$10 million in renovations at UTSC

Highland Hall set for completion in 2017

$10 million in renovations at UTSC

No longer will UTSC students have to walk the halls of their campus cramped shoulder to shoulder; the Scarborough campus is in the midst of renovating a section of its south campus, better known as Highland Hall. The project has been allocated a $10 million budget.

As part of the planning initiative, UTSC undergraduate and graduate students played an active role in deciding how the renovation of Highland Hall will reallocate much needed study and leisure space for students. With a student body of around 12,000 students, the population at UTSC is expected to increase by an extra 2,090 students by 2018.

With the construction of the Pan Am Athletic Center on the north side of campus, the original athletics center at UTSC has become vacant and in need of renovation.

The Highland Hall project aims to accomplish this by turning an old gymnasium, locker room, and other facilities into a lecture theatre, registrar’s office, and various classrooms for smaller classes. Furthermore, the Social Science Department at UTSC plans to move into the newly renovated Highland Hall and use the area as the department’s office. Previously located on the campus’s south-west corner, the department claims that the move to Highland Hall is necessary as it continues to add more faculty due to the increased number of students enrolled in the social sciences at Scarborough Campus.

Out of the five operational floors in the renovated Highland Hall, floors two through five will be allocated to the Department of Social Sciences with professors given private offices, teaching assistants sharing offices, and various administrators allocated their own piece of the pie.

There are holes in the details of the project, however. Although it has been allocated $10 million, the projected estimate of the total cost is $945,000. It is unknown where the remaining funds will be spent, and whether students will see any of the benefits which could result from a surplus.

Secondly, Highland Hall is located between the Student Centre on the north end of campus and the main entrance to UTSC located on the east. A large number of UTSC students divide their time between the Student Centre and the campus’ main southern base, which means that many students who do not have a class or professor based in Highland Hall will have little incentive to travel to that area of campus.

The project is expected to be completed in August 2017.

Voyeurism threatens Whitney Hall, stirs gender debate

Residence floors at UC temporarily gender segregated

Voyeurism threatens Whitney Hall, stirs gender debate

On two separate occasions — September 15 and 19 — two female residents at the university’s Whitney Hall residence building were the victims of voyeurism, having been filmed while they were showering. As a result, Whitney Hall and its four University College (UC) housing affiliates have revoked their gender neutral policy on many of the residence’s washrooms.

It fell to Melinda Scott, dean of students at UC, to break the news. “Given the serious nature of these incidents and the impact on directly affected students, we made the decision to specifically designate some washrooms throughout the building for those who identify as men and those who identify as women. At the same time, there remains at least one gender-neutral washroom per floor and per house,” Scott said in a statement to The Varsity.

Many students are in shock. “It’s scary to think that there’s someone nearby that’s doing that kind of thing,” said Tessa Mahrt-Smith, a first-year Whitney resident. Melissa Birch, also a first-year resident of Whitney and shares Mahrt-Smith’s sentiments. “I think it sucks that there are going to be people that don’t feel safe in Whitney now, and that we can’t have an inclusive environment.”

Whitney Hall has never had a reported controversy regarding its gender-neutral washrooms. The Metro Toronto Police have yet to find any information as to the physical appearance of the voyeur, though the investigation is ongoing.

“Both victims (women) claimed seeing a cellphone reach over while they were in the shower,” said Constable Victor Kwong.

Scott admits that the turn away from gender-neutral washrooms does not directly approach the problem of the voyeurism in Whitney Hall. “The purpose of this temporary measure is to provide a safe space for the women who have been directly impacted by these events and other students who may feel more comfortable in a single gender washroom in the wake of these incidents. We do not expect the designation of these washrooms alone to resolve this matter; it is a complex situation that requires a multi-layered approach,” she said.

Some residents, however, have considered that separating men and women will have an adverse affect, providing an environment in which voyeurism can take place more easily. “It’s not very hard to be of [another] gender and sneak into the single-gender washrooms if they know it’s in the wee hours of the morning, or if they know that there’s only one person in there, who actually might happen to be in the shower. So I do feel that while [gendered washrooms] may help, there’s also the potential that [this system] could provide easier targets for the voyeur,” said Mahrt-Smith.

Moreover, the effects of the segregated washrooms have caused one male resident to reshape his daily routine. Evan Rees is the only male student on the first floor of Ferguson House in Whitney; the once gender-neutral washroom is now women only. Rees entered his residence contract with the understanding that there would be a washroom on his floor. Without one, he must travel up to the second floor whenever he needs to use the facilities.

“While [UC Residences understand] that the designation to some washrooms as male, female or gender-neutral is a change, we do not feel that it is an undue inconvenience.  There will be no change in the residence fees as a result of this change,” said Scott.

The atmosphere at Whitney has changed, something that is evident from speaking with its residents. Reynolds Garret, another freshman resident, told The Varsity that “this issue is not strictly about someone taking pictures; it is about a violation of the trust that our residence experience is based on.” Birch echoes these sentiments: “I’m disappointed that it happened. I have more faith in people than that.”

Amanda Stojcevski, president of the UC Literary and Athletic Society, wants all UC students to be aware of the options available to them. “Despite the incidents that have occurred, there are many sources of support at University College for students should they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. The UC Lit is just one of these sources, and we would like students to know they are welcome to come talk to us about any issues at the college, and we can either act as a support ourselves, or connect them with the appropriate resource.”

Campus Police have urged anyone with any information on the voyeurism incidents at Whitney Hall to contact them.

Politically active

Students weigh in on why they are involved in the federal election

Politically active

As the federal election looms, students at the University of Toronto are being encouraged to get educated and take to the polls to cast their vote for the next Prime Minister. Traditionally, the 18–24 year old age demographic has had the lowest voter turnout, with only 38 per cent of eligible voters casting their vote in the previous 2011 election.  The Varsity spoke with three politically-engaged students to get their take on the critical issues in this election, their political motivations, and why it’s important for students to vote.

NDP: Emil Cohen, fourth-year Political Science and Statistics major

Emil Cohen (NDP). Mallika Makka/THE VARSITY

Emil Cohen (NDP). Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

What got you interested in politics? 

I was suspended in high school for publicly criticizing the lack of support the soccer team received from the Phys-Ed Department. A few students were incensed about this and a free speech protest was arranged. NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Rosario Marchese was the only politician to show up, showing that the NDP are the only party interested in protecting the civil liberties of Canadians.

The protest, coupled with intense media pressure, led to the suspension being removed from my record by the TDSB [Toronto District School Board], and the school soccer team being given more adequate support. This taught me the power of organizing, and permanently peaked my political interest.

How are you involved in the upcoming election? 

I am a volunteer with Jennifer Hollett, the NDP candidate for the new riding of University-Rosedale.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important issues that are being discussed in this election? 

Some of the most important issues in this election include the environment, the economy, Canada’s place as peacemaker on the world stage, and of course repealing the dangerous and unconstitutional [Bill] C-51.

Why is it important for students to vote? 

Young people vote overwhelmingly against the Conservative party of Canada, and the 38.8 per cent turnout of eligible voters between 18 and 24 in 2011 saw the Conservatives win a majority. We need young people to vote if we want to rid the country of Stephen Harper and his bigoted fear driven politics. Politicians see the low youth voter turnout and don’t think it’s worth building a campaign around young voters, and in turn, young people don’t see anything worth voting for. We need to end this vicious cycle and make the politicians realize that we as young people have as much of a voice as any other demographic.

How can students get educated about the election?

Visiting each candidate’s website online and on social media is good start. As someone involved in my local candidate’s campaign, I strongly suggest visiting the campaign office and talking to the people who are there.

Conservative: Ettore Fiorani Denegri, third-year Political Science and Criminology student

Ettore Fiorani Denegri (Conservative). Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

Ettore Fiorani Denegri (Conservative). Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

What got you interested in politics?

It was a combination of factors. I always grew up hearing about politics. My family, originally from Peru, is more political than most. My father’s side of the family has roots in the APRA [Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana] party. Also, coming from a country where politics can be more unstable and consequential, I grew up learning it was important to keep aware of the political situation.

The second thing that got me involved is more simple. A teacher introduced me to the team of my local Conservative MP, Julian Fantino. I was impressed by all he had gone through, and I also agree with the policies he promotes. From there, I got involved more and more.

How are you involved in the upcoming election?

I’ve been volunteering all summer for Conservative MPs. Now, I’m almost exclusively focused on helping get my MP, Julian Fantino, re-elected.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important issues that are being discussed in this election?

There are three big ones for me: the economy, national security, and immigration.

Why is it important for students to vote?

It’s important because we are all affected by government and the economy. We’ll all eventually be looking for jobs, paying taxes, etc. Students should vote for the party they think will best manage the economy, as it is the issue that will be of the most consequence for each and every one of us in the coming years.

How can students get educated about the election?

As students, we should know that one has to use various sources to inform themselves. I don’t believe there’s any source that’s completely unbiased. Keep your media sources diverse. Another important thing to do is to check out what the parties and what their leaders have to say. Hear them in the debates, their announcements, and check out their platforms and promises. From there, you can decide who you think has what it takes to lead this country, which is not an easy job. Finally, talk to friends and people from different sides of the political spectrum.

Liberal: Shahene Patel, third-year Political Science and English Major

Shahene Patel (Liberal). Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

Shahene Patel (Liberal). Mallika Makkar/THE VARSITY

What got you interested in politics?

My parents were always very proud to be Canadians. Because of that, they wanted to exercise their rights as Canadians and participate in elections by voting. Even now, my parents reminisce when they immigrated to this country when Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister and how much they appreciated being welcomed into this nation. So from a young age, my family has always taught me that it’s very important to be engaged and aware of politics—not just in Canada, but internationally. As a result, I began volunteering for the Liberal Party at a young age, not just because my parents were always Liberal supporters, but also because I felt like this is a party that aligns with my own personal beliefs and values.

How are you involved in the upcoming election?

Recently, I began helping campaigns more actively across the GTA. I do what I can to volunteer locally, whether it’s through canvassing, making phone calls to other volunteers, installing signs, etc. I am involved on the national level as well—through organizing rallies, volunteering at the Liberal Party’s open nomination process, calling voters, etc.

In your opinion, what are some of the most important issues that are being discussed in this election?

Personally, issues such as immigration and education are very important to me.

Why is it important for students to vote?

I believe it is important for students to vote because youth voter turnout in the last election was incredibly low. Some of the MPs who won in the last election won by such a small margin that if more students and young people voted, we might have been able to make a difference. It’s important to vote because we are one of the few countries in this world to be privileged enough to participate in elections. We, as Canadians, should be grateful for the opportunity to vote at all—and this election is so important.

How can students get educated about the election? 

If students are interested in learning about all political parties in this country, I encourage them to visit the party’s websites, call their local candidates and ask them what they can do for them if elected. I would also suggest attending community debates as well as keeping informed on the national debates. Watch the news, read the newspaper, talk to other students about Canadian politics and to do whatever necessary to keep informed.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

TCard+ launches at UTSG

Program provides flexibility, discounts on merchandise, food

TCard+ launches at UTSG

University of Toronto’s Food Services (UTFS) is providing students the option of loading flexible bookstore dollars onto their TCards through the TCard+ meal program.

Following its launch at UTSC last year, the TCard+ program has expanded to UTSG, marking the first time that students will be able to use one unique plan for both merchandise and food on campus.

The Food Services website advertises the card as ideal for students who don’t want to carry cash but want the flexibility of being able to use the card at various locations on campus. With a minimum load of $250, students can use the card to purchase items at the bookstore, Varsity Sports Centre, and participating TCard+ food locations on campus. These locations include Café Reznikoff, the Robarts cafeteria, The Green Beet, and a variety of other dining halls and cafés on campus. The card can be used by students, staff, and faculty of the St. George campus, and bookstore dollars do not expire.

According to UTSGFS, the TCard+ simplifies the process of meal plans for students by making it easy to identify where the card can be used. There have always been meal plans on TCards, but they could often only be used at a single college or dining hall.

After already combining five plans from last year into a single plan this year, Food Services’ eventual goals are to create an all-encompassing “campus plan” and take away students’ confusion surrounding meal plans.

Students who use their TCard+ as a method of payment will receive the added benefits of a five per cent  discount from textbook rentals at the bookstore as well as 10 per cent  off of stationary, bags, and backpacks.

There will be additional deals for TCard+ holders throughout the academic year, such as secret sales, where TCard+ users will receive a secret word to take advantage of promotions. Additionally, UTSG Food Services have announced that for the month of October, anyone who purchases a meal plan will be eligible to win an iPad.

By amalgamating several campus products into one card, there is greater value for users. “Students already spend money on campus, but there is opportunity for savings,” commented Jaco Lokker, executive chef and director of Food Services. According to Lokker, the card “enhances the student experience” by simplifying the otherwise complicated meal plan process while boasting cost reductions for students.

Students, faculty, and staff can load their TCards with bookstore dollars online through the Meal Plan purchase tab on the Food Services website or at their office at 214 College St.

Two UTSU proposals vie for student vote at AGM

Winning board structure needs two-thirds majority

Two UTSU proposals vie for student vote at AGM

The proxy war is on: student societies scrambled for votes ahead of this Wednesday’s University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM), in an attempt to rally students to support one of two proposed restructuring plans for the UTSU’s Board of Directors.

Under the proxy system, students who are unable to attend the AGM can ask another student to vote on their behalf by signing a proxy form and returning it to the UTSU or the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) offices.

A student attending the AGM may be a proxy holder for up to 10 other students.

Two proposals

In order to comply fully with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA), students will have to ratify a new structure for the UTSU’s Board of Directors. Such a vote occurred at last year’s AGM, where the only proposal up for approval was rejected.

This year, there are two board structure proposals in play.

‘Plan B’ is a proposal moved by Arts & Science at-large director Khrystyna Zhuk and seconded by Daman Singh, University College director. The proposal would keep the same number of directors for each college and professional faculty proportionate to the number of students in the division, as with the current board structure.

Elections for these positions would occur internally within each college or faculty’s respective student society.

Plan B would also create six appointed ‘general equity directors’ to represent a variety of marginalized groups and to chair newly created sub-commissions under the Social Justice and Equity Commission.

Grayce Slobodian, former UTSU vice-president external and this years’ orientation coordinator, also put forward a proposal to the AGM. Under Slobodian’s proposal, one director would represent each college and professional faculty while the number of UTM directors would increase from seven to eight.

Crucially Slobodian’s proposal would also see the introduction of 12 elected ‘constituency directors’ responsible for advocating on issues facing specific marginalized groups, similar to the board proposal that was defeated at last year’s AGM.

A new proxy system

In previous years, it was the role of the proxy holder to collect information and signatures from students wishing to proxy their votes to another member. However, under the new regulations in the CNCA, that responsibility now belongs to the person wishing to proxy their vote.

“The new proxy system did pose a huge obstacle for those trying to get proxies or students looking for proxy holders. It took much more effort on each individual’s part,” said Amanda Stojcevski, president of the university College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit). “However, I do believe this system was for the best, in that I found students with more knowledge regarding UTSU politics were more likely to explain things in detail to those who were less knowledgeable.”

Stojcevski saw this as an opportunity to educate students and reach out to students who would otherwise not be engaged with UTSU politics.

“I was very proud to see many individuals in the community, on and off of council, working hard to try and engage students. Our focus was more about educating everyone as opposed to racing to get proxies, and I think we succeeded in informing students that previously were more disconnected from the student politics of the university.”

Rallying the votes

Plan B has received endorsement from the UTSU Board of Directors, as well as many other student societies, including the Innis College Student Society, the Trinity College Meeting, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, the UC Lit, and the St. Michael’s College Student Union. These student societies also created Facebook events promoting the AGM and encouraged students to become a proxy or proxy out their vote.

“Our reasoning behind endorsing the proposal moved by Zhuk and seconded by Singh mostly revolved around keeping our college’s full representation on the board, but also the representation of St. George campus in general,” said Stojcevski.

“Also by having six General Equity Directors, any type of equity group can be represented on the board. Because they are general equity directors, they are not limited to representing a specific group of individuals, and they are able to address any equity issues at the university.”

Stojcevski is also supportive of the changes in the way directors are elected under Plan B. “Internal elections will ensure that the directors of each constituency are involved within their community, and voters will not be swayed to vote by slate, a problem I personally have found frustrating in the past.”

The proposed reduction of the number of seats for students on the St. George campus under Slobodian’s proposal has prompted the #SaveOurSeats campaign, which is being led by the St. George Round Table, a council of heads and presidents of every undergraduate college and faculty student society on the St. George campus. #SaveOurSeats has circulated an infographic on social media that compares both board proposals and highlights the seemingly disproportionate underrepresentation of students on the St. George campus under Slobodian’s proposal.

Events leading up to the AGM have also been planned.

“[The St. George Round Table] is currently in the talks of hosting a rally for all students to come to before the AGM, and we can all go to the meeting at OISE together,” said Stojcevski,“ adding, We have been working hard to emphasize the fun and positive side of the meeting (namely, the excitement and food factors, and how this meeting is sure to be an important part in the history of the student union).”

UTM

The UTMSU has yet to endorse any of the two board proposals. UTMSU president Ebi Agbeyegbe expressed concerns over what he saw as a potential lack of sufficient notice for the AGM. Under the UTSU’s by-laws, the UTSU must provide notice to its members at least 21 days prior to the AGM.

“The officers of UTMSU are consulting UTM students on the board proposals being put forward. We are aware that there may be some changes put forward,” said Agbeyegbe. “Please note that there has been many changes to the proposal being put forward by Khrystyna Zhuk. We are concerned that the notice provisions for such important changes have NOT been met. We would like all members of UTSU to have sufficient time to review the proposals before the meeting.”

The UTMSU has also made efforts to promote the AGM on the Mississauga campus. Agbeyegbe stressed the importance of the upcoming vote and said that the union has emailed every student with information on the AGM and the proxy voting system.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have as many UTM students participate at the AGM as possible, so that we can ensure that UTM students have a presence to ensure that the bylaw changes and motions that are approved benefit all students, especially UTM students,” Agbeyegbe said. “An email will also be sent to all undergraduate students early next week to encourage them to attend this meeting.”

The AGM is scheduled for 5:30 PM on October 7 in the OISE auditorium.

Campaign highlights communal struggles

Our Lives at U of T aims to tackle alienation

Campaign highlights communal struggles

Our Lives at U of T is a campaign that documents the struggles of students who have had a difficult time adjusting to life at the University of Toronto. The initiative consists of large banner featuring different students who contributed to Our Lives, and a reference to that student’s story, full versions of which appear on the campaign’s Facebook page. The posters can be found at Sidney Smith Hall, at the Koffler House, and at New College, among other places on campus.

According to campaign founder David Fishbayn, the stories aim to demonsrate that it is okay if you do not “get it right the first time” and that “alienation can be tackled by taking one step out of your comfort zone and trying something new.”

Our Lives at U of T is part of the Campaign for Community, which Fishbayn co-founded in April of 2014. As part of an independent study project, he anonymously asked students “how does U of T make you feel?” Many responded with statements such as “sad” and “lonely”. Our Lives at U of T was founded in order to bring these negative responses to light.

“While U of T has a very good academic reputation, the quality of student life could be improved upon,” Fishbayn noted.

Our Lives at U of T is aimed at establishing how U of T really is. Under the Boundless campaign U of T tells its students that they are special, that they are the future leaders of tomorrow, and that they are limitless. On the contrary Our Lives at U of T tells us that everyone fails at one point or another and that learning from these failures is necessary for success.

Fishbayn said that he would like to hold a ceremony which commemorates the students who contributed to Our Lives of U of T and that he plans to increase the number of posters on campus.

Credit where credit is due

Some students left bankrupt over credit plans

Credit where credit is due

Several major banks in Canada are offering seemingly innocuous, special credit card deals to university students. The offers feature zero annual interest, even for students without any credit history. While such deals hold many advantages for the average student, they may also pose, many unforeseen problems.

“Many of our students have had good experiences with the credit cards,” said Yvonne Hilder, Woodsworth College financial advisor, adding that credit cards can be a good way to build up a credit rating. Credit ratings reflect a person’s ability to borrow money responsibly: the higher the score, the better. Considerations for credit rating include payment history — whether or not bills are paid on time, and how close to the credit limit the person is.

Credit or bust

“A student loan is often not enough to cover the basics, or it comes in with two installments so you have to be careful with your budget,” said Hilder. Student credit cards can be used to supplement budgets and are sometimes necessary for online shopping. “A lot of companies prefer that you pay by credit card… If you’re buying things online, it’s handy to have a credit card to do those payments,” Hilder said. Students looking to rent textbooks from the U of T Bookstore must have a credit card.

However, Hilder cautions against the negative aspects of students using credit cards. “Many students have had unfortunate experiences… and have incurred a lot of debt.” 

A common way of incurring debt comes from relying on credit cards to cover a majority of basic essentials, rather than using the credit cards as supplements. “Students using the credit card to cover the basic essentials of life — if you’re buying your groceries on a credit card, if you’re paying your rent with the credit card — that’s a problem,” said Hilder.

Hannah Hunter*, a U of T alum who majored in political science and environmental science, used her credit card to purchase daily expenses such as food and TTC passes during her time as an undergraduate. “It was very good that I could pay for essentials.  But [it was] bad when I couldn’t pay them back at the end of the month,” Hunter recalled. 

As a consequence, Hunter fell into debt.  “At the very least, I was able to pay the minimum payment but not the full balance, even though I knew a high interest rate would be added to the remaining amount.”

“My account was eventually passed onto debt collectors and I managed to establish payment plans… until I paid off the debt in full,” Hunter said.

Influence on campus

Ben Coleman, president of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), said that creditors and financial institutions are occasionally present on campus. “[We] do occasionally have sponsorship agreements with financial institutions (e.g. for orientation), but we are very clear that they should not advertise credit cards,” he said.

“The only company authorized to offer a credit card product on campus is our affinity partner, MBNA Mastercard,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T.  “MBNA is a leader in providing these programs to many universities in Canada, and there is an ongoing interest from students and alumni in this offering.”

“MBNA is also a pillar sponsor of the university, and those sponsorship dollars are completely redistributed to over 40 student and alumni initiatives… Student groups who organize fairs or festivals, like the UTSU street festival, may invite other financial vendors to sponsor their events but those vendors are not permitted to market credit cards to students at the events,” Blackburn-Evans added.

Is bankruptcy a viable option?

Steve Jameson*, a third-year English major at U of T, told The Varsity how he claimed bankruptcy and felt that banks and creditors view students merely as numbers and ‘cash cows’ for high interest rates, when asked whether he was concerned about the appearance of bankruptcy on his credit history.

“Bankruptcy is a tricky thing, and can be a blessing or curse depending on the case of the individual.” He added that he does not think it is uncommon for students to claim bankruptcy while they study.

The National Student Loan Services (NSLS) confirmed the high frequency with which students declare bankruptcy. “I usually see an account call in that has claimed bankruptcy every shift I work,” said an NSLS representative.

However, there are limits. Bankruptcy cannot be claimed on Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) loans unless the loan is at a minimum of seven years old. Bankruptcy will stay on your credit history for seven years, but the bankrupt can receive credit cards and begin reestablishing good credit nine months after initially filing for bankruptcy and being discharged.

Those who have filed for bankruptcy have also been granted mortgages by banks within two years of a nine-month bankruptcy discharge. In Canada, lenders want you to be cleared of bankruptcy for at least two years.

To help avoid going into debt, Hilder provided some practical advice. “Shop around… ask questions: what is the interest rate if you can’t pay off the monthly balance? A lot of [student] credit cards are in the range of about 19–20 percent.” Interest rates for RBC’s student credit cards and Capital One’s Vibe Mastercard are 19.99 per cent and 19.8 per cent respectively.

Does the zero-annual fee compensate for the relatively high interest rates of student credit cards?  For Hilder, it does not. “They may say that there’s no annual fee but there’s a lot of low interest credit cards that will have a modest interest fee.  If you do the math… it’s actually a better deal.”

UTSU, ASSU to hold referendum on Fall Reading Week

Introduction of week long break would require rescheduling of orientation

UTSU, ASSU to hold referendum on Fall Reading Week

A Fall Reading Week for UTSG students could become a reality. Students will be able to vote in a referendum to implement a Fall Reading Week, which will run from October 27–29, concurrent with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) by-elections.

Last year, UTSC was granted a fall reading week, yet the possibility of UTSG and UTM receiving the same break was very unlikely. A few months later, however, UTM announced plans to introduce a Fall Reading Week in 2016.

“I believe with the strong emphasis on mental health emerging, a call for Fall Reading Week in students’ interest has a few more keen ears listening,” said Vere-Marie Khan, UTSU vice president, university affairs.  “[The] administration is much more interested in hearing how students feel and what would ensure a good mental health atmosphere on campus.”

The referendum question, as drafted by Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students Union (ASSU), will read, “Are you in favour of moving the start of orientation week to a few days before Labor Day in order to allow for the creation of a Fall Reading Week?”

In order to avoid the loss of teaching days and changes to the exam schedule, it was agreed that the rescheduling of orientation would be required. “As orientation week is student run, the faculty would want a clear indication from the student body that they would be in favour of a restructuring,” Shihipar said, in justification of the referendum question.

Khan, Shihipar, and Ben Coleman, UTSU president, have been consulting with various members of the administration, including the vice provost students and several college deans. Their next step will be to meet with the Council of Deans to present a detailed proposal and the results of the referendum.

When asked why a Fall Reading Week was so unlikely until last year, Shihipar explained that “the scope” has changed. “Last year the focus was all first entry undergraduate programs and due to conflicting schedules that was never going to be feasible. This year, the approach is to take it faculty by faculty — demonstrate the case at one faculty before moving on to the next.”