Meet the SRP students

Profiles of WUSC students on the University of Toronto’s local committees

Meet the SRP students

The World University Service of Canada’s (WUSC) Student Refugee Program (SRP) gives students the opportunity to immigrate to Canada and attend one of 61 participating colleges and universities. There are seven SRP students currently enrolled at U of T; here’s what some of them had to say:


Year of Study: Second

Program of Study: Political Science & Equity Studies

Country of origin: Sri Lanka

Country of asylum: Kenya

Favourite moment since arriving in Canada: My absolute favourite moment was going to the Toronto Island. All the green space makes me feel like I’m back home.



Year of Study: First

Program of Study: Life Sciences

Country of origin: Rwanda

Country of asylum: Kenya

Favourite moment since arriving in Canada: I have two favourites. The first is going to the Toronto Island, getting to relax and play soccer; it was a great day. The second is attending the WUSC Forum with other students in Ottawa.



Year of Study: First

Program of Study: Math and Physical Sciences – I love numbers!

Country of origin: Rwanda

Country of asylum: Kenya

Favourite moment since arriving in Canada: The day I arrived at U of T would be one great memory. And WUSC is always a great memory – being part of WUSC makes me feel like I am a part of something great.


Dennis Tuyishime

Year of Study: Second

Program of Study: Global Health

Country of origin: Rwanda

Country of asylum: Kenya

Favourite moment since arriving in Canada: Coming to Canada.

Come Up to My Room transforms the Gladstone Hotel into imaginative installations

Local artists take over historical hotel for annual alternative design event

Come Up to My Room transforms the Gladstone Hotel into imaginative installations

Last Thursday, the Gladstone Hotel opened up its doors for its 11th annual alternative design show Come Up To My Room (CUTMR). The event showcased the work of 60 artists and designers which manifested itself in 25 different installations thar provide viewers with a glimpse into the ideas, risks, and new paths that current Toronto The show really begins outside with the exterior installation piece, “Escapespace,” a series of skeletal wooden balls constructed with multi-coloured stick-like fragments. It’s meant to represent the city and the individual’s disconnect from their daily realities and the environment to retreat within our personal spheres. “Escapespace” did an excellent job at introducing readers to the notions of privacy, individuality, community, and commonality associated with the concept of a room. The exhibition took place primarily on the second floor, where every corner was transformed with artists’ work from the room installations to the wooden bar table. This immersion in installation coupled with the uniform enthusiasm and energy of the visits made the second floor appear like a type of impromptu performance piece itself. The room was flooded with people eager to examine the rooms and see how the artists had transformed the hotel and how they worked with the concept of room. Only a few of the rooms were actually used for installations, which some visitors discovered through a trial-and-error process which sometimes ended up with a mistaken invasion of certain office spaces.



Room 214 housed one of the more popular exhibitions, “Fall of the Walled Garden” where visitors are asked to take off their shoes and sit around the periphery of a room filled with alternating coloured lights and calming ambient music. A synthetic, wool-like material enveloped the space from floor to ceiling, creating a clean, comfortable, and calming space. From the ceiling, sheets of this same raggedy but gentle material hangs from the ceiling, extending closer to the ground as it gets to its longest in the centre of the room. The very centre of the ceiling is left bare and is surrounded by this white material. Beneath this empty space is a stool, dressed in the same material, on which people would sit and isolate themselves within the hanging cave. The work was meant to immerse viewers in an introspective experience in a public space and beautifully accomplished this. Other notable pieces were in rooms 201 and 207. Room 201, “Get Out of My Room,” was a model of a teenager’s bedroom, showcasing the anxieties of being on the cusp of adulthood. The latter, “Gut Feelings,” was a room meant to investigate and immerse the viewer in “the social, psychological, and sexual aspects of corporeal politics, body perception, and body image.” The artist, Shannon Scanlan does this by carefully arranging a group of uneasily fluorescent cushions that take the form of body parts, specifically intestines, to achieve this goal. The beauty of the show is that, regardless of whether artists’ aims are immediately evident or not, their work still creates an impact and can be appreciated for its raw craftsmanship. This makes the show ideal for anyone to attend, art lover and liker alike.

Missing in action

Nearly half of UTSU directors have missed four of seven meetings this year

Missing in action

It’s not often hard to find an empty seat at University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meetings. Nearly half of the union’s directors have missed at least four of the seven board meetings since the beginning of their term. Directors offered various explanations for their absences, although most did not reply to request for comment.

The Board of Directors consists of 44 college and faculty representatives who are responsible for  monitoring union programs and services, evaluating student union performance from an objective perspective, and scrutinizing the executive’s recommendations. Most current directors ran unopposed, as a part of Team Renew — the only slate in the 2013 election, headed by Munib Sajjad, president of the UTSU.

According to the UTSU Policy Manual, “Proxies do not count towards a Director’s attendance nor are proxies an alternative to not attending Board of Directors meetings.”

The Varsity contacted individual directors about their absences. UTSU president Munib Sajjad told The Varsity that it is unfair to ask directors about their attendance. He said that some directors expressed concern to him about being asked to explain their absences, and that all questions about directors’ attendance should be forwarded to union executives: “Union executives are capable of handling questions about directors’ attendance, as we are well informed about their individual reasons for not attending meetings,” said Sajjad. When asked about the possibility that some board members may have different views than the executive, Sajjad said: “Some directors may have different things to say than the executive, but those are opinions.”

Cullen Brown, a director for St. Michael’s College, explained that his four absences were a result of family and academic obligations. Brown claimed that the root of the larger absenteeism problem is the way in which some directors arrive at their position. “Most of the directors are there because of friendship with the execs, who in turn pressure them into nominating themselves with an inadequate understanding of what it is to be a director. This is the norm, and therefore blaming the directors themselves does not address the root of the problem,” said Brown, adding: “The root is twofold  — the CFS-inspired coercive tactics, and the failure on behalf of the college/faculty societies to nominate people that they feel represent their interests.”

Vere-Marie Khan, another director for St. Michael’s College, agreed that there is a communication problem on the board. Khan echoed Brown’s claim that many people who were asked to run for the board are closely tied to the executive. However, she added that it is unfair to put all the blame on the executive for the problem. “Although you may not be entirely informed of your duties prior to running, it is your own responsibility as a student leader, as well as a functioning adult, to understand that you will be required to sacrifice time and commitment to the job,” said Khan. Khan explained that she has made every effort to stay involved in the board this year, despite missing six of seven meetings so far. She explained that she lives outside Toronto in the summer, and experienced scheduling conflicts during the year. She added that the executive is willing to help those with circumstances that affect their ability to carry out their responsibilities.

Sajjad denied that directors are misled about their duties, adding that all board members are made aware of their responsibilities at the UTSU’s summer retreat. “If someone wants to allege otherwise, I say they should come to speak to me if they have a problem,” he said.

“Board members are student volunteers. Some of them may experience barriers to formal participation throughout the year,” said Sajjad, citing personal, academic, and work-related commitments that can interfere with a director’s attendance. He said that board members who have extenuating circumstances remain active in other ways, such as volunteering for campaigns and holding office hours.

Benjamin Crase, the director for Trinity College, said that his four absences are a result of work and school commitments, as well as a number of concerns he had with Board meetings. He was uncomfortable using student money to go on a retreat for one meeting, and to Wonderland for a social. Sajjad responded that union retreats are common educational and team-building practice, and that the tickets to Wonderland were complementary. “Regardless, I am not comfortable taking free stuff when I feel it should be given to others,” said Crase. Crase also felt that the meeting minutes for a meeting he missed skimmed over a substantive written statement he submitted regarding online voting hours. Sajjad said that Crase’s poor attendance record and lack of involvement in committees makes it is hypocritical for him to make negative comments.

Other directors who responded to requests for comment are Vanessa Bridge, UTSU director for the Faculty of Engineering, and Katrina Lorn, UTSU representative for the Faculty of Architecture. Bridge missed five meetings. She said that she had been out of the country, but had informed meeting organizers in advance. She also cited school commitments. Lorn said that she was always careful to proxy her votes to other directors.

Benjamin Coleman, UTSU director for Arts and Science At-Large, said that attendance is an imperfect measure of a director’s performance, since many are active in other ways, such as volunteering on committees. He added that board attendance is likely a result of many candidates running unopposed: “If you’re a student and you look at the attendance record and feel disappointed, then you should run, or help someone run. Better attendance starts with a board that isn’t mostly acclaimed.”

All voting representatives of the Board of Directors are elected during the general spring election. Any unfilled seats are filled during the fall by election.
— With files from Salvatore Bassilone


Governing Council Attendance

Some current members of the Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body, also have a poor meeting attendance record.

Melinda Rogers and Howard Shearer, government appointees, both missed five of seven meetings in 2012±2013, and two of seven meetings this year. Andrew Girgis, a student governor for full-time undergraduate students, missed three of seven meetings in 2012–2013, and one meeting this year. Girgis, Rogers, and Shearer could not be reached for comment. Rita Tsang, a government appointee, missed three of seven meetings in 2012–2013 and one of seven meetings this year. Tsang explained that unforeseen circumstances resulted in scheduling conflicts, but asserted that she takes her role very seriously. Zabeen Hirji missed three meetings in 2012–2013. Two of Hirji’s absences were due to work commitments, while one was related to a day of religious observance.

Louis Charpentier, secretary of Governing Council, said that all members are volunteers, and that the role of members often extends beyond meeting attendance, including advisory roles divisionally and centrally. Judy Goldring, Chair of Governing Council, said that governors and other volunteers do “wonderful work,” stressing that U of T is fortunate to have many dedicated volunteers.

U of T should address the use of study drugs

The immense pressure on students to succeed is leading them to develop unhealthy work habits

U of T should address the use of study drugs

In their recent article in The Varsity, Liza Agrba and Salvatore Basilone raised the curtain on the increasing use of study drugs among students at the University of Toronto. The pressures of balancing academic success with a social life, combined with the possibility of a part-time or full-time job, have apparently driven some U of T students to resort to the use of study drugs.



Students are using drugs such as Adderall — which is typically prescribed to treat the symptoms of ADHD — and recreational drugs such as marijuana to help focus before exams, manage their time, or to calm their nerves and combat anxiety. As more stories circulate around the use of these alleged performance enhancers, one cannot help but wonder what all the fuss is about.

While students may find the drugs helpful in the short-term — studying for an exam, or perhaps pulling an all-nighter to finish an assignment, their effects on work habits in the long-term are decidedly negative. The problem with the drugs’ short-term effectiveness is that university is meant to prepare students for the real world and for the job market. Our paychecks and future promotions depend on how well we perform in these jobs. However, we will not be prepared to take on those tasks at that point in our lives, when the demands on our time are even greater, if we do not develop good habits now.

If we take study drugs to help us get through our time management issues on an exam today, how will we be able to manage our time for bigger projects later on in life when we can be fired for using drugs? You cannot simply expect to keep a pill bottle in your briefcase or in a drawer at work to keep you going. I think it is understood that unhealthy study habits in young adulthood present a significant risk to students looking to make the transition to professional employment.

Perhaps the use of these drugs says something about the immense pressure put on students at U of T, and in the educational system in general. It is not surprising that some have become dependent on the drugs for academic success when the culture of the institution demands high achievement.

Maybe it is the fact that unlike our parents’ generation, there is even more of a sense of competition in university today. Hopefully, U of T and other post-secondary institutions in Canada will see the results of this pressure, and ultimately take steps to decrease the pressure on students — especially given that students are willing to experiment with drugs to give themselves a leg up.

One possible solution that might help to alleviate stress on students is for the university administration to reconsider the way assignments are weighted, as well as an awareness of the competing pulls on students from all of their classes. By doing more to ensure that students’ schedules are more balanced, U of T can help develop a healthier study culture overall.

Whatever is causing students to resort to the use of study drugs, it is crucial that we not only consider the potential health risks of taking unprescribed medications or drugs, but also the effects that dependency has on our future work habits.


Nabeela Latif is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science and ethics, society, and law. 

Up close: St. Lucia

"Moving to New York influenced my music in a lot different ways. The biggest thing it did for me was help me to find myself by losing myself first."

Up close: St. Lucia

South African native Jean-Philip Grobler is the do-all core of his Brooklyn-based project, St. Lucia. The electro-pop quintet returned to Toronto last Thursday in all their quasi-90s, synth-infused sparkle. Inspired by old school touchstones like Phil Collins and Michael Jackson, Grobler shared with The Varsity how he went from architecture to the aural artistry we know as St. Lucia, with some airborne ambitions in between.


St. Lucia's Jean-Philip Grobler. MEDIA PHOTO

St. Lucia’s Jean-Philip Grobler. MEDIA PHOTO

The Varsity: What was the first instrument that introduced you to music?

Jean-Philip Grobler: My mom says that I was singing before I could talk, so I guess it was my voice, if that counts. She would put my cot in front of a TV running the music video channel while she was making dinner, and apparently I was singing along to Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and I couldn’t even walk properly yet.


TV: What most inspires you for your songwriting?

JPG: It could be any number of things on any given day. Something that often works if I’m looking to get inspired is going to a bookshop with a coffee shop in it, specifically the one called McNally Jackson in New York, and sitting at a table drinking coffee and paging through design or interior design books and looking out of the window watching the world go by. Something about that moment, and the dimensions and layouts of the rooms or objects, gets my brain thinking about aural textures and melodies and all sorts of musical things. It could be anything, though: a movie, just walking down a street. It’s rarely music itself that inspires me directly for songwriting. I’ll very, very rarely hear a song which will then inspire me to go write something else. If it ever does, it will often just sound a lot like the song that inspired it. If a song does inspire me, it’ll often be weeks or months after hearing it, and I won’t realise it until later.


TV: When you first became involved in the composition process, what had the biggest learning curve for you (songwriting, arrangement, writing melodies, production, etc.)?

JPG: I’ve been writing music for a long, long time, probably since I was about 11. When I was doing it, I never thought, “Oh, I wish I knew how to write this or that better,” but the things that held me back were the technical aspect of things, like how to play this part on guitar or how to get this sound. I’d say that it was the production part of making music that had the biggest learning curve for me, and I also think that that was the most important thing for me to have learned about because in many ways it’s set me free. I don’t have to rely on a massive studio to do what I do.


TV: Was music always your biggest aspiration, or was there another childhood ambition you had?

JPG: As a child I was obsessed with Top Gun, and so all I wanted to do was be an F-14 Tomcat pilot. When I was in high school, at times there were other things, but they were normally things that I was thinking of because my parents or someone told me that I needed to fall back on something that was a “real” career or craft. Not that my parents weren’t always 100 per cent supportive of what I wanted to do, but my mother was involved in the entertainment industry in South Africa for my whole life, and so she saw the ins and outs. She just wanted to make me aware of how difficult it is, and she knew it from experience. So, there was a time when I was thinking of going into architecture or design, and even filmmaking for a little while. I always came back to music pretty quickly, though.


TV: How did being in New York influence your music, if at all? Do you feel like different cities and places have different sounds, and have you let moving around influence you as an artist?

JPG: Moving to New York influenced my music in a lot of different ways. The biggest thing it did for me was help me to find myself by losing myself first. I was pretty intimidated by the music scene when I first arrived, and so it took me a few years to get my bearings. My first band over here was a rock/indie project that I was working and doing shows with, in between my job as a jingle writer, but after a while the whole thing just started to feel like it had run its course. In retrospect, I think it was because I was daunted by the “coolness”and “knowingness” of the New York music community, which is something I felt like I didn’t have because I grew up in South Africa, where basically all I listened to was pop music until I discovered Radiohead at the age of 14. Even then, I thought that Radiohead was pretty much the most underground band in the world until I moved to the UK and started discovering all these other bands like My Bloody Valentine. So to move to New York and be surrounded by so many people who had a zillion “cooler” influences than me made me cower in the corner. I always wanted to be taken seriously as a musician, and in a way that made me think that I never could be because I would never be as clued up about music as all of these other people. As this was all happening, I, for some reason, started listening back to all of the music I listened to as a child, like Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, and a whole bunch of African and world music, and it felt just so refreshing and inspiring to me. After a while, that just started feeding into the music I was making, and I stopped trying to make something that was difficult or that wasn’t just exactly who I am.


TV: Is there anyone in the music industry today that you’re particularly impressed with?

JPG: I have to say I’ve been ceaselessly impressed with the Haim girls. Pretty much everything they’ve done has been pulled off with so much class, and there’s nothing “trying too hard” or exhausting about them. It’s rare that I like a band that is getting as much hype as they are.


TV: Who are some of the artists top-played on your iPod and do you let them influence you at all?

JPG: Anything that I listen to a lot is going to influence me in some way. Over the last year or so, I’ll have to admit somewhat embarrassingly that the top-played artist is St. Lucia, just because I’m constantly working on new stuff and checking this and that. But other than me, I really loved the Rhye album, the new Kurt Vile album, the new Empire of the Sun album, the CHVRCHES and Haim albums, but I think the one I’ve listened to the most has been John Wizards, a band from South Africa. If you haven’t heard of them, you should check them out. This word is thrown around a lot, but it really is life affirming in all the best ways.


TV: Are you entirely content with what you’ve achieved with St. Lucia, or is there somewhere further you’d like to take it? Are there any instruments you haven’t integrated into your sound that you’d like to experiment with? 

JPG: I’m absolutely content with what we’ve achieved so far. This project isn’t just me; it’s a whole team of people that helps to get things done, and I’m incredibly happy with the team my wife Patti [the keyboardist in St. Lucia] and I have put together. I’m really proud of the album we put out, and it was made in some fairly tough circumstances between touring and more or less by myself, but I still listen to it a lot up to this day, which I think means something. Of course, there is always more to explore; otherwise, what would be the point? I’m constantly changing as a person, the world is changing around me, and I like to move with that and see myself in relation to that. In terms of instruments I haven’t used yet, pretty much anything that I haven’t used yet in some way I’d like to find a way to integrate into our sound. There’s a brand new song I’m working on that has pan-flute in it, so you never know.


TV: What does your “creative process” look like?

JPG: It’s very much an intuitive process. I’ll normally come up with an idea when I’m doing something completely unrelated to music and normally record it with my phone’s voice recorder. Then, when I have some time in the van or in my studio, I’ll cycle through the ideas and find one that inspires me and start working on that. From there, it’s literally just record every idea that comes into my head until there are no more ideas or I’m tired or uninspired, and then I’ll take a break for a day or week or a few months. The process continues like that until I obviously have way too many things going on, and then the process of editing begins. I just keep doing whatever it takes to make me feel good about a song until it reflects my original vision for the song.

A website with good karma

Inside the r/UofT subreddit

A website with good karma

“What sort of opportunities are available for an undergraduate student to do research?” “Where are the most comfy couches on campus?” “If U of T published the most amazing and useful magazine in the world, what would be in it?” These are just a few of the questions that have been asked  and answered on the U of T subreddit, which describes itself as the place for “all things pertaining to social, academic, and cultural goings-on at the University of Toronto.”


Reddit is an online message board and community — a website where users can post links, comments, and questions. Within the main site, there are thousands of different categories, called subreddits. U of T has an extremely active subreddit, with over 3,000 subscribers. They share upcoming events on campus, discuss U of T related news, and of course, ask and answer questions about the university.

It is not only an online community, however. U of T also has an official Reddit club, the brainchild of student Tam Phan and two of her friends. Three years ago, Reddit held an online competition that pitted university subreddits against each other. That was how Phan discovered the U of T subreddit, and after attending a few unofficial meetups, she and her friends decided that they should write a constitution and make the meetups official with the University of Toronto Students’ Union. At the time, the subreddit did not have an active moderator, so the club’s executive stepped into that role as well.

Colin White, external communciations director for the club, emphasizes the social aspects of the club. “I think the stereotypical Redditor … sits inside and is on the internet all the time,” White admits. But in direct contrast to that stereotype, he explains that the club is meant to encourage members to “get out, do something fun, be sociable.” One of the club’s first major events, almost two years ago, was a trip to the Hart House farm, which they are hoping to replicate this spring. Recent events have also included trampoline dodgeball, a water balloon fight, and a terrible movie night — although their most popular events, according to White and Phan, are undoubtedly the bar meetups, which are scheduled roughly once a month. The next one is planned to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

Both the club and the subreddit attract a wide range of members, from all departments and all levels of study. “Lately I think we have a lot of undergraduates,” said Phan, and also observing that the subreddit is a popular place for senior high school students or incoming undergraduates to seek out wisdom about their new school. “They’re asking a lot of questions if they’re coming to U of T,” she says.

Though the primary demographic may be undergraduates, White notes that there are teaching assistants, professors, and university staff active on the subreddit as well. He recalls the time a new part-time professor asked for student input: “What should I do to be a great professor?” Staff members have also used the subreddit to recruit student opinions about potential designs for U of T’s official website.

The page is not only a place for news and for questions, it’s a place where current students and graduates of the university share their work:  apps they’ve designed, photographs they’ve taken, or research projects they’ve worked on. As a place for social interaction, news, culture, academics, and more, it’s become both a virtual hub of activity and a distinct community.

On the other hand, if you just want to know where the best places are to take naps on campus, you can find an answer for that, too!

Coach profile: Byron MacDonald

Long-time swimming coach looks to lead Blues to another national title

Coach profile: Byron MacDonald

Byron MacDonald, the head coach of the U of T men’s and women’s swim teams, has had an extremely successful career, both as a swimmer and as a coach. But as a young man growing up in the United States, this future was not what he had in mind.

“I had a disease… called Perthes, and it’s where the bones don’t grow properly… usually it’s your leg and hip,” said MacDonald.

After being in a cast for over a year at the beginning of elementary school, a doctor recommended that MacDonald try swimming to strengthen his muscles. MacDonald discovered not only that he enjoyed the sport, but that he was pretty good at it as well.

Soon after starting the sport, MacDonald began competing with a competitive club. By age 12, he was part of a nationally ranked team. He later attended a high school with the top swimming program in the US, which pushed him to continue to improve. MacDonald was team captain for all four years of high school, and was named an All-American in his fourth year.

“There was only one guy faster than me in the entire United States when I graduated, and he… won 7 medals at the Olympics.”

“I knew at that point that swimming was really important, and it was something I was really going to focus on.”

Following graduation, MacDonald was uncertain about his chances at making the American national team, choosing instead to join the Canadian team. At the same time, he studied at the University of Michigan, where he earned a commerce degree and was named an All-American in the last two years of his program.

MacDonald was successful in international competition as well.

“At the commonwealth games… I won two gold medals; the Pan Am games, a silver and a bronze medal; and then in the Olympics I was sixth place.”

MacDonald decided to continue swimming after graduation, and was forced to return to school in order to get funding. He attended U of T for one semester, and then returned to the University of Michigan for a Master’s degree in recreation. He won a silver medal at the World Student Games and the Commonwealth Games, but missed attaining a position with the Canadian Olympic team.

“The day after the [Canadian team tryout] was over, the coach from U of T actually came up to me, and said: ‘Here’s an application for York University swimming coach, I think you’d be great’.”

MacDonald took the job and was an immediate success, winning a national coaching award and pushing his team to third place nationally. However, MacDonald knew that there was limited recruiting power at York, especially with nearby U of T boasting an Olympic–size pool and a strong academic reputation.

“The guy [at U of T] realized, [York] did so well that we were actually going to beat U of T the next year, and so… he stepped down and said take my job here, and so I came down here and took the job at U of T.”

Since coming to U of T, MacDonald’s career has been extremely successful. His teams have won a total of 43 conference championships, and 16 national championships. He has coached over 200 students to all-Canadian awards, and has won Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Coach of the Year 19 times, Canadian Intercollegiate Sports (CIS) Coach of the Year 12 times. He has also coached a swimmer to an Olympic bronze medal.

U of T’s current men’s team is the defending national champion, something that MacDonald wants to repeat in a month’s time.

“This year, we told everybody our goal was to do your best time, and win the national title. And on the women’s side, it was to do your best time, and win the conference title.”

A talented team and promising new recruits, as well as more resources being diverted to the U of T swim team, mean that the program is likely to be successful for many years to come. MacDonald has no plans to leave the team anytime soon, saying he’ll coach until at least 2020.

“I love my job… I look forward to Mondays because I know I get to come back and start coaching again.”

The ability to pay: students question unpaid internships

Overseas unpaid internships a financial impossibility for some students

The ability to pay: students question unpaid internships

“No other opportunity like it” says U of T medical student Antonio Lee, describing his experience working with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva this past summer. Lee worked as an intern developing target studies regarding HIV infection among sex workers and men who have sex with men. For a student interested in the public health industry, Lee said the experience was unprecedented:

“Living in Geneva, walking among diplomats everyday, I don’t know how you’d replicate something like that.” While in Geneva, Lee served on the WHO’s Intern Board, a group of students who met weekly to discuss concerns affecting the intern community. One of the first problems Lee’s group landed upon was the glass ceiling created by the nature of the internship itself: students below a certain income simply could not afford it.

The WHO’s interns received no stipends, and were required to finance their own airfare, accommodation, and living expenses. “Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in,” explained Lee. He went on to describe how food was also expensive in the city: eating out meant 20–30 francs (24.73–37.10 CAD) for a small dinner — cooking his own meals was a financial necessity. He also said that working part-time to subsidize living costs was  impossible, due to the requirement for a work visa and the amount of hours he dedicated to working for the WHO. “We realized pretty immediately that there was a problem,” said Lee. “It was on the back of everyone’s minds from the very beginning.”

The WHO is not the only organization to run internships out of the city of Geneva. The city is often referred to as the humanitarian capital of the world: the United Nations, World Trade Organization, International Organization for Migration, and the World Federation of Public Health Associations are only a few of the institutions whose Geneva headquarters use unpaid intern labour.

Toronto-based labour lawyer and anti-unpaid-internship activist Andew Langille says that one of the many problems raised by overseas internships is that, to a certain degree, their selection processes become based on wealth instead of merit, or “the ability to pay.” “It becomes a question of parental financial wealth, or personal financial wealth,” said Langille, going on to say that such a system creates a glass ceiling that shuts out students who are unable to afford such an experience.

Lee and the Intern Board at the WHO recognized the situation and tried to work to address it. Beginning in early July, the board organized a number of events to raise money for a scholarship for students in the developing world. It raised $2,000, and was granted $1,000 by the WHO’s general director. It also got a meal discount for existing interns. Lee was particularly concerned about the lack of student representatives from the developing world. “Almost all of the students participating in the internship were from North America, and I think that’s really sad,” he said. He also claimed that he had received the impression that some of his superiors at the WHO did not think that a student from the developing world would be adequately prepared to handle working at the WHO.

Kaleem Hawa, a second-year U of T student who worked alongside Lee to create the scholarship, agrees. “We did a survey when I was heading up the intern association over the summer, and found that less than three out of the 363 interns at the organization were from the developing world — a very interesting fact for such an international organization. I have no doubts that the incredible cost of living in the city had something to do with that.” When asked if the $3,000 raised was enough to subsidize living in Geneva for the duration of the internship Hawa responded: “Definitely not.”

The U of T Career Centre does not specifically advertise unpaid internships, although its website allows students to search for internships, which list both paid and unpaid options. The political science department website advertises 93 internships. Of these, 23 are listed as unpaid, and 14 of those further require the student to pay for flight and accommodation.

One student, speaking on condition of anonymity, worked as an unpaid intern for the Government of Canada last summer. “I was, for example, able to secure a paid private sector position for the upcoming summer on the basis of my unpaid experience,” he said. “In searching for this paid position and considering others, it was clear that it would be difficult for me to credibly apply for any of them without the benefit of last year’s unpaid experience.”

Langille has been championing the struggle against unpaid internships for three years now; the subject has been raised in provincial parliament. In some cases, Langille provided successful litigation against certain illegal internships.  He says he feels that the university has a role to play when it comes to unpaid internships, and states: “I think they’re doing a very bad job at it.” Langille recalls doing his undergraduate degree at York University in 2000, and not hearing about any of his friends participating in unpaid internships. Now he sees it as the new entry-level job, estimating that there are 100,000–300,000 illegal unpaid internships occurring in Canada alone every year. “It’s only happening to people in a certain age group. You’re essentially getting taxed for being young.”

Despite his misgivings about how the internship was financially inaccessible, Lee still describes his time with the WHO in a positive light. “It was a really amazing experience, absolutely worth forking over the money for.”