A mysterious date with Anser’s Crowded Kingdom

Exhibit is street artist's first showing in six years

A mysterious date with Anser’s Crowded Kingdom

Despite the alias, Anser is perhaps one of Toronto’s not-so-secret graffiti artists. Over the years, you might have come across one of his signature “Mysterious Date” faces drawn on various graffiti-tagged and untagged surfaces across the city. The Crowded Kingdom exhibit at Dundas West’s #Hashtag Gallery demonstrates how recognized and admired his work has become in recent years. This is his first major exhibit in over six years and features new renditions of the Mysterious Date face.


The gallery is comfortable and brightly lit, and showcases two rooms of portraits done on a variety of mediums. The installations in the first room are the Mysterious Dates painted over hanging brickwork canvases and are amongst the largest works in Crowded Kingdom. They are the first pieces the visitor sees when they enter the gallery and are, perhaps, a nod to Anser’s beginnings as a graffiti and street artist.

The walls connecting the two rooms of the gallery both have clusters of Anser’s smaller pieces. The pieces here are done on glass, paper, and wood, and many are framed. They are placed closely together, and it is difficult to not be entirely captivated as your eye travels through the diverse colors and prints.

The Mysterious Date face has been through its own evolution. Anser’s previous exhibitions, like Funktion Gallery’s A Mysterious Date with Anser in 2009, show a series of portraits that are fundamentally graffiti-like in style. The lines are faster, fuzzier, less controlled; at the same time there’s a sense of raw personality that can be read in these faces. This style can be seen in much of his original street work.

The collection on display in Crowded Kingdom is more streamlined and uniform than Anser’s previous work. Anser compromises shading and detail in order to experiment with media, and increasingly use bold lines and colors. There is less variation of subject here; it feels as though you are looking at endless interpretations of the same mysterious face.


As well as the drawings and paintings at #Hashtag, there is a series of small, three-dimensional ceramic heads with the mysterious faces. These heads are a result of a collaboration with Big Trubble, a Toronto-based toy designer. There are 32 displayed together on one shelf, with black-and-white heads book-ending the colourfully translucent ones in between.

The right-side wall in the second room has nine mid-sized portraits on rectangular glass sheets. The faces are filled in and around loosely with watercolors, beautifully painted on the backside of the glass. The remaining wall in the room has a square white canvas that fills the space, and is filled itself with hundreds of outlines of the mysterious face.


At a glance, Anser’s work seems alien; many of his faces lack eyes or pronounced expression. Yet at no point is this feeling conveyed through Crowded Kingdom; it is surprisingly human, and effortlessly relatable. The viewer is immersed in the repetition of the mysterious face, and Anser’s numerous interpretations convey a vast range of emotion and thought. In a 2009 Torontoist interview, Anser expressed his wish to shrink the divide between graffiti and street art, and make the former more accessible for the average viewer. This is exactly what Crowded Kingdom achieves. If the collection’s nearly sold-out status is any indication, many visitors are more than ready to hang a mysterious face on their own wall.

The science of sport

A peek into the science of swings, skating, and concussions

The science of sport

The science of the swing


Multiple sports, such as tennis, golf, hockey, and baseball, rely on the perfect swing The simplest way to look at the science of the swing is through energy transfer mechanics: when an object strikes another object, the energy involved in that collision will be transferred. A batter swinging at a ball needs to hit the ball with enough force such that the ball both changes direction and moves with significant speed.

Of course, swinging is more than just brute force; an athlete must also aim. A popular problem in Canadian physics classes asks students to calculate the maximum angle at which a hockey player can direct the puck in order for the puck to hit the net from various positions on the ice. The angle shrinks as the defense pushes the offense from the centre and as the goalie comes out to “cut-off the angle.”

The decisions that an athlete makes about angle and force are influenced by their equipment. A heavier bat or a more flexible stick will provide more force to the ball or puck but an athlete might sacrifice some of his or her control. Even seemingly small decisions can have implications.

Tennis players are extraordinarily picky about the tension in the string of their racquets. The correct amount of tension allows players to control spin and power of the ball. Incorrect tension and vibrations from the collision between the racquet and the ball will travel up the athlete’s arm and could cause or aggravate tennis elbow.

The idea of minimizing vibrations in equipment and thus the loss of energy in the collision explains the science behind the “sweet spot” on baseball bats and racquets. If a collision is made at the perfect spot on a node of vibration energy is transferred more efficiently.


Slipping, sliding, & skating



We are able to skate primarily because of friction. When a hockey player or figure skater steps onto the rink, the force of friction between the skate and the ice surface “melts” a thin layer of molecules. It is on this thin layer of molecules that skaters glide.

You may think that the molecules on the surface of the ice are liquid water. This is incorrect. The surface physics of ice are poorly understood. Research on the physics of the skating surface began in 1886, and continues today. We know that the molecules on the surface are not the same as liquid water, nor are they molecules of solid ice: the most accurate description might be “liquid-like.”

The differences between hockey and figure skating are well-known. The grace and intricacy of figure skaters’ jumps is greatly aided by the relatively warm temperature of the ice which they skate on — the optimal temperature is -4 degrees celsius. Hockey is played at -5 degrees celsius: thus, their ice is harder, which allows them to reach greater speeds, but makes it harder to land jumps.

In speed skating, the ice temperature is -7 degrees. The hardness of the ice does noticeably increase speed. Speed skaters can reach speeds over 50 km/h — about as fast as a car on a city street. Speed skaters work to become more aerodynamic. Their stances and tight equipment reduce drag. The skaters move fast enough to create draft.

Speed skaters also use clap skates; the blade is attached to the boot by a spring-hinge. The skate allows the skaters to remain in contact with the ice for longer periods, which transfers more force during their push. Clap skates are a great example of improvements in science and technology changing a sport. Their rise in popularity in the 1990s directly led to a flood of new world records and a change in safety regulations in competition.





Concussions are common brain injuries caused by collisions. A concussion causes changes in brain function and these changes result in a wide range of symptoms. Mild concussions may result in headaches and increased sensitivity to light. More serious concussions can result in permanent brain damage including serious psychological effects like depression.

Brain matter is sensitive and is thus protected from the bone of the skull by a “cushion” of cerebrospinal fluid, in which the brain floats; there is between 100–150 millilitres of fluid in the skull.

During a concussion, a collision results in enough momentum being transferred to the brain that the fluids slow or stop the brain’s movement within the skull. The damage is caused when the brain makes contact with the bone of the skull.

The collision can cause linear, angular, or rotational movement. Rotational movement occurs when the head twists around the neck. Think about the boxer on the receiving end of sharp left hook — their head will rotate sharply to the left as the punch lands. Multiple studies argue that rotational movement is the primary factor in whether a concussion occurs and the severity of concussions.

On the important issues, where do the UTSU executive candidates stand?

Two perspectives on the UTSU Executive Candidate Election Forum

On the important issues, where do the UTSU executive candidates stand?

Student politicians artfully dodge answering questions in favour of campaign rhetoric

On Thursday, March 7, the five executive candidates from both Team U of T Voice and Team Unite met at the Bahen Centre for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring election executive  forum. Students from across campus had the opportunity to grill candidates on their platforms, and while politicians are notorious for dodging questions answering with buzzwords and rhetoric, there were some outstanding — and, of course some poor — candidates that need to be recognized.

The VP-external candidates were Nicky Bhatty of Unite and Grayce Slobodian of Voice. While both candidates spoke with conviction, Bhatty was the only one to provide clear, concrete answers regarding his proposed goals for next year. Slobodian offered little to no particulars on how to improve transit, citing that she could talk about it, but wanted to prove her worth through her actions instead. Bhatty, on the other hand, clearly specified his objectives: improved shuttle service from UTM to Hart House and making the buses more accessible, for example.

Certainly, credit must be given to both VP-equity candidates: Najiba Ali Sardar of Voice and Baliqis Olaitan Hashiru of Unite. Both women are clearly incredibly passionate about what they do, and showed an honest and genuine concern for achieving equality across campus. As a visually impaired student, I can say with honesty that I will have a tough time deciding which of these two to vote for.

Next up to speak were Pierre Harfouche from the Unite slate and ZiJian Yang from Voice, both vying for VP-university affairs. While Harfouche was the better speaker, this does not necessarily make him the better candidate. He, like his running-mate Bhatty, identified some specifics goals, such as his desire to complete the Student Commons project; Yang, however, also expressed his concern over the existing grade-drop policy.

Competing for the position of VP-internal were Cameron Wathey and Anna Yin. A member of Unite, Yin made clear her position on accountability and transparency, an issue close to the heart for many students. She pledged to release UTSU financial information and streamlining services, which is no surprise considering her slate is campaigning against the incumbents. When presented with a question about “groupthink” caused by slates, Wathey pointedly dodged it by answering with comments about his own policy.

Rounding out and summarizing the debate were presidential candidates Ye Huang and Yolen Bollo-Kamara. In her opening address, Bollo-Kamara ignored the ongoing issues facing the UTSU in the form of defederation, while Huang dove into it head-on and outlined his changes. A question from a current UTSU executive about “uniting U of T” was answered well by Huang, while Bollo-Kamara stressed the current UTSU role in school unity. Just like the rest of their teams’ respective candidates, Team Unite addressed the concerns facing the UTSU head-on, while the incumbent slate, as seems to be the norm, avoided these issues in favour of trying to frame the conversation around their achievements. In short, politicians acted as politicians do.

Stephen Warner is in first year studying English and political science.


Too many questions, too few answers at the UTSU Executive Candidate Election Forum

“Could I have a follow-up, because they didn’t really answer?” This statement, voiced by a student during the University of Toronto Students’ Union (utsu) spring election executive  forum last Thursday became a theme of the evening. This particular student was inquiring about candidate’s strategies for dealing with the nature of mental health on campus. “Strategies,” “goals,” and “plans” were common in the evening’s questions; however, substantive answers  were few and far between.

The majority of questions were met with answers that stuck to the slates’ and candidates’ platforms without really addressing the specifics of the queries. For instance, Zack Medow, vice-president, external at the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), asked the VP-external candidates to explain their strategies regarding the dissatisfied relationship between divisional and college leaders and the UTSU. Nicky Bhatty reiterated his platform, focusing on unity and collaboration. Grayce Slobodian offered a similarly vague response after a lengthy pause.

When Meadow pressed for specifics, both candidates expressed that they did not have intimate experience with the Student Societies Summit, and were ultimately unable to satisfy the question — despite this being a pivotal issue affecting U of T student government.

Questions regarding the future of the Transitional Year Programme, the Washroom Inclusivity Project, and potential union defederation were met with emotionally compelling comments about a commitment to unity, and often extensive reiterations of the facts of the issues, but not necessarily the concrete strategies and plans that the students asking those questions were looking for.

It would be unreasonable to expect the candidates to come to the debate with revolutionary ideas that would change the face of student life and government overnight. Questions about how candidates would effect change at the level of the provincial government are liable to end in predictable answers such as “lobby the government,” simply because ideas about promoting legislative change are hard to come by. However, when lobbying becomes the answer for the majority of issues, whether directed at the university or another institution, it becomes redundant.

When posing a scenario regarding visually impaired students being denied their accessibility needs to the VP-university affairs candidates, Khalid Khan — a current New College director at UTSU — qualified his question by saying, “please refrain from saying lobbying.”  Khan required a follow-up to the candidates’ answers, expressing that he felt his question had not been answered.

In running for student leadership position, it is assumed that the candidates are willing to take on the implied responsibilities, including being familiar with key issues on campus and possessing the knowledge to address them when asked. The ideals the candidates are running on are admirable; collaboration and unity are important, lower fees for transportation and tuition are important, equity is important. But regardless of the merits of the ideals, they can only be achieved with a plan — or at least a suggestion for a plan — to see them come to fruition. Given the serious issues facing the future of U of T’s student government, one thing is clear: it would be more reassuring to head to the polls next week with more answers, and fewer questions.

Samantha Relich is The Varsity’s Associate Comment Editor.

Undergraduates testify to the value of research at Hart House

Thursday’s undergrad research showcase featured around 90 student presentations

Undergraduates testify to the value of research at Hart House

On Thursday, March 6, Hart House’s Great Hall played host to around 90 student research projects. In a science-fair atmosphere, students had the chance to show off the results of months of hard work. The hall was packed with posters, presenters, and the curious students who came to learn about what their peers had accomplished. The Undergraduate Research Fair was multidisciplinary, topics ranged from art to zoology.

An undergradute research project is an entirely different experience than sitting in a lecture hall, or even conducting a guided experiment in lab courses. Jacob Chol participated in an earth sciences project studying volcanos in Hawaii along with two other undergraduates. “You cannot get what we get here in a lab or in a class,” he said.

Many students emphasized how participating in research supplements the classroom experience. Symon James-Elison, who worked on a psychology project examining a community-based tutoring program with at-risk adolescents, mentioned that the mentors and peers that taught her different ways of doing things come from different academic backgrounds. “We brought lots of different perspectives to our research,” she said, “which you don’t get to do in your standard classes, which can be very compartmentalized.”

Research programs also act as a career counsellor for second-year students who may be unsure of where their academic paths will take them. Priscilla Perez-Saval studied the photosynthetic efficiency of cryptophyte algae within the Department of Chemistry. “What I most like about the [second year] Research Opportunity Program is that it gives you a glance about what your future career will look like,” she said. “It shows you that it’s not only about understanding the concepts — it’s about trying to express that information.” Perez-Saval found that she could combine her interests in biology and chemistry by studying the chemistry behind biological systems. “I really would encourage students to take this step forward and just try to get involved,” she says.

A student discusses her project. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Connie Tang and Jonathon Fossella worked on a chemistry project to develop a solvent-free aldol condensation reaction that will be used for CHM249, the second-year organic chemistry course. “I don’t know what I want to do with my life,” Tang said. “After doing this research experience, I’m seriously considering it as a career, which is something I never even thought of.” Fossella sees the experience in a different way. “I’m actually not super interested in research as a career,” he said. “The reason I applied for this opportunity is because it had a means to an end. It was doing work for an end goal to deliver to other people. After I’ve done this, research is becoming a little more interesting to me. I don’t think I want to do it for the rest of my life, but I think this is a really good exposure to being a scientist. ROP299 is just a really great experience on many different levels.”

Even those who have already decided to follow a research path can gain confidence in their career choice and develop new interests. Sara Pushdadian studied how dopamine levels, changed by the drug Ritalin, affect the colouring of guppies. “Guppies are the peacock of the fish world,” she explains. “Their gills are highly colourful and the females select for them. It’s a great example of sexual selection.” Pushdadian, who has always wanted to work with neurotransmitters, had her opinions of the inch-long fish change over the course of the research project. “At first you just think they’re so cute, but they actually have so much to tell you about evolution and the dopamine pathway. I am now a fish lover!”

Students were able to take ownership of their research, learning firsthand how scientific data is collected and manipulated. Natasha Ouslis worked with professor Ian Spence to study how 3D objects are imagined. “I really benefited from developing the paradigm, understanding the counterbalancing, fixing and repeating the task.” Research teaches students to take pride from the concrete results of their academics.”It’s been a great experience,” said Ouslis, “Being able to say ‘This is my work!’”

With files from Katrina Vogan.

Presidential contenders up close

Yolen Bollo-Kamara of U of T Voice and Ye Haung of Team Unite discuss their visions for U of T

Presidential contenders up close

“To ensure student voices are heard”



Yolen Bollo-Kamara, candidate for U of T Voice, was the UTSU’s vice-president, equity this past year. She expresses pride in her accomplishments in that office, particularly her work surrounding mental health. “One of the activities we did that was really simple was this activity around just asking students how happy they were at the moment,” said Bollo-Kamara. “We ended up having tons of volunteers just going around campus with these giants signs that said ‘How happy you are” on a scale of 1 to 10?’ Students would fill it out and it really initiated a conversation about our well-being as students.”

This project was the beginning of her effort to fulfil her promise of instituting a “Mental Health Week,” which would have been a campaign to raise awareness about mental health issues. She didn’t quite do that, but she did collaborate with a number of mental health advocacy groups on campus to hold a five-dollar lunch at Hart House called “What’s on your mind?” “We were able to do outreach with all these different groups,” said Bollo-Kamara. “And so students had the opportunity to learn what each of those groups did, but also be able to engage in a conversation about what mental health means for them.”

She wishes to continue her efforts with mental health on campus next year by pushing for a fall Reading Week. “I think that students want a break because, you know, breaks are nice, but it’s for sure important to realize that being a student can be really stressful, and especially first-year students, but really all students, have difficulty sometimes adjusting to the university experience, and it’s important to have time at which they can evaluate how the year is going, and get support if they need it, and, I really want to stress, before the end of term exams in the fall,” she says.

She explains that she plans to accomplish this goal by lobbying the university administration. Indeed, advocacy seems to be the lynchpin of her platform, as she returns repeatedly to the idea of pressuring those with power, like U of T’s administration and the provincial and federal governments, in order to effect positive policy changes for students. “A few of our platform points kind of revolve around the issue of government funding for post-secondary education, as well as international students,” said Bollo-Kamara. “One of the things that we recognize is that we have the lowest government funding for post-secondary educatidon in the province of Ontario, which contributes to the fact that we have the highest tuition fees and we graduate with the highest amount of student debt.”

The negative effects of U of T’s relatively paltry per-student funding are sometimes less obvious than tuition fees or student debt, however. Bollo-Kamara recounts how she has attended meetings at which members of the U of T administration express the need to attract more international students in order to subsidize the tuition of domestic students, a strategy that ties in handily with the university’s recent decision to raise international tuition by 9 per cent every year for the next five years.

Before this year, U of T also used flat fees in order to make up for the lack of funding, a policy that all students taking at least three full-course equivalents (FCEs) during a semester would have to pay tuition for five. This resulted in a substantial loss for numerous students who took between three and five FCEs. “I think that this year we had a huge victory with flat fees. We worked really hard; we collected thousands of petitions, and we got the government to finally increase the threshold at which flat fees are charged to students across Ontario,” said Bollo-Kamara. “We want to further push to eliminate flat fees altogether, because I still think that students should not be charged for more courses than they’re taking.”

Bollo-Kamara acknowledged that victory on both these issues, dramatic increases in international student fees, and flat fees for all students, rely on increases in funding for post-secondary education by the government. Though she promises to continue the union’s work lobbying the government for those increases, there remains substantial work to be done. Bollo-Kamara could not remember the last time the union successfully secured an increase in per-student funding for post-secondary education. It has not increased since 1991. All the union’s goals rely on success at this final hurdle. After all, the school must get money from somewhere.

“We want to continue that work, to build community, to support students’ voices, to ensure students’ voices are heard, and so I’m really excited to be working with this team,” concluded Bollo-Kamara, expressing the hope that she could be elected so that she could continue the work she has been doing. —Theodore Yan


“Student union is built on democracy”



Asked why he wanted to run for president of the UTSU, Ye Huang responded in the form of a story. “Last year in May, or June, I was finding school resources for my friends, because they were having a hard time,” he began, in the manner of someone telling a much practiced anecdote. “A lot of my friends are Chinese international students, they are not so much involved.” Huang then did his own research into the union, looking for resources his friends could take advantage of. What he ended up finding was unexpected, and troubling.

“I came across the Trinity report to the UTSU, and the Victoria report, and I learned all these things about defederation and the possible dissolving of the UTSU.” Huang explained how he saw the UTSU as a great resource for students, and something that could continue to be so, if only someone was willing to change it’s structure internally. He says that he wants students to take advantage of what is provided for them by the fees that they pay.

Huang’s leadership experience comes from in his involvement with various Chinese student associations, and his founding and current leadership of the Alpha Kappa Si, a fraternity focused on academics. Yet, he does not describe himself as someone naturally drawn to leadership. “I’m not the kind of person that’s seeking, you know, a top position, from the beginning. I’m more of a moderate person.” He went on to explain that even though he does not necessarily seek out executive positions, that he has come to realize that sometimes stepping into the role of the leader is necessary in order to ensure real change.

Describing how he assembled his team, Huang had one definitive answer: talking to people. “Nobody knows who I am — seriously. Before this, generally, nobody. I mean like, publicly speaking. I knew some of my team members before hand, but other than that I wasn’t known. It was more about the communication I had with the people I wanted to work with — about showing them I want to do what my goal is, and can you fit into that, do you want to pursue that same goal?”

When asked if he was worried about his lack of a public profile in comparison to the incumbent team, which features two current UTSU executives, Huang’s response was decidedly nonchalant. “I mean, experience is one thing, but we do think only having the experience will not guarantee someone to do a great job,” he said, smiling slightly, as if embarrassed to present any criticism of the other slate, of which he has been unfailing complementary of thus far.

The conversation moved towards platform points and goals, and Huang immediately raised the issue of defederation.  “As presidential candidate, I care the most, or well, one of the things I care the most about is that I don’t want the UTSU to dissolve. I know a lot of college students, a lot of college councils are thinking about leaving the UTSU, this is one of the biggest reasons I lead this campaign with my team, it’s also our common goal,” explained Huang. “We hope that if we get elected people gain trust in the UTSU. Have you know, college councils, college council leaders back on the table, to talk about how we can improve the UTSU.”

The next inevitable question was what his response would be if student groups continued to stand firm and insisted on leaving the union. Huang paused for the first time in almost twenty minutes, and looked down, examining his hands. When he did respond, his answer was halting, but firm. “If I’m running an organization and it’s defederating I shouldn’t love this to happen. I should hate this to happen. I should hate it very much. But, the student union is built upon democracy and students will, so if that extreme case really happened, I, personally, I should respect that decision. I think that this is my job, it’s also the requirement of this job.”

Huang supports the expansion of the non-credit course policy — currently students can take up to two full year courses and receive only a pass/fail credit on their transcript. “We think that the school should raise that limit because first of all students can pursue their own interests in courses the more easily, without considering too much about affecting their own grades,” explained Huang.

Finally turning to the issue of transparency, Haung was reluctant to levy any real criticism against the current executive. Instead he simply said “I think that right now they’re fine, they’re doing good. They can do better — especially on the financial side.” He explained that if elected his team would provide the actuals on financial reports and budgeting. He proposes working closely with college unions, club leaders and other student groups to create a more accessible and better understood budget. “In this way we avoid duplicating events, duplicating services, we don’t waste energy or money.”

Throughout the interview Huang is composed and courteous, but with an underlying sense of urgency to get his ideas across, and to make sure he is understood. His main focus is overwhelmingly that what his team’s name suggests: unity. “I still believe people should try their best to change things internally, instead of breaking things down.” — Sarah Neidoba

When students spoke up

A timeline of the past 40 years of student activism at U of T, taken from The Varsity’s archives

When students spoke up

Student activist movements at the University of Toronto, and perhaps throughout Canada, have been on the decline in recent years. Turnout rates have fallen, messages have become co-opted, and over time, student movements have had their signals crossed. The following headlines and snapshots have been pulled from the pages of The Varsity from the 1970s to the beginning of 2010. The progression of time has seen a backwards slide in effective activism, as the once formidable force of opinionated students with an agenda has grown weak in its old age.




The Robarts sit-in  | circa February–August 1972



In 1972, Robarts library was the source of a year-long conflict between the university’s Governing Council and a particularly determined class of undergraduates. Access to the stacks was intended to be limited to faculty members, graduate students, and fourth-year undergraduates.

Feature-46The plan to restrict undergraduate student access was not initially publicized on campus, says Linda McQuaig, then Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity. When The Varsity found out about the issue, it quickly became a hot topic of discussion on campus. After several weeks of coverage in the paper, a number of widely attended protests were organized by the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC), with support from the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU).

What began with the jailing of “about a dozen” students for staging a sit-in protest led to a heated stand-off as thousands of angry undergraduates filled Simcoe Hall for several hours. In the face of overwhelming pressure, the interim president of the university, Jack Sword, addressed the mob and capitulated on behalf of the administration.


 “Tanaka comes and goes” | Wednesday, September 25, 1974

In 1974, Japanese Prime Minister Kakeui Tanaka visited U of T to receive an honorary degree and “toss off some finely-turned phrases on mutual solidarity” between Canada and Japan. Prime Minister Tanaka’s visit could not have been scheduled for a more inopportune time, as frustration over Japan’s whaling industry was boiling over on campus.

Then-sac President Seymour Kanowitch declined his invitation to a “special convocation and elaborate lunch” to make a statement about the controversial visit. Protestors gathered outside with signs and copies of The Varsity featuring a cover story on Japan’s whaling industry. One of the demonstrators took the opportunity to shove a copy into the Japanese prime minister’s hands as he moved through the crowd.


“OFS lobbies Queen’s Park” | Monday, November 19, 1979



At the close of the decade, the Ontario Federation of Students (OFS) mobilized to present a petition to the Ontario Legislature bearing 12,000 signatures from students in the province. The lobbying effort represented a follow-up to the widely circulated postcard campaign that started earlier that year. The petition was presented in the House by ndp education critic David Cooke on behalf of the ofs, and contained a number of recommendations for addressing the issues of accessibility and quality of education plaguing the post-secondary system in the province.

Over the course of the day, 100 students representing post-secondary institutions in Ontario met with roughly two-thirds of the mpps in the house to discuss their grievances. Members were asked by the ofs to write to their party’s leadership, as well as Dr. Bette Stephenson, the Minister of Colleges and Universities, in order to get the message out.

In a press conference after the presentation, OFS president Chris McKillop said: “At the outset we stated that if the mass were to heighten the legislature’s awareness of post-secondary education, it would achieve our objective. That has been accomplished.”




“Students angry at Queen’s Park rally” | Wednesday, April 2, 1980


Unfortunately for the ofs, the previous year’s presentation to the Ontario legislature proved unsuccessful in the long run, as the province announced a hike in tuition fees in 1980. In response, the ofs organized a group of 2,500 to 3,000 students from “as far as Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie” in a mass rally in Queen’s Park.

Outraged over the fee increase, as well as funding cutbacks and inadequate student aid, the large crowd demanded an audience from the province’s leadership. The protestors were addressed by a number of officials, some supportive, including Toronto Mayor John Sewell, who took the opportunity to whip the mob into a fervour by claiming solidarity with their cause.


“Students storm President’s office” | Thursday, March 5, 1987



Employing the tried and true protest method of simply showing up somewhere, sitting down, and refusing to move, 28 students and one professor marched from the International Students Centre on St. George Street to U of T president George Connell’s office one day in early March 1987.

The group, representing U of T’s anti-apartheid network and several of its affiliate organizations, descended on president Connell’s office after a student motion to address the university’s policies toward apartheid South Africa was struck from a Governing Council meeting agenda.

As the group moved in to protest, it became clear that President Connell was not only absent from his office — he was out of the city. Members of the U of T administration described the group as being surprisingly well-behaved. Jack Dimond, Governing Council Secretary and acting university spokesman, was visibly unimpressed by the performance, remarking: “I’m calm; I’m a child of the sixties.”


“U of T abortion activists continue to speak out: Pro-life rally at birth-control centre” | Monday, November 20, 1989



Braving what was described as below freezing temperatures as November shifted into December, 40 pro-life students under the “Students for Life” banner congregated outside the front steps of the Bay Centre for Birth Control, bearing signs depicting graphic images of aborted fetuses.

The group’s demonstration was characteristically Canadian, as the picketers let people enter and exit the building without confrontation. The only instance of public disturbance occurred during a minor shouting match between the placard carrying students and a group of pro-choice pedestrians who happened to walk by. While the centre did not actually perform abortions in house, it was the largest abortion referral centre in Canada at the time.




“Low turnouts highlight underfunding rallies” | Monday, October 21, 1991

One of the most chronic issues affecting well-intentioned activism has always been public apathy. Such was the case in 1991, when a measly 70 students turned out for a SAC rally against provincial underfunding of universities.

Representing .002 per cent of U of T’s 36,000 undergraduates at the time, the attending activists’ message suffered from being partially funded by the university administration. After resigning over a disagreement on how best to protest funding cuts to post-secondary education in Ontario, SAC external commissioner Stacey Papernick lamented, “I wish they didn’t fund this project. It compromised how we lobbied. If it’s going to tie my hands, I don’t want the money.”

Despite attempts to put up an “underfunding graveyard” of courses at U of T lost to funding cuts, the group could not overcome the unpalatable association with U of T higher-ups.


“Arrests rock PM’s visit” | Tuesday August 10, 1993    

Canada’s first and only female prime minister, Kim Campbell, was scheduled to have a private meeting with several Toronto Conservative MPs during her first official visit to U of T. Her plans were frustrated when a dedicated group of students managed to break past a police line and into the meeting room at Hart House.

The students’ forceful move precipitated a swift unraveling of political decorum on the part of both the protestors and campus police. The protestors were violently expelled from Hart House with a number being arrested outside for assaulting police. The purpose of the protest was completely dwarfed by the circus-like method in which it was executed. All legitimacy was lost once the students resorted to force and the handcuffs came out.


“Massive demonstration against funding cuts held” | Monday, January 30, 1995



“What a sight this is to see,” SAC President Gareth Spanglett announced over the microphone at the podium in Convocation Hall, as he looked over the mass gathering of students collected to observe the national student strike and day of action.

The crowd in front of Spanglett consisted of 4,000 interested undergraduates who had come to hear a series of student leaders and faculty members speak on the federal government’s proposed elimination of $2.6 billion in cash reserve payments to colleges and universities nation-wide. Outside of Convocation Hall stood an additional 2,000 students eagerly listening in on the event over speakers.

After departing from the hall, the group joined forces with contingents from other metro Toronto universities to take part in a collective rally that drew 10,000 people. The day of action saw the mobilization of 40,000 students across Canada, each feeling as first-year student Cheryl Mapp described: “The strike is our only alternative. We tried negotiation, we tried reason. Students have tried to do things logically, but at this point, this is the only way students are going to get any notice.”




“Students rally as Rae Report looms” | Monday, February 7, 2005

In anticipation of an announcement from the Ontario government that tuition fees were to be increased, a number of student activists from across the province were joined in front of Convocation Hall by a group of Ontario workers to march to the steps of Queen’s Park in the frigid February air. The cold crowd was emboldened by a series of addresses from provincial politicians expressing solidarity, including NDP leader Howard Hampton who called for “a ten per cent reduction, right off the bat.”

The spirit of the crowd was best summed up by Ryerson student Katie Mayerson, who said: “I’m hoping that people are looking out their windows and seeing this and understanding that people are skipping classes that they paid for, because this is really important to them.” Rather than the bitter attacks or moral superiority exemplified by earlier student protests, it would seem that the best students hope for in the new millennia is a little attention.


“Turnout drops for Drop Fees” | Monday, November 9, 2009



With tuition fees rising annually for the past several years, it comes as no surprise that student movements have had to reexamine their demands when it comes to petitioning the government for affordable education. In the past, students may have demanded bold cuts to the costs of post-secondary education — but compromise has apparently become the modern method of negotiation.

The loss of a strong position, combined with decreased turnout rates for events, has sapped student activism at U of T of all leverage. This was certainly the case in 2009 when the CFS attempted to direct a crowd to parade in protest for a poverty-free Ontario as part of their annual Drop Fees campaign. Predictably, the event drew anemic numbers as many students opted to spectate rather than participate.


Looking ahead 

In order for student movements at U of T and in Canada to return to the glory days of worthwhile protest, a fundamental change must take place in the collective student psyche. Where we are disorganized, we must come together. Where we disagree, we must find common ground, lest we undo ourselves from within. Our messages need to be better articulated and to be spoken with louder voices. This change will require a sober recognition of the important issues — the things that matter to all of us — and a renewed dedication to being heard.

International tuition could rise another 50 per cent over next five years

Current international students would pay five per cent more, new students would pay 9.2 per cent in proposed budget

International tuition could rise another 50 per cent over next five years

Tuition fees for new incoming international students are set to increase by 9.2 per cent next year. Fees for existing international students are set to increase by 5 per cent. Scott Mabury, vice-president, university operations, unveiled the plan at a meeting of the Governing Council’s Business Board on March 3. On average, tuition fee increases are assumed to be three per cent for domestic students and 6.5 per cent for existing international students each year of the five-year budget cycle: 2014–2015 to 2018–2019.

At the meeting, Mabury characterized international student enrolment as a “14-year experiment,” adding that, “when we increase international tuition fees, applications go up, and the take-up rate goes up.” A recent provincial government plan established a target to increase the number of international students by 50 per cent — to a total of 57,000 students — by 2015. Compounded, international tuition fees have risen over 50 per cent over the last five years.

Domestic and international tuition fee schedules are regulated under Ontario’s Tuition Framework. Under the framework, domestic tuition fees are capped at three per cent per year for most programs and five per cent for graduate and professional programs. International tuition fee increases, however, are unregulated — individual post-secondary institutions can increase these fees as much as they like.

As per the university’s tuition fee policy, no student entering a program from 2012–2013 onwards will be subjected to a fee increase of more than 5.69 per cent per year for the normal length of the full-time program of study.

The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) have both called on the provincial government to regulate international fee increases.

“There is a real double standard here,” said Cameron Wathey, who is running for re-election to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) as vice-president, internal, with Team U of T Voice. “International students deserve the same rights as domestic students, not simply because we contribute to the tax base and the growth of the economy, not simply because many international students decide to stay in Canada after graduation and work within Canada, but simply because we all deserve access to affordable post-secondary education,” he added.

Wathey outlined the platform for U of T Voice, which includes lobbying the provincial government for the regulation of international student fees, pressuring the government for the removal of the recently introduced $750 international student fee, and advocating for international student seats on Governing Council. Under the University of Toronto Act, international students are currently unable to serve on Governing Council because they are not Canadian citizens.

“This discrepancy raises serious concerns to suggest that international students are being used to compensate for funding gaps in other underfunded sectors within the university,” said Anna Yin, who is running for election to the UTSU as vice-president, internal, with Team Unite. “As a team that believes in equal opportunity and a fair education for all, we believe we must address the university administration and raise concerns within the upcoming provincial elections to suggest regulations for international tuition to be based on the real cost of education,” she added.

Yin outlined the platform for Team Unite, which includes pushing university administration to create more needs-based scholarships for international students, lobbying the provincial government to ensure that universities provide more international student support services, and lobbying the provincial government to allow international students to enroll in OHIP without paying an additional premium.

Zakary Paget, special assistant, communications, for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, offered little information on provincial government funding for international students. “Our role is to ensure that the bar is set high for post-secondary education in Ontario through the implementation of a policy framework that protects our shared, earned global reputation for quality programs, student protection, and a positive student experience.” Paget did not offer any information on what that policy framework would include.

“I think we’re very transparent about the fees that international students are charged. They understand this before they decide to apply,” said Richard Levin, university registrar, adding: “We’re clear about any scholarships in the letter of offer, and we determine our international targets based on academic priorities. But we have to reflect the full cost in international fees.” While the federal and provincial governments provide per-student operating grants to post-secondary institutions, there are no per-student operating grants for international students.

“[W]e will only go as far as we feel is academically appropriate in terms of number of students,” said Sally Garner, executive directo of the planning and budget office. “The tuition has to be a reasonable rate when you compare it internationally to the quality institutions compared to U of T.”

Katerina Valle, a fourth-year anthropology student from Peru, contended that the fee increases are unexpected. “Most of us find out about the yearly increase when we are already enrolled. When I applied to U of T, I thought I would be paying [$20,000] every year. Next year, my tuition is going to be [$30,000]. People have budgets — if U of T can’t help from raising tuition, they should at least be clear about it,” she says.

Other international students, like Shah Taha, a second-year international relations and contemporary Asian studies student from Hong Kong, argued that the cost of international undergraduate tuition does not reflect the level of services international students receive: “What is perhaps most important is to give international students their money’s worth. Facilities provided at U of T are below par for the amount charged.”

Levin said that the cost of international undergraduate tuition is not a reflection of additional services for international students: “We set fees to try and recover the full cost of the educational experience. There are certainly services for international students — the Centre for International Experience, various divisions have particular supports in place, programs run specifically for international students — we work hard to try and support them. But the fee is really meant to reflect the cost of education.”

Some international students also expressed concern over the amount of financial aid that international undergraduate students receive. In 2012–2013, $164 million in student aid was given out to undergraduate and graduate students. Just $5 million in aid — merit-based and emergency — was provided to international students.

According to the university’s Policy on Student Financial Support, “No student offered admission to a program at the University of Toronto should be unable to enter or complete the program due to lack of financial means.” However, the policy does not fully apply to international students: “International students must demonstrate that they have sufficient resources to meet their financial needs in order to qualify for a student visa. They are not eligible for the university’s guarantee offered to domestic students.”

Valle expressed concern over this: “There are a lot of programs, scholarships, opportunities that are restricted to Canadians and residents only …  [International students] pay more and we are excluded,” she said, adding: “International students pick Canada because it is cheaper.”

Michael Kozakov, a third-year computer science student from Israel, agreed: “Unlike most top universities in the United States, U of T does not offer financial aid packages, and the merit-based scholarships cover at most 4 per cent of tuition fees. Given the amount of emphasis U of T puts on the diversity of the student body, I find these numbers very underwhelming.”

“I do not believe that the government should subsidize all international students (some students already receive government support from their home countries, others have quite high social economic status backgrounds), but I believe that there is a responsibility to provide support for top students with high levels of need,” said Dr. Glen Jones, Ontario research chair in post-secondary education policy and measurement and professor of higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). However, Jones also pointed out that financial support for U of T graduate students is among the highest in the country.

Levin claimed that the low level of financial aid for international undergraduate students arises from the university’s decision to prioritize domestic students. “The only real source of support, if we were to provide additional support for international students, would be tuition and grant revenue from domestic students,” he said.

“Some governments have found the introduction of [international] scholarships politically difficult,” Jones added. “The Ontario government announced new scholarships for international students several years ago and received a great deal of criticism from opposition and some student organizations based on the notion that funds should be devoted to assisting Ontario students rather than international students.”

The university projects a balanced budget for 2014–2015, with $2 billion in revenues matched by $2 billion in expenses.

“You don’t need to know about the writer”

In conversation with U of T's spring 2014 writer-in-residence, David Bezmozgis

“You don’t need to know about the writer”

Before I meet David Bezmozgis, I’m overwhelmed by nerves.

This is, after all, the writer who The Globe and Mail described as “a tad prickly, even downright hostile,” and who wrote a parody of an interview with himself, contained at the back of his bestselling short story collection, in which he explicitly stated, “I hate being interviewed.”

Writer-in-residence David Bezmozgis. CLARE SCOTT/THE VARSITY

Writer-in-residence David Bezmozgis. CLARE SCOTT/THE VARSITY

However, when Bezmozgis meets me on a chilly afternoon at Massey College, he is cordial, kind, and pleasantly soft-spoken.

Bezmozgis, like many writers, is a character — in his public persona and perhaps in his own work. His short stories have been published in various magazines including The Walrus and The New Yorker, the latter of which also named him one of the most promising young writers in their “20 under 40” issue. His first book, Natasha and Other Stories, received various awards including a nomination for the Governor General’s Award. His second, The Free World, was published in 2011 to wide critical acclaim. He is also an award-winning filmmaker.


A trilogy, somewhat

Although Natasha and Other Stories was published first, it can be seen as a sequel to The Free World. While the first tells the story of a Russian immigrant family in Canada from Russia, the second describes a family in the process of immigration overseas. Bezmozgis believes that different stories are better suited to different mediums, and contests the frequent claim that Natasha can be considered a novel.

“I see [Natasha] very much as a book of short stories, in a tradition of books like it which they would call story-cycle books… They’re individual stories that add up to something greater than their parts but they could be read individually… [The Free World] was… a much bigger story… It took place over 70 years and dealt with two countries, so the canvas of it was much larger. It was told in three voices. I didn’t see that as something that could be done in stories, whereas the experience in Natasha could be told… in individual stories… I just felt like the ambitions were different.”

Bezmozgis is currently working on a modern-day film version of Natasha. He has also written a second novel set to be published this fall, entitled The Betrayers.

“[The Betrayers] continues my interest in the Russian Jews but from a different angle,” he says. “It’s very contemporary. It’s set in the present day as much as possible, in Crimea and Ukraine which is very much in the news right now — it wasn’t all the years that I was writing — so it just deals with the question of… what legacy will these people leave, these Russian Jews, post-Soviet Jews? You could look at the three books as a trilogy in a way because they deal with different eras about this very same community.”


“Read a lot and get out”

This semester, Bezmozgis is the Jack McClelland writer-in-residence in the Department of English at U of T, in partnership with Massey College. He teaches a writing class to a small group of students he selected based on writing samples.

“For me, teaching those classes is just an opportunity to talk about what makes good writing… What rules or guidelines can we follow to make our writing better? It’s as simple as clarity… basically we’re spending 12 weeks learning how to say what we mean clearer, better.”

Bezmozgis studied English literature at McGill as an undergraduate student. Reading the literature of others inspired him in his own work, and continues to be a crucial tenet of his writing practices.

“Being an English major meant I read,” he explains. “I read a lot. I should have read more… I spent four years reading… being exposed to things I wouldn’t have read on my own, and I don’t regret anything that I read over those years. I wish I remembered more of it, frankly. I wish I had been more adventurous.”


As a writer, Bezmozgis continues to read in order to research for his works, which describe the twentieth century Russian-Jewish experience. When he engages historical narratives, he does a great deal of research in order to ensure the factual integrity of the work.

“I read until I feel like I know well enough what I’m talking about and can convincingly write about it,” he says, “I think that’s one of the great virtues and pleasures of being a writer… you’re constantly learning something. Every book is like a PhD in something.”

Bezmozgis encourages aspiring writers to read first and foremost. He advises, “Read a lot and get out into the world. Go places, see things. Later in life, it will be harder to do that — it will be harder to have time to read as much as you like. It will be harder to have the freedom and the liberty to go and do diverse and borderline dangerous things.”


The questions that remain

Bezmozgis smiles when I ask him about his reservations about interviews.

“I just don’t think they’re necessary,” he explains, “I mean, you seem like a nice person. I’m okay to do it, but… the writer’s main job is to write so you have something to read. So, doing a bunch of interviews takes up your time and, rather than writing, you talk about the writing you’ve already done and that’s kind of diminishing returns.”

Many critics have suggested that Bezmozgis’ work is semi-autobiographical. When told that many U of T English courses begin the study of a text with an introduction to the author, Bezmozgis responds that, while it satisfies a certain personal curiosity to learn about writers, it is not necessary to an understanding of their work.

“What questions remain when you read a story?” He asks, “Do they have anything to do with the writer? They might have something to do with time and place and history, but you don’t need to know about the writer to answer those questions.”


The Fine Print

Major influences:  Leonard Michaels, Isaac Babel, Vasily Grossman, Dennis Johnson, J.M. Coetzee

Every English major should read: The Bible.

In university, I wish I had read:  Middlemarch, Proust, more Victorian literature

Exciting new books: Shroder, Amity Gage; Summertime, J.M. Coetzee