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Student athletes turn to crowdfunding for financial support

With little support available to graduated athletes, crowdfunding becomes a viable financial resource

Student athletes turn to crowdfunding for financial support

Two hurdlers from U of T’s Varsity Blues track and field team have thought of a creative way to fundraise for their goal of representing Canada on the international stage. Hayley Warren and Gregory MacNeill have both initiated crowd funding campaigns through the student run website in order to overcome the financial challenges many high performance athletes face.

The website includes promotional videos highlighting both athletes’ talents, and allows for the athletes to post brief bios promoting themselves.

Both Warren and MacNeill believe that the donations will help them train more efficiently, and that the donations will help them become better athletes. They hope to eventually compete in international competitions and put Canadian track and field on the map.

Hayley Warren

Hayley Warren. Bryan Li/THE VARSITY

Hayley Warren. Bryan Li/THE VARSITY

Twenty-four year-old Hayley Warren graduated this spring with a bachelor of kinesiology, and is planning to spend the next year training for the 2016 Olympic games.

Starting her athletic career in gymnastics, Warren was first introduced to track at her coach’s recommendation. “I participated in track for a couple years in high school but was never a serious competitor, as I lived in an area that did not offer the resources necessary to train,” says Warren. Things changed in her first year at McGill University, where she had the chance to improve because of constant training.

Fast-forward five years and, Warren has graduated from U of T and is struggling to cover the costs of her training. “Once an athlete has graduated, there is virtually no support offered from the university program,” says Warren, who also states that the monthly income of $900 she receives from the one-year, non-guaranteed, national carding contract isn’t sufficient to cover all of her training expenses.

This is why Warren believes crowdfunding is a more effective financial resource; its in enabling keeping her bid for the 2016 Olympics alive. “The money donated to my campaign will allow me to afford the expenses of being a full-time athlete. This includes things like physiotherapy, facility-use fees, gym memberships, commuting expenses, travelling expenses to competitions, housing and food expenses, as well as entry fees for competitions,” she explains. With 24 days left to attain her goal of $10,000, Warren has raised $2985.

Gregory MacNeill


Twenty-three year-old Gregory MacNeill is a fourth-year student athlete currently completing a major in American studies with minors in history and human geography. Additionally, MacNeill has Type 1 diabetes.

MacNeill’s interest in track and field stems from track day at school and watching the sport on television; however, the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) gold medalist didn’t start actively training until high school when his parents suggested he join the track team.

Now, as he inches closer to graduation, the university’s financial support is coming to an end. Like Warren, he too has chosen to use crowdfunding in order to support his dreams of becoming an elite athlete.

“400m hurdles is an event that can only [be] train[ed] for properly outdoors, as it is not an indoor event. As a result of this, I must go to warmer weather training locations during the months of March and April, so that I can properly train… and not fall behind based on my training location,” he explains.

Not only does traveling to warmer facilities increase costs for MacNeill, so do the added expenses associated with monitoring his diabetes. “During my training blocks I manage my blood sugar levels extremely [closely], so that I am never at a disadvantage in my sport due to my diabetes. However, since I am managing my sugars so closely, I use a lot more diabetic supplies then the average diabetic,” he says.

Even though MacNeill is a carded athlete, and receives funding from the national carding program, it is only enough to cover basic expenses such as food and rent. Just like Warren, MacNeill’s campaign will also come to an end in 24 days — so far he has raised $970 with an aim of reaching $5000.

“The donations to my campaign will help me achieve my goals by allowing me… not [to] lose an edge because of the sometimes colder, non-conducive weather here in Toronto.” says MacNeil, adding that, “the donations will help me continue to get all the proper treatments, like massage and chiropractic as well as diabetic supplies, I need to maintain elite performance at a high level.”


UTSU appoints vice-president campus life

Position filled only after hiring process amended

UTSU appoints vice-president campus life

After defeating two other shortlisted candidates, Akshan Bansal has been selected as the vice-president, campus life, of the University of Toronto Student’s Union (UTSU). He was appointed during an emergency meeting of the UTSU’s Board of Directors that occurred on May 8.

All three candidates were required to give a presentation, discuss their respective proposals for a hypothetical week of events, and answer questions. Bansal emerged as the winner after an in-camera conversation and a vote by secret ballot.

The new vice-president, campus life, was scheduled for selection at the first meeting of the newly elected Board of Directors on April 28; however, the board voted narrowly in favour of tabling the hiring.

Changes to the hiring process 

At the April 28 meeting, several board members expressed concerns about the make-up of the hiring committee. One of their chief objections was the fact that the committee was comprised primarily of outgoing UTSU executives.

This controversy led to an in-camera discussion that lasted nearly an hour and a half. As a result of these concerns, University College director Daman Singh put forward a motion to table the hiring of the vice-president, campus life, which passed 14 votes to 13.

The hiring committee included Yolen Bollo-Kamara, outgoing UTSU president; Cameron Wathey, outgoing UTSU vice-president, internal & services; Najiba Ali Sardar, outgoing vice-president, equity; Zijian Yang, outgoing vice-president, campus life; and Sandra Hudson, then-executive director. Ben Coleman, UTSU president, was the only member of the new UTSU executive to sit on the committee.

By the end of the April 28 meeting, the board had also approved a motion mandating that the hiring committee review the applications collected before submitting at least three candidates to the board for consideration.

Ryan Gomes, vice-president, internal and services, and Vere-Marie Khan, vice-president, university affairs, were later added to the committee.

Coleman says that, in addition to hiring committee changes, other measures were taken that helped address the concerns of everyone on the board of directors. “We drafted new interview questions, included a anonymous proposal component to the final presentation and invited directors from UTM to observe the interviews.”

These changes to the hiring process are not permanent, though Coleman hopes they are kept for next year. “It’ll really improve the process,” he says, adding “ we want to make a conscious effort to address everyone’s points-of-view to get the whole board working together.”

Looking ahead

Coleman expressed enthusiasm for Bansal’s term. “I’m excited to see what he’ll do for students,” says Coleman. “He’s very eager, met with all the staff to ensure that he can get to work despite starting a week late, and gets along very well with our orientation team.”

Bansal is in his fourth year, majoring in neuroscience and psychology at the St. George campus. He has previously worked as an associate to the vice-president, campus life, as well as being president of the South Asian Alliance, a club that promotes South Asian culture.

One of his plans is to hold “alternative events” that don’t rely on serving alcohol, as a way for the UTSU to “make all of its members feel acknowledged, included and welcomed.”

“I realize that I am one of the first points of contact for students here at the UTSU and it is vital for me to focus on sustainability and equity so that ALL [sic] students needs are catered to,” he says.

Bansal says he will make “a concentrated effort to connect with over 50,000 students that the UTSU represents to create one united and engaged student front.”

Correction (May 21, 2015, 10:36 am): A previous version of this article stated that Grayce Slobodian was initially a member of the Hiring Committee and omitted Yolen Bollo-Kamara’s membership of the same. In fact, Slobodian was not a member of the Hiring Committee, whereas Bollo-Kamara was. The Varsity regrets the errors.

The economics of healthcare consumption

Researchers find that household food insecurity costs the healthcare system most

Global health researchers agree that the health of a population is determined by its socioeconomic status — especially when it comes to income and education. That said, a surprisingly small portion of the population consumes the majority of a country’s healthcare services. These individuals, therefore, represent a large portion of healthcare spending and are referred to as the “high-cost users” (HCUs) of healthcare, by Dr. Laura Rosella, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T.

In an effort to report the relationship between the broader socioeconomic factors — beyond income and education — that determine the presence of HCUs, Rosella recently published a paper in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, entitled, “Looking Beyond Income and Education.” The study was conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and other departments at U of T, in addition to those from Public Health Ontario, and St. Michael’s Hospital.

The study analyzed data from the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 cycles of participants from the Canadian Community Health Survey. The sample looked at 55,734 adults from Ontario following their healthcare consumption for five years, and observed whether or not they became HCUs. Although the probability of a participant becoming an HCU seemed to depend largely upon income and education, the results of the study state that after adjusting for age, “becoming an HCU was most associated with food insecurity.”

When people think about the fiscal end of healthcare sustainability, they overlook the “broader determinants of what brings individuals into the hospital to begin with,” Rosella says, adding, “So a lot of my work focuses on broadening [the] perspective on who uses healthcare — and in this case — who uses a lot of healthcare, so [policymakers] can start addressing some of the root causes of that, and preventing these trajectories before they start.”

Rosella admits that there will always be a gradient of usage; certain people will use the healthcare system more than others, and although this fact may not change it’s important to note who is affected most and why that is the case. Healthcare issues are “disproportionately affecting people that are disadvantaged, and that’s what we need to address because we need to have a sustainable healthcare system, but it needs to be equitable as well,” she says.

“A lot of work to date has been good because it’s making [the healthcare system] more efficient but it’s not really addressing some of the [population’s] health characteristics,” Rosella says. Beyond the commonly studied characteristics of income and education, she found that food-security, housing security, and working conditions are important determinants of healthcare use.

For Rosella, integrating these results into social policy is the next step; “for me, this research is about making the connection between what we do in our social policies, and how it affects all kinds of things, including health,” she says, adding, “ …when we make social policy, it affects everything — not just who’s going to end up on social systems, who’s going to need food banks, but who’s going to use the hospitals disproportionately more than other individuals in the population.”

Going forward, she has two suggestions stemming from her research: “one would be going to policymakers — we have a lot of strategies to address HCUs from a healthcare perspective so I think bringing this information in allows [policymakers] to look for solutions outside the healthcare sector. Second would be, to emphasize the need to measure these things — typically when we design studies in health, we put a lot of detail into the health characteristics that we’re interested in, but maybe not so much into the socioeconomic [characteristics],” she says, adding, “but [socioeconomic characteristics] are so powerful in terms of their determinants of health.”

Rosella also suggests moving from reactive to preventive solutions. “There are a few interventions … that are attempting to coordinate care better for people that are high users and also to offer social solutions to people that are struggling,” she says, adding, “I still think those are reactive solutions and not necessarily preventive.”

Varsity Songbook: TBA

U of T a cappella group talks about origins, style, and what sets them apart

You would be hard pressed to find a student group that bolsters quite as much enthusiasm as the a cappella group TBA does. Since 2003, this group of U of T students have been arranging, competing, and performing unique, innovative takes on classic songs, earning them recognition both on and off campus. We managed to squeeze them all into The Varsity’s office recently to talk about the past, present, and future of TBA, while still making time for a song or two.

The Varsity: The name, what’s the story behind TBA?

Nick Kotoulas: Many years ago, just before I joined the group, when they initially tried to form student status for the group, you obviously had to write a name for your group. So [the original members] just put TBA thinking it was to be announced. They actually rolled with that for a couple years, and when I came in we decided… since our name is actually officially TBA, since it’s in the papers at U of T, we might as well make an acronym for it, so we turned it into one that goes by ‘tunes, beats, awesome.’

TV: Can you talk about the recruitment or audition process with the group?

Dominic Ebona: So we go with an audition process, and we typically take auditions during the first or second week of September. Audition slots are usually filled out by August, so we usually send out a bunch of social media stuff on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. They all get notified and whoever wants to sign up, signs up, and we see them in September.

Lucinda Qu: We fill a select number of slots. Typically members leave with big shoes to fill, so a couple spots each year open up.

DE: Basically we get them to sing a song, they sing a little part of one of our homemade arrangements with us, and then we take it from there.

TV: What is it that separates TBA from other a cappella groups, whether campus-wide or even on a larger scale?
Having been in the group for quite a while, I’ve seen a lot of different groups from the States, from Canada, and I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen that really separates us from a lot of groups is our level of arranging. I think our arrangements are pretty distinctive [and] complex in rhythm… we really try to challenge ourselves. Also we try to push the boundaries of how we express ourselves, which I don’t see a lot of other a cappella groups really diving into as much.

LQ: It’s hard to say what really sets us apart because the a cappella community, at least in Canada, is relatively small and we’ll hear things from across the border and they’re an entirely different story, but I think it’s really interesting to see how individuals in the group feel empowered to make arrangements and completely change the genres that we’re experimenting with. This year has shown a lot of growth musically with the group, and I think that every arranger who has come forth has brought something very unique to the table as opposed to trying to fit into a niche they thought we were trying to fit into.

TV: What are TBA’s goals and plans for the summer?
We took a hiatus from the International Championship of Collegiate A cappella (ICCA) this year, but we are planning to go back and show America and the rest of the world that Canada has A-ca-game!

LQ: And perhaps not in the next year because there’s a lot of infrastructure involved with this sort of project, but we would really like to foster more of a sense of community in the Canadian a cappella scene. I think if before the time we graduate in a couple years we were able to set up a kind of undergraduate ICCA type thing… that would be awesome.

NK: And just a member who’s leaving, I’ve been loving working on a number of recordings over the last two years with TBA, and I’ll definitely be working on some recordings with the lovely TBA to get some of our awesome tunes from this year into digital format, which will be really cool.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Dominic Ebona.

Orbiting stardom

Up and coming vocalist Pluto at Canadian Music Week

Orbiting stardom

A quick skim through Google proved that finding Pluto’s music would be trickier than expected. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse; on the one hand, I eventually uncovered the Toronto-based singer’s music, but not before going through an onslaught of “Pluto” reviews (Future’s new album), and a series of thought pieces surrounding whether or not Pluto should be considered a planet rather than a space-rock.

Pluto, the musician, shrugs it off. He’s un-phased by this planetary competition. “I’ve been told this before,” he says, only mildly amused. “I know that Future’s new album has been taking up space on Google, but once that dies down I think it’ll come back to me.”

On the forefront, the sentiment is blindly optimistic, but it’s still early days for Pluto. The 20-year old R&B singer has only been active for three years, but he has already been compared to the likes of Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Over moody instrumentals, the treble dialed down as if submerged underwater, Pluto’s falsetto voice floats gently over the mix, displaying a commendable range for a male singer.

His music videos are likewise: gradual and brutally honest, although sometimes irritatingly lovey-dovey. Nevertheless, they fit snuggly with the music – something that was entirely intentional for Pluto. “If I’m ever writing a song, I’ll often think of the visuals before the actual track,” he explains. “It definitely plays an important part of the music, because it’s what I see – and I want you to see what I see, too.”

Jacob_Lorinc-Orbiting_Stardom (2)

Jacob Lorinc/THE VARSITY


Technically speaking, Pluto’s career began at the age of seventeen, but his passion for music goes further back. At the young age of thirteen he began writing songs, and quickly learned to appreciate the art as something he could claim as his own. “It’s really an expression of yourself — a craft, of sorts,” says Pluto. “It’s like a sculpture: you can mold it however you like.”

Backstage at The Opera House, Pluto is mentally preparing for his first performance at Canadian Music Week. The crowd is small — not even close to selling out — but the fans snuggle themselves in front of the stage for Pluto’s performance: evidently eager to watch the singer.

Although his popularity is lacking, the fans are devoted, and his three-piece backup band is unwavering. While Pluto appreciates the dedication he has so far, he is — unsurprisingly — open to furthering his success. “It’s rewarding. It means you’re doing something right,” he says. “At the end of the day, we all want a little bit more. I guess it’s a material thing — we all want fans, and we all want people to connect with us but at the same time, money is important too.”

Bending the rules

Speaking with Gurihiru, the graphic novelists behind Avatar: The Last Airbender

While flipping through the first few pages of The Promise, a graphic novel follow-up to the wildly popular American series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, I was intrigued by the name credited for the comic’s art and cover, “Gurihiru.” Entering the Marriott Bloor Hotel for our interview, I was greeted by Naoko Kawano and Chifuyu Sasaki — the Japanese artists who, collectively, make up Gurihiru.

Colourist Kawano and comic artist Sasaki have worked together for years on a variety of North American art projects, which include mini comics, full graphic novels, and video game art — all created under the pen-name Gurihiru. As they informed me, the confusion surrounding their misleading name was exactly what they set out to achieve in the first place. The artists adopted the pen name in an effort to avoid bias; they feared if North American readers saw their last names, they would assume that they only draw comics in the style of Japanese manga or anime.

In reality, Gurihiru’s work is quite a significant deviation from traditional Japanese comic art. They have often been told that their art, while still reflecting elements of Japanese culture, actually takes great influence from American cartoons. This blend of Japanese and American styles is what made them a perfect choice to design the graphic novel for Avatar: The Last Airbender, an American show heavily inspired by anime and other elements of East-Asian culture.

The opportunity to develop a trilogy of Avatar comics first began with Gurihiru being hired by Nickelodeon for a small-scale gig designing a handful of Avatar mini comics for Nickelodeon Magazine.

It was at this point that Kawano and Sasaki were fully integrated into the world of Avatar. Sasaki recalls understanding the importance and elegance of ‘bending’, which is a supernatural and spiritual power within the world of Avatar, and how vital it was for her to represent this faithfully on paper

Gurihiru’s work on Avatar, while impressive, is not their only contribution to the North American comic scene. They have worked closely with Marvel Comics to design a series of variant comic covers and mini stories for some of the company’s biggest superhero icons, such as: Captain America, Wolverine, and Deadpool.

When asked which Marvel franchise they favoured most, the two artists replied that they found The Fantastic Four series the most resonant. Sasaki explained that when they first met with Marvel, they were asked the same question, and they chose The Fantastic Four largely due to the importance the series places on family. Upon hearing this, Marvel assigned Gurihiru a Fantastic Four story to be their first job for the company.

Having come to Toronto to partake in the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Gurihiru explains that their favourite part about comic festivals is the chance to meet the fans of their work firsthand. Since the duo is stationed in Japan, but published in North America, they rarely interact with their fans in person, making each direct meeting with a reader all the more special.

ACORN to replace ROSI mid-June

Students cautiously optimistic about new Student Web Services

ACORN to replace ROSI mid-June

The Accessible Campus Online Resource Network (ACORN) service designed to replace U of T’s ROSI is set to make its debut in mid-June after more than a year of development. The new service, designed and implemented by Next Generation Student Information Services (NGSIS) is one of the largest information technology projects ever undertaken at the University of Toronto.

Cathy Eberts, director of solutions at NGSIS, says that ACORN will replace ROSI after a transition period of approximately six months, during which time students will have access to either interface.

According to the website for ACORN, the new web service aims to provide redesigned and enhanced course enrolment tools. For instance, they propose an enrolment cart that allows for students to save courses and enrol in them at a later date. They also offer a search function that incorporates both courses and programs. This function enables users to search for courses by code or keyword, and yields autocomplete results after four characters. Links to UTmail+ and library services will also be a part of the new service, but may not be available in time for its summer launch.

A long-standing complaint about ROSI is its scheduled downtime, an issue that the move to ACORN cannot solve, as the two services use the same technology; however, Eberts reports that the number of available service hours for ROSI and ACORN will increase with the launch of the new system and that regularly scheduled downtime will be on Mondays from 3:00 – 6:00 am. Eberts says that additional outages to accommodate large system or database upgrades will be required occasionally and will typically be scheduled on a Friday evening or weekend.

Engineering student Russell Todd looks forward to the changes. “I have been dealing with the bugs and chunkiness of ROSI for the past couple years and I am very excited they are upgrading. From what I have gathered about the upgrade to ACORN, it seems that the developers are focused on the user interface and usability of the product,” he says.
Todd hopes that ACORN will address the capacity problems that ROSI has, which cause the site to crash when a large number of students try to use the service all at once, often interfering with course enrolment. “The main problem with ROSI is all the little bugs and crashes that happened especially around the time when students were adding courses. I would be extremely disappointed if these bugs were not fixed in ACORN,” Todd adds.

Rosealea Thompson, an OISE alumna, says that she had no issues with ROSI during her time at U of T, but that she would like to see an improvement with the U of T mail service. “[Accessing] my webmail was frustrating and led to miscommunication. Hopefully ACORN will present a more user-friendly interface in this regard,” she says.

Jay Nyandak, a fourth-year economics and information technology student at U of T, says he has had no real problems with ROSI and that he finds it “pretty functional the way it is.” He did, however, have difficulty enrolling in a tutorial recently and described the course enrolment process as only “okay”. Adding “I hope they don’t make it so user-friendly that it’s counter-productive. I think that’s a problem with a lot of websites now.”

Over 1,000 students have participated in the development of ACORN through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and beta tests. According to Eberts, future versions of ACORN will include enhanced functionality, a redesigned student finances section, and a mobile app.

The myth of meritocracy

Summer opportunities are not just a product of your hard work

The myth of meritocracy

The comment section’s online articles are usually littered with uninformed perspectives — a common sentiment is to attribute a person’s negative experience to a failing of their character. This seemingly pervasive mentality is one borne out of the notion that meritocracy is alive and well in Canadian society.

With the continuing state of our economy, however, most students’ struggles come down to failures of the current socio-economic system. They need to scrounge enough money to pay for rising tuition fees and costs of living, while also gaining valuable work experience that will give them a leg up in an increasingly competitive job market after graduation.

Indeed, since 2008, student summer employment has fallen from 55.3 to 49.7 per cent, according to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The report adds that it takes working 2.7 times longer to pay for a year of university than it did in 1975. This means that, unlike in the past, students cannot rely on a good summer job to pay their tuition.

Perhaps more troubling, however, is another reality that is rarely spoken about, but nevertheless understood — great summer opportunities are often unattainable when students do not have the right family or social backgrounds.

Consider, for example, unpaid internships. Unfortunately for some, this practice heavily favours those who have parental financial support. Without this cushion of external income, many students cannot even consider accepting unpaid positions — instead they must be concerned about having the funds to pay for tuition without going too deeply into debt.

Nepotism is another way in which well-off students benefit. Some students simply get a call from a parent, telling them that their family friend got them a job at a law or investment firm. These opportunities look good on a resume, create good connections in a potential area of interest, and often pay good money. While most students covet these positions, they are also very difficult to obtain through application alone, and require some kind of connection within the firm itself.

It can be stressful and time-consuming to search for summer employment. Considering that most students must begin to apply for jobs in February, this takes a toll during the school year. It takes time to tailor each resume for each position, craft emails, and search online for any kind of position that would pay money.

More needs to be done from the private sector to support the student community. Large corporations are capable of paying students, who are currently working for nothing. Without this support, the socio-economic divisions that have been growing for the last thirty years will continue to do so.

It is foolish to suggest that the society we live in is meritocratic, and that all students who fail to find employment after graduation are lazy and at fault for their own struggles. Students who actually experience the challenge of finding adequate summer employment will understand that, in fact, the current socio-economic system privileges some students over others. At the very least, people’s attitudes towards millennials need to adapt to the reality that summer work is not what it used to be.

Alex Hempel is a third-year student at Trinity College studying economics and European studies.