Metropasses and granola bars

Commuter culture on the St. George campus

Metropasses and granola bars

Far more than the fare it’s worth, commuting is an all-encompassing experience — a metallic, engine-powered beast shackles its passengers to unpredictable departure times and overcrowded, sardine-like travel conditions. Approximately 80 per cent of the University of Toronto’s St. George campus’s 55,000 students are commuters, a large chunk of which come from all over the GTA.

A certain culture accompanies the commuter experience on campus, derived from both the inherent nature of commuting as well as from the individual experience of each weary traveller. Every commuter sacrifices hours of their day, but everyone goes about it differently, some opting for the subway, others for the bus, the bike, and so on.

Commuter culture is not defined by living off campus, but by the reasons students find to stay on campus. Breaking the chains of the TTC and establishing positive ties through campus life is as crucial to commuter culture as Metropasses, granola bars, and invasions of personal space by mouth-breathing businessmen.


Barriers to commuter integration

The most troublesome issue faced by the common commuter is a temporal one. With commuting, time is constantly of the essence: waking up on time, leaving enough time to eat, making the bus on time, and getting to class ten minutes after the hour.

Will Power, a second-year commuter from Victoria College, said that the time his commute takes has hindered his ability to actively enjoy campus life: “I’m not really involved with anything. I don’t have time to do anything on campus because between the three hours a day I’m on transit and studying, it doesn’t leave much time for anything else. I would have liked to have been involved with CINSSU [Cinema Studies Student Union], Raindance, some art shows, I’d like to get into those. There’s not enough time for these, though.”

Many commuter students have part-time jobs to support their various expenses, such as transportation, quick meals, textbooks, and tuition.

With work hours as well, balancing a commuter’s schedule becomes even more difficult, and academic life can become monotonous and repetative, the only enjoyment coming from watching the landscape rush by from the window seat of a crowded GO train.

There are also significant institutional barriers to the involvement of commuters in campus life at the university. Classes that either start too early in the day or finish too late in the evening can wreak havoc on a commuter’s schedule and their ability to participate in extracurricular activities. Commuting early in the morning and late in the evening can also jeopardize students’ mental health by causing stress and lack of sleep.

Commuters may have to compromise in their course selection based on the times when courses take place. With the need to fulfill program and breadth requirements, avoiding an inconveniently timed morning or evening course is often challenging. Classes in the morning coincide with rush hour, making getting to campus in a timely manner difficult.

More flexible timetable options or lowering residence and meal plan fees are potential ways to mitigate the inconveniences that commuter students face. Creating a central, campus-wide commuter space would also foster positive community relations. University College (uc) offers rooms in residence for $15 for one evening, which is another way to accommodate commuters who need to stay on campus for late night classes.


A matter of perception

Sarah Qidwai, a fourth-year history specialist and the commissioner of the University College Off-Campus Commission (UCOC), contends that commuting is about perception: “I could choose to commute and say that it is the worst, but I don’t. It’s all about making a conscious decision regarding your time spent commuting.”

As head of the UCOC, Sarah, her deputy Eric Schwenger, and the members of her commission work to overturn the stigma associated with commuting through planning commuter-friendly events.

“We have tried to have a constant stream of events that cater to commuters’ availability,” said Schwenger. “The biggest part of being commuter-friendly is timing. Having events that end earlier, or that are ongoing throughout the day, so students can come and go as they see fit with their schedules, makes these events commuter-friendly.”

The fundamental goal of UCOC, says Schwenger, is to ensure that the off-campus population is engaged in student life on campus. The paradox of commuting is that in order to embrace it, you have to decide not be a slave to it.

Commuters who seek to be involved in campus life need to compromise the “go to school, go home,” mentality that is a model for many off-campus students who operate on TTC schedules rather than social calendars. Students instead establish ties to clubs and activities on campus that provide reasons to stick around after class, in spite of the sacrifice of getting home later. This integration can manifest in different ways, such as joining a course union, finding a work-study, taking on a lab role, or joining a college council.


Commuter communities

Integration can also occur when commuters embrace their identity as such and get involved with commuter initiatives on campus, fostering an on campus community for off-campus students.

“The crux of the off-campus community,” said Schwenger, “is the community of students… who are there for each other, who help each other out, who can come together in a similar way students in a residence house would, but even closer, because of the challenges they face.”

Christine De la Cruz, the Commuter Commissioner of Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) and a co-chair on Victoria Off-Campus Association (VOCA), plans events that cater to the needs of commuter students: “Judging from the amount of students at our events, as well as the way people interact with each other, I feel like there is a sense of community there. These are the people who keep coming back every week, and I think the reason they keep coming back is because they’ve made friends at these events. Interacting with other commuter students, forming friendships — that’s how I think community is built. It’s very important, especially for commuters, as it would take more time for us to make friends here at U of T.”

Every college has its own ways of fostering a unique commuter identity. As most of these involve free food, it is apparent that the way to the commuter’s heart is through their stomach. New College recently held a grilled cheese breakfast in their lounge, which was open to all students; Woodsworth throws lavish pancake brunches every Wednesday; uc holds tea and cookies at the Union; and the Cat’s Eye at Victoria College has pancake breakfasts.

Other initiatives, not involving food, have also been successful. Innis has a monthly spirit day, in which they give out a free metropass to one lucky commuter. UC, Vic, and St. Michael’s College have hired community coordinators, whose role is to provide support for commuters and implement them into both campus life and the commuter community. UC is also home to the Commuter Student Centre, a beacon of commuter activity since its establishment in 2007. Housing both a quiet study space and a rambunctious back area, the Commuter Student Centre (CSC) is a haven for commuters and residence students alike, open to students from all of the colleges.

Commuting, says Ezra Shanto, an English major from New College, brings people together: “Making friends simply because you have to take the same ride home is a good feeling. It’s always a good feeling to have someone who doesn’t need to understand what you’re taking, but just understands that you’re taking the same long commute home as them, and you have that personal connection.”

Commuting is a necessary evil, but it also offers students the potential for genuinely fulfilling engagement with the downtown campus. Commuter culture grows stronger by perpetuating itself. It establishes more reasons for students to seek ties to campus and bond with like-minded individuals, and forges a sense of community.


A guide to commuting


Keeping busy during your commute

Read: There’s something about reading Faulkner on a crowded locomotive that just seems right. You’re already the object of everyone’s awkward eye contact, so make the most of it by milking your intellectualism. They’ll think you’re much more interesting than you really are.

Listen to music: Most albums are just under an hour, which is probably similar to the length of your commute. Drown out the sounds of other people’s loud music with your own.

Work: In all likelihood, you’re terribly behind on your readings. Sometimes, you’ve just got to whip out the highlighter, the pen, the sticky notes, and the Plato, and grasp the Form of the Good. Your participation marks in tutorial will thank you for it.

Sleep: The glass partitions on the TTC are perfect for leaning your head against and catching some shut-eye. They’re also breeding grounds for bacteria, but what’s a bit of lice to the fastest-moving catnap in Toronto?

Prepare your next move in Words with Friends: Maybe if you stare at the board just a bit longer, the perfect word for the coveted triple-word score spot will appear to you.

People-watch: You’re bound to find all sorts of colourful characters on public transportation to keep you thoroughly entertained.

Catch up on texts: Let us all give thanks to Wilson, Yorkdale, Lawrence West, Glencairn, Eglinton West, Kipling, Old Mill, Keele, Davisville, Rosedale, Victoria Park, Warden, Kennedy, Lawrence East, Ellesmere, Midland, Scarborough Centre, and McCowan. Make the most of cell service before it’s gone.


Commuter Etiquette

DO give up your seat. Be chivalrous by letting an elderly person take your spot. You’ll be out of a seat, but you’ll feel better for it.

DON’T take phone calls. If it’s done at a reasonable volume, go ahead. But if it’s shouted and vulgar, then no. Think of the children — and the generally disgruntled patrons who don’t want to hear all about your day.

DO avoid eye contact. This is one of the unspoken rules of commuting. Rumour has it that the rule stems from a sixteenth-century tradition in which European settlers in the Americas would have to battle to the death after making eye contact of more than two seconds.

DON’T blast your music — especially if you are listening to something particularly profane or embarrassing — because everyone is judging you.

DO the electric slide — otherwise known as musical chairs. If you are sitting directly beside a fellow commuter and a seat opens up elsewhere, it is your sworn duty to switch to the available chair. (Note: the person from which you have moved away may take offence, and may start to wonder if it was something they said).


How to be a busker

Getting on the subway is as easy as a swipe of a Metropass, a clink of a token, and the whirl of a turnstile. Getting on the subway as a musician, though, is a little harder.

The ttc is full of buskers, musicians scattered about subway entrances and platforms who perform for the commuting masses. Before getting there, the buskers have to compete for a much-coveted license.

Each year, the TTC takes applications for subway performance permits. The first 175 musicians to submit an application get an audition. The auditions are held during the first three days of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), and the public is invited to attend to watch them take place on a stage near the food building. Each busker is allotted a seven-minute audition, and must perform three songs. Adjudicators award licenses to 75 musicians to play in the subway. The license itself is billed at a fee of $150.

While most stationary instruments, such as drums, are not permitted, a lot of buskers like to keep things interesting, breaking up the procession of acoustic guitars. More eclectic options — such as accordions, violins, cellos, pan flutes, dizis, and steel pans — are all likely to be found on any given day around the subway. A notable exception is Billy James, a popular busker who has been joyfully strumming away on a dilapidated acoustic in stations all over transit lines since 1978, the first year the TTC allowed performers in the subway.

Subway buskers are given free entrance to the station, but aren’t given free passes for transportation — so becoming a busker is unfortunately not a way to cut down on your fare expenditure.


The subway in haiku


The end of the line

Closer to Mississauga

Than Islington. Ugh.



Across from the park!

Want to go frolick outside,

Must stay on subway.



Classes lie beyond,

Bedford or Bata, your choice;

Where dreams come to die



Start of the Yonge Line

GO bus, YRT, all there

Home of Pan Flute Guy



Come up for fresh air

The day shines bright upon me

Getting cell service



Green and yellow meet

Packed in the train like sardines

Until mass exodus



Four levelled station,

RT, but not a retweet

Scarborough crime hub

U of T building beyond its means

University lacks infrastructure roadmap

U of T building beyond its means

New University of Toronto president Meric Gertler wasted little time expressing the university’s dissatisfaction with provincial levels of funding for post-secondary education, citing funding pressures as a key challenge for the university in his installation address. The Varsity has recently highlighted the alarming growth of deferred maintenance at U of T, as well as the interaction of provincial funding structures and donor priorities with what gets built and fixed at the university. Despite the constant talk of funding levels and priorities, questions around deferred maintenance are still rarely discussed.

For many students, the first of these questions will be: What is deferred maintenance? Deferred maintenance occurs when the university spends less on maintaining its buildings in a given year than it thinks it should. The Facilities & Services department monitors how much upkeep has been delayed until future years in this manner, and their reports make alarming reading.

As of 2012, the university has some $484 million in deferred maintenance. If U of T were to decide to do all that work today, it would cost them one quarter of the university’s endowment. Amazingly, that’s not the alarming part of the problem; even if U of T were to spend that money catching up on maintenance this year, we would still have significant levels of maintenance necessary next year.

It is not difficult to see how the university has arrived at this point, and U of T’s administration is not doing anything that other large Canadian institutions have not done. Every year, U of T has to spend more than it earns — something that it cannot do. Many public institutions — including the ttc, school boards, and the provincial government itself — face this yearly dilemma. The province makes ends meet primarily by incurring debt, but other institutions often make up the funding gap by deferring spending on maintenance. If U of T were to defer other expenses — such as salaries, heating, or financial aid — people would notice. However, the university can easily get by unnoticed without spending millions on removing the asbestos from Sidney Smith, or other projects that are advisable in the long term but not immediately necessary.

It is important to note that deferred maintenance does not pose any immediate danger to the people using these buildings. Facilities & Services monitors the university’s infrastructure, and urgent repairs are carried out before they become a hazard. The problem, however, is that while the asbestos in Sid Smith can be safely contained for now, it will eventually have to go. The same is true for every job that can, for the time being, be safely put off until next year. Deferring maintenance also provides short-term savings at the expense of long-term costs, since labour, material, and evaluation costs increase every year.

Until 2008, U of T was slowly improving the situation; from 2005–2008, the amount of deferred maintenance decreased from about $300 million to less than $200 million, as U of T actually spent more on maintenance than the annual requirement. Since 2008, however, the trend has reversed. Both the rate of increase and the amount of deferred maintenance are now growing every year. Even though U of T’s contribution to maintenance has actually increased steadily since 2008, provincial funding has been declining, and total funding is not keeping pace with need.

This problem of ever-increasing deferred maintenance is compounded by the fact that donors and politicians alike want to fund exciting new projects, particularly innovative or glamorous new buildings. By going along with these plans U of T maximizes the total amount of grant and donation money it receives, and continues to grow its infrastructure and enhance its reputation. All of these are positive developments, and they often lead to tangible benefits for students. The downside is that the university can’t quite afford to maintain the buildings it already has. While some donations fund renovations, which include maintenance or revival funding, new building is almost always part of the deal, leading to even more maintenance cost as those buildings age.

Administrators have argued that U of T can neither tell donors what to fund nor change the government’s mind, and that it has to take advantage of these opportunities or risk falling behind its global competitors. This argument ignores the reality that, eventually, deferred maintenance will catch up with us. The university can devote more money to innovation and growth today by deferring maintenance spending. By doing so, however, administrators ensure that at some point in the future, U of T will have less to spend less on these goals as it is forced to divert funds to urgent up-keep spending.

Allowing donors and capricious provincial grants to set the university’s agenda for growth also puts decision-making in the wrong hands. The university certainly benefits from exciting new buildings, but it needs money for maintenance, as well as more classrooms, residences, and student space. We expect that the provincial government will spend money where it is needed, whether it is glamorous or not. The university and its students — who donors always express a willingness to listen to — must ask that donors provide money for what faculty and students are really asking for, rather than what benefits their reputations or desires for legacy projects. Gertler is a world-renowed urban geographer, and we hope that his academic background will inform a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the university’s development.

The Goldring family’s support for the Goldring Student Centre is an excellent example of donor funding for student space. This kind of support is very rare, and has been totally absent from the Student Commons fundraising process, which places the whole burden of funding on students.

The question of deferred maintenance is a question of leadership. The university is sabotaging its long-term growth to further its short-term growth. By incurring an enormous and growing amount of deferred maintenance, and by allowing donors and grants to set a haphazard course for growth, we are undermining the university’s future. University and provincial leaders are taking credit for the university’s current strength and growth, while ensuring a weaker future.

Showdown in Toronto Centre

Major parties jockey for students’ votes as byelection enters final week

Showdown in Toronto Centre

The race for Toronto Centre is heating up. As the campaign for the seat previously held by Bob Rae enters its final week, the candidates are redoubling their efforts to get their messages out to voters. This has included voicing their opinions on issues that matter to students.

“Rising tuition fees are a big, big concern for students, and they just keep going up and up, and Ontario in fact is one of the worst in terms of support universities get in order to keep tuition fees low, so that’s something we need to work on,” said Linda McQuaig, candidate for the NDP. “The NDP has a very specific proposal on this,” she went on. “We think that the federal government should be involved; we think that federal money going to the provinces for post-secondary education should include a special package earmarked for reducing tuition fees. Universities, colleges, post-secondary education, that is a public good.”

“It’s absolutely important that universities and colleges be accessible, and they can’t be accessible if fees are unaffordable.”

Chrystia Freeland, the Liberal candidate, gave some context to the problem of rising tuition: “I think it’s an issue in a few ways,” she said. “It’s an issue for how do students afford it to be able to get access to university; it’s an issue in terms of the impact it has on the lives of students afterwards, and it’s not just that tuition costs are high, but that often translates into graduating with a lot of student debt, which then has to be paid off at really high interest rates.”

She added as a caveat that while rising tuition costs are a serious concern, universities need adequate funding in order to provide a high quality of education, which is also a major concern for students: “If we’re going to say ‘Okay, tuition costs can’t rise anymore,’ we need to realize universities are going to have to get their money from somewhere,” she stated.

McQuaig and Freeland are both career journalists. Both have written extensively about class differences and social welfare. McQuaig has authored almost a dozen books on the topic. She has often criticized conservative economic policies such as corporate tax breaks and the social inequality she contends that they create.

John Deverell, the Green Party candidate, also began as a journalist. He argued throughout his career against Canada’s “winner-takes-all” elections, which he considers undemocratic, and instead advocates for a system of proportional representation for parliament. This would entail giving each party a percentage of seats equal to the percentage of total votes it receives. Originally a Liberal, Deverell resigned from the party when it proved unreceptive to his proposals to change Canada’s electoral system.

Deverall offers a different take on the matter of tuition. “We’ve got a whole cohort of young people, all of whom are having difficulty in the labour market; it’s not just students or young graduates. So the broader question is the shorter of money in the pockets of people who need it,” he said. “We put on a carbon tax to try to redirect the consumption patterns and the production patterns in our economy, but to avoid the charges of ‘tax grab’ and so on and so on, we turn around and say carbon tax money will be redistributed to all Canadians in a Canada income supplement, to all Canadians over the age of 18.”

Deverell argues that the Green proposal will allow more flexibility to students because the cash payment from redistribution of the carbon tax revenues can be used to help with any expense, including tuition, cost of living, and others. He contends that this is a more effective method of dealing with students’ financial difficulties because it directly addresses the broader problem of lack of income rather than trying to solve the problem through manipulation of the minimum wage or tuition levels.

The candidates also spoke about the issue of youth unemployment. “The burdens that we’re putting on young people right now are burdens that we’re transferring to Canadian families overall,” said Freeland. “There’s this amazing number that 43 percent of Canadian families with children in their 20s have had those kids ‘couch-surf’ at home.”

“This is an untypical [sic], not very political answer,” Freeland continued, “but I think we shouldn’t trust anybody who pretends this is an easy problem to solve, or there is an obvious answer that you can write on a postcard and that’s it — press this button; it will be fine. This reality is nobody’s figured it out yet, and the first step is to try.” She contended that the first step to solving the economic problem is acknowledging that one exists, which she said the Harper administration has failed to do.

Deverell stated that the the government ought to help those who have difficulty paying back their loans after graduation. “Those who are able to cash in on their university degrees and make more income should pay back their loans,” he said. “Those who have great difficulty after they’ve acquired their degrees should get a gentler treatment on the tax side of things.” He noted, however, that not everybody goes to university, and that the government must be careful when deciding whether those who entered the workforce without pursuing a degree should need to contribute to this aid.

McQuaig gave her take on youth unemployment: “That’s something I would say the NDP has been very concerned about addressing,” she said. “For instance, we argue the Conservative and Liberal governments before the Conservative government have been dramatically reducing corporate tax cuts, and they argue that this is a way to create jobs. It hasn’t worked; we have massive unemployment, and among students, among young people, it’s double the national average. The NDP argues instead, if you’re going to give corporations any tax breaks, it’s got to be linked to job creation.”

Freeland, McQuaig, and Deverell participated in a debate at Carr Hall on November 16. The candidates discussed two questions at this event. On the issue of foreign aid, McQuaig committed to meeting the Pearson government’s guarantee to contribute 0.7 per cent of GNP to aid, which Canada has thus far almost always failed to meet. Deverell argued that emphasizing trade rather than aid would be a much more effective way to promote prosperity for developing countries, and Freeland stated that the Liberals would raise current foreign aid commitments, without committing to the 0.7 per cent rate.

The only other question the candidates had an opportunity to discuss was on what issue they would be most likely to vote against their own party. Freeland stated that she would vote against the Liberals if they were to advance an anti-abortion policy. McQuaig and Deverell said there were no issues on which they would vote against their party.

After this, the debate ended early because of an interruption by independent candidate Kevin Clarke. Clarke shouted at the candidates from his seat, and then stood up and loudly challenged Freeland and McQuaig to a debate while running around the room. He, at one point, jumped onto a piano. Organizers attempted to calm him down and return him to his seat twice, and then called campus police to escort him from the building.

Geoffrey Pollock’s campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The by-election is scheduled for November 25.

Women’s Varsity Blues hockey dominate the Waterloo Warriors

Blues women’s hockey team stymied the Warriors offense after a shutout from goalie Nicole Kesteris

Women’s Varsity Blues hockey dominate the Waterloo Warriors

The Varsity Blues women’s hockey team hosted the Waterloo Warriors Saturday afternoon as part of a double-header at Varsity Arena, and convincingly defeated them.

Although the game would end up being a comfortable win for the home side, it didn’t initially appear that that would be the case. Despite carrying the bulk of the play early on, the Blues only managed to fire six shots on Waterloo netminder Rebecca Bouwhuis in the first period, and relied heavily upon star goaltender Nicole Kesteris on several early penalty kills. After the game, Blues forward Kristi Riseley acknowledged that the first period was frustrating, but felt that the team responded well during the second period.



A stellar individual effort by Blues forward Sonja Weidenfelder ended the deadlock early in the second period. Weidenfelder, who was excellent throughout the game, stole the puck from a Waterloo defender in the slot, faked a shot, and then  backhanded a shot under the crossbar for the go-ahead goal. The goal would prove to be the eventual game-winner.

Just over three minutes later, Weidenfelder scored again, this time off a Taylor Day rebound in close. After Day just narrowly missed putting a shot past Bouwhuis herself, the Blues scored again. Nearing the end of a great shift, Riseley found herself alone in front of the Waterloo goal, corralled an Arden Cowley feed, and fired a shot just over the Waterloo goaltender’s pad. It was Riseley’s first goal in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), and one that was wholly deserved. In her second season with the Blues, Riseley has garnered much respect from fans for her hard work and shot-blocking, and it was great to see her put one on the board.

The Riseley marker forced a Waterloo goaltender change, with sophomore Allie Mitchell taking over just past the halfway point of the game. It proved to be of little effect, however, as Blues defender-turned-forward April Looije converted on a rebound beside the goal less than two minutes later to give the Blues a commanding 4-0 lead.

The remainder of the game saw the Blues play smart, disciplined hockey against an increasingly frustrated opponent, with Kesteris rising to the challenge when called upon. It was a characteristic victory for the Blues; they outplayed their opponent and benefited from some of the best goaltending in cis.

War of words: Summit heats up

Accusations of unpreparedness, bullying, and “deliberate misrepresentation” colour fourth meeting

War of words: Summit heats up

Conflict looms in the wake of the fourth meeting of the ongoing Student Societies Summit, which occurred on November 15. New disputes have grown between some student divisions and the UTSU.

On November 15, the Innis College Student Society (ICSS) submitted a letter to the summit detailing its concerns with the union’s involvement in the summit. In the letter, ICSS president Mary Stefanidis stated that she does not feel that the UTSU representatives currently at the summit are knowledgeable enough to properly speak for the union. UTSU vice-president, university affairs, Agnes So and vice-president, equity, Yolen Bollo-Kamara have been representing the union at the summit in place of president Munib Sajjad.

In the letter, Stefanidis wrote: “The subgroup discussions that took place during the last summit meeting only further confirm our concern with the current representation. It is not their capacity as representatives, but merely a lack of knowledge that only comes with experience.” Stefanidis went on to cite examples of these failings, including Bollo-Kamara and So not being informed about perceived problems with Canadian Federation of Students members working on UTSU election campaigns. Stefanidis stated that if Sajjad were present, the issue would have been resolved quickly because of his greater knowledge and experience. Stefanidis also stated that the UTSU had not progressed to the same extent as other societies, maintaining the same arguments and remaining unwilling to compromise.

On November 1, the UTSU submitted a twenty-page letter to the summit in response to a previous letter submitted by the Trinity College Meeting (TCM). The TCM letter in question outlined concerns about the UTSU Board of Directors’ decision to rule engineering director Pierre Harfouche’s motions out of order. Responding to the letter, the UTSU wrote that it was suprised to hear of these concerns, which it felt had not been presented to it in an appropriate manner. At one point, the letter reads: “We often first hear of issues in The Varsity or through being carbon-copied on letters addressed to members of the University staff.” The letter also addressed Sajjad’s concern that the union has been the target of bullying by various other student societies in the past year. Sajjad lists homophobic remarks towards the executive committee and vandalization of the UTSU office among other issues that need to be addressed at the summit.

Engineering Society (EngSoc) president Mauricio Curbelo, posted his response to the UTSU on Facebook on November 15. In the post, he addresses the UTSU’s claims that it was not made aware of issues before Harfouche’s motions were submitted. “This is a deliberate misrepresentation of years of past attempts to engage the UTSU through their own processes to address our concerns,” writes Curbelo. He goes on to speak of the joint committee between EngSoc and the UTSU that met several times over the 2010-2011 academic year about the issue of fee diversion, which the UTSU did not mention in its letter to the summit.

Curbelo also raised concerns about Sajjad not attending the meetings, saying: “They continue to refuse to send their President to the Summit meetings, and did not make a written submission to the Summit until TCM suggested that the refusal to place Mr. Pierre Harfouche’s motions on their Annual General Meeting agenda may constitute undemocratic conduct under the University’s Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, possibly resulting in a withholding of fees by the administration.”

He concludes the letter saying that EngSoc does not believe any amount of democratic reform of the UTSU will be a suitable alternative to fee diversion. In terms of other discussions being held at the summit, Curbelo stated: “Our referendum only addressed the question of fees — we continue to be open to exploring different structures of governance which will allow the interests of engineering students to be well-represented in the university’s decision-making processes.”

Sajjad has not responded to request for comment as of press time.

The TCM wrote a letter to the summit in response to the UTSU on November 8. The letter outlined the TCM’s ongoing concerns with the union, including Harfouche’s inability to get his motions included in the upcoming AGM. Ben Crase, co-head of Trinity College, writes that it is telling that Harfouche was unable to create motions that were in accordance with union bylaws, even after attending the UTSU’s Policy Townhall. “It is unclear why the UTSU Executive continues to reject proposals to better engage its membership, especially on issues critical to the future of the Union,” writes Crase. “One can only be left wondering if they are afraid of what they might hear.”

The positions of many of the societies remain the same — the EngSoc, the Victoria College Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), and the TCM have all passed referenda pushing for fee diversion from the UTSU. The UTSU continues to claim the referenda are illegitimate.

With files from Alessandra Harkness & Maria Alexiou

U of T veterans, old and new

The Varsity speaks with two U of T students who enlisted in 1957 and 2005 respectively

U of T veterans, old and new
Knopf at 2013 Rememberance Day ceremony. PHOTOS COURTESY OF  GHERARD KNOPF

Knopf at 2013 Rememberance Day ceremony. PHOTOS COURTESY OF GHERARD KNOPF

Lieutenant-Colonel Gherard Knopf

Lieutenant- Colonel Gherard Knopf was a member of the 8th Signal Regiment and experienced the hardships of Nazi Germany first-hand. He came to Canada from Germany in 1951 to finish the last two years of his electrical engineering degree at the University of Toronto. Once completing his degree he joined the Reserves in 1957, and served for 52 years before officially retiring. Currently, Knopf is an active member of the Royal Canadian Legion and the university’s Soldiers Tower Committee.


The Varsity: Why did you join the military?

Gherard Knopf: My dad was in the army during WWI. He was in the cavalry and served in the Eastern Front against Russia. So I chose to be in the military, in part, because of him.

I graduated in 1957 with a degree in electrical engineering. I knew a lot of buddies that were going into the military, so I became interested. I looked at three different units that had something to do with engineering. Somehow I chose [the 8th Signals Battalion], even though I was studying high-power stuff and Signals was low-power.


TV: Are there any misconceptions that people have about military life?

GK: Well, people didn’t really acknowledge PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] back then. It was something that came out of more recent exchanges, so it’s more recognized now than it was then. People used to think it’s just physical injuries, but it’s more than that.

I know people who went to Hong Kong and were imprisoned by the Japanese. You hear them, how they have bad dreams at night. And in Afghanistan now, you have some people who are also badly injured.

But you get these situations where veterans are required to go through all these motions just to get help. The government needs to be more aware of their problems.

Right now, there’s a lot of pressure put on Veteran Affairs to give veterans proper help. Because some people lost their lives or return injured. So there’s that, too. The government is being hard on recent veterans. They think they can handle it, but they need this sort of help. We need to make sure the government does not cut things off for the vets.


Liutenant-Colonel Gherard Knopf (far right) joined the reserves in 1957. PHOTO COURTESY OF  GHERARD KNOPF

Liutenant-Colonel Gherard Knopf (far right) joined the reserves in 1957. PHOTO COURTESY OF GHERARD KNOPF

TV: What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

GK: You have to try to acknowledge what people did in the past, whether they were killed or whether they survived. And some people had some pretty rough times, even after they survived.

It’s also a good way to support veterans through donations, which is also important.


TV: Do you think students adequately commemorate Remembrance Day?

GK: It could be better. We tried, in earlier years, to have classes suspended for the two minutes of silence, but we faced some problems with that. Last year’s attendance was around 1,500, but this year’s was closer to 1,250.

But it’s still a good turnout. We used to get distinguished people and their families, and they attracted people. But people die, and we have to cope.

We also have a lot of international students from all over the world coming ­­— a lot of, say, Chinese students in the area who are interested in Canada’s history. And I think that’s a good thing. It shows people still care about their sacrifices.


TV: Do students treat recent veterans differently from older veterans?

GK: I think it really depends on the student’s views and experiences. Usually he had some parents who were in the forces or grandparents from WWI. They usually relate that way, by having a family member be involved in a war.

Sometimes, students are just able to see what was done to keep our lives here, away from the tragedies that happened. And you see that all the time when students visit the Soldier’s Tower. The respect that they have is for all soldiers.


TV: How were recent veterans treated when you were a student?

GK: I think it was the same, actually. The difference is that many students knew a lot of people who were affected by the war. Again, it’s easier to relate if your family is affected.

You have different opinions, of course. And you have to respect that, too.

Well, as long as they support things in the end. One person I knew was a pacifist. He didn’t want to wear weapons, but he was able to do good for people by helping them survive medically in China.

So, even back then, it still depends on the student’s views.

 — Jerico Espinas


Staff Sergeant Craig Maniscalco (second from left) joined the US military in 2005. PHOTO COURTESY CRAIG MANISCALCO

Staff Sergeant Craig Maniscalco (second from left) joined the US military in 2005. PHOTO COURTESY CRAIG MANISCALCO

Staff Sergeant Craig Maniscalco

Staff Sergeant Craig Maniscalco served for five years as a Special Forces Engineer in the United States Army, deployed in Iraq, the Philippines, and Nepal. Now he is a student at the University of Toronto, studying english and philosophy. In addition to his studies he is vice-president, administration at New College, and was co-head of the New College frosh week in 2013.


The Varsity: How do people at U of T react to you having been in the American military?

Craig Maniscalco: In the United States, it is uncommon to meet a person who has no connection to the military. In Canada, they are sort of segregated, not in culture, but in distance, space. So typically the reaction is just surprise, awe. “That’s cool.” “What’s that like?”  It’s just a lack of awareness; it’s like meeting someone who has three eyes.


TV: Why did you join the military?

CM: It’s a legitimate option in the states, it’s a legitimate career option. There is a sense of duty and service involved. Personal philosophy would be the best short answer for why I joined the military.


TV: Do people ever respond negatively to you when they find out you were in the military?

CM: I’ve had several people who are very confrontational, but it’s more academically confrontational. Like in the states, someone who dislikes you and dislikes the military will call you a “baby killer,” but in Canada somebody will ask, “Morally, what do you think gives America the right to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs?” That’s a legitimate question; alright, let’s talk.

Maniscalco all decked out for Innis College orientation week. PHOTO COURTESY CRAIG MANISCALCO

Maniscalco all decked out for Innis College orientation week. PHOTO COURTESY CRAIG MANISCALCO


TV: Are there any sorts of misconceptions that people have about what it’s like to be in the military?

CM: There’s a misconception that being in the military is necessarily incredibly hard or incredibly life-changing when that just isn’t the case. Being in the military is like being in a job. Three per cent of my job is what people would think of when they think of what the military is.

We didn’t have any casualties in Iraq, but we had several in the Philippines. There’s a misconception there, “Oh there was actual fighting in the Philippines?”

People died. So, that was hard. That was a hard deployment. My best friend at the time was in Afghanistan. He died while I was in the Philippines. It was very hard.


TV: What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

CM: While for all veterans, Remembrance Day will make them think of their time, their friends, and the veterans that they know, but I think it almost always also is a chance to think about how much the people who came before us did for us.


TV: Do you feel that your student life and your past military life intersect?

CM: Not really.  I think being a veteran in many ways makes student life very difficult. It makes it much more difficult to connect with people. You don’t have a shared experience with people right off the bat.


TV: Do you think that’s any different then for any other mature student?

CM: I would say that’s probably a regular mature student problem. Except for the fact that university students love to argue about politics, love to debate. It’s hard not to get sucked into that. Many, many times I have had an opportunity to participate in a debate where my experience will have put me on an extreme end of the spectrum.


TV: Do you wish you had seen more combat?

CM: The bottom line is that no soldier wants to go to war. No soldier wants to be fired at, or shoot people, but it’s a job and a calling that we all feel very strongly about. It saddens me quite a bit to know that my team went to Afghanistan without me a few months after I left. Knowing what I know now, I would have a very hard time leaving when I did. You develop a family. Essentially, my family was in a place of grave danger without me. That’s hard.


TV: What was the best thing about being in the military?

CM: My sense of self is very different now than it was, or would have been, had I not been in the military. My understanding of what I am, what I can be, what I am capable of. Those are thing that I can never lose and I can’t give back. Plus, they paid for college.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

— India McAllister


Students continue to turn to illegal rooming houses

City of Toronto delays action on illegal residences in Scarborough

Students continue to turn to illegal rooming houses

The University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) campus is front and centre of a political battle at city hall that is delaying action on the issue of illegal rooming houses affecting students that have few other housing options.

Before the City of Toronto was amalgamated in the late 1990’s, each municipality (Toronto, Etobicoke, York, Scarborough, and North York) had its own bylaws regarding rooming houses. After amalgamation, bylaws were not harmonized — leaving a number of municipalities with conflicting laws regarding the legality of rooming houses.



Shelly Carroll, councillor for Don Valled East, introduced a motion early in November to the city’s Planning Committee that would have seen illegal rooming houses in Toronto regulated and built in zones that were classified for that purpose. The motion was sent back for public consultation, leaving it to be debated by council at an unforeseen date.

“The planning committee wanted to see whether or not the city could enforce any of the regulations and whether or not there is enough money,” said Ward 44 councillor Ron Moeser. He says he has been dealing with the issue for 22 years, the entire time that he has been in office.

“My main concern is the safety issue, and then how does it fit into our neighbourhood,” he said. “Many people are worried about the single family nature of the community,” said Moeser, who added that there is no easy solution to the issue.

The heart of the issue revolves around whether or not community members feel like there is space in a family community for the burgeoning student community that has developed around Military Trail. There have been noise, parking, and crowding issues that have been brought to light as a result of the increased density of the area.

However, for Scarborough Campus Students’ Union vice-president, external, Guled Arale, that reason is not entirely justified.

“You can’t ignore the fact that we have an institution like the University in Scarborough in the area,” he said.

While he has not been to any of the rooming houses near campus, Arale says that housing is always going to be a big issue because of the rising cost of tuition and cost of living. “Housing is not an issue that is going to be solved by one thing. We need to work with the community and people in the different levels of government to address issues when it comes to housing,” Arale said. “Every stakeholder could be doing more.”

However, while Toronto city council continues to debate the issue, Phil Nazar, housing manager for the Toronto Centre for Christian Resources, has been trying to get something done about it. “What our organization is trying to push forward is to allow rooming housing in all of Toronto,” said Nazar.

“Affordable housing in Toronto is a huge issue, not only for students, but for people in general,” said Nazar. “There are over 150,000 people on the waiting list for social housing in Toronto,” Nazar said, adding that legalizing rooming housing is a relatively inexpensive solution to increase housing. “It doesn’t have to be built, but just allowed.”

Rooming houses are only allowed by law in the old city of Toronto, parts of Etobicoke, and parts of York, said Nazar. “It saves housing for people, because when rooming housing exists that is not legal, there is no mechanism to inspect the standards that rooming housing ought to have.”

“The answer isn’t to close these places, it’s to allow and regulate them. It makes no sense to allow them in some places but not in others,” said Nazar. “Something has to be done. There needs to be will to either build for or allow affordable housing. There are all sorts of ways to make this happen, but it requires political will,” said Nazar.

Student residences came up during a town hall meeting, where students and faculty asked questions about the future plans for residences on campus.

“We showed our preliminary plans for a residence for 700 beds, with a full cafeteria, which would be ready by 2017 built at the north campus” said Don Campbell, media and relations officer at UTSC.

The current enrollment in UTSC is 11,700 undergraduates, with the total number of residence beds coming in at 765.

Campbell said that in addition to the university and community committee, created to address concerns with students living within the Highland Creek community, the university is also providing services to students regarding their rights and responsibilities as tenants.

“This includes educating students on how to conduct a search for off-campus housing and to create awareness about their rights as tenants and the legal responsibilities of their landlords.”

Washroom Inclusivity Project promotes gender-neutral washrooms

SGDO, Multi-Faith Centre, Family Care Office, embarking on advocacy campaign

Washroom Inclusivity Project promotes gender-neutral washrooms

The university promises them in every new construction, but despite the fairly straightforward name, few students actually know what gender-neutral washrooms are. They are becoming increasingly prevalent on and off university campuses, suggesting a looming shift in the labeling of shared spaces to enable universal access.

Gender-neutral washrooms, sometimes referred to as unisex washrooms, are public washrooms that are open to all, regardless of gender or gender identity. By definition, they are single-stalled; however, other options such as private single-user washrooms also function as gender-neutral washrooms.

Universities across the country, including Queen’s and McGill, have been making the switch from gender-segregated washrooms as official policy, and U of T has also made a strong effort to provide a variety of washroom options for students. Further, the term “gender-neutral” doesn’t just appeal to those who don’t identify within a specific gender binary.

“It’s often more than just a sign on the door, but also the accessibility and privacy of the space,” said Corey Scott, public relations coordinator of U of T’s LGBTOUT. “We have been able to get the university to commit to ensuring gender-neutral washrooms are available in every new building constructed. [Now] we need to work with trans communities and other key stakeholders such as students with disabilities to determine the needs and desires for these spaces.”

It is difficult to find an area of campus where gender-neutral washrooms are not available. “Having these washrooms available in every building indicates that the university understands that gender is not necessarily set in a binary; it also shows that the university is committed to a broader sense of accessibility, equity and access to education,” said Scott.

Allison Burgess, an officer with the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office (SGDO), mentioned a plan in the works called the Washroom Inclusivity Project. For this project, the SGDO is collaborating with a number of other offices including the Multi-Faith Centre and the Family Care Office to represent the washroom needs of U of T students.

“This project will involve conducting an inventory of washrooms to update the campus map with useful information about U of T’s washroom facilities. The project is addressing four specific areas of interest: physical accessibility, single-user washrooms for broader gender inclusivity, baby change stations, and footbaths for Muslim students who wash before prayer,” said Burgess.

The Women and Trans Centre, as well as the SGDO both have online resources for locating gender-neutral and private washrooms. The list is constantly growing and being updated. Previously unmapped locations include Woodsworth College and St. Michael’s College.

Tracey Greig, director of facilities at St. Michael’s, was unable to give exact locations within the college but did say in an email that the university has: “more than 20 gender-neutral washrooms throughout campus.” Kevin Dancey, assistant to the dean at St. Michael’s, was unable to clarify their location, but did assert in a separate email that the college has gender-neutral bathrooms.