Throughout September, after orientation week events like the tri-campus parade, various groups at U of T held orientation events — including a welcome bonfire held by Student Life and the Indigenous Initiatives team, Black Excellence Orientation at UTM, Queer Orientation held by the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, and a mature students’ community event — welcoming students to the university. Many of these events focused on orienting students from marginalized communities to campus.
The Varsity attended two orientation events at U of T to hear from students about their experiences.
First Nations House orientation
On September 13, First Nations House (FNH) — an organization that provides services for Indigenous students at the university — hosted an orientation event to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the space and programs that FNH offers.
The event began with opening remarks and introductions from staff at FNH, including FNH Director Michael White and Carol Ducharme, the organization’s Indigenous learning strategist. In a speech, Bonnie Jane Maracle — a Traditional Teacher in residence at FNH and a member of the Mohawk Nation at Tyendinaga Territory — described FNH as a “Rez away from rez,” a second home equipped with resources to encourage Indigenous students’ success in and outside of the classroom.
The event included a tour of the building, which includes a free kitchen equipped with fruit, vegetables, and other food that students can take from; an array of quiet study spaces; rooms for traditional healing; and a library with Indigenous texts and books available for loan.
FNH offers personalized financial and academic advising for Indigenous students on all three campuses, opportunities to meet one-on-one with Traditional Teachers, and appointments for Indigenous students with disabilities to meet with Indigenous accessibility advisors. They also run events throughout the year, such as beading circles and Indigenous Education week.
Ashlyn Beck, a third-year political science student, told The Varsity that she found it harder to become involved at FNH last year because there was no FNH orientation. She was glad that one was being held this year so that she could learn of the various offerings and connect with her community.
Grace David, a second-year who studies global health and physiology and is a member of Chapleau Cree First Nation, also found the orientation event to be a positive experience. She told The Varsity, “I wanted to find a smaller community in such a big school. Orientation was a great way to start the year and meet new people from similar backgrounds.”
International Student BBQ
On September 15, UTSC held an international student barbeque event on the Humanities Wing patio. The event included free food, music, and tabling from various clubs across UTSC. Students were also encouraged to eat together at picnic tables and share their personal experiences with others.
According to program coordinator and administrator Betty Liu, the annual BBQ started in 2010 and aims to foster lifelong relationships among international students and help them navigate moving into a new place.
Liu, who runs the orientation event and transitional programs for international students, discussed the purpose of the BBQ in an interview with The Varsity. “We want to create a platform for [students] to mix and mingle. This is why we’re here,” she said. “We also want to create a new vibe for students to get engaged… we don’t want them to feel lonely.”
Liu discussed the types of support systems available for international students as well. She explained that bringing students together creates another form of support. “Sometimes, support from us is more serious.” She continued, “But the peer support is more creative because they can meet a student and they can talk about anything.”
The event was cancelled for two years during the pandemic but returned last year. In 2022, the event saw a significant turnout, and its focus shifted to orientation for first-year students, in order to give them opportunities for involvement on campus.
In an interview with The Varsity, Alexander Platzer, a first-year business management co-op student from Washington, DC, spoke about his thoughts on the welcome BBQ. “I think it’s very useful for the new international students to host events like this and bring people together and make new friendships.”
When asked about the difficulties of moving to a new place, Platzer said, “The hardest part is probably being away from home, from family. And a new environment, not knowing where everything is and making connections. But again, these events help with that.”
Mayank Singal, a first-year business management co-op student from India, spoke to The Varsity about his experience sitting with new friends. For Singal, one of the hardest parts about moving has been adjusting to the new environment. He said, “[Welcome events are] nice because if I didn’t attend, I wouldn’t meet [new] people.”