During my two years at UTSG, I lived in residence twice: during commuter orientation and during frosh week itself. Since then, I have been a dedicated commuter — napping, listening to songs and podcasts, and trying to finish readings during my hour-long TTC journey. 

When I found out about the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative, which allows students to choose whether to fund “non-essential fees,” I was certain I would opt out. Every year I tried to get involved in student groups, and every year I have not become as involved as I would have liked. Whether it be due to work schedules shifting, or a need to avoid rush hour on the TTC, I was always prevented from attending most of the events I found interesting on campus.

I spent the last weeks of summer scouring the ULife club database, searching for at least one club that might spark my interest. While I am a part of a new, smaller club now, I still always find myself looking for another group to join.

Opting-out of “non-essential” fees seemed like a solid financial move. I never paid attention to the amount of fees on my invoice, but I imagined they might cover the cost of textbooks and last-minute stationary purchases.

Over the summer, my opinion on incidental fees shifted a lot. During the past few years, I have always had a sense that nothing would change — which is something you can easily convince yourself during the winter time, as darkness hits in the early evening. I wanted to become more involved, but it seemed like an impossible goal. My schedule always got in the way. If there was ever going to be a change, it would just have to take place during the fall as the new semester began.

I realized that I had taken campus life for granted; I thought there would always be opportunities for involvement on campus. After all, how could clubs that seemed so central to fostering student life suddenly not exist, or be a lot smaller than they were in previous years? What would this mean for students who were new not just to the campus, but to the city or country itself?

These “non-essential” student fees go toward clubs that help others find their place at U of T. They provide funds not just for groups and clubs, but also to services on campus, including those offered by the Family Care Office or Downtown Legal Services, which can be essential to some students.

While I am not a member of every single club on campus, those that I do not directly benefit from are still deserving of my student fees. These small communities foster connections, not just for those who live on or near campus, but for those who commute as well. While my schedule does not allow me to attend every Facebook event that pops up on my timeline, I will not restrict my contribution to their clubs by opting-out. These communities depend on students to support students.

At the end of the day, I decided to opt in — I chose U of T. I am grateful to be in a position where I can afford to opt in, and I know that not every student, commuter or otherwise, is in the same place. Will the 10 cents or dollar I put toward one club help them run smoothly?  This year, that may be the case, more so than ever.  In the event that my schedule allows me a break, maybe I can try to find a little community on campus to call my own. Am I overly optimistic? Maybe. Regardless, I know that my contribution has gone toward helping students find their place on our sprawling campus.

Students can choose their opt-out selections for the fall 2019 term on ACORN before September 19.

Caitlin Stange is a fourth-year Digital Humanities, English, and History student at Victoria College.