Through thick and thin

A letter from Josie Kao, Editor-in-Chief 2019–2020
Josie Kao, The Varsity's Editor-in-Chief for Volume 140. ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY
Josie Kao, The Varsity's Editor-in-Chief for Volume 140. ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

Four years ago, I stood nervously in the hallways outside of The Varsity’s offices, trying to work up the courage to go inside a space that I so longed to be a part of. I left the office that day thinking that perhaps it wasn’t the place for me; perhaps this terrifying institution wasn’t where I belonged. 

Years later, I’ve now had the privilege and honour of leading The Varsity for one volume of its long, 140-year history. However, it took many articles and breakdowns for me to realize that The Varsity could be a home for me, and capable of helping students express their visions for a more equitable U of T.

Yet to the average U of T student, the newspaper may be a distant afterthought, if they ever think of it at all. 

But even if you go through your entire degree without ever picking up a copy of the paper, that doesn’t mean that you have been unaffected by its work. Change does happen at U of T, hard as that may be to believe, and one driver of that change is student media. 

Every week, I have watched as our editors and contributors ceaselessly push The Varsity — and by extension, U of T — to be the best that it can be. 

Comment Editor Angela Feng moulded her section into a place where students could freely criticize accessibility concerns of all kinds, from late withdrawals, to sick notes, to laptop bans. 

Managing Editor Ibnul Chowdhury and Senior Copy Editor Ori Gilboa dedicated their entire year to creating our behemoth of an equity guide, which I hope can act as a standard of excellence for mastheads to come. 

Features Editor Stephanie Bai made the best out of the Student Choice Initiative, because of which we lost our print magazines, and published a stunning digital magazine that has been a creative outlet for dozens of contributors. 

Our news team, led by Andy Takagi and Kathryn Mannie, doggedly covered the issues that mattered to students, whether it be the mental health crisis or COVID-19. 

In hard numbers, we set an all-time record for reaching the one million unique pageview mark on February 1, and over the year we’ve gained more than 1.5 million unique pageviews in total. We had over 400 contributors this year, of whom 100 were staff, and I’m grateful to each and every one of them.

To say that I am proud of the work that we accomplished this year would be an understatement, and yet I’ll be the first to admit that many mistakes were made. Achieving a more equitable workplace and content output was my main goal for this year, but this is, of course, a goal that can never be fully realized. 

‘Equity’ is not about publishing one article and patting ourselves on the back, but about continually putting in the work to bridge the gap between The Varsity and the communities we cover. The Varsity has rightly received fair criticisms for failures in the past, but it’s still worth acknowledging progress in the present.

This should not be your main takeaway of our work this year, but I’m one of the few — if not the only — women of colour to have had the privilege of running The Varsity. But I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my dream without the work of those who came before me. Therefore, I hope that the foundations we have laid this year will ensure that anyone can see themselves in this position in the future. Being the first shouldn’t matter, so long as you’re not also the last. 

Speaking of our achievements, I want to thank the masthead, who never failed to impress me with their wisdom and generosity. To Ilya, Ibnul, Julie, Al, Ori, Andy, Angela, Kashi, Stephanie, Adam, Silas, Vindhya, Megan, Kathryn, Will, Aditi, Dina, Iris, Nathalie, Kevin, Stephanie, Nicole, and our many associates, correspondents, and columnists: thank you for giving me the great honour of working with you this past year and bearing witness to your incredible contributions. I’ll never forget our late night font changes, mysterious Shringle appearances, or questionable Slack emojis.

Thanks is also owed to my predecessors, Jack, Jacob, and Alex, for their endless encouragement and guidance. 

To Ilya, thank you for the many good times and late nights we shared in this Varsity journey. To Ibnul, thank you for your level-headed wisdom that never failed in times of crisis. To Al, thank you for your neverending good humour and dependability. And finally, to Julie, thank you for being my moral and music compass — I don’t know where I would be without you. 

I know that The Varsity’s hope for a more equitable future is safe in the hands of my capable successor, Ibnul. Ibnul’s sound judgment and clear-eyed vision gives me perfect confidence in his ability to lead the paper through another year of ups and downs. 

I’ve said nearly all the thank-yous I’ve wanted to say, but I’ll end with one final expression of gratitude: thank you to you, our readers, for sticking with us through thick and thin. 

— Josie Kao

Editor-in-Chief, Volume CXL

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