Hundreds of students descend on front campus for snowball fight

Hosts hope event will become annual affair

Hundreds of students descend on front campus for snowball fight

   Hundreds of students descend on front campus for snowball fight

About 400 students from University of Toronto’s three campuses and surrounding schools in the Greater Toronto Area gathered on Front Campus last Tuesday for a snowball fight.

Madina Siddiqui and Frishta Bastan, two U of T students, planned the event with the goal of lightening the spirits of students bogged down with assignments and mid-terms.

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Both say they want to make the snowball fight an annual event.

Siddiqui says that, in her first year at U of T, she noticed that students are consistently worried about the future. “I wanted to do something that would allow us to relive our childhoods,” she says.

The hosts credit much of the event’s success to social media, allowing them to reach a wider audience.
Approximately 2,600 students said they were attending on a Facebook event for the snowball fight.

Jonathan Cassin, a fourth-year student, says the snowball fight was the most fun event of the school year so far. “Everything was fun, but the spontaneity of it is what really made it special. It brought all kinds of students together, from arts & science to engineers.”

Siddiqui says the hosts hope to eventually break the world record for the largest snowball fight, which currently sits at 5,834 participants.

Department of Political Science advertises unpaid internships

Of 112 internship positions listed by the department, just 36 are paid in some capacity

Department of Political Science advertises unpaid internships

Employment prospects for students in the social sciences are slim. Taking an unpaid internship is one of the ways in which students try to gain experience and make crucial connections.

The number of students interested in pursuing such opportunities means that some social science departments have become deeply invested in helping students engage with one another, faculty members, and alumni.

In fact, staying up to date and engaging with internships has become so central to students that the Department of Political Science hires a graduate student specifically to disseminate information about internship opportunities.

Unpaid internships advertised

Unpaid internships feature prominently on the Department of Political Science’s website, as well as on a working database of internship opportunities that was emailed to interested political science students. Of the 112 internship positions listed, 36 are paid in some capacity; the rest are unpaid, including five where the student is required to pay.

In one case, students are expected to incur costs up to $3,450.

Of the 36 paid internships, just three are based in or around Toronto.

Emily Tsui, president of the Association of Political Science Students (APSS), says that, though she finds the list helpful, she is unimpressed with companies that choose not to pay interns when the funding to do so is available. “The gap between those who can afford to take unpaid internships and those who need to take a paid job must be addressed,” Tsui says.

As part of a recent change to their mandate, the APSS has ramped up efforts to provide some alternatives to the unpaid internship route for those students who can’t afford to travel, and incur costs, to gain research and field experience. Initiatives focused on networking — such as the Senior and Junior Mentorship programs — have become a priority, both to ease job searches and to create more of a community within the faculty of political science.

Making connections

Jamie Levin, a doctoral candidate in political science tasked with providing academic counselling for students, says that, when it comes to work in social science fields, undergraduate students have fewer options. “The nature of U of T being such a primarily research institution, it falls often to grad students,” says Levin.

He finds that students often need to have connections and leverage them to get valuable experience.

Clare Gilderdale, alumni engagement liaison with the faculty of Arts & Science, describes a shift towards preparing students for a world where networking and forming connections is the way forward. “Especially at the University of Toronto, and especially in social sciences, networking is a necessity, both with other students and with alumni,” Gilderdale says.

Junior Mentorship

“Junior Mentorship cracks are often left when unpaid internships are not an option, and where contacts are necessary to make any headway,” Tsui says.

She believes the new Junior Mentorship program is a step in that direction.

Based on the department’s Senior Mentorship program, the mentorships are organized and led by the APSS in an effort to connect students to one another and build networking into student interaction.

Ilya Maslyanskyy, a third-year political science student who has eight mentees in the volunteer program, says it’s a matter of making the university feel smaller and a bit friendlier for younger students. According to Gilderdale, acknowledging the limited options available has been a big step in improving the kind of services offered at U of T, such as the Backpack 2 Briefcase program, which aims to connect students within the Faculty of Arts & Science with alumni.

“We’re helping students to know that it’s OK if you don’t know where you’re going, you will get there,” Gilderdale says.

The initiatives are all relatively recent additions to the Faculty of Arts & Science, and to the Department of Political Science specifically, but they are just one part of a suite of attempts to step beyond the limits imposed by a field that places great value on personal connections and unpaid experience.

To what extent the university can make students more job-ready and less worried for their futures is primarily a question of commitment and input. “We are always looking to do something more,” Tsui says.

Sides move closer in strike negotiations

University’s ‘net zero’ bargaining stance off the table, union says

Sides move closer in strike negotiations

The university and a major campus union appear to be one step closer to a deal although none has yet been reached.

Chief negotiators for CUPE 3902 Unit 1, which represents teaching assistants and other academic staff, and Unit 3, which represents sessional lecturers and other non-student academic staff, say that university administration has made offers that include a pay increase without being offset elsewhere in the funding package.

The developments mean that the university has moved away from an earlier reported position that they were taking a hard line of a ‘net-zero’ increase in the total dollar value of any collective bargaining agreement, where any union gains in one area would need to be offset by give-backs in another.

The two units are negotiating separate collective bargaining agreements, although they share the same strike deadline.

According to the negotiators, the pay increases are slightly different in each of the two deals, although they both involve annual one per cent wage increases.

Ryan Culpepper, chief negotiator for Unit 1, says the latest developments are positive. “It’s a shame that it is coming this late in the bargaining process. This is the frame within which we normally bargain, and in which we should have been bargaining the whole last nine months,” he says.

Culpepper adds there is still much to negotiate before a deal can be made. “I still thinks it’s going to be extremely challenging — if it’s possible at all — to get a deal in the time that’s left,” he says.

Erin Black, co-chief negotiator for Unit 3, also confirmed that the university has made some movement on job security, which is Unit 3’s highest priority.

Unit 3 and the university have one final scheduled meeting date on Monday, February 9, and will attempt to make a deal in that session.

No further meetings have been scheduled, although Black says that Unit 3 will continue to request more dates if a deal is not reached in that session.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, declined comment, saying, “The University is focused on the bargaining process itself right now.”

“We are still three weeks from a strike deadline,” Black says, adding, “Absolutely, we want to continue to meet with the employer.”

A new meeting date has been added for Unit 1, bringing the current total to 4, on February 17, February 20, February 25, and February 26.

Culpepper says that Unit 1 is still willing to have, and has asked for, more meetings than those currently scheduled.

Snow day only for UTM

UTSG and UTSC remain open during dire snowstorm

Snow day only for UTM

Students dreading their snow-stricken commute to the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus were spared on February 2 when the University of Toronto announced the closure of campus that morning at 5:55 am.

The St. George and Scarborough campuses remained open.

The university communicated the news via its official weather website, Facebook, Twitter, email, and telephone.
The temperature that day hovered around -15° celsius, with about 25 cm of snowfall the night prior.

Many UTM students were pleased with the closure.

Victoria Wisniewski, a fourth-year environmental science student, says she spent the day working on an assignment and catching up on readings. Stephanie Chen, another fourth-year student, used the time to do homework.

Wisniewski lives just over 10 kilometres away from campus, and Chen lives in UTM campus residence.

Both say they likely would have gone to class if it had remained open. “UTM is a commuter school, and most people drive or take transportation to get to and from the campus,” Chen says.

To her, one of the most important factors in deciding on campus closure is severe road conditions and accessible transportation.

However, students at the campuses that remained open took to Twitter to vent their anger at the decision. “It is extremely dangerous and unfair for commuters to travel to campus today, especially those that live North. Please consider that,” said Clarissa Flora, in a post directed at the university’s official Twitter account.

“Can you ask the weather monitor if he/she has successfully navigated campus in a wheelchair today?” said Angelo Muredda in a similar post.

A number of surrounding post-secondary institutions, including Sheridan College, Centennial College, and McMaster University were closed as well.

GO Transit experienced delays and cancellations, and the TTC experienced major service delays.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Academic & Student Rights Commission put out a call for students who were having trouble getting to campus safely due to the storm to get in touch.

The decision to close

According to Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, closure of any U of T campus is based on several factors, including the conditions of public transportation, closure of other universities in the area, the City’s response, and the state of roads and sidewalks.

“The geographical differences of the three campuses means inclement weather in one area would not mean the closure of campus in another,” Blackburn-Evans says.

Even if the entire campus does not close, class instructors generally have the ability to cancel classes.

Both the UTSC and UTM websites say that instructors cancel classes at their own discretion during inclement weather, and that students should consult their syllabus for information on class attendance, late assignments, or missed tests.

However, the decision to close any campus ultimately lies with the vice-president and provost, or principal of all three campuses, guided by the advice of Campus Police.

Responsibility for closure of the St. George campus also rests with the vice-president, human resources & equity.

The cost of closure

The university’s Human Resources & Equity Department focuses on the fair treatment and suitable work environment of university employees.

According to Blackburn-Evans, U of T must take into consideration the impact and cost of its decision to close.
Certain university services are considered essential and remain functioning even during closure, such as the caretaking of laboratory animals, campus security, and services in student residences.

A university protocol also states that staff needed for “essential services” during campus closure “will not suffer any reduction in salary or lost time” and they will be paid in accordance with overtime policy, or given the equivalent time off.

The Scarborough campus was last closed due to inclement weather on March 12, 2014.

UTSG last closed on February 8, 2013 when all three campuses shut down.

On that occasion, the decision was not effective until 3:00 pm.

Jennifer Hollett on activism in the digital age

Hollett will give the 2015 Hancock Lecture at Hart House on February 10

Jennifer Hollett on activism in the digital age

On Tuesday, Jennifer Hollett, a journalist and digital strategist, will give the 2015 Hancock Lecture. Entitled “Hashtags, Selfies and Ice Buckets: The Myth of Slacktivism,” Hollett’s lecture will explore the ways that social media has influenced activism.

Hollett, who holds a Bachelor of Arts from Concordia University and a Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University, is seeking the federal NDP nomination in the University-Rosedale riding. She also served as digital director with Olivia Chow’s mayoral campaign.

The Varsity spoke with Hollett ahead of her lecture.

The Varsity: What gives you expertise on the topic of “slacktivism”?

Jennifer Hollet: I came of age when the Internet was coming of age. This really started changing the way we communicated and told stories.

When I was studying journalism, the Internet as we know it now was in its early years of mainstream adaptation. I had an independent magazine, and one of my professors said that he could put it on the “World Wide Web”, which we still called it back then, and so in 1995 I had my own web page.

Upon graduation, I started working in what was called “new media” at Sony Music, and built a really exciting career working with digital tools. I did websites for artists like Celine Dion and Our Lady Peace.

For me, digital has always made sense and has always been a big part of my career. When I shifted to working as a TV host and a reporter, I always used it as a way to research, as a way to connect with people, [and] as a way to share stories to broader audiences.

Now, the work I do in politics, it’s through digital; whether that’s using social media tools on Olivia Chow’s campaign, or SuperPac App, which was an app I co-founded that was meant to bring transparency to TV ads in the 2012 US election.

TV: Why are you giving the talk?

JH: There are a group of students who put together the annual Hancock lecture, and they thought that ‘slacktivism’ is something that students are engaging with and questioning, and that it would be great to explore the idea. So they approached me. I said I’d be happy to speak about ‘slacktivism,’ but warning: I don’t think it exists.

TV: Give me your definition of “slacktivism”.



JH: “Slacktivism” is used to describe people who take a lazy approach to activism, usually online by clicking something or changing their profile pic. The idea is that they do it just to look good and feel good. “Slacktivism”, as a term, is used to discredit digital activism, especially entry-level digital activism.

I don’t think it exists, because I think digital actually allows us new ways to participate in social movements. Very few people are going to show up on the street with a megaphone and lead a march. Most people need an entry point. They need something that is fun, acceptable, and where they are.

Digital is the perfect place to get started. From there, it is up to the organizers and the movement builders to get people more involved.

TV: One criticism is that “slacktivism” is a replacement of traditional activism with something weaker because people think they are participating in a movement when they’re not. Do you agree?

JH: There are a lot of people who think that digital activism is just about a Facebook post, or a hashtag. But that is actually where it starts, not where it ends. If you, for the first time, engage with an issue by sharing a story on Facebook, or tweeting something out with a hashtag, that is the beginning of your engagement. Those of us who work on political or social issues campaigns, there is a framework called “a ladder of engagement”. This was and is still being used in traditional activism, and it’s also used in digital activism.

That is how you take people from a very easy way to get involved, and that can be anything from taking a flyer in the traditional sense to liking a Facebook page, and then you want to move them up that ladder of engagement. You might want to get them to attend a meeting, or give a small donation, or to volunteer. Very few people are going to come to the table and say: “I want to be a leader in this movement.” You use these opportunities to build engagement and build the movement. It isn’t one or the other.

I think part of it is that young people get digital. The majority of undergraduates on campus are digital natives: this is their language, it’s what they know, it is natural. I think why older generations dismiss it is it might not come as natural to them — it might seem too easy.

TV: Some digital campaigns and movements, such as ‘Kony 2012’ or the Twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls, have been criticized in terms of what they were (and were not) able to achieve. Is this criticism valid?

JH: So to push back on that: it depends what your end goal is. I think it is always fair and important to criticize campaigns and social movements, but that is not exclusive to digital. I think there were missed opportunities with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, and I’m not even sure if the activists who started it had a proper strategy. But we can’t underestimate the value of the international community making a story or a movement mainstream and top priority.

IMG_4352I was working at CBC during the Arab Spring. Traditionally, there isn’t much of an appetite for international stories. It can be hard to talk about regimes, and governments, and history, at least in television news.

But social media set the agenda. People around the world said that this was a story they care about, that they were following it, that it mattered. This forced the mainstream to give it airtime in a way that we haven’t seen before. That has continued with other movements. We are seeing that with “Black Lives Matter”. We are seeing social media pick up on the story first, and then give a signal to the mainstream that they have to cover it. Sometimes, that is the goal, right? To get a topic in the news, to give a topic national or global attention. That is extremely valuable and very difficult to do.

TV: What you are pointing to is “raising awareness.” But if there are only 140 characters, and 10 of them are the hashtag, how much of a discussion are you actually having?

JH: I think that there are definitely limits with social media, in terms of the character count as well as the need to be snarky, or irreverent, or funny. But what social media is, it is a conversation.The conversations that I’ve been watching and being part of aren’t possible in traditional media. They also aren’t possible in physical spaces, for many different reasons: work commitments, family commitments, and because the people we connect with don’t live next door to us anymore. Social media offers us the space to have an ongoing conversation, to bring in new and marginalized and sometimes surprising voices.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Robarts Library to expand

Robarts Common expansion project preparing for second phase

Robarts Library to expand

The University of Toronto’s big bird is about to get bigger.

Robarts Library currently welcomes around 18,000 visitors a day, a figure that has doubled over the past 35 years. As enrollment at U of T has increased, the demand for more work stations in libraries has also done so.

Melissa Clancey, a fourth-year political science and English major, says that she has “a love/hate relationship with Robarts.”

“[I] always end up there… but I hate circling an entire floor for a seat,” she says.

The Robarts Common project should go some way towards alleviating this problem, providing 1,222 study spaces for a grand total of 6,027 at the library.

The study spaces will be housed inside a new, state-of-the-art five-storey glass pavilion.

In addition to these new work and study spaces, the extension will also bring a new student lounge, more group study areas, and an outdoor plaza and park.

According to Larry Alford, chief librarian at the U of T, the main reason behind the extension is the need for more study space.

Alford says that he has spoken to numerous students over the past three or so years, many of whom have talked about the need for more study spaces on campus.

Alford adds that Robarts Common will be connected to Robarts Library via bridges, granting students easy access to the stacks, the cafeteria, and other amenities that the current building offers.

Mercedes Fogarassy, a second-year peace, conflict and justice student, praised the expansion, saying that the university needs more study space to accommodate students. “[U]ltimately, we are at the university to learn, and there is no better place on campus to focus and study than at the centre of information,” she says.

The first phase of the project is already complete, consisting of numerous improvements to study spaces and library infrastructure.

The second phase will consist of the construction of the new five-storey addition, called Robarts Common.

According to Alford, Robarts Common will stay in line with the university’s environmental initiatives. The new structure will be granted a silver rating by the Standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design because of its planned environmentally-friendly features, including a green roof area, efficient landscaping, and the use of regionally sourced or recycled materials.

Although not yet confirmed, Alford hopes that construction on the addition will be underway in January, 2016.

TEDxUTSC ‘unleashes the fantasy’

Conference features war correspondent, Olympic rower Marnie McBean

TEDxUTSC ‘unleashes the fantasy’

January 31 saw the culmination of nearly nine months of work by the student volunteers who organised the third annual TEDxUTSC conference, an independently organized event that followed the same format as the widely known conferences organized by TED, the not-for-profit organization that runs a global set of conferences.

TEDxUTSC brought 13 speakers to the Scarborough campus’ Academic Resource Centre to share their ideas in 15 to 20 minute talks.

“TEDxUTSC is a bigger success every year, despite being so young,” says Jad Murtada, a TEDxUTSC speaker relations associate.

Murtada says the event attracted 215 attendees, overselling the initial allocation of 200 tickets.

”The live stream garnered international attention with viewers from Germany, Turkey, and others,” Murtada adds.

The theme of the conference was “Unleash the Fantasy,” bringing together speakers who had done extraordinary things or put forth ideas that broke norms.

The conference was broken into four segments with conversational and lunch breaks in between.

One speaker, Teresa Gomes, a student activist who is currently in her third-year of a health studies and international development program at UTSC, spoke of creating an initiative, Education & Equity for Women, in Niliphamari, Bangladesh.

In her talk, Gomes highlighted the importance of being cognizant of the present and how the power of human connection can impact the world.

“You have been making an impact because, through those human connections, there is a ripple effect throughout the world,” Gomes told the audience.

Also in attendance was Olympic gold medalist rower Marnie McBean who discussed how people can achieve extraordinary things with the “+1” policy, injecting her talk with real-life examples from her times at the Olympics.

The speaker list also included UTSC faculty members.

Brian Harrington, a former UTSC student and lecturer in computer science, discussed how GPAs are only half of what you get out of the university experience, while Rene Harrison, from the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, forewarned the dangers of osteoporosis to couch potatoes.

Rohit Gandhi, an Emmy award winning journalist and filmmaker, came out to speak wearing the flags of Canada, South Africa, India and Pakistan on the sleeves of his suit. Gandhi then proceeded to peel off the flags, which represented his nationalities, illustrating the importance of “being country-neutral journalists out there.”

The conference also featured live performances from a variety of performing artists, such as a Bharatnatyam Dance, and paintings by UTSC students that showed how the community came together.

For his part, Murtada says that the event, which is in its third year, is a bigger success each time. “We hope to continue this trend,” he says.

Organization helps survivors Thrive

Student creates organization to collect stories and data about sexual assault on campus

On February 3, Katrina Vogan handed out flyers with graphics in English, Chinese, and Korean at the Harvest Noon Café.

The physics and literature student was promoting Thrive, an organization that she recently founded with a twofold aim: to share the stories of sexual assault survivors and to gather data for a report that will hopefully result in an administrative policy review.

Thrive is running an online campaign — the “And Then” project — in the form of what Vogan calls illustrated interviews.

Vogan interviewed survivors of sexual assault and asked how U of T helped them after they were sexually assaulted. She then used graphics to create shareable images of their stories. “When I was talking to people about this issue, people who had experienced it, there was this sense that they weren’t being heard,” Vogan says. “They were speaking and speaking but no-one was listening. So I started it in part because I wanted them to be heard.”

“It’s moving — it really hits you because it could be someone you know and you would have no idea. It’s a wake up call that something needs to change,” says Jasmine Denike, a fourth-year English student and volunteer with Thrive.
From there, Vogan began research on campus services because she wanted to get an idea of where people were going when they needed help. She notes a lack of holistic services — services that take into account a person’s intersecting identities and that address a student’s whole being.

Thrive is administering a survey, in which students take 5–10 minutes to rate their experiences and perceptions of campus services such as Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Community Safety Office, and Campus Police.

In the first 24 hours, Vogan says she received over 50 survey responses.

Vogan says she intends to produce a report, which she says will likely be illustrated in much the same way as the stories in the “And Then” project.

Although Vogan describes Thrive as a reactive service, she hopes to see changes in policy and in attitude. Then, she says, Thrive can become a proactive resource with prevention and education goals.

When asked about the goals of Thrive, Vogan says that she never wants students to seek help in vain. “Ideally, I never want to hear someone tell me ‘I went to get help and I was turned away.’ I don’t want to hear that ever again.”

Editor’s Note: Katrina Vogan was The Varsity’s 2013-2014 science editor.