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Love in the time of COVID-19

Let's talk about sex and strengthening long-distance relationships during a global pandemic

Love in the time of COVID-19

When my boyfriend and I decided to be together, we knew that we were committing to a long-distance relationship. In fact, we exchanged our first series of messages while he was in Vienna. 

He was at a weeklong conference when I reached out to him on Tinder. He explained that he was a British PhD student spending his summer at the University of Toronto. After a few flirtatious texts, we agreed to meet for dinner when he flew back. 

Because of his temporary stay in Canada, we tried to keep things casual. That plan lasted all of two days — pretty soon we were spending every day together. Not to sound too cliché, but we had an instant connection. 

Hoping to try my hand at academia, I admired his love for research. We bonded over a similar work ethic and drive for success. More than that, we shared a strong desire to start families of our own one day. I knew I could trust him with my deepest insecurities when he comforted me all night after a standardized exam gone awry. I knew he was anything but a wet blanket when we baked weed brownies and spent two days stoned out of our minds. 

And then before we knew it, the summer was over. Before he flew back to the UK, we agreed to give long distance a proper try. Despite the five-hour time difference and our busy schedules, we managed to see each other during Halloween, reading week, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. I had never been in a long-distance relationship and realized I enjoyed having so much independent time as well as a week or two of deep intimacy with my partner. 

This February, I found out that I was accepted into my dream PhD program at Columbia University. This news was not only ideal for my career but also for my love life. My boyfriend and I drafted summer plans faster than we could write them down. 

First, he would fly over in April, so we could celebrate his birthday in the company of our friends. Then, he would fly over in June to celebrate my graduation. Then, I would fly back with him, so we would spend the rest of the summer in the UK. Then, I would fly back in August and move into my swanky apartment in Manhattan, and we could spend the next six to seven years in New York drowning in each other’s love. I was over the moon with how everything had worked out. 

Needless to say, COVID-19 brought these plans to a halt. 

Perhaps, that’s being a little dramatic. 

Despite being an ocean away, we have accomplished a lot together these past couple of months. We worked our way through Pokémon: Sword and Shield and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. We watched a morally questionable amount of reality TV including Love Island, Too Hot to Handle, and The Circle. We kicked up a terrible Civilization V and VI habit with our friends. We orchestrated Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and trivia nights. 

I have had so much fun talking to him every day and spending quality hours with him and our closest friends. We have managed to stay in touch — if not literally, then at least figuratively. 

And yet, as we come closer and closer to our first year anniversary, I cannot help but think it is a time we should spend in person. I worry when I consider that COVID-19, much like the distance of our relationship, is here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

It is painful and difficult when we are engaged in disagreements and are not there to comfort each other afterward. And don’t get me started on the physical intimacy element. I believe that all good relationships are predicated upon good conversation. But it is hard not to be in the physical proximity of my partner. In other words, sex is great, but have you ever just held your partner for an hour relishing in each other’s warmth? 

I’ve read a few articles online about how to sustain and strengthen long-distance relationships during COVID-19. Communication, as I’m sure you can guess, plays a huge role. One piece of advice I have is to pick your battles and resist sweating the small stuff. Much like a ‘regular’ long-distance relationship, you are working toward a common goal with your partner: when you can see them and know that you don’t have to part. As the coronavirus rages on, it is crucial to have that same objective in mind. 

While it is uncertain when we will see each other next, our feelings for one another have not changed. In fact, they’ve only gotten stronger. And I think that’s the most important thing about being in any type of relationship.

U of T mandates use of non-medical masks in public indoor spaces, excluding classrooms, labs

University to provide two reusable, non-medical masks to students, staff, faculty members

U of T mandates use of non-medical masks in public indoor spaces, excluding classrooms, labs

On July 7, U of T announced a new temporary measure that calls for the use of non-medical masks or face coverings in all public indoor spaces on university premises. The new policy went into effect on all three campuses on the same day as the announcement, and is mainly concerned with enclosed spaces that are accessible to the public where physical distancing may not be possible, including hallways, lobbies, elevators, and other common use facilities. 

To comply with the policy, the university has ordered 250,000 non-medical, reusable masks and will distribute two to each student, staff, faculty member, and librarian for their own personal use. The university will provide more details about the distribution of masks later in the summer. 

In a Q&A with U of T News published on July 10, Special Adviser to the President and Provost Vivek Goel, who is working on the university’s response to COVID-19, said that the university is following the same rules and exemptions as outlined in the City of Toronto bylaw regarding the use of masks, which mandates that establishments require the use of face coverings in enclosed spaces.

Goel commented that exceptions include people who have underlying medical conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings, children under two years old, and people who are in areas that the public does not have access to or are behind physical barriers. Goel said that, as is the case with the bylaw, the university will not ask people to provide proof for exemption.

In addition to requiring masks, U of T is taking other steps to help slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus, including rearranging classrooms, frequently cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, installing thousands of hand sanitizer stations, and installing protective barriers wherever possible.

The FAQ response for the new policy explains that, since classrooms are being adjusted to meet physical distancing guidelines, masks won’t be required by students or instructors in classrooms. However, those who are more comfortable wearing a mask may choose to do so. Labs can be treated the same as classrooms when protective medical-grade masks are not required for the specific lab. 

Rebecca Rooke, a PhD candidate at UTM who is researching molecular and behavioural biology, has been outspoken about the importance of taking strong measures to prevent the spread of the virus. She launched a petition calling for better health and safety practices at UTM — including mandatory mask-wearing — which received over 300 signatures before the university released its mask policy. 

In an email to The Varsity, she wrote that, while U of T is taking responsible steps, “the university could and should be doing more,” and encouraged it to regularly update its policies in accordance with any scientific developments. 

“The university has the responsibility of developing policies to protect the people that work and study at all of their campuses,” expressed Rooke, yet she still noted that the general U of T “community has a responsibility of adhering to these policies the best they can.”

The City of Toronto bylaw is set to expire in October unless renewed. As to how U of T will respond, Goel said, “we will have much more information at that time, and I have no doubt there will be changes in the future.”

Editor’s Note (July 25, 5:12 pm): The headline of this article has been updated to clarify that U of T’s mandatory mask policy does not apply to classrooms and labs. 

2019 Campus Police reports show increase in reported sexual assault at UTSG

UTSC attributes decrease in thefts to community policing programs

2019 Campus Police reports show increase in reported sexual assault at UTSG

Each of the three University of Toronto campuses recently released its annual police services report for 2019. The report from UTSG showed a significant increase in reported sexual assault, and the report from UTSC showed a significant decrease in theft.

Sexual assault

UTSG showed a notable increase in reports of sexual assault. Ten sexual assaults were reported at UTSG in 2019, an increase from one reported in 2018. The police report notes that four of these assaults took place on walkways adjacent to U of T property. UTSG remains the campus with the highest rate of reported sexual assault relative to the population with 15 sexual assaults per 100,000 people.

After a similar spike in reported sexual assault in 2017, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice-President of Human Resources and Equity at U of T at the time, told The Varsity that the increase may be more indicative of how many victims are willing to report to the police rather than a measure of how much sexual assault on campus has increased. However, U of T Media Relations did not respond to The Varsity‘s inquiry as to what might specifically account for the 2019 spike. 

UTSC offers Campus Police an optional course on Sexual Violence Education, and UTM has partnered with the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre, which serves all three campuses and helps Campus Police handle reports of sexual assault appropriately.

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote that “any student, staff or faculty member who has been affected by sexual violence or someone who might be supporting someone affected by sexual violence is welcome to call, email or drop by any of the centre’s three locations.”

Serious crimes like sexual assault are investigated not only by the Campus Police, but also by the Toronto Police Service or the Peel Police Service.

Theft

In comparison to 2018, UTSC reported a significant decrease in the number of thefts, which Campus Police accredits to the continued development of theft prevention programs and community policing projects.  

The UTSC report states that “in 2019, [the] continual emphasis on community policing practices evidenced a 57.5% reduction in thefts on campus.” The community policing philosophy aims to introduce campus police officers to the community by allowing them to collaborate and participate in various committees through attendance and organization of events. This includes the Lap Top Anti-Theft Program, which uses the police and community to implement proactive measures to prevent laptop theft. 

Programs and training

All three campuses aim to increase community policing, often through attending events in the community. There has been a concentrated effort to interact with the LGBTQ+ community, with members of the UTSG Campus Police showing solidarity with Pride and the UTSC and UTM Campus Police both partnering with the Positive Space Committee. 

Currently, all security staff receive equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-bias training. The UTSG Campus Police have an optional course on anti-racism and systemic racism while neither UTM nor UTSC Campus Police offer the same training. 

In light of recent calls to abolish, defund, or reform the police, a U of T spokesperson told The Varsity that all three campuses have partnered with the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office to update their training as part of a continuous review of the training programs offered. 

All three campuses offer Campus Police some form of training on mental health and de-escalation practices.