Results of Trinity student experience survey reveal systemic issues

Transparency, inclusivity, alcohol at centre of findings

Results of Trinity student experience survey reveal systemic issues

Tensions ran high in a meeting held by the Trinity College senate on October 15 to present the results of the 2018 student experience study, a survey of students at the college conducted every four years.

The meet was held in the George Ignatieff Theatre and conducted by Trinity College Assistant Provost Jonathan Steels and University College official Naeem Ordóñez.

The survey was the source of controversy after college administration announced in July that Trinity student fees could no longer be used to purchase alcohol, and that major events such as the Saints and Conversat Balls would be held off-campus at permanently-licensed venues.

Citing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Steels and Ordóñez declined to present any information that would reveal the demographics of the respondents, which included the removal of axis labels on all graphs that they showed.

Students in the audience heavily criticized this decision and tensions between the presenters and students in attendance remained high for the rest of the event.

Compiling the responses of 450 respondents and 70 focus groups, the study consistently found that students cared about issues around alcohol use, the transparency of the student government as well as the administration, and inclusivity. In addition, they placed high value on student leadership.

Alcohol use

On issues of alcohol consumption, Steels first presented alcohol surveys from 2012 and 2015 that found that three in four respondents were drinkers, and a high number reported binge drinking, hospitalization due to alcohol consumption, reports of altercations, and vandalism of Trinity property.

Steels also referenced the 2018 Quad Party at Trinity, showing pictures of damaged restrooms and a torn-down Trinity College sign, which he said caused $15,000 in damages to property.

Ordóñez, who presented the findings of the 2018 study, found that while some students consider alcohol to be “part of the culture” of Trinity, others felt frustration over the consumption of alcohol at events. The study also found that a majority of students surveyed were unaware that student funds were being used to purchase alcohol for events.

Transparency and inclusion

While some comments lauded the community at Trinity, others felt “disillusioned” and saw the student government as representative of only a certain population.

Responses also included comments that alleged classism, racism, and election influencing by “Social Trin and Episkopon.”

When Ordóñez was asked by an audience member about ethnic demographics in relation to activeness and engagement at Trinity, he responded that he could not give any explicit information. However, he did mention that in the 2015 Student Experience Survey, “you can see higher levels of engagement around traditional populations at Trinity than [from] modern populations at Trinity.”

One anonymous survey response from a student of colour this year criticized Trinity’s culture and lack of diversity: “The culture here is one of rich, privileged, private school-educated kids who are white… I’ve also come across some really questionable behaviour and attitudes toward my race.”

In response

The Varsity followed up with Trinity student and former Chair of the Trinity College Equity Committee Lisa Klekovkina, who criticized the way that information was presented and accused the administration of attempting to influence public opinion using data.

Klekovkina’s concerns centred around the omission of issues discussed during the focus groups, and the presentation of negative quotes and data that focused on dissatisfaction with Trinity’s student governance.

In addition, Klekovkina referred to another student who had raised concerns about mental health issues and sexual violence at Trinity to criticize the administration’s limited focus on alcohol as the sole cause for problems presented in the data.

“To me, it is obvious that liability is still more important to the administration than student suffering,” said Klekovkina.

Trinity student Lorraina Roth, who was also in attendance at the meeting, wanted to see “a deeper and more mutual understanding between the perspective of the students and the perspective of the administration.” Roth also added that the administration must listen to the attitudes and feelings of students if it wants to see positive change.

In a statement to The Varsity, Steels said, “We recognize that change is difficult. However, based on the work done last year, it was clear that action was needed to ensure that Trinity’s student social community is welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and safe for all of our 1,900 students.”

“We are working together with members of the community to reimagine aspects of the student experience in ways that ensure more inclusive practices that benefit the entire community.”

The Varsity has reached out to the Trinity Heads of College for comment.

Alcohol at Trinity events can no longer be paid for with student fees

Large events like Saints, Conversat to be moved off campus

Alcohol at Trinity events can no longer be paid for with student fees

Starting this coming school year, Trinity College student fees can no longer be used to purchase alcohol, and large events — including the Saints and Conversat formals — will be held off-campus at permanently licensed venues.

An email to students signed by college administration and student leaders stated that the move “will give student leaders the opportunity to focus resources on programming that is accessible to both drinkers and non-drinkers.” Additionally, moving larger events off-campus will allow for larger capacity.

“Student leaders will receive training and support while work will be done to ensure student government independence is balanced with the requirement for financial accountability and transparency,” reads the email.

Previously, Trinity regularly hosted events where alcohol was sold to students of age, which required a special permit from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The events also needed to be approved by the dean’s office.

These actions come after Trinity conducted a 10-month survey of students, asking them about their experience at the college. This was followed by focus groups and an “expert external review of alcohol culture at Trinity and best practices at post-secondary institutions.”

Student leaders immediately expressed their grievances against the changes.

Within the email itself, the Heads of College —  some of the highest elected student representatives at Trinity — “expressed great disappointment with some aspects of the Action Plan.”

In a statement released on Facebook, the Heads wrote that they had concerns about “student safety in moving events off-residence,” and that the plan changes how the college’s governance and levy systems operate.

“We have invested huge amounts of time and energy into these negotiations,” reads the Heads’ statement. “Unfortunately, due to the nature of the data and the Board’s inability to ignore the information now that it has been collected, the administration chose to implement the policy changes in their entirety.”

According to the email from the administration and student leaders, the college will continue consultations throughout the summer and fall, which it encourages students to attend.

Other changes mentioned in the email include developing a separate Residence Code of Conduct, having residence common rooms overseen jointly by Academic Dons and Heads, and moving the Welch residence common room to second Macklem.

This story is developing. More to come.

Trinity uses facilitator for mediation between college heads, Dean’s office

Ban on alcohol-licensed events lifted conditionally

Trinity uses facilitator for mediation between college heads, Dean’s office

According to an email sent out to Trinity College students during reading week, the Heads Team and Dean of Students office are working with an external facilitator to help with the mediation process following the vote of no-confidence in the Dean’s office this September.

They also announced that Saints Ball, Trinity’s annual licensed charity semiformal, would be held as usual, ending Provost Mayo Moran’s ban on alcohol-licensed events, albeit conditionally. The event was held from November 18–19.

“Temporary postponement of licensed events depends on student behaviour during [Saints Ball],” said Co-Head of College Victoria Lin when asked prior to the semiformal.

The email added that the Heads Team and the Office of the Dean of Students are undergoing mediation “to restore trust and our positive working relationship.” The two parties will meet with the facilitator again on November 20 to see “where things stand,” according to Co-Head of Arts Lukas Weese.

The external facilitator, Chris McGrath, was appointed by Moran. He is currently the Associate Vice-President Student Experience and Registrar at Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College. McGrath has years of experience working with students, including a term as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs at U of T from 2006–2011.

“As our discussions to date have been positive, we were able to proceed with the Saints Ball in a manner that helps to preserve a fun and positive experience, while emphasizing safety for all students. The Heads Team and Dean’s Office are committed to continuing to work together to ensure a positive student experience at Trinity,” said Dean of Students Kristen Moore.

A new rule was introduced at Saints Ball this year, ending in-and-out privileges to the event. People attempting to exit and re-enter risked having their admission wristbands cut off. The purpose, the Facebook event page message said, was to “maintain student safety.”

Saints co-chairs Gabriel Ferland and Viktoriya Mykhaylychenko said in a joint statement, “We are unsure as to how much this had to do with the Heads Team and Dean of Students, as Saints has always been a difficult event to control and the Dean’s Office has always tried to find new ways to maximize security.”

Meanwhile, as the Heads Team and the Dean’s office work together to rebuild trust, Co-Head of Non-Resident Affairs Mitch Nader said, “Things are progressing normally for the rest of the student body.”

“Students can, and have always been able to, go to the dean’s office with their concerns,” confirmed Nader.

Sports and drinking: a perfect match

Alcohol is the norm in sports

Sports and drinking: a perfect match

Some equate Varsity Stadium’s poor attendance during varsity football games to a lack of spirit. That would be true, but just a couple kilometres south, the opposite can be said for attendees at the Air Canada Centre (ACC), who are cheering on the Raptors or the Leafs.

Is it simply because people get more pleasure from watching the Raptors than from watching the Varsity Blues? Out of all universities in the OUA though, U of T boasts some pretty impressive standings. Rather, it appears as if the problem stems from the lack of a form of enjoyment that is automatically associated with sports: alcohol.

“I went to a game, like most first years do when they get into university,” said Arvin Reyes, a second-year media studies student. “But after being only one of 50 or so in the audience, and a large absence of alcohol when attending the game, I think I’m better off going to Western’s games with my friends.” 

A University of Minnesota study on alcohol consumption in sports showed that a substantive amount of post-secondary students were above the .08 limit while watching a game. This suggests that drinking goes hand-in-hand with sporting events, which is why U of T needs to consider offering it at its facilities.

Drinking in a more controlled environment is also safer for the students. Last year, University of Maryland president Wallace Loh said student leaders want to “transition from a culture of unsafe pregame binge drinking to a culture focused on healthier social drinking.”

Seeing as it would be impossible to eliminate the drinking aspect of live sports, it would be beneficial to incorporate it into these events legally. Plus, events on campus would encourage attendees that live in close proximity to travel by walking instead of driving.

Additionally, tailgating — when fans gather before games to socialize and eat meals served from the back of trucks — promotes a sense of school spirit and attachment that transcends attendance at a game. At Louisiana State University, for example, socializing begins the night before the game and continues on until well after the game.

In most cases, it’s not even about the game; it’s about the experience that a student has participating in something larger than themselves. It’s time U of T and universities alike recognize that alcohol facilitates that process.              

A recent article in the New York Times describes the relationships an attendee built while tailgating before a game. “Normally, you just talk about football, try to initiate conversation,” the fan said. “You just got to talk to people and then you realize, ‘ Hey, I’ll see you again next time.’ That’s the whole point of tailgating… you meet everyone around you.”   

Including alcohol in sporting events might bring about additional issues, but these could be prevented with the right type of controls. U of T could benefit from some increased school spirit at games and providing alcohol would be a step in the right direction.

A subtle sip of sexism

Sorority policies banning alcohol consumption should be revised

A subtle sip of sexism

FRATERNITIES and sororities on campus, also known collectively as the Greek community, have a reputation for enabling alcohol consumption. It is almost second nature to associate ‘frat parties’ with ‘booze.’

In the midst of stereotyping, however, we often overlook how the Greek community actually creates tiered systems of access to alcohol. Alcohol is not officially permitted in sorority houses or at the events sororities host.

One consequence of this is that Greek Week — a week full of events for both fraternities and sororities — hosts an event that explicitly excludes sorority members. The Facebook page for Greek Week 2014 notes: “Boat races is back for another year… Please note that sororities will not be earning points in this event nor are they allowed to participate… ” For boat races in 2015, the page noted that they would be observing the same rules as previous years.

This is just one example of a larger, more troubling trend in Greek culture. By restricting sorority members’ access to alcohol unfairly targets female students. Underlying this system is the denial of female competency and responsibility regarding the consumption of alcohol. Sanctions for alcohol consumption imposed on women in sororities also reinforce gender roles, in which women were expected to not ‘let loose’ but instead remain ‘classy’ and ‘sophisticated.’

Leah McLaren draws attention to such pervasive gender stereotypes in her review of the CBC’s recently released documentary Girls Night Out. The documentary claims that the apparent rise of binge drinking among teenage girls is linked to instances of sexual assault.

In addition to showing that the consumption of alcohol by women is actually decreasing, McLaren writes, “We are encouraged to judge these girls for their keggers and drinking games, and yet anyone who has ever known a 19-year-old will recognize their experimental behaviour as utterly common… In the end, all they seem to be guilty of is having a good time.”

The shaming of female alcohol consumption reflects a subtle sexism that still exists within the Greek community, which can result in various negative consequences.

The restrictionss on alcohol do not curb sorority members’ desire for it, nor should adult women be expected to abstain from alcohol. Many sorority members will go elsewhere to drink. These restrictions, by indirectly shifting the location of parties and drinking elsewhere, creating potentially unfamiliar and possibly dangerous situations for women.

Alcohol consumption remains a significant part of most students’ university experiences. Women are as capable of drinking responsibly as men are, and it is time that they are treated that way.

Sororities need to allow their members to participate in more events, even those involving alcohol, and at least allow women to keep alcohol within their own rooms. The adoption of such policies would also work towards removing the stigma around women who drink.

I am not advocating for increased alcohol use. I recognize the host of problems that come with binge-drinking; those concerns, however, are not the focus of this piece.

It is true that some sorority members drink alcohol in their rooms or at their events anyway. The official policies, however, do not recognize female autonomy and they create double standards. Sororities should quit imposing paternalistic and patronizing policies. A sorority sister is no less responsible or respectable, if she chooses to have a drink with dinner.

Chantel George is a fourth-year student at Woodsworth College studying neuroscience and physiology.

Alcohol on campus: the sobering truth

U of T lacks comprehensive policy on alcohol in residences

Alcohol on campus: the sobering truth

For many students, the consumption of alcohol is a central component of recreation and relaxation. There is a distinct culture tied to university drinking — the red solo cup and drinking games like beer pong are intimately linked to generic images of college life. Alcohol culture, however, manifests at different college residences in a variety of ways.  Despite having an extensive alcohol policy related to the promotion and sale of alcohol at university sanctioned events, the University of Toronto has no overarching policy on the possession and consumption of alcohol in residence buildings.

New College, the second-largest college on the St. George Campus, and home to approximately 880 resident undergraduates, has strict policies on alcohol. The college lists misuse of alcohol as a major offence, alongside acts such as “inappropriate disposal of human bodily waste” and “causing damage to or stealing residence property.” The residence agreement to which all New College residents must consent, lists underage drinking, serving alcohol to underage students possession of funnels or other drinking paraphernalia, and drinking games, as behaviours that are prohibited. 

New College also cracks down on party culture, which is not exclusive to alcohol. It is considered a minor offence to have a party, defined as: “any combination of two of the following three criteria: i) five or more individuals in one room ii) the presence of alcohol iii) significant noise.” New College takes the strictest stance on alcohol of all the colleges, stifling not only recreational alcohol consumption, but also that of socialization in residence as a whole.

The Residence Life Office at New College did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Trinity College’s drinking culture stands in stark contrast to that of New College. The college can apply for a permit that allows them to hold events serving alcohol in a cordoned-off area. Upon acceptance to Trinity, all first-year students wishing to go to events at which alcohol is served are required to attend an alcohol education seminar, held during Orientation Week. The Office of the Dean of Students keeps track of which students have attended the session in order to admit them to events throughout the year.

Adil Abdulla, chair of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM), expressed concern with the enforcement of the college’s alcohol policy. “People are meant to check for ID when they sell those [drink] tickets… I don’t really think anybody checks,”  he said. “There some events where everybody gets alcohol, there are no checks for it whatsoever, and it is totally free.”

Abdulla also revealed that the TCM can access about $160,000 of the college’s residence fees, $22,000 of which is projected to be used on alcohol for licensed college, this year. This spending implicitly incorporates the provision of alcohol into the college’s mandate, making alcoholic events central and prevalent. There is an inconsistency in the willingness of the college’s administration to intervene in student life and private spaces.

Victoria University has regulations that govern students’ private property as a form of alcohol policy, stipulating in its residence handbook that residents may “not have, obtain, or make a fake ID — if [they] have one it can be confiscated and legal action may be taken.” Melinda Scott, dean of students at University College, indicated in an interview with The Varsity that the college does not take a punitive stance on alcohol. “It is not our practice for residence staff to conduct random checks of student rooms,” Scott said, adding, “[we] also know that there are some who will choose to consume alcohol regardless of their age. For this reason, we try to balance sanctions for underage drinking with education about the responsible use of alcohol.”

Woodsworth College, the largest college at U of T, takes a similar approach to UC. “Generally we take an educational approach, encouraging our residents to make responsible choices should they choose to consume alcohol, while noting that it is not a requisite part of attending university,” said Steve Masse, assistant to the dean for residence life. Like all colleges, the consumption of alcohol is not permitted in public areas, which include hallways and common rooms.

“[When] a resident is found to be in violation of some part of our alcohol policy, they are assigned an educational sanction that encourages reflection and healthier behaviour in the future. This approach typically proves quite successful at altering problematic behaviours,” said Masse.

The expression of alcohol culture varies widely across the residences at U of T’s colleges. The reasons for the inconsistency between alcohol policies at different colleges remain unclear. It is clear that the experience of those in residence is shaped greatly by the subtleties in alcohol policies that govern that culture.