Content warning: this article contains brief mentions of death.
On February 6, 2023, an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale destroyed parts of southern Türkiye and northern Syria. Hours later, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Türkiye added to the destruction. As of February 18, more than 46,000 people have died as a result of the earthquakes. The death toll continues to rise because some people remain trapped in the debris while others remain homeless in subzero weather.
During the 2021–2022 school year, 300 Turkish students attended U of T, making Türkiye the eighth most common country of origin for international students. Following the earthquake, students have since come together to host fundraising and donation events to send aid to Türkiye and Syria, despite what the students claim is lack of action from U of T.
U of T’s response
On February 6, Joseph Wong, U of T’s vice-president, international, published a message addressed to the community. “On behalf of the University of Toronto, I would like to express concern and sympathy for those here and abroad who are affected by this disaster,” he wrote. “We are thinking particularly of members of our community who have family and friends in these areas, alumni living in the region, and colleagues and collaborators.”
Wong highlighted the university’s support resources, including personal and academic counselling. An update to the message, published on February 9, noted that the Government of Canada will match any disaster relief-specific donations to the Canadian Red Cross made between February 6 and 22, and encouraged community members to donate.
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), and U of T Graduate Students’ Union have also issued statements of solidarity with those affected by the earthquakes.
In an email statement to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson highlighted the previous message from Wong and explained that U of T’s Multi-Faith Centre invited students to a drop-in grief support session this week.
In an interview with The Varsity, Ulaş Güler, a Turkish UTM student studying economics and communication, culture, information and technology, told The Varsity that the International Education Centre (IEC) also emailed Turkish students to share mental health resources available to them.
The U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that the “University of Toronto community continues to respond with empathy to the earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria, and to follow the humanitarian response, as well as local support efforts from students, staff and faculty.” According to the spokesperson, U of T President Meric Gertler sent a letter of condolence to Kerim Uras, the ambassador representing the Republic of Türkiye within Canada.
The statement from the spokesperson highlighted the student groups across the three campuses that had been fundraising and collecting donations. The statement read, “We encourage groups to post their events on the Student Organization Portal to broaden awareness.”
After the earthquake, Güler and other Turkish students formed a group to support victims. “This is a time that we need to be… united, and caring for all of those millions of people that are under the rubble right now,” Güler said.
According to Güler, the group tried to raise awareness of the damage from the earthquake by putting up posters around campus, but UTM policy prevented them from doing so because the group is not a UTM recognized club. The academic society or club non-exclusionary policy highlights certain requirements for posters going up around campus, including the size, how and when they are put up, and being approved and “stamped” by the UTM Centre for Student Engagement.
Güler said that this policy has limited fundraising efforts. He said that the IEC is one of the only groups, including University services, organizations, and student groups at UTM, willing to help the students raise donations, but the centre cannot accept cash or e-transfer donations, which are sometimes easier for students to give.
Through five bake sales hosted by Turkish students across the three campuses, the students managed to raise approximately $21,000. Outside organizations that the students have negotiated with have matched many of these fundraising efforts, so Güler believes the donations will total around $50,000.
The UTSC chapter of Amnesty International tabled in the SCSU’s student centre during the first week of earthquake relief efforts. Likewise, the Turkish Students’ Association at UTSC will be hosting a donation drive at Bladen Wing throughout the February reading week.
Where to donate
On February 9, Erica N. Walker, dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), published a statement highlighting OISE’s In-Kind Donation Drive. Starting the week of February 13, Walker invited U of T community members to drop off brand new items in the OISE Lobby by the security desk during the building’s operating hours. The building, located at 252 Bloor St W, is open from Monday to Friday, 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, and on weekends from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. She wrote that OISE’s donation bin will operate until March 6.
The Turkish Society of Canada highlighted opportunities for individuals in the GTA to drop off needed, unused items, including but not limited to: winter and other forms of clothing, blankets, tents, tent mattresses, thermoses, cleaning and hygiene products, and sanitary napkins. Their North York warehouse is located at 325/A Flint Road. People can also deliver canned foods and baby formula to the Turkish Society’s second warehouse, located at 3063 Universal Drive in Mississauga.
Organizations like Save The Children, the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders have set up online donation platforms for individuals who would like to donate money. A website called Charitynavigator.org also has a list of over 20 organizations contributing to the humanitarian effort.
With files from Khadija Alam, Alyanna Denise Chua, Nawa Tahir, and Angad Deol.
If you or someone you know is in distress, you can access:
- U of T My Student Support Program (My SSP) | 1-844-451-9700. Outside of North America, call 001-416-380-6578. Culturally-competent mental health and counseling services in 146 languages for all U of T students.
- Good2Talk Student Helpline | 1-866-925-5454
- Professional counseling, information and referrals helpline for mental health, addictions, and students well-being.
- UTM Students living on campus are able to speak to any Residence Student Staff member to find resources, or talk to their Residence Don for support if students are feeling distressed or need someone to talk to.