As the annual peril of course selection comes to a close once again, no one is feeling particularly loved by U of T. In fact, after yet another round of waking up at obscenely early hours in the morning, only to refresh ACORN for an hour and end up on a waitlist for required courses, it’s hard not to question whether or not U of T is actually attempting to support us in our success.
The chaotic process of course selection is but one area of life at U of T that makes students feel isolated and uncared for. The widely publicized story of student Anh Cao, for instance, can be interpreted as an extreme manifestation of U of T’s failure to provide sufficient financial assistance for its students — U of T’s high tuition costs forced Cao to sleep in a youth homeless shelter for four months.
Though U of T News noted proudly that Cao had extensive support in order to graduate, a close reading will show that he received help not from U of T as an institution, but rather, generous friends and family members. Recent stories like these cast a negative light on U of T’s attitude towards its students’ well being. In particular, the balance between cultivating independence and ensuring that students have proper access to support services at their university seems troublingly skewed.
One of my favourite things about U of T has always been that it provides its students with a real world experience. It is a huge institution, in which students must compete ruthlessly in order to achieve what they want. There is no hand holding — opportunities are plentiful, but the burden is almost solely on the student to seize them. I personally feel more prepared, more independent, and tougher because I have had to deal with tough degree requirements, ROSI crashes, and huge class sizes essentially by myself.
However, there is a line between providing challenges that build character and disregarding the safety and health of the students — therefore, a balance is needed between real world toughness and adequate support services.
I’ve come to realize that some of the things I liked about U of T’s independent culture only work in some aspects of university life. I’m fine with taking the initiative with my academics, but I’m not okay with students not receiving adequate financial support. I’m okay with students needing to fill out applications for bursaries and financial assistance, but I’m not okay with huge waitlists for classes. Searching for internships and summer abroad opportunities by oneself is acceptable, but nobody should have to battle with mental health issues or the aftermath of sexual assault alone.
Our university needs to find a balance between the two seemingly inconsistent ideas of creating real world experiences and actually caring for their students. No student should have to live like Cao had to, because U of T should pay for emergency hospitality and help prevent it from occurring in the first place with funding, programs, and counselling. No student should have to delay their graduation because they were unable to get into the courses they really needed each year, because there should be more priority rounds with secondary start times.
If U of T ever wants to start changing their reputation for not caring about their students, then figuring out this balance may be the place to start. Having such compassion never makes you weaker; it makes you and everyone around you stronger.
Christina Atkinson is a fourth–year student at University College studying economics and political science.