Following a successful levy campaign in spring 2018, The Varsity was poised to enter a new era of growth. Initially, it did — new money helped Volume 139 pay editors fairer and hire new positions, among other important developments.
Then came the first storm: the Student Choice Initiative (SCI). Opt outs necessitated critical cuts to Volume 140 and undermined the previous year’s expansions. And though the SCI was struck down later that year, we were soon hit with another, more menacing crisis. The pandemic turned life upside down, including our own little world at The Varsity.
Without in-person activities, our connections to readers and the dynamic campus life that underlines our work have faced serious challenges. With our operations moved online, the hallways of our office — which are so central to our staff’s sense of community and belonging — have been ruled by absence and silence. Zoom calls and Slack chats, while having served as valuable substitutes, can only go so far to compensate for the losses.
And yet, despite the overwhelming difficulties with which we found ourselves dealing all year, I am more hopeful than ever about the state and fate of this newspaper. That optimism is owed to the people who — in the guiding words of my exemplary predecessors, Josie, Jack, Jacob, Alex — are at the heart of this paper, who pressed on through thick and thin, knowing that they are intimately involved in telling the rough drafts of U of T’s history. Each member of our team has pushed boundaries, against all odds — proving that no crisis can take us down.
Hannah and Lauren’s news team, with the support of bureau chiefs Hafsa, Alexa, and Isabel, executed stellar in-depth coverage of the pandemic’s impact on all corners of the university community. Nadine accentuated focus on growing mental health and accessibility concerns in our opinion pages, while Ori highlighted unique personal and club experiences of disconnection. With Stephanie’s incredible features team, we’ve maintained our award-winning reputation.
Spencer wonderfully fulfilled the business section’s expanded labour mandate at a time when workers need crucial attention, while Tahmeed brought refreshing balance and personality to our science coverage. Special shoutouts belong to Sports Editor Laura for delivering important wellness and fitness content in a year without games, and to Megan and Maya, the invisible heroes who defended our high accuracy standards.
Meanwhile, against a year of despair, Nathalie’s creative leadership brought life and spirit to our words — with elegant design from Will and Aditi, beautiful cover illustrations by Fiona, and the cutest of pet photo essays from Samantha’s team.
With print circulation reduced due to the pandemic, The Varsity struggled to cope with the heightened pressure on online outreach and engagement this year. Nonetheless, our digital team — Silas, Munachi, Andrew, Zack, and Rahul — made great strides in enhancing our website and delivering digital-exclusive products. Dina, Joy, Adam, and Andy made us incredibly proud when they represented the paper and hosted an amazing digital NASH conference. Our Business Office, composed of Joy, Parmis, and Angelina, met our print ad dilemma head on — innovating new online ad strategies that will prepare us for the future.
All of these people — in addition to our 600 contributors, 152 of whom are staff — tirelessly and resiliently delivered important work. They made an impossible year possible. And while their big picture achievements will certainly take the front seat in my memory of the volume, I also recognize that what often inspired me to keep going in the thick of it were the smaller victories of the day.
It’s the new contributor sharing their first Varsity content on social media, a comment or email of appreciation for a job well done, that sigh of relief after a high-stakes article finally makes its way to the audience, and that big error that’s caught prior to publication. These private wins and lowkey triumphs, which often go forgotten as we move from one tumultuous week to the next, bring me back to what we’re all doing here in the first place — to the idea that it’s all worth it in the end.
Over the past two years, equity has been central to our organization’s focus — not only in terms of the quality and range of our coverage of marginalized communities, but how we go about building meaningful relationships and improving representation within our own organization. I am pleased with the groundwork we have laid, including our equity guide, staff demographic survey collection, and compensation for special issues like Black History Month.
But there is always more to do — and I am excited to see how Volume 142 builds on these foundational steps to make this newspaper more accessible and empowering for all students. And I can imagine no better person to lead the next chapter than Hannah, our next editor-in-chief. Hannah brings years of rich news experience and calm, trustworthy judgement to the table.
Her vision to reinvigorate The Varsity’s internal sense of community and the paper’s place within the wider U of T community is of utmost importance as we head toward a post-pandemic world. We’ve had enough crises for a while — I wish her nothing but normalcy.
Before closing this letter, I would be remiss not to thank Nathalie, Silas, and Kathryn. At times of panic and pressure, they offered helpful reassurance and necessary pushback — ensuring that the decisions we made together were far better than the ones I would have made alone.
To the readers: thank you. I hope that we have kept you informed as we worked to keep campus institutions accountable through the pandemic.
To our contributors: I hope that we have served as a reliable platform for your voice. Our pages will always belong to you.
To the next generation of The Varsity: go on, capture, and relish those big moments. But also remember to pause at times and appreciate the little things that keep you going.
Here’s to small victories.
— Ibnul Chowdhury
Editor-in-Chief, Volume CXLI