A few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon in a small lounge in St. Michael’s College, listening to a concert put on by the Medieval Studies program. Would I have normally attended? Probably not, but a long-time friend was performing, so I decided to come out to support her. It was a unique experience, and one I likely would not have gotten to experience if I were anywhere other than U of T.
I recently received a message from a grade 12 student at my former high school; she is considering an undergraduate degree at U of T, and had some questions for me. One of her concerns was that “there is no social life on campus, because students are studying 99 per cent of the time.” This is a concern I have heard many times, both when I was applying to this school and throughout my first year here. This “study culture” is a piece of reputational baggage that U of T cannot seem to shake off, partly because it is heavily perpetuated by the students themselves. Even I, until recently, bought in to this mentality.
The mentality that U of T is a social wasteland is false. While it is true that there are many students who do not engage in activities, it is not for a lack of opportunity.
Whether it is the admittedly obscure medieval concert, the innumerable guest lectures and academic activities, or the countless clubs offered through colleges, faculties, and Hart House, U of T has hundreds of opportunities for social interaction. By virtue of being in the heart of Canada’s biggest city, many of these opportunities are unique to our school.
Nobody would doubt you if you claimed that academic success is a key aspect of our university culture — the number of people at Robarts and other libraries in the wee hours of the morning is testimony enough. However, this culture can be unhealthy for a number of reasons. Physically, losing out on sleep has obvious adverse effects on one’s ability to function. Mentally, the mounting stress that comes as a result of constant studying can lead to anxiety, frustration, and, in some cases, the development of serious mental illness.
With all this academic pressure, students may feel inclined to avoid taking time off to participate in activities in favour of focusing solely on their studies. However, if anything, these kinds of activities help keep students physically and mentally healthy and, as I have siad, there are hundreds of activities, clubs, and events for students. The problem here is not a lack of activities, but a lack of promotion.
Student leaders do their best to disseminate information about events across campus, but their cries often fall on deaf ears, and there is only so much that students can do. This task falls, in part, to the administration. U of T’s administration needs to augment the efforts made by student leaders by promoting events and encouraging students to break out of their sometimes detrimental study habits. No other entity on campus has the reach, medium, or resources to get this message across.
Students also have a role to play in this issue. It is not the sole responsibility of student leaders to create and advertise campus events. It is the responsibility of every student to attend these events and encourage others to do so as well. It does not matter how exciting an event is — it’s nothing if no one attends it.
It is not my intention to blow this issue out of proportion, but I cannot stress enough the importance of bringing an end to an unhealthy aspect of U of T’s student culture. As students, we have countless opportunities available to us to mitigate the everyday stresses course work imposes on us. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, we need to make sure that they are known, promoted, and attended.
It is up to us to look out for our fellow students, and for ourselves. If we break this culture by encouraging balance between academics and extracurricular activities, we can promote a happier and healthier U of T experience for all.
Stephen Warner is a first year student studying English and political science.