Ostensibly, the University of Toronto seems like a university that has no particular religious affiliation or bias. However, U of T’s history is deeply intertwined with Christianity. This is evident through its founding as King’s College in 1827, which was initially controlled by the Church of England.
Although the church relinquished its hold on the institution, other ecclesiastical colleges soon joined U of T, including Wycliffe College in 1889, St Michael’s College in 1890, Knox College in 1890, and Emmanuel College in 1925. These colleges still carry their religious identities, notably St. Mike’s, which is known by the staff and student body as a college with a strong Catholic presence.
I remember being a first-year undergrad and finding out that my college was St. Mike’s. Safe to say, I was apprehensive at first and thought that the college would have a lot of religious events centred around Christianity.
I was worried that I would be left out as I wore a hijab and strongly identified with Islam. However, I decided to take a chance by taking part in the weeklong orientation, and I am glad that I did.
It’s true that the college hosts a lot of religious events and sponsors programs such as Christianity & Culture and graduate programs such as Master of Divinity and Master of Theological Studies. But during orientation week, everyone was open and accepting of my beliefs. Even though religious events such as Mass were held, none were mandatory. Overall, orientation week was a really valuable experience.
Outside of my college, I started to find out the different ways that U of T accommodated the Muslim student population. An important part of this journey was my discovery of the Muslim Students’ Association, which gave me a safe space to practice my religion. It provided me with important resources such as halal places to eat at U of T, community support, and special events with religious speakers.
Most importantly, I felt included in a community where we shared the same beliefs. Another important way that the university has managed to help Muslims feel comfortable on campus is through the prayer spaces. These rooms are located at different ends of the St, George campus, including Robarts Library, the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education building, the Medical Sciences Building, and Emmanuel College.
These prayer rooms are extremely convenient for busy students on the run. I personally recommend checking out the prayer room at Robarts Library which is inclusive and supplies a place to practice different religious activities, whether you want to simply meditate after classes or pray your daily midday prayers.
Lastly, the Multi-Faith Centre is another invaluable resource for those looking to improve their spiritual faith and learn about the teachings of other religions through interfaith dialogue. Typically, the Multi-Faith Centre hosts various events focusing on meditation, scripture readings, and workshops to help achieve wellness through spirituality.
Despite the numerous resources U of T offers, one aspect I feel that the university could improve on would be providing a few more halal-friendly options on campus. Even though places like the Robarts Library Café, Innis Café, and Veda offer halal meals, I feel that it’s often hard to find places to eat in other areas of the campus.
The University of Toronto has come a long way from being associated with the British Church to becoming a secular institution that respects the beliefs of different groups. To achieve greater religious integration, the university should continue to cooperate with different faith groups and listen to the concerns of practicing students.