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Embracing division

When it comes to orientations across campus, rivalry is not necessarily a bad thing
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Innis college cheers at Varsity stadium. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
Innis college cheers at Varsity stadium. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Perhaps the most significant difference between orientation week at U of T and most other Canadian universities is the lack of campus solidarity. While most universities may opt for a cohesive campus-wide orientation, U of T’s orientation week is divided among its many constituent colleges and faculties; this creates multiple orientation committees that manage events, information sessions, and activities for a smaller, more focused number of incoming students.

One of the goals of orientation week is to hone school spirit among incoming students, but the result of divided orientation is that students are exposed to college or faculty pride, as opposed to ‘U of T’ pride. This is reinforced by a parade at the end of the week that facilitates college rivalry but does not celebrate the university as a whole.

Divided spirits during orientation week are often frowned upon. For instance, there have been efforts underway to get rid of all negative cheers, in the spirit of a more united U of T orientation week. Despite negative impressions of rivalries, they might not be that harmful. In come cases, rivalry may strengthen spirits, as opposed to dampening them.

The issue at hand is to not allow cheers that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist, or discriminatory in any manner. These should be banned and discouraged during orientation week, as they alienate many students, even within their own colleges. However, more innocent rivalry is acceptable and may be a feasible way to facilitate school spirit.

When discussing campus solidarity, it is crucial to acknowledge that U of T is divided in nature. There is no such thing as a cohesive U of T experience, due to the separate cultures created by the constituent college and faculty system. Each has its own individual history, traditions, and niches. U of T is a diverse union of numerous separate communities.

Additionally, U of T’s divisions are a function of its size and location. With approximately 43,400 undergraduate students at UTSG alone, it can be difficult for a U of T student to feel as if they are a significant part of the school and campus community. Perhaps U of T students feel as if they are merely one in a number — a small fish in a large pool.

Furthering U of T’s large-pool effect is its location in the heart of Toronto. Compared to many college towns such as Kingston and London, Toronto has a more energetic and lively feel, which can cause discomfort for students who are not familiar with large metropolitan areas.

The constituent college and faculty system helps manage communities and services for all U of T students on a much smaller scale. They offer more close-knit communities, with more tangible opportunities to get involved. Essentially, they operate as small bases within the large, sprawling university. Consequently, it is easier to achieve pride within a college or faculty, rather than campus pride in general.

Another important function of orientation week is that it is meant to be a fun and engaging experience for incoming students. One of the factors in its enjoyment is learning and chanting all of the cheers — this especially applies to the ones that facilitate rivalry between colleges and faculties.

The spirit of competition is what keeps school pride alive. Playful cheers and light-hearted insults can be fun and engaging for the community, which immerses incoming students in the feel and environment of their own respective college or faculty.

Though some may feel that insults are inherently exclusionary, their humour and playfulness set the tone of the unique relationships between the colleges, akin to those of siblings who constantly tease each other.

In my own experience, attending orientation at Trinity College and putting on the Trinity ‘persona’ — being arrogant, entitled, and self-righteous, while yelling at other colleges — made me feel more like a part of that community.

For me, rivalry was crucial to adopting Trinity College’s identity, and maybe that isn’t a bad thing. While I say that I had more spirit and pride for being part of Trinity College during orientation week, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any U of T spirit. Rather, I have U of T spirit as an extension of having Trinity College spirit.

Moreover, U of T spirit takes longer to achieve; feeling part of U of T is a slow burn that is realized only when students are given the opportunity to experience the university in an organic manner, such as attending other colleges’ events, joining and participating in U of T-wide organizations, and spending hours trying to find a good study spot in Robarts during exam season.

Despite the fact that rivalry between colleges and faculties tend to dissipate after orientation week, the bond that is built between students and their respective community remains. Some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with other U of T students are discussions about their own college experiences. These experiences come alongside taking part in the various campus cultures that exist at the university.

The question isn’t whether we are choosing between college rivalry and campus solidarity. Rather, college rivalry and its resulting experiences contribute to the campus overall. We should embrace the fact that one campus can offer many distinct experiences. Sometimes, that means it’s necessary to throw a little shade.

Avneet Sharma is a second-year student at Trinity College studying Book and Media Studies, and English.