When David Fishbayn, the psychology student behind the popular “How does the University of Toronto make you feel?” project, posted an opportunity to participate in an independent study course on the project’s Facebook page, he expected to hear back from 30 to 40 students. Instead, within 24 hours of the posts, more than 300 students responded — all interested in joining the project.
According to Fishbayn, the project is a research and action campaign aimed at improving student morale on campus. It was created in response to the overwhelmingly positive reaction towards Fishbayn’s earlier project, “How does the University of Toronto make you feel?,” in which various boards were erected around campus to solicit student feedback.
Responses to the question indicated an overall dissatisfaction with the social state at the university.
“This group is in a sense a continuation of #UniteUofT, although it is more of an inclusive student campaign than a group,” says Fishbayn, referring to a group that was formed earlier this year to improve the state of affairs at U of T.
Fishbayn explains that, while many students had good ideas towards fixing U of T, only a few could afford the time and commitment needed to act on them.
“It became clear to me that if there was to be any meaningful student movement at U of T, a situation had to be created where students would be rewarded with an academic independent study credit from their participation in a campaign,” he says.
Fishbayn contacted Dan Dolderman, a psychology professor, and proposed that if he were to sign off on 13 or 14 independent study forms, students could afford both the time and motivation to carry out the projects.
Derek Berger, one of the group members working with Fishbayn, found the discrepancy between the number of respondents expected and received both encouraging and alarming. “On one hand, it shows us that there are a lot of people really interested in helping making the university a better place… but on the other hand, it might also mean that the problem is a lot worse than we thought, and that many people are actually very unhappy with their university experience,” Berger says.
Echo Ma, another group member, labels the large response as a call for change.
The campaign’s research component, carried out through various surveys, will collect and analyze student responses to questions on academic and extracurricular life.
The action component encompasses various projects designed in response to the results of the research. One of these projects includes the creation of a guide to undergraduate life at U of T. The collected data would be put into the guide to help students make informed decisions and become aware of their peers’ feelings on various issues.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt happier to be a U of T student than I do right now,” says Fishbayn. “The sense of connection I feel is very satisfying — I feel much less alone than I have in the past due to my involvement in this project.”