Corncoming puts the corn in cornmunity

Innovation, adaptation necessary to reignite campus spirit

Corncoming puts the corn in cornmunity

While it may have started as an inside joke at a St. George Round Table (SGRT) meeting in 2017, Corncoming — U of T’s corn-themed homecoming event— is once again set to take place on October 11. 

Unlike other Ontario universities, such as Western and Queen’s, U of T homecoming is not a significant part of student culture. 

University homecomings are a tradition that celebrates the founding of the university through alumni and student events, and often start with a parade, pep rally, and an opening football game. 

U of T homecoming lacks many of these elements. For many universities, homecoming isn’t just a football game, but a fun day where the student body can socialize and meet members of the community. However, at U of T, this event focuses on celebrating Varsity athletics rather than unifying students through a campus-wide social event. 

The SGRT Corncoming is one step closer to rectifying this missed opportunity for student engagement by providing students with opportunities for involvement in student societies through a day of interactive activities and events. 

“[The mystery] adds to the intrigue of the event,” University College Literary & Athletic Society President Danielle Stella told The Varsity.

On October 11, the event will open with a Fall Festival in Sir Daniel Wilson’s quad. According to Stella, the organizers are hoping to attract passersby, since the quad sees high foot traffic in between classes. After several other events, this year’s Corncoming will conclude with a Pub Night at East of Brunswick on Spadina. 

Corncoming has been a part of U of T’s meme culture since its inception in 2017, being frequently featured in the “uoft memes for true 🅱lue teens” Facebook page. The large and impassioned online response to the event indicates that there is space for U of T to grow. Students are looking for an opportunity to build a community centred around notions of campus pride. 

The event was noticeably missing last year, and Stella noted that the intrigue and longing for the event among students makes her happy.

The purpose of this year’s Corncoming is to promote student engagement, especially in response to the Student Choice Initiative, which gives students the choice to opt out of the non-essential incidental fees that provide student-led organizations with their funding.

Such changes have had an impact on the framework of activities and campus life this year. Stella is hoping that reintroducing student unions from every faculty and college can help students develop informed decisions for the winter term opt-out period.  

The event is more than just a matter of joining a club or socializing; it is an opportunity for everyone to find their place in our community.

With more than a thousand clubs, organizations, and societies across three campuses, Corncoming will hopefully bring us one step closer to reigniting student engagement.

Paul Jerard Layug is a first-year Life Sciences student at New College.

Where to find community at U of T

It’s important to nurture a sense of belonging ⁠— here’s how

Where to find community at U of T

Roseto, a small town in Pennsylvania, drew the attention of scientists in the 1950s for its peculiarly low rates of heart disease. When compared to the neighbouring towns, there were no noticeable differences between the diet, exercise, water supply, income levels, or race of residents. In fact, Rosetans smoked, drank, and had a high cholesterol intake. Employment often entailed hazardous conditions which sometimes led to diseases and industrial accidents.

So, what was Roseto’s secret? 

It was a tight-knit community. Researchers called it the “Roseto Effect,” a phenomenon in which a group experiences decreased rates of heart disease because of their communal bonds. Everyone in Roseto felt welcomed, supported, and, most of all, healthy. 

As you embark on a new academic experience, one of your main priorities should be finding a community in which you can grow and learn. In other words, finding your own group of  ‘Rosetans.’ On a campus as large as U of T, it can be difficult to find a space where you feel like you belong, so we compiled a list of helpful, but often overlooked, places to find a supportive and welcoming community of your own. 

Small classes  

First-year students have a wide variety of small classes to choose from during their studies. The most notable ones are the First-Year Foundation Ones Programs and First Year Seminars. These classes cover a myriad of interesting topics, including representations of the underworld in classical mythology, cell and molecular biology portrayal in the news, time travel narratives, and popular culture in the digital age.

Small classes are excellent places to build relationships with like-minded peers, engage with professors, and find your spot at U of T.

Faith 

Campus faith groups are some of the most active clubs at U of T. Many of them even have their own orientation events! Engaging with groups such as Power to Change, the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), or U of T Hillel is a great way to find people who make you feel welcomed, regardless of your religion or level of faith. There are several rooms and meditation spaces around campus where you can drop in to relax, pray, or meditate in between classes. 

Hobbies, leadership, and arts 

There are over 800 clubs across all three campuses at U of T, and members present their clubs twice over the course of September during the Clubs Carnival and the Street Festival, in addition to college- or faculty-specific fairs. Making the choice as to which club to join may be overwhelming simply because of the sheer numbers. One strategy is to reflect on your interests and narrow them down to one or two you would like to engage with. Then, use those as a guide to help you find the best club through the Ulife database. 

Being a first year also gives you access to year-specific opportunities, such as acting as a first-year representative in a club you care about. Check out Hart House and Ulife clubs for announcements about applications opening for first-year representatives. Such experiences will enhance your leadership skills and introduce you to like-minded people. 

Being around people who share the same love you have for holding a brush, playing basketball, or standing on a stage can be empowering. Also, many clubs, such as the Hart House Debating Club and the U of T Improv Club, have excellent opportunities for travelling to compete or perform.  

Classmates 

The people you sit beside in class are people who share your goals, struggles, and curiosity. Overcome your fear and social awkwardness by turning to the person next to you and asking them how they found the lecture or assignments. You can form study groups, attend office hours together, and help each other with course material. The stranger you sit next to on your first day of class could very well be your lifelong best friend. 

Orientation and mentorship 

Orientation is an excellent pathway for finding your place at U of T. Regardless of what people tell you about orientation, you should not miss out on it. You will be surrounded by lots of other first-year students who are all looking to make connections. Each college and faculty hosts their own orientation, but there are also academic, religious, and accessibility orientations in order to ensure that all students feel welcome.

Another option is U of T’s mentorship programs. The university has several mentorship programs that pair first-year students with upper-year students who can guide them through the year, answer any questions they may have, and provide advice regarding their classes. Your mentor can be a great resource for both academic help and finding communities in which you can grow and learn. 

Culture 

One of the advantages of being at a big university is the diversity among students. There are over 157 countries represented in the U of T student body and dozens of cultural clubs for members of different ethnic and racial groups, such as the Black Students’ Association and the Middle Eastern Students’ Association. There is also the Centre for International Experience’s Language Exchange and the Sidney Smith Commons’ Global Language Café, where you can drop in and practise a language with fellow students at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Whether you are interested in improving your Spanish skills or reconnecting with your roots, these clubs always welcome new members! Drop by the Student Life Clubhouse or find them during the Clubs Carnival or Street Festival. 

Volunteering

Your community might not necessarily be found on campus. There are several great organizations and groups in Toronto that always welcome university students to join their team. Volunteering at homeless shelters, local food banks, or community beach clean-ups is a great way to connect with your community. You could meet amazing people, while also working on great causes that give back to the Toronto community.

As the new academic year approaches, be open to seeking your own group of Rosetans that can drive away your heart disease, fend off your mental struggles, and be the shoulder you can lean on during this journey.

 

Disclosure: Shahd Fulath Khan was the 2018–2019 Secretary of the MSA at UTSG.

A different age

The stories and experiences of mature U of T students

A different age

It took me a while to decide to go back to university for a second degree. It wasn’t the exams or the countless hours of studying that made me hesitate. The financial cost, of course, had to be weighed in and managed, but what really made me nervous was wondering how I would feel about being an older student among mostly 20-year-olds.

After speaking to a few other mature students, whose ages ranged from the mid 30s to the early 70s, I realized that worrying about how to fit in among much younger peers is a common concern. But all the students I spoke with had come to terms with it, and were all happy that they decided to come back to school.

Mohsina, an undergraduate student in English and Film at UTSC, had one year of university-level education from Dubai when she came to Canada. Because of the difference in the education systems, she had to spend a year completing her high school education before her academic credits from abroad could be transferred. She says that she was initially hesitant about going back to school it wasn’t until her mom came to Canada, seven years after Mohsina, that she actually took the step.

“My mom came here in… 2012 and she was like ‘why don’t you finish your studies?… Come on, at least try.’”

Mohsina went to an adult high school and discovered that there were “so many students like me… I didn’t feel odd over there… But then when [my mom] started pushing me for university, I was like, that’s a whole different game… [but] then I realized it’s not that bad.”

Still, it took her a while to get used to university life. When she realized that some of her professors were around her age, Mohsina started to have doubts. She recalls asking herself, “they’re already done, what am I doing?”

This affected her studies because it made her “hesitant to study properly the first semester, and [she] wasn’t getting good grades.” She often felt like she didn’t belong, like she was behind. But in her second semester she started going to office hours. There Mohsina met a professor who boosted her confidence. “She told me there were professors here who started teaching in their 50s… and I think because of her I gained my confidence back.”

Another English student, Marlene, has taken classes since she retired seven years ago. “I am amazed by the brilliance of the young students in my midst,” she says. “They are always welcoming. It is especially comforting when group assignments are required… they always manage to include me.”

Mature student Marlene Colmer. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLENE COLMER.

She recalls one course where a group assignment was an essential part. “I was concerned about being accepted into a group. After all I am 50 years older than many of the students.” She was relieved to discover how welcoming the other students were; she was able to make friends among the younger students. She especially noted a 19-year-old student who was so excited to have befriended Marlene that she called her boyfriend abroad to tell him she had a new friend who was 70 years old.  

Nancy, a student who is double majoring in Music & Culture and English, said that she enjoys being an older student. Speaking on starting university, she says that “I owned it, I let everybody know how old I was. But I also acted… like we were on the same level.”

She says that the key for her has been that she always “saw them as equals, but I owned my age so at times I would step back. If I was concerned about one of my younger classmates, or if I thought I could say something about my life experience that would help them, then I’d bring that in.”

She noticed that this is an attitude that many of her younger peer students seemed to appreciate. “Some of the young people, they’re the ones who come to me, they want my friendship, right? And I value that.”

Mature student Nancy Dutra. PHOTO COURTESY OF NANCY DUTRA.

She thinks that a reason for this trend is that she takes note of students’ strengths and “[makes] a point of telling them, so when they need help either with an assignment or something in life, they come to me for advice, but then we can also joke… so in that moment, I’m the older person who’s like a mom or an aunt figure to them but at the same time I’m just like their friend.”

English professor Daniel Scott Tysdal has his own experience of being a mature student. He used the first three months of a sabbatical to complete an intensive master’s program in film at Ryerson University.

“I was super shy about it,” he says. “Among colleagues, among friends, among family. I just thought I have a career and I have a life and I have this path and it just seemed… people would think I was silly.”

Mature student and Professor Scott Tysdal. PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT TYSDAL.

Then when he did tell his friends and family, he found that most were supportive. Even at the department, his colleagues thought that it could be a great development also for the program that he teaches.

Still, coming to Ryerson, he felt self-conscious. “I was shyer than I was expecting to be, and I was much more self-conscious than I was expecting to be. Just that way when you imagine someone is looking at you and really no one even noticed that you’re there.”

Sometimes he would also feel self-conscious about his comfort levels when using certain technology, compared to some of his younger peers. “The instructor is showing it up on his screen and everyone’s moving along… and he’s a good teacher because he’s teaching at the level that really the most people in the class were at, but [I’m] still trying to find my files, right?”

But then he asked his classmates for help. One particular peer student ”basically just abandoned his assignment and sat with me and then… coached me along and helped me with that and it was really good because then he gave me more confidence.”

When I asked professor Tysdal why he wanted to do this program, he says “I always loved movies and writing movies, and then in grade eight graduation I got a video camera so I started making videos… I thought I was going to make… great horror movies, that was my dream.”

As an undergrad, he struggled with mental health problems and wasn’t able to pursue a major in film, but ended up focusing on poetry.

“It was always in the back of my head… I would still love to try something to do with film. I felt like, what am I going to regret when I’m… 70 or 80, what will be that thing that I’m [thinking] I wish I had done.”

For Nancy, it was a bit different. “I always knew what I wanted to do, but none of the majors fit exactly, and so I ended up working and I enjoyed the things I was doing. But then when I had my first child, I found that I couldn’t continue performing music, that’s what I had done for a number of years, because it meant late nights and then early mornings with my child, and I just couldn’t do it… So what I did was I started looking into programs.”

Marlene, on the other hand, has mainly focused her life on family and a career as a teacher, but discovered she wanted to continue educating herself. She initially started taking evening classes to improve her teaching skills.

“Then in the 80s I met a former high school friend who was taking university courses and she encouraged me to take night courses with her.” Eventually, Marlene had to give up the night courses because of other commitments.

Things changed, though, when she retired from work. “I have had the honour of having the love and support of a wonderful husband and remarkable mother-in-law all through my career. Before my mother-in-law died at age 96, I promised her that when I retired I would return to university. I retired in June 2012 at age 65, and I returned to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto in September 2012.”

When asked what she likes best about studying, Nancy says “just having the opportunity to listen to music, to explore music, to talk about music… It was hard in the beginning because I had been out of school for so long. But I worked hard and eventually with time it just became part of my new life.”

“I’m surprised by how much I love speaking with my professors. I thought I would be intimidated, but I’m not.”

In her first year, Nancy didn’t speak much with the professors. “I really was just acclimatizing to the student experience. But in my second year I started to ask questions even in the larger classes. It really was just about the work so once I got over that initial… culture shock of being in school… if I wanted to learn something I just put up my hand and asked the question.”

She also found that the other students around her were helpful. “Especially in my first year, I would just ask the young people around me how things worked. I didn’t even know how basic things worked in the school… so I really just asked people. I said ‘sorry, this might be an embarrassing question, but how does ‘x’ work?’”

After her undergraduate degree, Nancy plans to continue on to grad school. “I like it so much. I don’t want to stop the conversations with the professors. I’m learning and, yeah, I’m a nerd.”

Mohsina also plans to go on to grad school. Mohsina advises any prospective mature students to “definitely… go for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re old or not.”

Professor Tysdal reasons similarly. “I don’t think you’re going to regret it… For me, I don’t think I could have regretted it because it worked a way I couldn’t even have dreamed it would, it was perfect. I now teach things I learned there and I make things I learned there. But the other thing that could have happened is I could have done it and [discovered] this is not for me… But at least then I would have known that… Otherwise you can just go on wondering and then suddenly maybe it’s too late. I would say definitely, I don’t think you can regret it.”

Summarizing her university experience, Marlene says, “I love learning. I love meeting and encouraging students. I love the fact that I am old enough to be the mother of any of the professors I have met.” She adds, “People my age ask me what my goals are. These courses are too late to add to a pay scale and I don’t care about a certificate. I do care about challenging myself and continuing to learn as long as I am able.”

Rosa Luxemburg: living flame of revolution

Toronto New Socialists host Professor David Camfield

Rosa Luxemburg: living flame of revolution

In the late afternoon sun on February 10, the Toronto New Socialists welcomed Professor David Camfield to speak on socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Slight and soft-spoken, with a ring of curly hair haloing a narrow face, Camfield teaches in the Department of Labour Studies at the University of Manitoba. He is also the author of the academic books We Can Do Better: Ideas for Changing Society and Canadian Labour in Crisis: Reinventing the Workers’ Movement.

The audience, mostly middle-aged, sat on fold-out chairs. A man in a Democracy Now! ballcap shook hands with everyone around him, and others called greetings to one another across the room. The person who sat next to me turned and asked if I was involved in any organizing.

A hundred years after Luxemburg’s murder, I was glad to spend an afternoon discussing her life, ideas, and continued relevance today.

Luxemburg’s life

The event began with a land acknowledgement, then flowed into Camfield’s introduction. He briefly outlined Luxemburg’s life and her role in the German socialist movement. Rosa Luxemburg, he explained, was a leading figure in the dominant Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), until the outbreak of World War I. It may seem anachronistic, but the SPD was the greatest socialist success of the early twentieth century prior to 1917. In fact, in 1912, it captured 34.8 per cent of the vote to become the largest party in the country.

Luxemburg, who held a PhD in economics, was an influential speaker, organizer, and theorist of the booming German socialist movement. Her major economic work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913), examined the intrinsic connection between capitalism, nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. She was committed to revolutionary principles, and as such led the radical wing of the SPD. She frequently clashed with the reformists, especially future party leader Eduard Bernstein, who hoped to achieve gradual changes while maintaining the existing capitalist system.

These ideological schisms deepened as war preparations began in Germany and the country tilted ever closer to outright militarism. In the German parliament, where women were not able to vote, Bernstein’s SPD voted to approve the war. Devastated, Luxemburg rightly recognized Bernstein’s and the SPD’s support for the war as an enormous betrayal of principles and left the party. In response, she helped found the Spartacus League, which was dedicated to revolutionary struggle and systemic overthrow — not Bernstein’s policy of compromise.

Luxemburg was heartbroken by the division of proletariat and the turn toward nationalism instead of the international solidarity of the working class. She protested fiercely against the war and was arrested in 1916 for her agitation. She spent the duration of the fighting in prison.

After the war ended, Luxemburg continued to work with the Spartacists, who grew increasingly frustrated with the stumbling Weimar government. Without her foreknowledge, some Spartacists launched a premature revolt in Berlin in 1919. Though she recognized the time was not yet right, Luxemburg took to the streets.

Leaders of the reformist SDP responded by unleashing the Freikorps, a proto-Nazi gang of thugs, to subdue the crowds. They murdered Luxemburg in the street on January 15, 1919.

Lessons for today

Our world today, Camfield reminded the audience, is markedly different than that of Luxemburg’s. As such, some aspects of her analyses are absolutely temporally bound. For one thing, capitalism today is vastly different than it was in the early 1900s. Unions and left-wing political organizations were robust and relatively powerful in early twentieth century Germany, unlike today, where the contemporary power of unions has been drastically co-opted by bureaucratization and far-left political parties are relatively sterile. Nevertheless, posited Camfield, Luxemburg’s writings and theories still contain some relevance for the twenty-first century.

He narrowed this into five main points.

First, he said, Luxemburg’s theory that capitalism leads to complete social breakdown — with a final stage of intense regression and destruction — is clearer than ever: our world is literally melting from climate change, as driven by corporations.

Second, an advanced society with cooperative production is entirely possible and compatible with democratic principles.

Third, leftists must also remember that the start of a new order requires a social revolution — not gradual change. Real change cannot happen under capitalism, he reminded listeners, and reform will always be handicapped by the system that created it.

Fourth, this social revolution must be precipitated by a massive process of self-emancipation: in other words, the revolution must be led from below, not above.

Finally, Luxemburg’s commitment to internationalism rings particularly true today, when ultranationalism is rising and countries close their borders to migrants.

Rosa Luxemburg shouldn’t be deified, but neither can we afford to forget her. 

Editor’s Note (February 26): This article has been updated to clarify the contents of Camfield’s statements and the breadth of his academic work. 

Let’s get the ball rolling

The remarkable ways in which sports bring people together

Let’s get the ball rolling

With Portugal’s recent Euro 2016 victory, jubilant voices echoed through the thrumming streets of Toronto’s own Little Portugal. The Portuguese community and fellow fans — regardless of occupation, age, or gender — were united through the fulfillment of their collective goal of victory.

It was the thrill of sport, in this case European football, that brought them together. This shows that despite occasionally creating divisions, sports can be a powerful uniting force.

Consider, for instance, the power of sport in relation to the larger Toronto area: a community that brims with various cultures. Through the recent successes of the Raptors and Blue Jays, Toronto was brought together to share team spirit and a communal goal of victory.

I remember Union Station’s buzzing atmosphere just after the Blue Jays advanced in last year’s playoffs; sports had turned a typically cold atmosphere into one of vibrancy, cheer, and euphoria as individuals celebrated with complete strangers, regardless of their differences. For those trickling down from the Rogers Centre, anyone in sight represented a valid companion with whom to celebrate. And that was truly the power of the experience, in my opinion: what made you a Blue Jays fan was the fact that you were there.

In many cases, however, it is true to say that sport can bring on bitter rivalries and divisions: the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in hockey; Barcelona and Real Madrid in soccer; and India and Pakistan in cricket are only a handful of examples.

At its core, sports are competitive, with the participants’ primary aim being of defeating one another. In situations of passion, partisanship, and high stakes, regrettably, even violence can ensue.

Many fans, such as those of England and Russia, fought during the Euros. The loss of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley cup stirred up riots. In  extreme cases, such as the 2012 Port Said Stadium Riot in Egypt, deaths have occurred.

A combination of passion, fan fever, and alcohol can cause many to behave irrationally.  Nevertheless, sports are often a fundamental uniting force considering the shared experience and language that comes from being a player, and likewise, from being a fan.

In fact, sports can be powerful enough to bring about cooperation between bitter or hostile parties, with even the fiercest rivalries sometimes resulting in  unity. This is because fans and athletes often agree to a set of rules and principles. Moreover, it is compulsory for all players to treat each other with respect and dignity. Agreement and respect towards these rules are mandatory for anyone to participate. If a team loses, they must acknowledge the loss despite the circumstances.

This is not to mention the fact that players are always changing sides. In the case of All-Star games, players from rival teams even work together in order to beat other players from the league. International tournaments, such as the Euros, do this in the most radical way. Players from different clubs face their teammates. And this would not be possible without mutual cooperation and acknowledgment of the rules of the game; through player associations, athletes commit themselves to the best treatment of each other.

The true power of sport lies at the heart of these standard rules and principles that govern it. Sport creates a universal language that does not require an understanding of any particular language or culture, but simply human intuition and communication. Nor does it require membership in any particular ethnic, political, or religious group. Instead, sport appeals to our innate and universal human qualities, including physical activity, strategic thinking, communication, and teamwork.

On a larger scale, sports can help to create a foundation for communication and cooperation between countries. Through sport the world has potential to achieve the same welcoming and joyous atmosphere we have observed in Toronto over past years. Like the city, the world has an assortment of cultures, languages, and backgrounds. And like in Toronto, sports can bring people together, not just as Torontonians, but as world citizens.

Sam Routley is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science, history, and philosophy.