You don’t have to fail

A slipping frosh regains her grip

You don’t have to fail

“You won’t get good grades.”

“Your mark will drop by at least 10% for sure.”

“You won’t sleep.”

“You’ll get fat.”

An enthusiastic, sporty, eager-to-try-everything me entered university with dreams of wild success and a mind that would not stop thinking. So what if I wanted to cure cancer as an undergrad? Maybe there were others who also secretly enjoyed solving trig identities while their peers moaned and complained.

Unfortunately, I also came to university with excuses that would allow the introvert me to stay within the high walls I had caged it in, stampeding over my first-year bucket list, confining me to the 9 x 12 feet enclosure I called my room. Stacks of textbooks lined the walls, papers with complicated words and diagrams covered the carpet, and a mess of school supplies and clothes were piled up where my bed used to be. I took my blessed four-hour midnight naps on whatever empty surface I could find in that enclosure.

That was my first year. It certainly did not have to be mine, but it was. I thought it was normal. It was what made me feel included.

Wherever I went, people talked of disappointing first-year academic experiences. I entered my first term of university fully determined to go beyond what everyone else was doing. I failed.

In high school, tests were a habit. I studied, took the test, got my grade, and moved on. In university, I entered my first CHM110 midterm knowing I would fail. I loved chemistry, but as I talked to upper years, they told me that the professor would fail everyone.

So I thought, what is the point of trying? Two days before the test, I started studying. With my feet on my table and pen between my teeth, I opened my notes. My first lecture notes screamed, “MEMORIZE THE FIRST 30 FREAKIN’ ELEMENTS.” So I did. I memorized the periodic table, practiced lecture examples, yelled at anyone who entered my room, and drank three cans of pop. On Monday morning, I showed up outside the exam building with a double-double in one hand, while the other made a clenched fist.

[pullquote-default]Wherever I went, people talked of disappointing first-year academic experiences. I entered my first term of university fully determined to go beyond what everyone else was doing. I failed.[/pullquote-default]

I sat down between the guy who always had his hand up in class and the girl who knew everything. I opened the test paper and saw — to my relief — the empty set of blocks in which I had to fill in elements. I flipped the page to another question and I blanked out. I continued flipping to the end of the booklet and raised my hands to my temples. I knew nothing. I turned back to page one.

Elements? The first is hydrogen. Nitrogen comes before oxygen. Does it? Wait. But then, where’s boron? My mind forgot it ever knew chemistry, and I scribbled down whatever related words that I could muster. I barely passed.

Test two, they said, would kill everyone. I couldn’t afford that. If test one had me crying, this next one would surely mean a failed course. I refused to believe it. I practiced problem after problem and posted even my most senseless questions on the online office hours website. I bugged my TA until I was satisfied and pestered my friends for help with insane solutions.

I ended up as one of the only three students who received a higher than their first test.

Below average marks and an almost-failed test taught me to become persistent. I used my dusty textbooks, went to help sessions, and took advice from my instructors. Eventually, I completed first year with my name on the Dean’s Honour List.

I wish upper-years had welcomed me into their little world as a bright individual rather than just another doomed soul. A horrible first year was not my story.

It doesn’t have to be anyone’s.

Run past your fear

With the help of a new hobby and Frank Ocean, a guy fights imposter syndrome

Run past your fear

I got serious about running last December. I had just gone through a not-so-great breakup and was dealing with the de rigueur exam season stress. I needed an outlet to relieve myself of that negative energy. Fortunately, running was one of the healthier forms of self-medication. I once read that either you’re running to get away from something or you’re lying to yourself; I’ve yet to see much evidence otherwise.

It worked, as much as anything can for that sort of coping, but more importantly — it stuck. Over time, the split times became less embarrassing and the distances became more respectable, until one day, I woke up with a set of unspeakable callouses and strong opinions on the midfoot strike.

Of course, nothing really changed. I run until I’m too tired to keep running. I hope the next time I go a little bit faster or farther than the last time. If I don’t, I get worried that I’ve hit a plateau and it’s all a gradual decline from there ­— that I’m not the special and unique snowflake I’m occasionally delusional enough to believe I might be. It doesn’t matter how far I’ve gone because there is always a voice in the back of my head wondering why I haven’t gone further.

There is a goal, however, at least in the roughest sense of the term. It’s not why you leave the house, but it’s the reason you keep going. It’s reaching the point where your legs feel like they’re disintegrating, your body has decided your other muscles need that last microgram of glucose more than your brain does, and your mind sputters and coasts like an old car.

Whatever still-functioning synapses remain cease to impose rational thought on the world, and suddenly it’s just you, everything else, and unyielding momentum moving into pure, beautiful oblivion. It is fleeting and certainly not worth the effort in any rational sense, but if your brain is wired a certain way, there is nothing better.

[pullquote-default]Finding your place is difficult at the best of times, and having 40,000-odd undergrads with a reputation for being weirdly cold and competitive surrounding you ain’t exactly ideal.[/pullquote-default]

I have been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean’s album Blonde lately. It’s about, among other things, relationships, non-relationships, expectations, and how we respond to them.

I keep coming back to how Frank discusses authenticity. The song “Nikes” uses the idea of counterfeit shoes to critique materialism and the idea of being ‘real.’ “Solo (Reprise)” is a staggering, reeling verse from André 3000 about his disillusionment with fame, as he finds himself surrounded by more and more inauthenticity. “Be Yourself” is a voicemail left by a childhood friend’s mother for her son before he went off to college, repeating the idea of not trying to be like someone else.

Authenticity is a weird concept. Who goes through four years of university without changing? Who would want to? However, the line between faking it and real change is elusive, and the thought of someone outing you as a fraud is terrifying. I wasn’t a runner, and now I guess I am, unless I’m in the same room as someone who cranks out ultra-marathons or puts up ninetieth percentile times. I have a pile of Nike running gear and I am 70–30 on whether it makes me look like I know what I’m doing or like I’m a complete tool.

Finding your place is difficult at the best of times, and having 40,000-odd undergrads with a reputation for being weirdly cold and competitive surrounding you ain’t exactly ideal.

It took a long time for me to learn this, but you will struggle at times and fail at others, just like everyone else, and that is fine. Take chances, go against your default, follow peculiar suggestions — put yourself out there, and it will be scary until some day it is not, or at least less so.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I have figured my life out, that I’ve solved university or life with this ‘one weird trick’. There are still plenty of days when I’m filled with self-doubt. Yet, if you put in the effort, eventually there will be a payoff.

Run until you are too tired to keep going, and the voice in your head will wonder why you didn’t go further, until eventually, you do. Find something that makes your heart stop and your brain misfire, and keep chasing it.

— Steve Hale

It’s okay to not be okay

A sleepless student remembers to take life one step at a time

It’s okay to not be okay

4:00 am. Classes were going to start in a few hours. Dejected, I threw my books down and tried to catch some sleep.

Stress was taking over my life. I did not know if I wanted to live. Driven by self-disappointment, I was facing a massive disparity between my own expectations and what I felt I could do. There was a wall in front of me: the bricks were self-doubt and an ever-growing workload; the mortar was the dissonance between my abilities and my goals. It seemed that I could never climb over this monstrosity. I started to question if I really belonged among the amazing peers and friends surrounding me.

Desperate for help and understanding, I reached out to someone and opened up to him. He guided me to find the right people, and they concluded that I needed professional help to get through some of my problems. I was finding it difficult to agree with this conclusion. I felt I would just be blaming myself for everything I was feeling, when I remembered something a dear friend had told me during one of my breakdowns.

[pullquote-default]Driven by self-disappointment, I was facing a massive disparity between my own expectations and what I felt I could do.[/pullquote-default]

“It’s okay to not be okay.”

Rewind to the start of my first year. I had just met Sean, who would become my closest friend. We bonded over the advice he gave me when I was at emotional and mental all-time lows.

He told me that I am only accountable to myself. The most important thing, he said, was to take care of myself. There are no ready-made cures for emotional and mental wellness like there are for physical ailments. I had to use the resources around me to make sure that I could get the care I needed and still need.

Even with the resources around the city and on campus, it was difficult. I was definitely never okay at any point. Sometimes I was close to it, but just shy of the mark. This gave rise to more stress — how could I possibly live up to any of my goals if I could never be at peace with who I was?

“It’s okay to not be okay.”

One night, I told a stressed friend that she needed to step back from everything she felt obligated to do. I felt that it was indeed okay for her to just feel the stressful, tense emotions and understand that one day it does get better. As long as we can look forward in our lives for even one second, we will be okay.

In her moment of struggle, I saw that it was important for her to understand that she was already amazing just as she was. Regardless of how my friend felt internally, she was still someone I looked up to and cherished. If I felt that way about my friend, then surely my friends would feel that way about me. In fact, my best friends were telling me this all the time. I just never believed them.

I realized that I was on the brink of something. The wall I faced at the time was a mirror, and it had enraptured me. The mirror was grungy and cracked, and it showed a distorted perspective of myself. Instead of trying to fix the image the mirror gave me, I had to realize the mirror was just that — a perspective. As a result, I had to be okay with not being okay. The troubled turmoil in my mind and heart would pass one day.

The mirror is replaceable. It can be cleaned, fixed, and even made wholly new. Of course, it takes time — to make a new way of looking at ourselves, we need to let ourselves change. I am still learning how to grow and develop. I have learned that I need to accept that right now; I can be not okay with who I am. This mirror will change, and I will drive that change.

As long as I can take just one more step, I am at peace with myself — with all the good and bad that comprises me. I will keep living my life, using the resources around me to make peace with myself. I do not have to be perfect.

Knowing this, I put down my books and peacefully head to bed. I am ready to face tomorrow, because I have the strength to tackle whatever lies ahead.

UTSU releases March elections report

Recommendations include elimination of paper ballots, accessibility concerns, demerit points reform

UTSU releases March elections report

Following the March 2016 elections for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the union has released the report from the Chief Returning Officer (CRO), which includes recommendations surrounding polling stations and demerit points.

The number of polling stations at UTSG was reduced from seven to four, and from three to two at UTM for the most recent election.

The CRO also found that no voters requested the use of accessibility software or hardware during the three-day voting period. While the CRO did not have concrete numbers, the report states the liberal estimate that only 1.4 per cent of voters casting ballots utilized polling stations, which translates to only 60–70 people across both UTSG and UTM.

A portion of the report reads: “The CRO understands the value that polling stations add to an election. Not only do they potentially raise awareness of the UTSU Elections and Referenda Committee [ERC], but also, offer access to members who may not feel confident using an online voting system.”

Despite this, the CRO ultimately recommended that the UTSU eliminate polling stations altogether, citing that each day, two poll clerks are stationed for 10.5 hours per polling station.

The CRO also criticized the pay discrepancy between poll clerks working at UTM and UTSG. Across the two campuses there were six polling stations with a total of 331.5 working hours spent at the stations during the Spring Elections. UTSG poll clerks were paid $11.25 an hour, while UTM poll clerks were paid a rate of $13 per hour. The poll clerks were cumulatively paid $4,821 during the elections.

When asked about the possibility of eliminating polling stations in future elections, Ryan Gomes, Vice-President of the Professional Faculties and Chair of the Elections & Referenda Committee, told The Varsity,“The UTSU is going to continue to utilize polling stations for the time being, with physical polling stations being offered on two of the three voting days. There are serious and important accessibility concerns that convinced the ERC to continue utilizing polling stations.” Gomes also stated that he is sure discussion regarding polling stations will arise in the future.

Students for Barrier-Free Access (SBA) expressed concerns over accessibility for the upcoming UTSU Fall by-election. SBA told The Varsity,“The elimination of paper ballots, at this upcoming by-election increases the barriers to access for many students with disabilities. These access barriers could lead to the disenfranchisement of UTSU members and undermine the democratic process.”

There was only one paper ballot cast during the Spring Elections, which turned out to be spoiled. The remaining students who voted at the polling stations used online kiosks set up at the locations.

“The UTSU will not be utilizing paper ballots in the upcoming Fall by-election, although we will still be providing polling stations in addition to online voting,” said Gomes. “We have consulted with SBA before making this decision and are satisfied with this setup.”

While the ERC has deemed paper ballots to be unnecessary, they will still attempt to provide private rooms for voters who need them and computerized voting will be fully accessible to all with appropriate software installed on all computers used for the election.

The CRO recommended that the UTSU entrench demerit points in the union’s Charter for Referenda and suggested that demerit points not be determined each election period, but rather have a set system for each election.

“Reforming the demerit point system would be a long term goal for the ERC. I personally wouldn’t envision this as changing from ad hoc to something else, but I would instead suggest that the limits on some of the offenses could be revised, as well as investigating the addition or removal of offenses,” said Gomes. “We don’t have anything official planned yet but I anticipate the topic will be discussed again during the fall term.”

UTAM names new President & Chief Investment Officer

Daren Smith replaces Bill Moriarty

UTAM names new President & Chief Investment Officer

U of T has announced that Daren Smith has taken the helm of the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) as President and CIO.

Smith had served as UTAM’s Managing Director, Manager Selection & Porfolio Construction since 2008. Prior to joining UTAM, he was a Partner & Director of Managing Research at Keel Capital, a pension plan based in Nova Scotia.

Smith replaces Bill Moriarty, who had served as the President & CEO of UTAM for eight years before retiring in March 2015. In the interim period, UTAM Chair John Switzer had been serving as acting CEO. In the 2015 Sunshine List, Moriarity was listed as Ontario’s highest-paid public employee. Smith was the seventeenth highest paid in the province and third highest paid at U of T under his previous role.

Smith’s move to the role also marks a new title for UTAM’s head: UTAM is no longer governed by a CEO and instead by a Chief Investment Officer.

Smith told U of T News that he hopes to generate strong returns and raise awareness about UTAM as President.

UTAM is responsible for managing the university’s pension and endowment fund investments, a portfolio of $8.1 billion, according to its most recent annual report.

SCSU sells on-campus Hero Burger Franchise

Restaurant to continue operations under new owner

SCSU sells on-campus Hero Burger Franchise

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) is selling the Hero Burger franchise located in the UTSC Student Centre.

The popular burger joint was initially brought in to diversify the food options available at UTSC in April 2012, but struggled to “generate profit in the years since opening,” according to SCSU documents.

Yasmin Rajabi, Vice-President of Operations at the SCSU, told The Varsity that  operating the restaurant was beginning to require “a substantial amount of human resources from myself and our staff members that detracted from our mandate as a student union.”

The SCSU Board of Directors voted to sell Hero Burger to an interested franchise owner for a minimum of $50,000 at a board meeting on June 30. The bill of sale is awaiting finalization.

Hero Burger was one of several food franchises owned and operated by the students’ union, including KFC and Taco Bell.

In 2011, former President of the SCSU, Pagalavan Thavarajah, explained to The Varsity that the franchises operated under a subsidiary corporation called SCSU Restaurants Inc. The dividends from food sales would then be passed through to the SCSU to fund student groups and organizations.

The not-for-profit students’ union, which represents the interests of over 10,000 UTSC students, has not yet discussed the other SCSU-owned outlets in the centre.

Burger-lovers at UTSC need not worry — according to SCSU Vice President of Operations Yasmin Rajabi, Hero Burger will continue to operate under a new owner.

U of T student still detained in Dhaka

Friends continue to fight for Tahmid Hasib Khan’s release

U of T student still detained in Dhaka

After two months since a deadly siege occured in Bangladesh, friends and family of U of T student Tahmid Hasib Khan continue to await his release from Bangladeshi authorities.

On July 1, five militants entered the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. During the attack, 20 hostages were killed. Khan was among thirteen individuals who survived the attack. Since July, Khan has been held without charges by the Bangladesh police with little communication to his friends and family.

Khan had finished his fourth year at U of T, completing a major in Global Health and two minors in Anthropology and Statistics. During his time at U of T, Khan was involved in Model United Nations and served as a Director for the Bangladeshi Students’ Association. At the time of the deadly attack, Tahmid was en route to Nepal for an internship with UNICEF, when he stopped in Dhaka to visit friends and family.

“The situation has been incredibly tough to handle,” said Joshua Grondin, a third-year who calls Khan one of his best friends. “Knowing him personally and closely, I can be 100% confident in his innocence, and I will do absolutely everything in my power to make the world know it as well.”

Rusaro Nyinawumwami, another friend of Tahmid, said that she “was devastated at the news of his detainment,” but she has come “to accept the necessary legal processes adopted by Bangladesh, in order to ensure the country’s safety.”

Since the attack, Khan’s story has gained significant global attention. Grondin, also an administrator for a Facebook page called ‘Free Tahmid,’ states that the page’s purpose is “to raise awareness of the situation and create a support group for people most impacted by the situation.” Over the past two months, there has been an overwhelming response on the ‘Free Tahmid’ Facebook page and Nyinawumwami is optimistic that the “garnered support [can] assist in ensuring his safe return.”

The attention has not been all positive. Weeks after the attack, a video was released showing Khan holding a gun alongside an alleged attacker, prompting a wave of people to accuse Khan of being a terrorist on social media.

“Our main objective has been to share articles that have been released since the event occurred.” Grondin explained, “We found that many of these people sharing negative opinions were simply unaware of particular, important aspects of the case.”

Such sentiments were echoed by Nyinawumwami, who said, “We have countered the hateful comments with facts and character statements about Tahmid. We do not necessarily want to ‘feed the troll’, however we do our best to educate others by providing links to pertinent articles further explaining his unfortunate circumstance and advocating for his innocence.”

Some hostages anonymously recounted what they witnessed the night of the attack. According to Guernica, an American magazine, one “hostage confirmed previous reports that the gunmen had forced Khan to hold an unloaded gun during the night… the purpose [appeared] to have been to use Khan as a human shield.”

One witness claimed that “Tahmid was crying when the gunmen asked him to carry a gun.” The New York Times has also reported similar remarks from other witnesses.

In the continuous attempt to prove Khan’s innocence, Khan’s supporters sent still photos of him holding the gun to body language expert India Ford. During Ford’s analysis, she concluded, “It is very clear from the still photographs that Tahmid’s body language can’t be matched with that of the attacker… The body does not lie. In my opinion, Tahmid is an innocent victim of a dangerous incident… His only crime was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Grondin stated that he believes they “have been so successful in advocating on his behalf because he had such a profound impact on so many people” and calls Khan “by far one of the most caring people you could ever meet.”

“He is a part of our U of T community,” said Nyinawumwami. “He is truly one of our own.”

“Tahmid, we’re keeping you in our thoughts and fighting for your safe return,” she added.

Canadian Federation of Students responds to You Decide Campaign

CFS Chairpersons stress importance of unity, advocacy

Canadian Federation of Students responds to You Decide Campaign

Following the launch of the You Decide UofT campaign, which calls for a referendum on the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) continued membership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the CFS has responded to the campaign.

In an email to The Varsity, CFS National Chairperson Bilan Arte said: “I am confident that U of T students understand the importance of a national student movement. All five students’ unions at the university are united under the national banner of the CFS and they are stronger because of it.”

When asked what future steps the CFS will take in response to You Decide UofT, Arte mentioned the CFS was on campus throughout orientation and would continue to be present all fall.

Rajean Hoilett, the Chairperson of  CFS-O, made similar remarks: “I believe that students are stronger when we are united and working together. In the last year alone we’ve all seen students achieve significant victories right here in Ontario and across the country.”

“But we still have so much work to do,” Hoilett added. “With the expiration of the current tuition fee framework and the government looking at changing how it funds colleges and universities, students have a real opportunity to advance our call for affordable and accessible post-secondary education.”

In addition, both Arte and Hoilett spoke on the importance of the CFS various activism efforts on campus.

You Decide UofT organizer Jonathan Webb recognized the CFS’s advocacy efforts but stressed the importance of giving students a choice on continued membership.

“We acknowledge the efforts put forth by the CFS by way of activism and advocacy. The goal of a referendum is to give students an opportunity to decide if what they do is up to par and still fitting their needs after running on 14 years of membership,” Webb said.