Roseto, a small town in Pennsylvania, drew the attention of scientists in the 1950s for its peculiarly low rates of heart disease. When compared to the neighbouring towns, there were no noticeable differences between the diet, exercise, water supply, income levels, or race of residents. In fact, Rosetans smoked, drank, and had a high cholesterol intake. Employment often entailed hazardous conditions which sometimes led to diseases and industrial accidents.
So, what was Roseto’s secret?
It was a tight-knit community. Researchers called it the “Roseto Effect,” a phenomenon in which a group experiences decreased rates of heart disease because of their communal bonds. Everyone in Roseto felt welcomed, supported, and, most of all, healthy.
As you embark on a new academic experience, one of your main priorities should be finding a community in which you can grow and learn. In other words, finding your own group of ‘Rosetans.’ On a campus as large as U of T, it can be difficult to find a space where you feel like you belong, so we compiled a list of helpful, but often overlooked, places to find a supportive and welcoming community of your own.
First-year students have a wide variety of small classes to choose from during their studies. The most notable ones are the First-Year Foundation Ones Programs and First Year Seminars. These classes cover a myriad of interesting topics, including representations of the underworld in classical mythology, cell and molecular biology portrayal in the news, time travel narratives, and popular culture in the digital age.
Small classes are excellent places to build relationships with like-minded peers, engage with professors, and find your spot at U of T.
Campus faith groups are some of the most active clubs at U of T. Many of them even have their own orientation events! Engaging with groups such as Power to Change, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), or U of T Hillel is a great way to find people who make you feel welcomed, regardless of your religion or level of faith. There are several rooms and meditation spaces around campus where you can drop in to relax, pray, or meditate in between classes.
Hobbies, leadership, and arts
There are over 800 clubs across all three campuses at U of T, and members present their clubs twice over the course of September during the Clubs Carnival and the Street Festival, in addition to college- or faculty-specific fairs. Making the choice as to which club to join may be overwhelming simply because of the sheer numbers. One strategy is to reflect on your interests and narrow them down to one or two you would like to engage with. Then, use those as a guide to help you find the best club through the Ulife database.
Being a first year also gives you access to year-specific opportunities, such as acting as a first-year representative in a club you care about. Check out Hart House and Ulife clubs for announcements about applications opening for first-year representatives. Such experiences will enhance your leadership skills and introduce you to like-minded people.
Being around people who share the same love you have for holding a brush, playing basketball, or standing on a stage can be empowering. Also, many clubs, such as the Hart House Debating Club and the U of T Improv Club, have excellent opportunities for travelling to compete or perform.
The people you sit beside in class are people who share your goals, struggles, and curiosity. Overcome your fear and social awkwardness by turning to the person next to you and asking them how they found the lecture or assignments. You can form study groups, attend office hours together, and help each other with course material. The stranger you sit next to on your first day of class could very well be your lifelong best friend.
Orientation and mentorship
Orientation is an excellent pathway for finding your place at U of T. Regardless of what people tell you about orientation, you should not miss out on it. You will be surrounded by lots of other first-year students who are all looking to make connections. Each college and faculty hosts their own orientation, but there are also academic, religious, and accessibility orientations in order to ensure that all students feel welcome.
Another option is U of T’s mentorship programs. The university has several mentorship programs that pair first-year students with upper-year students who can guide them through the year, answer any questions they may have, and provide advice regarding their classes. Your mentor can be a great resource for both academic help and finding communities in which you can grow and learn.
One of the advantages of being at a big university is the diversity among students. There are over 157 countries represented in the U of T student body and dozens of cultural clubs for members of different ethnic and racial groups, such as the Black Students’ Association and the Middle Eastern Students’ Association. There is also the Centre for International Experience’s Language Exchange and the Sidney Smith Commons’ Global Language Café, where you can drop in and practise a language with fellow students at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Whether you are interested in improving your Spanish skills or reconnecting with your roots, these clubs always welcome new members! Drop by the Student Life Clubhouse or find them during the Clubs Carnival or Street Festival.
Your community might not necessarily be found on campus. There are several great organizations and groups in Toronto that always welcome university students to join their team. Volunteering at homeless shelters, local food banks, or community beach clean-ups is a great way to connect with your community. You could meet amazing people, while also working on great causes that give back to the Toronto community.
As the new academic year approaches, be open to seeking your own group of Rosetans that can drive away your heart disease, fend off your mental struggles, and be the shoulder you can lean on during this journey.
Disclosure: Shahd Fulath Khan was the 2018–2019 Secretary of the MSA at UTSG.