Would you buy an essay?

The Varsity investigates essay-writing companies

Would you buy an essay?

The University of Toronto’s St. George campus is teeming with posters advertising custom essay-writing services to students. The university’s official recommended punishment for submitting purchased work is expulsion. Posing as a first-year student behind on their work, The Varsity spoke to Custom Essay and Essay Experts and purchased a three-page paper from Essay Experts in order to learn more about the process.

Essay Experts charged $124 for a 750-word paper. Custom Essay offers similar rates. Both companies claim that their papers are written by qualified professionals, and said that all of their work is original and will not be flagged as plagiarism by websites like turnitin.com.

Marcel Vilanez, a representative of Essay Experts, said that the company’s papers are not meant to be submitted as is. “You are not supposed to submit the essay directly to your professor. That would go against the university code. This is why we give you time with the paper, so you can write your own. It is as if we are another student in the class, perhaps a very good student, and you want to see their answer, what they would write,” he said. The company website claims that it is completely legal to purchase work as long as it is properly attributed, and outlines the proper way to cite Essay Experts’ work in an original paper.

In contrast, Nick — a representative of Custom Essay — said that he would not recommend that a student purchase work from the company and cite parts of it in an original paper. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You are asking for trouble. You would probably get thrown out of university. We are not credible enough to quote,” he said. The company even offers a $25 service to run its papers through turnitin.com, to reassure students who are worried about getting caught. Turnitin saves copies of all the papers it receives, so it is not clear how this service would make the paper less likely to be flagged at a later date.

Custom Essay’s website is registered under an organization called Domains by Proxy, a company that offers domain privacy services to companies who wish to anonymize the personal information of their domain owners.

The purchased paper was written according to the requirements of an actual assignment for PHL275 — Introduction to Ethics. The paper answered the question: “Is psychological egoism true? If it were true, what implications would this have for our understanding of morality?” It received an approximate grade of C+ or B- from the instructor of PHL275, professor Thomas Hurka. “It covers the territory but it is not written in a mature way. It only reports on other people’s opinions and tends to rely on quotations to make its points, which is in a way more of a high school than university way of writing,” said Hurka.

Both Vilanez and Nick were contacted on the record and informed of The Varsity’s investigation. Both claimed that they provide work for reference only, and would never counsel a student to hand in the essays they purchase. During The Varsity’s original interaction with Nick, he stated: “Once we give [the essay] to you, what you do with it is your business. We can’t tell you anything, basically. We do the research for you and then it’s your property.”

 

University does not have a clear policy on citing purchased work

The university does not have a clear policy on whether or not citing a purchased work would constitute an academic offence. The Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters states that it is an offence to “obtain unauthorized assistance in any academic examination or term test or in connection with any other form of academic work.” It also states that the recommended sanction for submitting purchased work is expulsion, with a minimum sanction of suspension, and zero as the final grade where the offence occurred.

Though Essay Experts claims to have served “literally thousands of students” nationwide, and maintains that its services should be properly cited, Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing at U of T, stated that the University Tribunal is not aware of any case where a student has cited a purchased work. “Whether in any particular assignment such an action would amount to an academic offence would depend on the particular circumstances of that case; however, it is difficult to see how such a purchase and citation could add any academic merit to the student’s work,” he said. “Students should be very reluctant to expose themselves to the risk of a prosecution arising from the purchase and use of custom essays.”

 

Instructors disagree on whether citing purchased work is acceptable

Some educators say that citing purchased work makes it too easy to stretch into the territory of academic offence. Jacques Bertrand, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, commented that he would absolutely not accept work that cited purchased essays, adding that he considers such services deeply problematic. Kimberly Clark, a teaching assistant in the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies program, echoes the sentiment. She says that upon seeing an essay company cited in a paper, she would request a meeting with the student, and ask them to produce the source. “Of course,” she says, “in producing the source, the student will then open the door to a number of potentially damaging consequences for their academic record.”

Jessica Soedirgo, a TA in the Department of Political Science, says that she would not accept a paper that cited an essay writing service. “These services, they’re notorious essay mills. Citing them is just, it’s problematic. That’s terrible,” she said, adding that she thinks most students who purchase work would hide this fact, rather than cite it in an original paper.

The contrast between citing purchased work and submitting it in whole is important for Hurka. He compares the essays provided by the service to any other external work incorporated into a final paper. He said that if a student borrowed a paper from a past student in a class, used it for guidance, and cited it appropriately, it would not constitute plagiarism. He said that he does not see a significant difference between this and citing a purchased work. As long as the bulk of the work is done by the student themselves and the source is cited properly, it does not constitute plagiarism, he says.

“It’s hard to believe that they would pay for an essay in order to cite it,” said Clifford Orwin, a professor of political science, adding: “Why would you turn to what an essay mill tells you about Machiavelli with the intention to cite it, when you could turn to what legitimate scholars say about Machiavelli?”

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Following two weeks of silence, U of T answers some questions on controversial all-women’s residence

U of T responds to Loretto investigation

Earlier this month, in an investigation by The Varsity, former residents at Loretto College raised concerns about the college’s policies and its residence atmosphere. Loretto is a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College (SMC). The Varsity spoke to former residents who were uncomfortable with the conservative policies and tone of the residence and the requirement that they formally agree to live in a “Christian academic community.” Under the University of Toronto’s residence guarantee policy, some students also faced a choice between living in Loretto and not living in residence at all. The university has now clarified its position on some of the questions raised by the investigation, although significant questions remain unanswered.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of strategic communications, was asked whether women could have been placed in Loretto without requesting it in the first place. Kurts explained that there are higher demands for particular residences than can be met. When this is the case, Housing Services identifies other residences that have open spaces, and offers students a place within these alternative residences. “This means that any student may be offered a space in a residence that they did not select as their choice. This would be as true for Loretto as any other U of T residence,” he said. If a student chooses to decline this offer, they are placed on a waitlist for their first choice residence. Kurts acknowledged that the likelihood of getting a spot in one’s first choice residence after being placed on a waitlist was “very low.” A number of the girls interviewed during The Varsity’s investigation said they felt uncomfortable signing the residence agreement but were told that no other option was available. Some elected not to sign the residence agreement and found off-campus housing.

Kurts further clarified that all U of T policies are in effect at Loretto College, as it is affiliated with the university, and that while they do not have an exact number of girls who did not select Loretto as their first choice, “the number is small, and likely fewer than five.” The Varsity interviewed more than a dozen girls, who entered across multiple years, and indicated that they did not select Loretto as a first choice.

The SMC residence office said that all Arts & Science students who are a part of SMC are offered both a spot in Loretto and a spot in SMC proper, but the same does not seem to be true for professional faculty students, who are dealt with separately. Many of the engineering students interviewed during the course of the investigation claimed they were told they would be offered spots in both Loretto and SMC. However, when they were offered spots in Loretto and inquired about the alternate offer,  they were told none was available.

When asked what would happen if a student was uncomfortable with the religious aspects of living at Loretto, Kurts said that an attempt would be made to find another space. However, he warned: “Most often than ever, our residences are full to capacity and there may be no other spaces available.”

Meanwhile, Angela Convertini, dean of residence at Loretto College, said she felt that no students were forced into Loretto. When asked about why the residence agreement was not made available online, Convertini explained that as a  smaller residence, Loretto does not have access to a webmaster and therefore is unable to maintain a separate website containing its residence agreement.

Convertini claimed women have as much knowledge about Loretto as any other residence: “We have people come by and tour the residence, look over the residence agreement, and understand what they’re getting into. Many of the women quoted in the article never came to us with any problems…they were made fully aware of the nature of the residence and the environment in which they were choosing to live.”

Change to residence guarantee needed in light of Loretto

U of T needs to acknowledge Loretto's religious character

Change to residence guarantee needed in light of Loretto

Earlier this month, The Varsity published an investigative story about Loretto College, a private, all-female, religious residence on campus associated with St. Michael’s College (SMC). The piece (“Christian residence only option for some,” October 7) sheds some light on an otherwise little-known residence on campus and the significant problems its policies are causing for some students. Most alarmingly, U of T’s policies seem to be forcing some students to choose between living in an actively Christian residence and not living in residence at all.

To live in Loretto, students must agree to follow policies that “foster participation and involvement in a supportive Christian academic community,” the mandate set out in the “philosophy statement” of Loretto College’s residence agreement. The agreement goes on to specify a number of policies that are explicitly intended to create a religiously-oriented community.

Former Loretto residents told The Varsity that college staff promoted what one student described as, “a type of conservative personal decorum.” While the residence agreement also prohibits discrimination, it is not surprising that many students were uncomfortable living in an overtly religious residence.

Loretto is owned and staffed in part by the Loretto Sisters, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. U of T has yet to clarify the arrangement between the sisters, SMC, and the university. In its response to the details in the story, the university characterized Loretto as having “religious roots,” a point reiterated in subsequent comments from the administration. This is an accurate way to describe several of U of T’s college residences, but unacceptably understates the role of religion at Loretto. SMC, for example, has religious roots — it was founded as a religious institution and retains some religious affiliation and traditions.

Loretto College, on the other hand, is owned and operated by a religious order. Its students must agree to “adhere” to Christian values. Residents must follow policies that are overtly intended to promote a religious lifestyle, if not the actual practice of religion. Loretto does not simply have “religious roots,” it is an actively religious institution, making it very different from every other residence affiliated with U of T. Accordingly, U of T’s residence policies should not treat it like any other residence, especially when this places students in very difficult situations.

U of T widely advertises its residence guarantee program, and many students accept offers of enrolment at the university on the understanding that they will be able to live in residence in their first year. U of T does not, of course, guarantee students a place in their preferred residence. Students can be placed in Loretto, as they can be placed in any residence, without requesting to live there. Under the program, students who turn down their first offer are not guaranteed a second one.

It is understandable that U of T cannot accommodate every incoming student’s personal preferences about residences. There is, however, a difference between preferences based on location or style and an aversion to living in a religious institution. The Varsity spoke to several students who faced a choice between living in a religious residence they were uncomfortable with and trying to find off-campus housing in a new city months before the start of term. It is unacceptable that U of T would put incoming students, many of whom are living on their own for the first time, in such a dilemma.

Information about Loretto’s strict and unusual residence policies is not easy to find. While many other residences on campus make their rules clear on their website, Loretto does not. Where a comprehensive description of expected behaviour should be, Loretto only describes itself as an all-female residence, with no mention of its religious character.

While it is perhaps unfair to criticize Loretto’s residence policies for trying to establish and protect a religious community on campus, the grievances raised by students who were not aware of the extra requirements to living there must be addressed. All the residences at U of T have policies and agreements that students are required to follow. These account for things like the presence of hotplates and other dangerous items in rooms, quiet hours for study, and, in some buildings and colleges, mandatory meal plans and hours. The difference in Loretto’s case is that the residence’s policies are not transparent and that they are religiously inspired.

The Varsity does not question whether or not Loretto — or any other institution on campus — should be free to express its religious affiliation or enforce rules that are informed by its philosophy. Rather, we question whether or not university administrators are doing all that they can to accommodate incoming students looking for residence placements.

The residence guarantee policy is undoubtedly a good one; it provides for students coming from outside the city who would otherwise be forced to find a place to live off-campus. However, it is obvious that U of T should reexamine the program in light of the fact that some students are being placed in environments in which they are not comfortable, without the opportunity to make informed choices. Many students interviewed for our story indicated that Loretto was the only option offered to them, and many said that they were largely unaware of what living there entailed. It is also disconcerting that the university was either unable or unwilling to relocate students with substantive concerns about their treatment at Loretto. It is clear that in many ways Loretto is fundamentally different than other residence options on campus; so far, the university has refused to see this difference.

Does Loretto need to reexamine its policies? No; as a private residence, administrators are entitled to foster any community they like based on whatever philosophical mandate they choose. Does U of T need to do more to help the students relying on the residence guarantee when they find themselves in a difficult situation? Absolutely. U of T must acknowledge that many students may be deeply uncomfortable in a residence run according to Christian values. It must be forthcoming with incoming students about the unusual aspects of Loretto, or any other residence with unusual policies, and it must offer residence alternatives to students who do not want to live in a religious community.

Of course, many of Loretto College’s residents are happy to be there and are thriving in the unique community the residence offers. Loretto accommodates female students of all faiths and backgrounds quite happily and with mostly positive reviews, as was clear in The Varsity’s original article. For the small, unhappy, minority of students, however, more needs to be done.

Christian residence only option for some

The Varsity investigates Loretto College, a private residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College

Christian residence only option for some

The year she graduated from high school, Emma Sexton was accepted to Engineering at the University of Toronto with the usual residence guarantee. She grew up in a small town in the Niagara region and knew little about what to expect in terms of university residence or Toronto life. Excited about the prospect of living at her school of choice, Sexton applied to New College and University College, and didn’t think any more about the matter for several months. Sexton received several emails saying she would hear about residency in late June, but the date came and went without a residence offer. Finally, just six days before the payment deadline, she was offered a space at Loretto College, a private, all-female residence affiliated with St. Michael’s College. Sexton says she was “disappointed about being put in Loretto,” but took the spot because she was not offered an alternative.

After moving into Loretto, Sexton quickly learned that it was not like most other residences at U of T. In the Loretto residence agreement, the philosophy statement reads: “Life at Loretto College focuses on participation and involvement in a supportive Christian academic community.” The agreement goes on to state that the College has the right to make policies that “implement the philosophy of the College,” but that discrimination will not be tolerated. Students are required to sign the agreement, agreeing to “adhere” to the college’s philosophy.

Over the past three months, The Varsity spoke with more than fifteen current and former Loretto students; although their experiences differed, many of them expressed discomfort with the college’s unique policies and residence life.

 

Students uncomfortable with “conservative” residence life
Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Engineering student Emma Sexton took a spot at Loretto after not being offered an alternative. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Sexton described an experience when she signed out a male guest 2 minutes after curfew, and the porter said to her: “I signed you out at 10:00 — otherwise they talk.” Sexton recalled that this experience made her feel strange. “I assumed ‘they’ were the staff. It made me uncomfortable that I was going to be perceived differently because of two minutes,” she said.

Many students took issue with the restrictions on when men can be in certain parts of the college. The residence agreement from 2012 states that male visitors are not permitted in residence rooms between Monday and Wednesday and are only allowed during certain hours on other days. The fact that men are restricted to certain hours is publicly available on the U of T Housing website, but is not available on the Loretto webpage.

Caitlin Scinocca, another student who did not apply to live at Loretto, described her discomfort with this policy: “The fact that there were male visiting hours really bothered me,” she explained. “If I’m paying good money for a room, at least let my friends come hang out during frosh week, or let my dad up to the room.” Julia Kemp, an exchange student, said that she felt the policy was far too restrictive. “I understand that U of T needs a space where it is all-girls due to demand and religious reasons. However, if I have a single room I see no reason whatsoever why I should not be allowed a male in my room,” she said, adding that she “felt like she was treated like a girl in a boarding school.”

Another student, who lived in Loretto for two years and requested anonymity, said that these regulations are “ostensibly in accordance with Catholic doctrine to discourage any kind of fornication. Nobody really knows why, and I’ve never gotten a straight answer. That is all fine and dandy — unless of course you aren’t Catholic.”

The same student stated that she felt uncomfortable with what she perceived as a conservative environment maintained by the college administration. “There is a type of conservative personal decorum that students are somewhat implicitly encouraged to maintain,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to receive comments about so-called provocative behaviour or inquiries about your whereabouts at social events.”

 

Some have no other residence option

A number of students reported that, like Sexton, they were offered residence at Loretto without having requested it and were not given an alternate offer. Elizabeth de Roode, a second-year engineering student, chose to decline Loretto’s offer because she felt uncomfortable with the residence agreement. She found off-campus housing on her own, although finding a place in Toronto was “incredibly stressful” as she only had between June and September to find one. “I wanted to live in residence, I just didn’t want to live in a residence so different from my idea of what university should be,” she said. Julia Kemp, a 2012-2013 exchange student, was keen to live in residence but had trouble securing a spot until August. “[Housing Services] told me they could offer me one room in an all girls residence called Loretto. I was so desperate for campus I accepted without much research into it at all,” she said. She added that Loretto’s website does not provide a comprehensive description of its policies. The online descriptions of Loretto — both on its webpage and on the U of T housing site — state that it is an all-female residence, but do not mention the religious philosophy of the college.

U of T guarantees a residence offer to every full-time, first-year undergraduate student. The Varsity asked Michael Kurts, U of T’s assistant vice-president, strategic communications and marketing, whether or not a girl can be placed in Loretto without having requested a spot there. Kurts stated that the university’s housing policy does not guarantee students a place in their first choice of residence. “When we cannot meet a student’s priority choices, Housing Services contacts all colleges who have space available to make an offer. Many students in the residences were offered a place in a residence they might not have applied to.” He insisted that these issues are “a case of supply and demand,” and that Loretto is “no different than any other residence,” in this respect. Kurts added that Loretto welcomes students of every religion, despite what he described as its “religious roots.” Kurts did not answer a number of questions about Loretto, including what ratio of girls who are placed in Loretto actually applied there.  He indicated that he would respond next week.

Angela Convertini, dean of women at Loretto College, was surprised to hear that students were given the choice between a place at Loretto and no spot in residence at all. She claimed that all students are offered a choice between St. Mike’s and Loretto, and that everyone who lives in Loretto does so by choice. All of the girls spoken to for this story who did not apply to Loretto claimed Loretto was presented to them as the only option.

Convertini stated that students apply to live at Loretto, and if there are still spots left after the application process, they inform U of T housing — who then fill the spaces. “We would never think that someone was forced into living at Loretto… We send them the actual residence agreement, they have a choice — they can go to a co-ed, they can go to us, we really believe that the people who come here enjoy themselves,” said Convertini.

Covertini, along with some other members of the Loretto College staff, is a member of the Loretto Sisters — an order of Roman Catholic nuns. According to the Loretto Sisters’ website, the college is owned and operated by the sisters and “affiliated” with U of T through St. Michael’s College. Students told The Varsity that some sisters live in a separate area of the residence.

Kurts also did not comment on the degree to which U of T’s policies apply at Loretto, given that it is a private residence. When asked to comment on whether or not a girl who is uncomfortable with Loretto’s religious policies would be offered an alternate residence, he emphasized that the residence welcomes students of all faiths.

 

Many students enjoy tight-knit community

Shams Al Obaidi, a third-year don at Loretto College, felt that the tight-knit sorority atmosphere was an important part of her university experience. For Al Obaidi, the other residences are too large to be able to connect with other students.

With a community of around 130 students, Loretto allows residents to get to know each other on a much more personal level, according to Al Obaidi. She further stated that international students feel particularly welcome in Loretto. “I came all the way from Qatar, and it was my first year in Canada. It was really nice to come all the way here and feel at home.” Al Obaidi also stated that: “Loretto welcomes all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds and religions.” For example, she recalls a time when a sister told her to attend the college’s weekly masses, despite being of a different religion, because “all are welcome.”

Al Obaidi also believes that Loretto College’s male policy is not unduly restrictive. She points out that men are able to visit the main floor and the lower lounge at any time, and that the restrictions on male visitors are “more of a courtesy to others” than anything else.

Convertini stressed that the residence tries to be inclusive of residents from diverse backgrounds. “We like to think that U of T provides a whole continuum of residence experiences for its students and we’re just one of the choices students have,” she explained. “While we’re a traditional Catholic dorm, we’ve had Jewish girls, Protestant girls, Muslim girls — girls from every faith, and it’s a very welcoming environment,” she said.

 

With files from Madeleine Taylor

Club withdraws from BlackBerry-sponsored scholarship

Student raises concerns over privacy and marketing strategies of promotional company Campus Perks

Club withdraws from BlackBerry-sponsored scholarship

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Advertised as a scholarship opportunity, a contest launched by a company aimed at enhancing student life has one U of T group questioning its practices, citing misleading information and privacy concerns.

Seher Shafiq, representative of student organization Pakistan Development Fund (PDF), was approached by Campus Perks via email last October to participate in its BlackBerry Messengers Challenge. She and her team dropped out of the semester-long contest five weeks later.

Campus Perks, founded two years ago, is described by president Dave Wilkin in The Sudbury Star as “one of the largest youth experiential social media marketing agencies in Canada.”

The Research In Motion-sponsored contest awards students $4,000 that would go toward charities or causes of their choice. To win, participants from 16 universities nationwide must complete six challenges.

Shafiq, a fourth-year student majoring in international relations and ethics, society, and law, was unaware that the challenges required contestants to wear BlackBerry shirts, pose with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) signs and create BlackBerry cheers.

“People started asking, ‘Is this even allowed?’ and I thought, ‘This is advertising; how did we not see this before?’” she said.

Campus Perks is a subsidiary of marketing firm Redwood Strategic, which connects corporate sponsorships with student networks. Virgin Mobile, Loblaw’s, Domino’s Pizza, and Microsoft are among Redwood Strategic’s clients.

“Redwood Strategic is [its] other name, hidden from students and only given to corporations,” Shafiq said.

Sabah Khan, PDF member and Shafiq’s teammate, echoed her concerns.

“We had very little say on how we wanted to do things,” she said. “It was just BlackBerry, BlackBerry, BlackBerry. It was a little overpowering.”

The organizer marked contestants on their ability to create  student life and social media buzz. The Varsity obtained copies of the contest rules for challenges two and five. Some of the judging criteria are: the number of effective uses of program-specific hashtags on Twitter, such as #BlackBerry or #BBMessenger; the number of effective uses of online tagging, such as @BlackBerry or @CampusPerks; the ability to creatively incorporate BlackBerry as a sponsor of the event; and the ability to motivate BlackBerry users to use their smartphones during the event.

Groups could earn bonus marks for challenge two by creating a “cool jingle for BlackBerry” to “get your whole crew to thank BlackBerry for providing this opportunity.”

Other criteria include creative methods to distribute promotional items and to promote events outside of social media.

“So the whole competition is pretty much how well you can advertise BlackBerry,” Shafiq said.

Another reason for PDF’s departure from the contest was the privacy concerns that arose during one of the challenges.

In challenge five, teams were given a kit containing five BlackBerry phones with SIM cards (one Bold and four Curves) and other promotional items like t-shirts, headbands, and lanyards.

Shafiq said she was told to keep the Bold and distribute the remaining four Curves to her supporters.

According to her, the smartphones came in sleeves instead of boxes and “all the pieces were mixed up.”

Furthermore, when turned on, all the Curves displayed messages reading “Engineering use only” and “Not for sale or lease.”

“An initiative meant to improve student experience and make life easier for students essentially screwed me over big time.”

The Curve recipients reported finding automatically generated emails in the devices’ sent mail folder titled “Quincy Report.” The emails were sent to an email address at rim.net at regular intervals. The other users who received the Curves did not wish to comment.

The Varsity obtained a copy of a Quincy Report sent out by one of the four Curves. Among other information, the report shows how many emails, text messages, and multimedia messages were sent and received; how many BlackBerry Messenger PINs were sent and received; how many times each key was pressed; personalized device settings such as backlight brightness and backlight time-out; current network and country code.

The Quincy Report, a debugging tool, is used in beta versions of BlackBerry software by developers at RIM. It is not for general public use.

“It’s possible that even debugging info could have some privacy concerns,” said U of T computer science professor Graeme Hirst, adding that many applications log information without users’ full knowledge. “This is just one instance of a rather more general issue.”

Wilkin declined to comment on his awareness of the Quincy Report issue concerning the giveaway devices. He said students could contact Campus Perks for any sponsorship product malfunctions.

RIM told The Varsity that Shafiq’s team was unintentionally given test units from their inside pool and it would contact Campus Perks to replace them with retail units.

All four Curve recipients have since stopped using the devices.

According to Shafiq, event requirements weren’t disclosed until a few days before the event itself.

For challenge two, Campus Perks staff emailed Shafiq with details on November 3. It outlined that the event must be hosted within a two-week time frame, starting November 7, which Shafiq said was overwhelming.

In her withdrawal email sent to Campus Perks last November, she claimed that the contest’s demanding nature caused her distress and interfered with her master’s application.

“An initiative meant to improve student experience and make life easier for students essentially screwed me over big time,” she wrote.

Wilkin said complaints like Shafiq’s were rare and called it an isolated incident.

“The world of being a student is you have so many things you can get involved in. You just have to choose what activities are best for you,” he said. “With anything we offer to students, you can opt in just as easy as you opt out.”

Wilkin mentioned that he could relate to Shafiq as he was involved with many extracurricular activities as an undergrad in the University of Waterloo. Now 23, the former biochemistry student is the second- youngest person to make it to PROFIT Magazine’s Top 20 Entrepreneurs Under 30 list. The Campus Perks website shows that over 25 student groups across three U of T campuses have worked with the company to promote student organizations. Some offered positive reviews of the company and its sponsorship opportunities.

Mehria Karimzadah, co- founder of the Digital Enterprise Management (DEM) Society at U of T Mississauga, was pleasantly surprised when Campus Perks sent a Smoke’s Poutinerie truck to help attract an audience to her event.

“It’s definitely beyond sponsorship,” said Karimzadah, who signed up for the BlackBerry Messengers Challenge but wasn’t selected. She believes that the reward is worth the effort.

“$4,000 is a lot of money, especially for a student group,” she said. “Our university doesn’t give us much money. Working hard for money is not a problem.”

The winner of the contest is Step Crew, a dance club from Queen’s University. The $4,000 prize would go to an afterschool dance program at Youth Diversion, a Kingston- based alternative education program that provides services to expelled or suspended public school students, according to the club’s website.

Although many university students have come across Campus Perks’ campaigns – mostly through Facebook and Twitter sharing – U of T spokesperson Laurie Stephens said its activities are not known to the administration.

“Independent campus groups sometimes enter into agreements with third parties, but because of the independent nature of these agreements, we aren’t necessarily able to vet the third parties,” wrote Stephens in an email to The Varsity.

Khan described her brief time in the contest as a learning experience. She cautioned future contest participants to carefully read the fine print.

“I don’t think it’s wrong for [Campus Perks] to be doing this, but they have to tell us in advance,” she said, adding that she was uncomfortable that they didn’t disclose the full details of the kinds of events contestants were supposed to hold.

Shafiq echoed these views.

“I just felt like it wasn’t what my club or I myself stood for,” she said.