As UTM continues to plan for a return to in-person courses for the winter semester, students have been facing barriers to returning that include finding housing near campus. International students are especially struggling to find housing for their return.
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) has continued to advocate for a hybrid winter semester. Recently, it held an ‘email zap,’ in which it asked students to send out emails to administration to voice the union’s concerns about the winter semester.
Mingfeng Cai, a third-year commerce student specializing in accounting, told The Varsity that he felt that the multiple emails he sent to UTM officials had been ignored. Cai is an international student from China who says that he and his friends have been recently facing many difficulties since UTM announced the winter 2022 semester would be mainly in person.
“The last answer I got was only perfunctory, which made me feel very frustrated… that the school did not really pay attention to the difficulties encountered by students during the [pandemic],” Cai wrote.
Cai wrote that the biggest problem that he and his friends are facing revolves around booking flights and finding living accommodations. “[These] are problems that are difficult to deal with… especially when the numbers of flights are significantly reduced due to differences in COVID-19 policies in different countries.”
Cai wrote that the issues Chinese international students are facing are not just about finding housing for the winter semester, but the vaccination differences as well. Previously, Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines were not accepted for travel, but, starting November 30, they will be accepted for travel to and within Canada.
Cai believes that the fall 2021 semester is not, as UTM officials claim, a proper preparation period for students to go back to campus.
UTMSU President Mitra Yakubi wrote that the UTMSU is supporting international students with various resources to find safe and affordable housing. She mentioned the International Student Roundtable meetings and House Committee Meetings that are held by the UTMSU to discuss issues around immigration, visas, and paperwork, in which students are often directed to the International Education Centre (IEC) to seek help.
Advocacy by the UTMSU
The UTMSU is pressing UTM administration to hold a town hall so international students can address a variety of issues that have been brought up around the return to campus next semester.
The UTMSU Housing Committee has made it clear that there is not enough on-campus housing and that competing for off-campus housing is inconvenient at the best of times.
Yakubi confirmed that the UTMSU met with UTM’s principal and its vice-principal, academic and dean last week to discuss students’ concerns. A follow-up meeting to revisit students’ concerns and see what changes can be carried out to make the winter semester more accessible for everyone will be scheduled.
Yakubi hosted an email zap for students to pressure UTM officials with emails about their concerns. The UTMSU’s original goal was 500 emails. That goal, and all of the union’s subsequent goals, have been continuously surpassed as students have sent a total of 1,933 emails to date as part of the email zap.
The UTMSU believes there are some key changes that UTM must make to ensure the safety of students, staff, and faculty on campus. “We know that the cautious approach UTM took in Fall benefited many students because it gave people the opportunity to study wherever they are,” Yakubi wrote.
She wrote that the UTMSU will continue to advocate for increased safety protocols in the winter semester as well as options for students to learn without the need to come to campus if they do not have reasonable means to do so.
“I think the decision to guarantee spots for first and second year students had good intentions but impossible with the number of students we have compared to the number of spots available. It gives students a false sense of security,” she wrote.
In the process of their advocacy toward housing, the UTMSU has also heard from domestic students who are struggling to find accommodations close to UTM.
The UTMSU promises to continue to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in the Peel area, and believes that UTM will reverse their decision to return in person “[if] students add more pressure and the situation worsens.”