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Homecoming festivities to be corn-themed

SGRT-planned event unofficially dubbed “CornComing”

Homecoming festivities to be corn-themed

Students at the University of Toronto can look forward to a uniquely themed homecoming come October 5. According to Albert Hoang, Chair of the St. George Round Table Homecoming Planning Committee, the theme for this year’s homecoming will be ‘corn,’ an idea that began as an inside joke and quickly took on a life of its own.

“What happened was in one of the homecoming meetings, we were talking about food options and people said, ‘Oh barbecue’ and stuff and I was just sitting there and I was thinking, ‘Oh a corn bar would be kind of cool.’ Like corn on the cob, creamed corn, popcorn, candy corn, etc,” Hoang told The Varsity. “And someone was like, ‘Oh what if we did CornComing?’ and it was meant as a joke. But they all started taking me seriously.”

This year’s homecoming planning fell under the purview of the St. George Round Table (SGRT), a body made up of representatives from divisional societies like the U of T Engineering Society (EngSoc), the University College Literary & Athletic Society (UC Lit), Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), and Kinesiology and Physical Education Undergraduate Association (KPEUA), to name a few.

Stuart Norton, Vice-President Campus Life of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), told The Varsity that homecoming planning was originally in the UTSU orientation portfolio.

“For a number of years, the UTSU would organize something, and then they’d tell the colleges or SGRT members. A few years ago… there were actually two separate homecomings being planned, one by the UTSU and one by the SGRT due to political tensions, etc.” said Norton.

An effort to unify homecoming planning took place and, according to Norton, the UTSU stepped down from spearheading the planning and the SGRT took over with Hoang as Chair. Norton said that the UTSU is still participating in the orientation planning.

“I would like to go on the record saying that I joined the project after the corn was heavily involved,” Norton added.

Compared to the homecoming festivities of other Ontario universities such as Queen’s, Western, and Laurier, to name a few, U of T’s homecoming often does not receive the same kind of celebration from students.

When asked about the permanency of CornComing, Hoang said that while corn does not need to be a continual theme, there is “a large possibility” that U of T’s homecoming will continue to be its “own thing” and won’t try to replicate the homecoming experiences of other universities.

Students can expect an “autumn fair” atmosphere, according to Hoang, including pumpkin carving, a photo booth, carnival activities, and, of course, corn.

“I don’t wanna reveal too much, but the theme has really been integrated into the sort of programming that they’ll use, and culinary journeys that will be taken,” said Norton.

Why I filed my human rights complaint against U of T

A survivor of sexual violence tells her story

Why I filed my human rights complaint against U of T

Editor’s Note: The allegations made toward the faculty members and staff members identified in this article are unproven in court.

When I filed my human rights complaint against the University of Toronto and Trinity College, I thought I had realistic expectations. It would be exciting to push U of T to change its policies. It would be empowering to hold a press conference announcing my complaint with my colleagues from Silence is Violence, a sexual violence advocacy group on campus.

But I also knew that filing the complaint would inevitably lead to some uncomfortable interactions and might generate some unwanted attention. I wasn’t wrong. There was a man who, within the span of two minutes, commented on at least seven different posts on my Facebook timeline, then messaged me with two pictures of Winnie the Pooh and offered to give me a foot rub.

I also thought it was a given that, at the very least, the people who supported me would give me respite from whatever negativity I would face. But as I sifted through the messages and posts made by people offering their support, I noticed an unexpected trend: they did not seem most concerned about the 17 months I spent waiting for some form of justice, or the fact that my case ended with a settlement made between the university and my rapist without my knowledge or consent. Rather, they were most concerned that the first faculty member who I disclosed my story to, Trinity College’s Assistant Dean of Students, recommended I not report it to the police because he knew other survivors had had negative experiences of doing so.

I don’t mention this to condemn those people or say they have it all wrong, rather, I think this impulse demonstrates how we’re conditioned to see sexual violence: namely, as a matter first and foremost for the criminal justice system to deal with. Because of this, we see sexual violence as exceptional, as something only people who seem like criminals could do, as a horror so immense we can’t even talk about it.

Deflected responsibility

I still remember in high school when, upon entering the classroom, my English teacher — who had sexually harassed a remarkable number of the girls in my class in our two years with him — paused dramatically and told us he didn’t want to talk about the rape we had just read about in a novel because, as the father of two daughters, the subject upset him too much. I remembered this moment clearly when I first told people about my assault, puzzling through their obvious discomfort with the topic. On countless occasions, I was met with responses like ‘I’m here if you want to talk about it!’ when I thought it was clear that I was trying to do just that.

When sexual assault happens, our first impulse — if we believe it really happened at all — is to push the survivor in other directions, towards the police or towards a year-long waiting list for counselling. We believe these are the places where survivors and the experiences they carry belong.

Because of this automatic assumption that sexual violence is something for the police to deal with, I think some people following my case missed the complexity of the situation. It is hard to dispute that the criminal justice system fails most survivors; even in the 0.3 per cent of cases that do result in conviction, this comes at the end of a deeply retraumatizing process, and, in the case of Mandi Gray, can still end in the conviction being overturned.

Reporting, trusting the process

My problem with being advised against reporting to the police is that I was given no similar warning about the disappointment I would experience upon reporting to the school. In fact, I was promised that U of T takes sexual violence ‘very seriously’ when I asked if expulsion was on the table. I believed this and, at the time, I thought the Dean of Students’ advice was coming from a place of concern. He could have advised me not to go to the police because he cared, but the fact of the matter is that U of T’s sexual violence policies past and present leave no room for that kind of concern, for the empathy it takes to admit that you have failed someone.

As I went through this process, I figured, as many students still seem to do, that within U of T’s decentralized structure the problem was that some bad administrators were doing a poor job and their bosses were unaware. After all, the other faculty member who argued that my rapist had changed since the assault, and who allowed him to continue playing intramural soccer as a result, had never dealt with a sexual assault case before.

I gradually lost trust in the men handling my case, however I held out hope in Trinity College’s Dean of Students, who let me vent to her whenever my rapist violated the rule that forbid him from eating in Trinity’s dining hall, shook her head in frustration when I told her what the other faculty members had told me, and promised that she and the provost of Trinity College, at least, saw this as a problem.

In January 2016, I was told that my case would proceed to a hearing. In the following nine months, I helped the Dean of Students work on consent education programming while she told me, again shaking her head with a ‘what can you do?’ look on her face, that she hadn’t heard anything more about the timing of the hearing. Then, to my surprise, in September she brought me into her office and told me that throughout this time she and the provost had not only known what was going on but had been actively working with my rapist and his lawyers to come up with a series of confidential resolutions that would sidestep a hearing.

I walked out of her office feeling like a friend had betrayed me. That feeling stuck with me over the coming weeks, as I thought about all the ways that I had patiently waited, trusted the process, followed the rules, and tried to be understanding when I was told that ‘this is just how it is.’ Finally, it was clear to me: this system and its administrators never cared about me or any other survivor.

Systemic injustices

For me, this was a familiar feeling. It brought me back to the times throughout my education as a disabled student, when I was made to feel like I was being unreasonable for requesting accommodations for something that is not, and has never been, my fault.

And I’m not alone with this feeling: sexual assault can happen to anyone, but statistics regarding which groups are disproportionately affected echo the power dynamics that already exist on campus and in broader society. Women, trans people, and nonbinary people are more likely to experience sexual violence, as are disabled, POC, and queer students. Most people who find themselves hearing survivors’ stories know that the perpetrators are frequently popular upper-years, student politicians, dons, TAs, and even senior professors and research supervisors. Often, it’s whoever has enough structural power at this institution to know they can get away with it. No matter what the university says in its flashy new sexual violence policy, myself and many other survivors understand that U of T prioritizes reputation and money over taking care of marginalized students. Silencing survivors is just one of the ways U of T makes this clear.

U of T and policy changes

Still, if the university were too blatant in their mistreatment of survivors, they would risk more lawsuits like mine. It felt like they needed me to believe that I was in control of the process and that they had done everything they could. This calculation weaved through the promises that were made to me along the way, from the times administrators told me they had never seen sanctions so serious in a sexual assault case to the times they offered to make referrals knowing full-well that the academic accommodations available are hardly ever extensive enough.

This is a university that prides itself first and foremost on its reputation for research and academic rigour, a reputation that requires a base level of assumed safety without going far enough with support to seem lenient. Besides, what parent would send their child to a university that openly acknowledged that some of its students sexually assault their peers? It’s far easier to sweep sexual assault under the rug than to grapple with dismantling centuries-old power structures.

U of T’s new policy can’t magically fix the problem of sexual violence at this university if U of T doesn’t want it to. Sexual violence won’t end because survivors go to the sexual assault centre tucked away in Robarts rather than going to their college. Sexual violence can only end through the dismantling of the power structures that feed into it.

In the meantime, we need processes for dealing with sexual assault that are more involved and more personal — processes that actually deal with the harm of sexual assault. This university needs to grapple with the gut-wrenching realization that this is our school, perpetrators are our fellow students and colleagues, and sexual assault exists on these campuses. Sexual violence is not going away no matter how many Health and Wellness Be Safe posters are put up, no matter how many rape whistles are distributed at frosh week, and no matter how many consent education videos – as if consent needs to be taught and sexual assault is just a misunderstanding – are thrown at students.

It is not enough for the university to investigate sexual assault and half-heartedly reduce the likelihood of survivors running into their assailants. Dealing with sexual assault also means dealing with the material effects of sexual assault, from the money spent making up lost time in school or the cost of getting adequate counselling to the academic impacts of being forced to sit through a class each week with the person who sexually assaulted you. It means going beyond the supposedly neutral stance that allowed the university to take 17 months to ban my rapist from social events, Trinity buildings with some exceptions, and the classes I am enrolled in.

The complaint

That, ultimately, is why I filed a human rights complaint. After I got home from that final meeting with the Dean of Students, I looked over the hasty notes I had taken, hands shaking in anger, while she paraphrased to me the confidential resolution in my case. I went back to the copy of the student code of conduct I had been given, annotated with my first-year self’s more hopeful notes, outlining what I thought was supposed to be a policy that was flexible enough to meet the needs of survivors.

Looking back months later, that same hopeful vision of the university I once had was gone, and the thought of any other survivor encountering that policy and having the same hopefulness — only to eventually be crushed — filled me with dread. Watching the university pass a new sexual violence policy and pass it off as progress with seemingly little public skepticism, I started to worry. What if the process I had started had merely been a waste of my time? What if, after all I went through, this process had helped no one except for my rapist?

So I started researching. I spoke to others in Silence is Violence, who validated my sense that what happened was not okay. I spoke to Gray, who referred me to the Human Rights Legal Support Centre; their lawyers are now representing me. While I spent second semester quietly planning my complaint, at each step thinking only about what I had to do next, I worked with Silence is Violence on a poster campaign that went viral, sharing the stories of survivors who had been blamed and silenced like I had.

The university’s response to scrape our posters off bus shelters and lamp posts around campus instead of trying to actually acknowledge and address the problem was telling.

At the same time, the rush of messages we got after that one night of putting up posters signalled to me that survivors at this campus had long been in desperate need of this kind of acknowledgement. When I was finally able to file my human rights application, I decided to go public with my case: I did a story with the Toronto Star and held a press conference in Trinity College to set the record straight. I knew that U of T would only deal with sexual assault if there were consequences for not doing so, and I felt I owed it to every other survivor to try my best to make that happen.

If this article makes me seem pessimistic, I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to hear horror stories about the same administrators, counsellors, and community safety officers while maintaining hope for a better future. But at this point, in passing a new sexual assault policy after holding a single consultation for each campus, U of T is making little effort to show survivors that it cares. And students have noticed. Over the past year, grassroots activism has arisen on campus, aimed at stopping perpetrators from maintaining power in their communities.

I’ve seen too many nods of recognition from students passing SIV posters, I’ve been on the receiving end of too many whispered stories of ‘I haven’t told anyone this, but…,’ and I’ve spoken too many times with survivors dreaming up their own forms of justice to underestimate our determination to change this.

I just hope U of T is ready.

This is the first installment of The Varsity’s investigative series exploring sexual violence at the University of Toronto.

Workers, know your rights

Understanding Ontario’s Employment Standards Act

Workers, know your rights

The Employment Standards Act (ESA) is legislation that indicates the rights and responsibilities of most employees and employers in Ontario workplaces. Among other things, it includes laws on minimum wages, statutory leave, public holidays, and overtime. Student workers, including teaching assistants and students in work-study programs, are protected by the ESA. The ESA does not protect students completing internships or experience programs like the Professional Experience Year Internship Program.

1. You cannot be required to work more than 44 hours in one week. While you can agree to work more than this, in most cases the employer is required to pay you one-and-a-half times your regular wage.

2. Students aged 18 and older are entitled to a minimum wage of $11.40 per hour. If your employment requires you to serve liquor, this wage is $9.90 and excludes tips and gratuities.

3. Most employees are entitled to take Ontario’s nine public holidays off every year and earn public holiday pay. Public holiday pay is the sum of your previous four weeks of wages, divided by 20. In most cases, working on these holidays requires your employer to pay one-and-a-half times your regular wage.

4. If you have been working at the same establishment for more than three months, you are entitled to advanced written notice prior to your termination. Without this written notice, termination pay is required. Termination within the first three months does not require advanced notice.

5. If you work five consecutive hours, you are entitled to an unpaid 30-minute lunch break. If the employer and employee agree, this can be split into two 15-minute breaks.

Additionally, the ESA permits international students to seek employment while they study, providing they have a valid study permit and a social insurance number.

Cases that violate the Employment Standards Act can be reported by directly contacting  the Employment Standards Information Centre or by completing an Employment Standards Claim Form. Complaints will be investigated by an employment standards officer, who can make orders against an employer.

University of Toronto plans to ban smoking on campus

No set date for implementation

University of Toronto plans to ban smoking on campus

The fuse is lit for plans to quit: the University of Toronto is beginning the process of banning smoking on campus.

In the same week that McMaster University announced it will ban all smoking on its property starting January 1, 2018, U of T is confirming that it has plans to do the same.

“U of T does have similar plans underway,” Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at U of T, told The Varsity. “It’s really early stages, and so there are still a lot of discussions continuing. It’s really premature to talk about what the plan will look like in the end, and when it’ll be finalized.”

The plan to ban smoking began as a conversation between the Office of Health and Safety and in Human Resources, with the initial drive being to update the university’s outdated smoking policy. The policy dates back to 1995, Blackburn-Evans said — about 11 years before it became illegal to smoke in bars and pubs in Ontario, and back before marijuana dispensaries dotted the downtown core.

Marijuana, too, plays a part in the university’s slow-burn discussion on a smoking ban. “We are watching closely for updates on the federal government’s proposed legislation,” Blackburn-Evans said, “because however the province and the municipalities implement it, it will have implications on whatever we decide to do here.”

It remains to be seen how a smoking ban could be enforced on, for instance, the St. George campus, which includes a considerable chunk of Toronto’s downtown core: from Bay Street to Spadina Avenue, and Bloor Street to College Street.

“This is a good move on the university’s part,” the President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, Mathias Memmel, told The Varsity. “At the risk of stating the obvious, smoking is unambiguously bad and should be discouraged.”

Some parts of the St. George campus are privately owned by U of T, making these areas subject to university policy. However, some larger thoroughfares include public roadways and sidewalks, which may not be subject to such a ban.

Blackburn-Evans made it clear that there are a lot of things that are still up in the air — it remains to be seen whether smoke on campus will be among them.

Two campus workers’ unions ratify tentative agreements with university

CUPE 3261, USW 1998 secured strike mandate in August

Two campus workers’ unions ratify tentative agreements with university

After voting for a strike action mandate in August, members of CUPE 3261 and USW 1998, campus unions representing thousands of workers across the University of Toronto, voted to ratify the tentative agreements their bargaining committees negotiated with the university administration.

Earlier this month, 96 per cent of USW 1998’s members voted to approve the agreement, in comparison to 74 per cent in favour in 2014, the last time the union negotiated with the university.

In a statement posted on their website, union President Colleen Burke noted that the “agreement contains no concessions. Instead, it makes important gains in both monetary and non- monetary areas.” Wages will increase in the coming years, and health benefits have improved.

CUPE 3261, representing service workers across U of T, also successfully ratified labour agreements. The full-time and part-time unit voted 83 per cent in favour, and the casual unit voted 57 per cent in favour. The full tentative agreement was not posted on their website “for reasons of confidentiality,” and the union noted that they were unable to discuss some issues, such as the ending of contracting-out of services.

U of T needs 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet housing demand, says housing report

Housing expansion projects met with opposition by City of Toronto

U of T needs 2,300 new beds by 2020 to meet housing demand, says housing report

Almost 2,300 additional beds will be needed by 2020 to reach the increased demand for student housing at UTSG, according to a housing issues report published in support of an amendment to the St. George Secondary Plan.

A residence demand analysis attached to the report claims 908 new residence spaces will have to be created to meet demand for first-year undergraduate students in three years’ time. 

In addition, over 1,100 new beds are required to meet the university’s goal of having 40 per cent upper-year students living on campus; about 200 spaces will be needed to accommodate graduate and second-entry students. If implemented, these additions would bring the housing capacity to 8,767 beds in 2020 compared to the 6,478 spots currently available. 

In the 2016–2017 academic year, U of T had approximately 66,599 students, 11 per cent of whom were living on campus. 

In order to satisfy the near-term housing demand, the university plans to build new residences around campus, specifically at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue and in the Huron-Sussex neighborhood. 

The proposed Spadina-Sussex building, which is set to provide 547 new beds for both graduate and undergraduate students, will be a 23-storey student residence that will include office and retail spaces. It will also include the development of a three-storey townhouse to accommodate faculty and graduate student families. This project is a partnership between U of T, which owns 54 Sussex Avenue and 702–706 Spadina, and The Daniels Corporation, which owns the land at 698–700 Spadina.

The planned construction projects in the Huron-Sussex neighborhood are aimed mainly at housing graduate students. An eight-storey, 180-bed residence adjacent to the Graduate House is proposed to be built along 44–56 Harbord Street and will include a ground floor retail space and café. Other possible developments include 40–50 new laneway houses to be made available to graduate student families and two mid-rise buildings on Spadina, which will collectively house 520–620 new students. 

The report also states that among the locations currently being scouted for future developments is the corner of Bloor Street and Spadina, which would include housing for students, student families, new faculty, visiting faculty, and senior level staff.   

U of T says ‘yes,’ city says ‘no’

U of T’s new housing plans, especially the Spadina-Sussex residence, have been met with considerable resistance from the City of Toronto and the community. After four years of negotiations, U of T is seeking aid from the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), which will mediate between the university, the city, and community members, including the Harbord Village Residents Association, according to Elizabeth Burke, U of T’s Director of Campus and Facilities Planning. 

“We’re still waiting on the board to review the case to see if it’s eligible for mediation,” Burke told The Varsity. “The city is definitely on board with pursuing that path with us and once such mediation is agreed to then it’s the question of setting a date for the mediation, and this will be between the community members as well as the city and the university.” Burke also stated that the university is not pressing for an OMB hearing but to negotiate a settlement with the board’s help.

In an August 2017 report, city staff states that the proposed development at Spadina and Sussex violates the 2014 Provincial Policy Statement, as “the proposed development is not a level of intensification that is appropriate when taking into account the existing building stock and area.”

The city also claims in the report that the project does not comply with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, as it does not conserve cultural heritage resources in strategic growth areas. This refers specifically to 698 Spadina, currently the Ten Editions bookstore, which was designated as a heritage site by the Toronto and East York Community City Council (TEYCC) in late February because “the building has design value as an example of a late 19th century corner-store building type designed with a high degree of craftsmanship in the late Victorian style,” according to a report from the Chief Planner and Executive Director’s Office. 

The city staff report concludes that the proposed development is “not appropriate for its context as it is too tall, too bulky, and does not provide appropriate tower setbacks” and “in its current form it is not good planning or in the public interest.”

In addition, the TEYCC sent a series of recommendations to City Council in September regarding the project. These included the suggestion of continuing to negotiate with the university to address issues such as appropriate heights and massing for the development site, as well as to participate in formal mediation with the OMB. The council also recommended that the city hold off on making a decision regarding an application to demolish six existing rental dwelling units at 698 and 700 Spadina until a decision is reached by the OMB. 

Joe Cressy, Councillor for Ward 20, where the proposed residence at Spadina and Sussex would be located, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment. 

SMCSU elections underway

Nominations for re-imagined SMCSU begin September 25

SMCSU elections underway

Following a year of reformation, September 25 marks a new beginning for student government at St. Michael’s College (SMC). Nominations are open for nine positions on the council as the college aims to implement the re-imagined student union’s new structure and apply its new leadership policy to candidates.

Following a confirmation of the eligibility of nominees on October 4 and an all-candidates forum on October 10, official voting will begin on October 11.

A group of students selected by SMC’s administration formed a ‘re-imagining committee’ in April to lay the framework for a new council; those who sat on the committee are barred from running in this election. SMC President David Mulroney had requested to delay elections until the fall to have time to draft a leadership policy to ensure that behaviour exhibited in the past by student officials would no longer arise.

The union was the subject of controversy last year: a video implicating then-current and former members of the union was criticized as Islamophobic, and there were allegations of financial misconduct on behalf of union members.

The Student Society Leadership Policy, which circulated alongside an email announcing the call for nominations, defines rules and expectations for student leaders at the college. It applies not just to the student union but to any student society or student group at St Michael’s, including the St. Michael’s Residence Council and The Mike newspaper.

Notably, the policy says that leaders’ eligibility will be decided by academic standing and the ability to “engage in responsible and respectful conduct that reflects positively on USMC students, USMC, and the broader University of Toronto community.” The policy stresses the importance of financial responsibility as well as the strict prohibition of hazing as any form of initiation, a part of the controversy of last year.

The policy also stipulates that “leaders accept their ethical obligation to act in accordance to USMC’s mission as a Catholic university that is dedicated to the academic and spiritual life of its students.”

Erin McTague, former President of the St. Mikes Residence Council and member of the committee that re-structured the union, will take on the role of Chief Returning Officer.

Election results will be posted on October 17.

Faculty and staff to follow student switch to Office 365

University aims to make transfer smoother than summer snag

Faculty and staff to follow student switch to Office 365

University of Toronto faculty and staff will be upgrading to the Office 365 software over the course of the fall semester. Following the issues that came with transferring email data over the summer, the U of T administration is looking to make sure this process is as smooth as possible.

“Office 365 is the same environment that the students have been in for quite a while now,” said Bo Wandschneider, U of T’s Chief Information Officer.

Wandschneider said that the primary motivation for the move is to put faculty and students onto the same platform, which is important because “it just enhances the ability to collaborate between those two groups.”

Currently, faculty and staff carry out most of their work and communication through the UTORexchange and UTORmail services, both of which will be replaced by Office 365. The new software is “a comprehensive online e-communication and collaboration service provided by Microsoft,” according to the FAQ section of the official transition website.

The website, office365.utoronto.ca, is the main resource for any member of faculty or staff with questions related to pre- and post-migration; it also provides tips for navigating the new software. The home screen of the website keeps a counter of who has migrated over to the new software, including the number of email accounts and the number of departments — it’s currently set at one department and 239 users.

Wandschneider said that they migrated the IT department before the others because they wanted to assess any potential issues that could arise. “There were a few, what I would say, minor issues, little hiccups here and there,” Wandschneider said. A round of corrections will follow this first migration, addressing the issues that arose, before the software transfer goes through a second pilot test.

In the meantime, Wandschneider is working with IT staff to ensure that all faculty and staff are prepared. He is confident that the migration will be generally painless because for the people who already use Outlook, “it’s going to be pretty simple; they’re basically just changing to a different place to get their mail.”

Office 365 offers new media and platforms for creativity and collaboration, including Skype for Business and OneDrive, with a terabyte of storage space. “I think people are going to be really excited by the new functionality. I had lots of faculty members approach me and say, ‘When can we go?’” said Wandschneider.

Office 365 should be available to all faculty and staff at the university by the end of the fall semester.