vice-president, principal of UTSC

A large crowd gathered at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at UTSC to witness the installation of professor Bruce Kidd as the tenth vice-president and principal. Kidd was formally appointed to the position on November 20.

“You know, I’m the chief executive and chief academic officer of the University of Toronto Scarborough [Campus],” said Kidd regarding his new role at UTSC. “And in that role, I’m the overall — I’m the ultimate decider in decision making.”

Prior to his installation, Kidd was serving as the interim vice-president and principal, a role that he held since 2014. He was also previously the warden of Hart House and the founding dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. Kidd attended U of T as an undergraduate and later completed a Master of Arts and PhD in History at York University.

“I’m very much a product of U of T and so the sense that I am an effective leader, it’s because I was schooled in the service of
U of T in leadership,” Kidd said.

Athletics at UTSC

Prior to entering academia, Kidd was an accomplished athlete. As an undergraduate student, Kidd competed in track and field both nationally and internationally. In the 1962 Commonwealth Games, he won gold for the six-mile race and bronze for the three-mile race. He also competed in the 1964 Olympic Games. Four years later, he was inducted into the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. He is also an honorary member of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

“[Being] at the university where I studied as an undergraduate during which time I
represented Canada, raced all over the world with Toronto and that experience taught me a lot about representation,” said Kidd.

After retiring from competitive track and field, sports continued to play a profound role in Kidd’s life. Before becoming dean of the faculty, Kidd was a professor at the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education and has written extensively about sports policy.

His office shelves are lined with books on sports policy and the politics of sports. The Olympic Torch that he carried in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is mounted on his desk.

“All of that goes into the leadership that I [bring],” explained Kidd. “It wasn’t just one thing. It was these experiences”

As interim vice-president and principal, Kidd oversaw the construction of the Toronto Pan Am Centre, with the aim of expanding the role of sport and physical activity in the university experience.

“I see sport and physical activity as complimenting an outstanding, demanding higher education,” Kidd emphasized. “There are all kinds of co-learnings. I see physical activity providing a lifetime of habits and knowledge about productive living.”

Kidd even expressed support for mandatory physical education at the post-secondary level. “You know, if I had the control, I would make compulsory physical education [or] physical activity part of every undergraduate’s education — maybe every graduate student’s education,” he said.

“I think daily physical activity should be something that every student member,
faculty, and staff ought to be engaged in, whether its on campus, with family, or somewhere else. I’ve come to that conclusion from my own experience, but also being involved in the policy field of sporting a physical activity all my adult life.”

A growing campus

UTSC has grown considerably over the past several years. Kidd told The Varsity that he was concerned over what he saw as a “space deficit” on campus.

“I guess our biggest challenge is the lack of adequate space for faculty, for teaching, for research, for students, from study space to club and activity space, for some of our departments to be located in the same space so they can enjoy the synergies of being together,” Kidd explained.

Walking along the campus, one can spot several portable classrooms only a few metres away from the building that houses Kidd’s office. To combat the lack of space, the
Scarborough Campus has seen several major developments in recent years.

In 2011, the Instructional Centre was the first building that opened north of Ellesmere Ave. in an area now called “north campus.” There have been more developments on the north campus: the Toronto Pan Am Centre — where Kidd’s installation ceremony occurred — opened last year, in time for the Pan Am and Parapan Am games. This year saw the opening of the Environmental Science & Chemistry Building.

These developments are all a part of the UTSC’s Master Plan, which also includes further expansion plans northwards onto the City of Toronto-owned lands, improving access to public transportation, and building a central campus core. Kidd reiterated his support for the continued development of the campus but said that he would like to see it done faster.

“[We’re] working away,” he said, “but it’s slower than we’d like.”

Kidd also emphasized his support for public transportation improvements on campus. According to a 2013 survey, an estimated 68 per cent of students at UTSC rely on public transit to get to school.

“The lack of public transit… is huge. It’s terrible,” said Kidd.

Kidd explained that he spends “a good deal” of his time lobbying decision makers with other groups and advocating for better transit in Scarborough and the eastern GTA.

“We’re just lobbying for a solution, because our students, Centennial students, patients at local hospitals, companies that want to invest, companies that employ lots of people here, and the citizens all suffer from a lack of good public transit.”

Overall, Kidd asserted that he wants UTSC to “continue to be a vibrant, community engaged, research-intensive, energetic university. Simultaneously, with outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, with a big focus on experiential learning, being at the head of the curve as it always has in the way it draws upon new technology to enhance education.”

Kidd sees the Scarborough campus becoming a hub in the east end of the city and said he wants to “enhance the well-being and vitality of this part of the city region.”

“So it’s in terms of education, in terms of research, in terms of environmental awareness and teaching, in terms of athletics, in terms of culture, this is an anchor institution,” said Kidd.

“I’m very proud of what we do and I think that there are such outstanding features of UTSC that every student considering university ought to consider this university.”

Students report improvement in mental health services

New integrated system well-received, long waitlists remain an issue

Students report improvement in mental health services

Mental health services at the University of Toronto have long been the cause of widespread student dissatisfaction. At the beginning of the fall semester, Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) merged with Health & Wellness in an attempt to improve the quality of mental healthcare on campus.

A positive reception

Health & Wellness executive director Janine Robb believes that the organization is well on its way to accomplishing its goals of an improved experience for students. “What has happened is we are having staff which were previously fairly separated by the floors who are now communicating to each other face to face, through the electronic medical records, and also through clinical conferences that occur weekly,” Robb said.

Maria*, a third-year undergraduate student who previously faced difficulties with the CAPS system, was tempted to agree. “I’m much more satisfied with the service that I am receiving compared to the first time I tried accessing CAPS. The kind of care I am receiving now is the kind of care I wish my first-year self had, but I am glad I am receiving it now, rather than before when I had nothing.”

Javier,* a third-year student, had a similarly positive experience. “[A]s a service to renew and issue prescriptions and give cursory psych evaluations, it’s really quite good,” he said.

A large part of the new, integrated system has been the inclusion of other medical professionals in the treatment process. Maria recalled, “First, I was signed on for a 30 minute consultation with a nurse, then I took a series of questionnaires, saw a registered physician, and then immediately afterwards, I was signed on for an anti-depressant, a series of therapy workshops and counselling with the team located on the first floor.”

Robb underscored the importance of this new assessment process: “Everyone who presents [themselves] goes on to the nursing staff, who then determine whether we have the resources to refer them: either to mental health or to primary care. Typically we’ll refer them to a [general practitioner].”

“It’s important that everyone have a GP because we want to make sure their physical health is not contributing to mental health difficulties. Not only the interventions we offer as a continuum, but the resources and use of our staff are along the continuum as well.”

Does the new system help with wait times?

A common complaint about the former CAPS system was long waitlists. “I tried using CAPS back in my first year, but ultimately, the time between my initial consultation and the follow up took so long that I wasn’t able to receive the care that I needed,” said Maria.

“I applied in March and only got my assessment in May,” recalled Anton*, another student who has experienced both the old system and the integrated model. “After I returned from the summer in September, I was told I had to wait two more months before a slot would be available.” He expressed doubts that the waiting time has improved under the new Health & Wellness system.

Robb believes that the issue of waiting times has improved. “I honestly think we have managed to reduce wait times because everyone gets seen,” she said. She also noted that urgency is taken into account when determining how a patient will be treated.

Javier, who only recently sought out treatment for his mental health issues, seemed to agree. “I had my request for an immediate appointment accommodated and was very impressed by that.” He also spoke highly of the online application system.

Maria’s account of the new process was also positive. “It took a month between first going to Health & Wellness and actually getting an appointment, but afterwards, receiving care has been quick and streamlined.”

Alternatives

U of T’s Health & Wellness program offers a wide range of services for students outside of mental health issues including general medicine, immunizations, flu clinics, allergy care, and even support for smokers trying to quit.

One alternative for students with mental health problems is the OISE Psychology Clinic. Students completing their practicum for their masters of psychology staff the clinic under supervision by registered psychologists. The initiative provides both assessments and psychotherapy. Availability and wait times vary there as well, but the clinic offers its services free of charge for U of T students, though it receives no funding from the university to do so.

*Names changes at students’ request.

U of T delegates head to Paris for COP21

Students hope to gain better understanding of climate change

U of T delegates head to Paris for COP21

Five student delegates have been selected to represent the University of Toronto at the Paris Conference of Parties 21 (COP21), which runs from November 30 to December 11. The delegates, Alice (Xia) Zhu, Alissa Saieva, Christelle Broux, Sophie Guilbault, and Larissa Parker will focus on different subtopics surrounding climate change including renewable energy, emission reduction targets, and the science-policy gap.

Implemented in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the annual COP objective is to review the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After hearing about previous COPs, Zhu, a third-year environmental chemistry specialist and the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s sustainability commissioner, approached the undergraduate student advisor for the School of the Environment, David Powell, about sending a delegation.

“For me, the main reason I wanted to form a delegation from University of Toronto is because I want students to understand and be informed about climate change,” Zhu said. “COP21 is a major negotiation for the world, but most students have not heard of it before,” she said.

Powell himself will not attend the conference, but political science professor Matthew Hoffman and professor Stephen Scharper, of the Department of Anthropology and the School of the Environment, will be available to students for advice and support.

“I am confident that attending COP21 will be a great learning experience for the student delegates with respect to understanding the complexity and nature of international environmental agreements,” Powell said. “These agreements take a long time to be implemented, to evolve, and to achieve meaningful change, which is frustrating for everyone who is concerned about climate change, particularly young people, so coming to terms with that is an important experience,” said Powell.

COP21 could be crucial in negotiating a successive agreement for the Kyoto Protocol, which set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in 1992 for the years 2008-2012. A UNFCCC study shows a good plan could prevent a global warming above 2°C by 2100, as opposed to a 3°C — or the worst-case scenario 6°C — rise.  Over 60 energy and environment ministers around the world went to the pre-COP, which the COP21 website cited as one of the largest and most productive in
UNFCCC history.

“I am interested to see what the new [Canadian] Government will commit to and its proposed implementation strategies,” said Saieva, a second-year law student. “However, I understand the complexities of international environmental agreements and that Canada has not had an ‘impressive’ environmental track record to date. As such, I am cautiously optimistic about the experience.”

“For myself personally, I am thankful for this opportunity and hope to gain a better understanding of the complexity of UN negotiations,” said Broux, who is completing a B.Sc. in environmental science and geography. “My experience will be valuable I’m sure, and I hope to share as much information as I can with the student community, both during and after conference.”

The delegates have organized campus events leading up to COP21 and will manage a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account throughout their time at the conference.

“By going to Paris, I hope to be a key liaison between students at U of T and the events that are happening in Paris,” said Zhu.

You can follow their blog at http://www.utcop21.org/.

Ontario universities struggle to identify under-represented groups

Educational institutions struggle with recruitment, outreach, report finds

Ontario universities struggle to identify under-represented groups

A new report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) examined data to see how Ontario’s 20 universities are defining and identifying under-represented groups. The data was taken from university websites, viewbooks,
Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs), and the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre instruction booklet. The report also analyses  the programs that the universities currently have in place to improve access, as well as how the institutions evaluate their efforts.

There is variation in the under-represented groups referenced in outreach materials. For example, according to the HEQCO,
“all 20 universities mentioned first-generation students in their SMAs, but only three did so in their viewbooks,” with the exception of Aboriginal students, who were featured prominently in viewbooks.

Ruth A. Childs, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), revealed that the University of Toronto does not explicitly mention anything about first-generation students, or students with disabilities, and the services available to them in its 2014 and 2015 viewbooks.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T, said that the content of the viewbooks looks to cover information on admissions and general information about the university. “We know that prospective students are most interested in program and admission info, so that is what’s highlighted – and that content is common to all students regardless of background.”

The report also indicated that, while each university in Ontario has outreach and recruitment, access through admissions, and retention initiatives in place to improve access to post-secondary education for under-represented groups, they face challenges in evaluating the effectiveness and reach of these initiatives, particularly in Aboriginal communities.

Although U of T has a dedicated recruitment officer for Aboriginal students, Jonathan Hamilton-Diablo, director of First Nations House, said that it is difficult to measure the success of outreach and recruitment methods in First Nations communities because recruitment officers often work with younger students.

“We go to elementary schools and the reason for that is that when we go to high schools in First Nation communities, the issue that is unfortunately a reality is that there are a lot of students who have dropped out of high school already, so if we’re only talking to grade 11s, we’re not talking to the whole potential,” said Hamilton-Diablo.

Ontario universities also have trouble ensuring they are actually reaching under-represented students, since many students may not identify with a particular group.

“There are lots of reasons why students choose not to self-identify with a particular group or situation. Fortunately, at U of T, we have a number of contact points so students can choose which services will best meet their needs,” said Blackburn-Evans.

“My hope for U of T (and for all of the universities) is that they will support the full range of access initiatives — outreach to younger students in middle and secondary school, recruitment of students as they finish secondary school and later, flexibility in the admissions process, and supports once students arrive on campus – and that they would ensure they are reaching students who are not already on a path to post-secondary education,” said Childs.

Student groups condemn Islamophobia

Rise in Islamophobic acts prompt statements of solidarity

Student groups condemn Islamophobia

In the aftermath of the recent Paris terrorism attacks, Toronto has seen an influx of Islamophobic activity. Osama Omar, a University of Toronto student, wrote a Facebook post on November 17, claiming that a stranger insulted him and spat on him at the intersection of College and Spadina. Omar believes the assault was an act of Islamophobia.

According to a CBC News interview with Omar, he stated that the attack occurred while he was waiting for a streetcar at the intersection.

“[While] waiting for the streetcar home, a man approached me and straight up SPAT on me. He proceeded to verbally abuse me with swear words and attempted to swing at me, twice. I was quite caught off guard with such an unexpected incident, I didn’t know what to do. There was no one around except for a couple of people at the other end of the platform. I decided to walk away. The whole time, the man swore under his breath and stared me down,” Omar wrote on Facebook.

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), told The Varsity that Islamophobia has always been prevalent on campus, and that while it may ‘spike’ after such events, it doesn’t “necessarily go down.”

Shihipar referenced the public Facebook page, UofT Confessions, as a site where Islamophobia manifests. “At one point, every week, there was a post on Muslims, Muslim women, ‘why do Muslim women wear hijabs’ and stuff like that… those are U of T students and their opinions,” Shihipar said.

When Shihipar heard about what happened to Omar, his reaction was mixed.

“Surprise in a sense that you’re always surprised when an incident like that happens on campus, a university campus… but at the same time, not surprising because we’ve been hearing about this string of Islamophobic attacks, in the city,” he explained. “I think we have to get over the surprise aspect, because we have to realize that this type of racism, Islamophobia does manifest itself in a city that we think is inclusive, and in a campus that we think is inclusive,” Shihipar said.

Other groups have echoed Shihipar’s sentiments, many choosing to release public statements condemning the incident. “[It seems like everyday, there is yet another story of a racist hate crime. This time it hits home even further, with an attack on our campus, on a fellow student,” read a portion of the ASSU’s statement.

“For a student to be made a target of a hate crime like this is unacceptable,” said the U of T Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) in an online statement. “Islamophobia and racism are real and when it hits this close to home on campus, it is cause for concern.” Since then, the MSA has promoted a series of events and resources, such as a workshop focusing on self-defence for Muslim women.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) published a statement, in which they expressed disgust at the attack and other Islamophobic incidents, and offered support for Muslim students. “To all Muslim-identifying students on campus: you have nothing to be apologetic for. Instead, you have every right to prioritize your mental, emotional and physical health above everything else,” read part of the UTSU’s statement.

U of T president Meric Gertler also released a statement, stating that discrimination is “intolerable” and against the principles of the university. “Such actions are reprehensible and antithetical to the fundamental values of our academic community. Instead, our institution reaffirms its commitment to be a safe and welcoming place for the widest breadth of communities –— and their perspectives, ideas, and debates.”