SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

From the outside, UTSG is an odd collection of dissimilar buildings. It’s a mosaic of clashing architectural styles, filled with students and academics of wildly different disciplines.

Yet, on any given day, in any given building, you can probably find a fold-out table with buttons, stickers, and a cardstock sign that says “free food.” At Woodsworth College, you’ll find this table every Wednesday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, staffed with dedicated student volunteers flipping pancakes to hand out to their peers.

Student organizations are what bring university to life. With thriving clubs, course unions, and student societies, a collection of buildings becomes a vibrant campus.

It was a Wednesday at Woodsworth that I found out about the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA), and later decided to run for mental health director. I found more than free breakfast every week; I found a group of students who work to make our college a home for everyone.

The WCSA uses student fees to create social events, professional opportunities, wellness workshops, and so much more. When our $7.50 student levy each semester becomes a pizza party with a make-your-own sundae bar, a coffee social with free donuts and boardgames, or an open-mic night, it becomes conversation, friendships, and community.

The importance of free food to university students should not be understated, but the role of student organizations goes beyond providing snacks — they also advocate for and empower students. The WCSA provides professional development grants, funds clubs at Woodsworth College such as the American Sign Language club and the Woodsworth College Racialized Students Collective, and meets with administrators to lobby for student interests.

My position, mental health director, was added last year to further mental health advocacy on campus. Our equity director is spearheading the push for gender-neutral washrooms at Woodsworth College.

The WCSA dedicates funds to mental health and equity, not only to make our college a safer space, but also to signal to the administration that equity and mental health are priorities to us as students and to push the administration to dedicate further resources to these areas.

Being involved with the WCSA and The Varsity, I often receive questions about whether extracurriculars take away from academics or the ‘real’ reason for my being at university. But I can’t imagine school without these outlets. I’m developing skills I know will help me after I graduate, including email correspondence, teamwork, and project management.

Beyond professional skills, I’ve found my voice as an advocate. If it weren’t for joining the WCSA as mental health director, I would never have applied to be part of Plan International Canada’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), where I work with young people from across the country to advocate for gender equality.

As trivial as it sounds, I’m simply a happier person because I’m involved on campus. Writing for The Varsity, serving on the WCSA, competing in moot tournaments, and being part of the YAC have all had a positive impact on my mental health. These activities provide me with a support network, structure, and a greater sense of purpose. It’s difficult to imagine succeeding in school without these communities.

But I’m worried for the future of student organizations in the wake of the recent announcement of the tuition cut and “non-essential” non-tuition fees becoming no longer mandatory. Involvement in student organizations and the student press is something I want to be available to every student. When tuition is cut, funds for student associations may be the first to go as they become optional.

By cutting these opportunities, the provincial government is doing more than putting free pancakes at risk — it is taking away our outlet, our community, and our voice.

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