To properly acknowledge Indigenous territory, go off script

Speech must reflect intent, purpose, and a commitment to action

To properly acknowledge Indigenous territory, go off script

From U of T events to some NHL games, traditional land acknowledgements have become increasingly commonplace in Canadian public spaces. The purpose of such acknowledgements should be self-evident in the era of truth and reconciliation: for non-Indigenous settlers to recognize and honour the history of the land and the Indigenous people who have long resided on it.

U of T’s Governing Council officially adopted a Statement of Acknowledgement of Traditional Land in 2016 following consultation primarily with First Nations House, as well as with non-Indigenous members of the U of T community. The statement is intended for “specific university ceremonies,” but it is also open for use by U of T community members at all three campuses.

It reads: “I (we) wish to acknowledge this land on which the University of Toronto operates. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.”

There is, however, an expanded version on the First Nations House website that is also used at some events. It adds that “this sacred land… Has been a site of human activity for 15,000 years” and “was the subject of the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy and Confederacy of the Ojibwe and allied nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes.”

This version is distinct in important ways: 15,000 years of human activity sharply contrasts with Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, and the recognition of the Dish with One Spoon treaty implicitly reminds residents of their obligation to take care of the land. This expanded version should be used at university ceremonies and events.

Either way, the acknowledgement seeks to shift conversation and address Canada’s history prior to colonialism — for example, by using the decolonial term “Turtle Island” to describe North America — and importantly, the enduring presence of Indigenous people on this land today, not just in the past.

But the proliferation of land acknowledgements in the reconciliation era has also drawn criticism. Ryerson University’s Advisor to the Dean Indigenous Education and Anishinaabe writer Hayden King helped produce Ryerson’s land acknowledgement in 2012, but expressed regret for doing so earlier this year in an interview with CBC News. He criticizes the acknowledgement for only superficially addressing important and real historical treaties like the Dish with One Spoon in a way that obscures their significant value.

Furthermore, the fact that Indigenous community members produce the script to be read by non-Indigenous speakers at events reveals a labour imbalance. Settlers avoid putting in the work when it comes to learning about the nations that live on and the treaties that continue to govern this land.

King also criticizes how “privileged spaces” give themselves invitation and permission to be on the territory through such acknowledgements. Indeed, at a privileged institution like U of T, to say “we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land” self-grants a legitimacy to settler presence. This overlooks the unethical and non-consensual processes through which colonization occurs, such as in the case of the 1787 Toronto Purchase.

Perhaps acknowledgements should more explicitly describe the historical and existing power dynamics between settlers and Indigenous people on this land, as well as the obligation of settlers to redress it. However, acknowledgements are intended to be brief and are only a starting point for settlers to engage with Canada’s history. If they are used by an audience as a placeholder for in-depth learning, then the acknowledgement is counterproductive and does not serve its purpose.

That is why the university must also invest in cultural competency and literacy in the form of curriculum changes. We need an on-campus community that is more informed of settler-Indigenous relations for the conversation sparked by land acknowledgements to be sustained and fulfilled.

Acknowledgements should also be problematized with regard to the speaker. The fact that a scripted statement is mechanically recited over and over again at various events at the university means that it risks turning into an empty, formulaic, and performative gesture. It is relegated to a checkmark in the scheduling of the event, rather than a foundational moment that grounds and shapes the conversation that is had. In order to be meaningful, it has to achieve some level of active reflection and personal intention.

Hence, King suggests that beyond acknowledging the land, the speaker should also describe what they intend to do about it. It is important that the land acknowledgement be partially self-written — personalized and catered to both the speaker and the audience. We encourage the speaker to disclose their positionality and what the acknowledgement personally means to them. They should address how the land acknowledgement speaks to the event in question and also how the organizer of the event intends to better serve — in concrete terms — the Indigenous people and the land that they acknowledge.

This should apply to all events, including student-led ones, but especially for senior administrators at U of T, such as the president or provosts. They should describe how far the university has progressed with regard to reconciliation since the U of T Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee report was released in 2017, and what the university is still committed to doing — for example, hiring Indigenous staff, creating physical campus spaces, and making curriculum changes.

As we argued in a previous editorial, “Reconciliation must mean action, not words.” The sharpening contradiction between reconciliation rhetoric and the federal government’s actions exposes Canada’s hypocrisy. Speech alone does not create change; concrete action does.

It is crucial to understand that land acknowledgements are not a part of reconciliation in and of itself. That is what Lee Maracle, a Sto:lo author who teaches oral traditions at U of T and helped create U of T’s official land acknowledgement, conveyed to the Toronto Star. “Reconciliation is economic equality, access to territory, all of those things that are in the 94 calls to action… No more taking our kids. Like stop right now. Take care of the missing and murdered women. Stop killing us. None of those things have ended.”

However, land acknowledgements can serve to reshape discourse, culture, and language in a way that can commit speakers and impressionable listeners to take action toward systemic reconciliation. This is true for youth at university, and even more so for children across schools under the Toronto District School Board, where, since September 2016, land acknowledgements have been integrated into the morning announcements.

The next time you are at an event at U of T and the speaker recites the land acknowledgement, reflect on what the words mean to you and how you intend to do better for this land and the original nations of this land. And if you are a speaker, do what’s right: go off script.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

To preserve credibility, the student press must be careful with sensationalism

Reviewing the missteps of The Underground during the 2019 SCSU elections

To preserve credibility, the student press must be careful with sensationalism

Though The Varsity has a tri-campus mandate, we are impressed by how closely our peer publications at UTM and UTSC are able to cover stories on their respective campuses. UTM’s The Medium and UTSC’s The Underground have strong histories of news coverage and invigorating commentary. It is essential that reporters and contributors on the ground at those campuses are able to serve readers in ways that The Varsity might not.

However, with the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative posing a serious threat to the financial stability of the student press, student journalism is now, more than ever, under the microscope. The student press must take even more care to remain a trustworthy and responsible campus institution with the risk of losing not only credibility but also funding. In light of this, it’s vital that we in the student press — especially among U of T outlets — hold each other accountable to the very highest of standards.

Let’s not play a part in the drama

Following a weak presence last semester, The Underground has launched a new website and is putting out regular online content. However, it has fallen wayward with respect to upholding journalistic norms and responsibility in its publishing. 

We are very aware that this editorial may come across as The Varsity condescending toward another student publication, despite being prone to mistakes ourselves. Our objective is to offer constructive criticism in an era of destructive criticism toward the press, because U of T readers deserve the very best from their student media. We assure you that this editorial will later delve into The Varsity’s own imperfections, so please bear with us for a little while.

One of the most salient issues in The Underground’s recent coverage is its undue sensationalism of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) elections. While it’s our firm belief that the student press has some wiggle room to be sensational — if we can’t, who can? — when it comes to student union elections, the actions of candidates individually and during events within the campaign period often speak for themselves.

The editors and reporters of The Underground went beyond what we think is acceptable sensationalism by fanning the flames of an already-inflammatory election, and not exercising due caution and responsibility in the publication of sensitive statements. Case in point: the article summarizing the events of the election is titled “2019 Elections Drama.” This clearly injects commentary into what is otherwise a news story.

It must be said from the start that the SCSU elections were fairly dramatic. The election period included allegations of violence, a widespread campaign against now president-elect Chemi Lhamo, and the controversial disqualification of SCSYou slate leader Anup Atwal. The Underground was, to its credit, absolutely on top of every development in the elections and started off well by hosting a candidates’ debate.

However, its hair-trigger attitude led it down a path of quickly and testily publishing every story as it arose. In one case, The Underground published an article about a private Facebook chat that exposed anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments from Atwal. However, in using a raw screenshot of Atwal’s comments as evidence, The Underground reproduced and propagated a transphobic slur against a Shine Bright UTSC candidate. This was arguably libellous toward the candidate. The article also failed to contextualize that the candidate is a transgender woman, and furthermore failed to explicitly call out Atwal’s statement as transphobic.

In addition, the article was published before receiving and including comments from either the candidate or Atwal. The Varsity also admittedly publishes articles that indicate that certain figures have been reached out to and have yet to provide comment. But this is a question of context and accessibility: when covering a student union election, student politicians are accessible for comment. When an article includes high-stakes information about an election, it is vital to retrieve comment from all figures who are named and are central to the story in order to ensure fair and complete coverage. Notably, the article still does not have their comments. This is absolutely a transgression of responsible journalism.

More broadly, there seemed to be a general forgetfulness among the editors of The Underground over the role of the media in informing the public. We aren’t here to disseminate all information available, but rather to curate and present it to our readership in a way that makes sense of the facts at hand and landscape at large. Doing otherwise has the potential to propagate misinformation and entrench the chaos already surrounding union elections.

This was certainly the case with The Underground’s proclivity for publishing extensive screenshots of Facebook messages between candidates. Many of the messages were notably asinine, but they were presented without the context to provide depth or constructive explanations of the events of the campaign.

For instance, The Underground published an anonymous screenshot showing a Facebook chat with SCSYou’s Vice-President External candidate Chaman Bukhari. In the screenshot, an anonymous person is shown asking Bukhari, “How was it,” to which Bukhari replied in Urdu, “Fuzool” and “Wohi LGBTQ [bakwas].” The Varsity translated Bukhari’s text to “useless” and “the same LGBTQ bullshit.”

However, The Underground failed to find out that the message took place two years prior to the election period. While Bukhari’s comments are obviously insensitive, we wonder to what extent The Underground’s editors and their eagerness to publish private messages were used, by themselves or others, as a tool to sow further division in the campaign.

Committing to standard journalistic practices

All of this was punctuated by an “op-ed” by The Underground’s Editor-in-Chief, Eilia Yazdanian, which was a rambling diatribe against how the elections were conducted. We don’t understand why Yazdanian’s piece was labelled an op-ed, which is an opinion piece written by an author who does not belong to the outlet’s editorial board. By contrast, opinion pieces written by an author who does belong to the outlet’s editorial board, like Yazdanian, are called editorials. These pieces, like the one you’re currently reading, typically speak for the outlet as a whole. Yazadanian’s piece should have been labelled as an editorial, or at the least, as a letter from the editor.

One reader also pointed to the fact that Yazdanian did not disclose in his op-ed that he was previously the Vice-President Operations for the SCSU. While Yazdanian initially defended the non-disclosure, a disclaimer was later added to the op-ed. This clear misunderstanding of journalistic form has accompanied other transgressions by The Underground, including the issuance of corrections and clarifications to articles in Facebook comments, when these notes should be added to the articles that are being clarified. In fact, it appears that when they do make updates to articles, they do not indicate that they’ve done so with an editor’s note, which is standard practice.

When the election finally came to an end, The Underground did not opt to invest in formally covering the results in the form of an article, as it had done with the aforementioned scandalous stories. In what is perhaps the most important aspect of any election — who won — the outlet oddly chose to simply post screenshots of the results, leaving it up to readers to flip through the raw information rather than provide them with original and organized reporting.

The Underground must also quickly address a glaring oversight in the design and categorization of its website: the fact that there is no clear divide between news and opinion pieces. The line between news reporting and opinion commentary is sacred in journalism. It must be upheld so that readers understand what is being presented as fact and what is being presented as a reasoned opinion. This line is also worth upholding to separate reporters from columnists, with the idea that publications should not have the same people reporting on stories that they have taken or will later take strong stances on.

Finally, it should be noted that prior to the controversy-filled SCSU elections, two previous stories published by The Underground, one in January and the other in November, had to do with Fusion Radio’s financial scandal and Asian Gourmet’s food scandal. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the coverage of scandals — indeed, it is important to do so — to only focus on such stories means that The Underground risks cementing itself as a sensationalist outlet that is primarily interested in clicks and views. By not covering or telling other stories, especially positive ones that have taken place this year, The Underground also inadvertently risks negatively stereotyping UTSC, which is already a big issue.

The currency of credibility

All this isn’t to say that we at The Varsity don’t make mistakes or deserve criticism. Quite the opposite — we welcome critical engagement from our readership because it holds us accountable, gives us opportunities to improve, and allows us to show our readers that we’re listening and willing to do better. And our readership hasn’t hesitated to tell us when they think we’ve messed up. We’ve published many critical letters to the editor this year, touching on issues from the comprehensiveness of union procedure reporting to accessibility concerns with our Fall Magazine.

The role of our arms-length Public Editor, Morag McGreevey, also allows readers to express concerns to someone tasked with upholding journalistic ethics at the newspaper but not beholden to the publication’s management structure. McGreevey, like her predecessor Sophie Borwein, has proved indispensable in weighing in on issues of journalistic ethics and calling us out when she thinks we deviate from them, as she did in her criticism of our discussion of a photograph of a Ryerson Students’ Union executive and Premier Doug Ford, or our coverage of Faith Goldy in the Toronto municipal elections.

Ultimately, we’re excited by the renewed vigour and spunk that The Underground is showing this year. But that can’t come at the cost of good journalism. As The Underground continues to expand its coverage, it should consider how it will be accountable to its readership, whether through letters to the editor or an arms-length, third party in the form of a public editor or ombudsperson. And we also welcome criticism from The Underground and The Medium, whom we have also criticized in the past, to challenge us on our shortcomings.

There’s a saying that credibility is currency in journalism, and it’s vital that student media outlets ensure that they aren’t wasting energy and efforts in a way that damages a relationship of trust with readers. Ultimately, not only do the criticisms in this editorial aim to be healthy and constructive, because we want UTSC readers to be better served by their closest outlet, but they are to some degree self-interested. We cannot afford to see a given outlet make mistakes that become easy targets in today’s anti-student press climate and ultimately hurts all outlets.

In a Facebook comment, Atwal has expressed his hope that The Underground will not receive sufficient funding with the implementation of the Student Choice Initiative in September. This kind of mentality is concerning, especially from a former presidential candidate who had previously defended student journalism, pledged to resist the Student Choice Initiative, and could have been held to account by an outlet like The Underground had he won the election.

When journalistic institutions make mistakes, the solution is not to destroy them. Rather, it is to offer healthy criticism and hold them accountable so that they can improve and better serve us in the future. To preserve the currency that is credibility, let’s do just that.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Editor’s Note (February 24): This editorial has been updated to include information about the SCSU election results coverage by The Underground

How’s the weather, UTSG — and what’s wrong with you?

Student safety must be paramount when severe conditions hit campus

How’s the weather, UTSG — and what’s wrong with you?

On three dates across the past several weeks, severe winter weather conditions have compelled universities across southwestern Ontario to cancel classes or close campuses entirely. This is naturally expected, provided that universities prioritize the safety of their students and employees.

But what’s wrong with you, UTSG?

On January 28, UTM closed at 4:00 pm, UTSC closed at 5:00 pm, and UTSG cancelled classes at 6:00 pm. The next morning, UTM and UTSC remained closed for several hours, while UTSG re-opened.

On February 6, UTM closed yet again, UTSC cancelled classes starting at noon, and UTSG closed at 3:00 pm.

On February 12, the worst of the three cases arrived, as evidenced by a winter storm warning issued by Environment Canada. Both UTM and UTSC closed early in the morning, as did universities across Toronto and southwestern Ontario, including ones located blocks away from UTSG, like Ryerson University and OCAD University. The only exception was UTSG, which decided near noon to only cancel classes that started at or after 4:00 pm due to “worsening weather conditions” in the evening.

The point is that UTSG has consistently chosen to delay the inevitable decision to cancel classes or close campus, while its satellite campuses have exercised the prudence to make the call earlier. It has also frequently opted for the softer of the two choices, cancelling classes, unlike the other campuses.

UTSG’s anomalous behaviour has caused many students to rise up in anger on social media, and rightly so. It is unacceptable that this campus operates significantly differently from the other two, especially when they all belong to the same region being affected by severe weather conditions.

No respect for commuters

UTSG’s record is first and foremost disrespectful to commuters. By delaying the decision on whether or not to cancel classes, thousands of commuters are forced to make unsafe and messy journeys to campus, made even worse as sidewalks have not yet been shovelled or salted in the early hours of the morning. Furthermore, many have their commute times significantly lengthened due to poor road and transit conditions, especially if they are from outer suburbs like Mississauga, Oakville, or Markham.

This forces commuters to personally account for the weather in their commute time, and may nonetheless cause late arrivals to classes without any accommodations. If a commuter student decides to not go to campus at all, out of fear for their safety, then they are burdened with the responsibility to individually negotiate with and be left at the mercy of individual instructors for missed participation or tests.

The disunity of decision-making between all three campuses has the potential to negatively impact students taking courses at other U of T campuses. On February 12, while shuttle buses serving UTM students who attend UTSG classes were cancelled, they were still expected to attend.

Some commuters had also just arrived on campus when UTSG finally made the calls to cancel classes, rendering their difficult journey unnecessary. On January 28, for instance, an alert email to students indicating the 6:00 pm cancellation was sent just minutes before. Meanwhile, UTM and UTSC students were given notice hours before that their classes would be cancelled. The Varsity has learned that, unlike its satellite campuses, UTSG has no official guidelines on the timelines for making decisions about evening classes.

Commuters, along with others who may have been on campus beforehand, then have to reckon with the fact that they still have to make the unsafe commute back home, in “worsening” evening conditions. U of T must create and apply policy that reflects and accommodates commuters, the majority of its students.

No consideration for student safety on campus

None of this speaks to the additional issue of walking conditions on campus itself. On February 12, the city began salting roads at around 7:45 am, and it took around 18 hours to get main roads and sidewalks salted and shovelled. Thus, dangerous sidewalks have been a reality for students forced to walk through a large campus to get to class on time, especially during  midterm season. If the university knows that sidewalks are not safe by the time classes begin, then it should close campus to ensure that there are no accidents.

Although U of T’s decision already posed difficulties for able-bodied persons on campus, it was especially inconsiderate of students with accessibility needs, such as those who need wheelchairs or scooters for mobility and find it more difficult to navigate through the snow and ice. Clean-up crews tend to focus on sidewalks and major points of entry and, as a result, ramps can remain icy and difficult to navigate. Snowplows also pile snow back onto sidewalks and curb cuts, limiting wheelchair and scooter access.

The extreme cold and winds can also put individuals at risk of hypothermia, a condition in which the body cannot warm itself fast enough and causes body temperature to drop. Hypothermia is all the more likely if students are outside waiting for buses or walking to class.

Unfortunately, not all students made it through safely on campus, especially on February 12. One student who was rushing to get from one midterm to another slipped on unsalted black ice and sprained their knee. Their doctor subsequently prescribed them a knee brace. Another student slipped on ice hidden under snow and hit their forehead on the ground — the Health & Wellness Centre diagnosed them with a suspected concussion.

It is important to note that these are just two of several stories that were reported to The Varsity. There are many more, and they are not exclusive to students; instructors and employees at the university are equally vulnerable. UTSG’s policy has tangible consequences in the form of danger and harm to those who are forced to walk on campus, and the university must take responsibility.

Selective communication

Other members of the U of T community may not have been physically hurt, but had added stress as a result of these late or absent cancellations. One Varsity masthead member reported that, for two of the three dates of severe weather conditions, their accessibility and therapy appointments at the university were cancelled prior to any general decision from the university regarding the weather. Although the university is reluctant to cancel classes or close campus, it is not reluctant to shut down important services that students may desperately need to access.

Another masthead member had a midterm scheduled from 3:00–5:00 pm on February 12. The university cancelled all classes and midterms starting at or after 4:00 pm. However, it did not clearly indicate what would happen to midterms that started before but ended after the cancellation, leaving students uncertain.

It only clarified that midterms would go on once prompted by students, even though no justification was given after all, if it is deemed unsafe to be on campus after 4:00 pm by the university, then to hold a midterm that ends at 5:00 pm is entirely inconsistent. This was similar to February 6, when U of T closed at 3:00 pm but indicated that it would be up to instructors to decide whether or not to cancel classes that started before 3:00 pm.

When prompted by The Varsity on the subject of campus closures under severe weather conditions, U of T Spokesperson Elizabeth Church indicated that safety is a “top priority” but that “there are thousands of classes, exams, tests, labs and tutorials on each campus throughout the day. The decision to cancel classes or close a campus is always challenging.”

This seems to imply that the magnitude of operations on campus has a bearing on the kind of decision that is made. But it shouldn’t. If safety is compromised, then the decision should be made. Safety is not simply a “top” priority; it is the paramount priority. The inconvenience that may spillover to the university’s bureaucracy as a result of the cancellations should be secondary.

We need a safety-first policy

We call on Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat, who are involved in the decision-making process for cancellations and closures at UTSG, to do better for students, instructors, and employees. First of all, they should learn from UTM, UTSC, and other campuses in the region, and make decisions much earlier to show consideration for commuters and students with accessibility needs. Students should not be left to negotiate with their instructors for extensions or accommodations when their safety is compromised.

They should also do better to ensure that all cancellations are communicated effectively and widely, and that all student inquiries and confusions are preemptively answered. Given the stress that cancellations may put on bureaucracy, a simple solution is for instructors to reschedule cancelled classes to the makeup day at the end of the term, or to negotiate with their classes regarding covering missed material.

This is also an opportunity for student unions to demonstrate that they are not simply driven by “crazy Marxist nonsense” as the premier has accused. In fact, organizing and advocating for student interests with the university administration is at the core of the mandate of student unions. We call on the University of Toronto Students’ Union and other student unions at UTSG to demand a better cancellation and closure policy to ensure that students no longer face dangerous circumstances in this and future winter seasons.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Love beyond romance

Make Valentine’s Day about family, friends, U of T, The Varsity, and yourself

Love beyond romance

Every February 14, the capitalist cisheteropatriarchy (we’re not social justice warriors; we’re being satirical, somewhat — we promise!) calls on us to perform, or yearn for, ‘romance.’ That is, lavish expenditures and material offerings for ‘the one.’ But love is much more than romantic gestures directed toward a single target.

Spreading affection to the broader community and to oneself ought to be the goal of Valentine’s Day. So we challenge you, U of T’s student body, to give your love to something different this year.

Love your family

The rigour of studying at U of T often results in a disconnect from what really matters: family. If you live on or near campus, you likely don’t see your family for weeks at a time. For international students, this might even be months or, god forbid, years. If you’re a commuter who still lives with family, it’s likely you’re too busy at school, doing extracurriculars, or on transit to spend as much time with your folks as you should.

In some ways, this is what we all dreamt of. University was sold to us not just as a pathway to better employment, but as an escape from home, to experience independence and responsibility. And this is an important step for young adults. But homesickness is a real phenomenon for many — it doesn’t take long to miss home-cooked meals, for example.

Remember, the number one supporters of what we’re trying to achieve at U of T are those whom you consider family, whomever comes to mind with that word. On Valentine’s Day, give them a call and tell them you love them.

Love your friends

Yes, friends do exist at U of T — and no, the library doesn’t count. During your time here, you are bound to have made some acquaintances, whether through your college, classes, events, extracurriculars, or the gym.

In any case, you probably have multiple social networks that fuel your enjoyment at this university. Whether helping you with homework, listening to you vent, or discussing how problematic that one professor’s views are, you were never in it alone. Take a moment to appreciate the community around you by letting your friends know how central they are to your university experience.

Love U of T

Okay, this one is controversial. How can you possibly love U of T, or even like it? After all, this is the school whose grandeur radiates alienation until you feel like a nobody, and makes you tired from walking so much. This is the school that refuses to close its downtown campus as early as its satellite campuses, leaving commuters to suffer. And, above all, this is the school that engages in contentious policies, be it the university-mandated leave of absence policy or investments in fossil fuels.

But, by the time you leave U of T, you’ll probably feel kind of cool for having gone here. I mean, what’s not to love about those emails you get about the school being ranked number one in Canada, yet again?

In all seriousness though, going to U of T, despite all its challenges, puts you right at the heart of a buzzing metropolitan city. There’s always so much to do and somewhere to be, and you can easily hop on transit to get there. Be an explorer, and learn to love the adventures and little pockets that you didn’t know existed. And there’s a world unto itself on campus, with plenty of activities and events to experience. So take the day to love what U of T has to offer.

Love The Varsity

Obviously, at some point, we’re going to ask you to love us, your student newspaper. To be honest, we get more hate than we deserve, especially when we’re accused of being biased and having a political agenda. We’d like to tell you that what we do is actually invaluable on campus.

First of all, we keep the student body informed about what’s happening on campus. When the university or a student union does something questionable, we communicate that information to you. On the bright side, when a theatre show, sports game, or scientific discovery is really worth tuning into, we let you know. And we provide you, the students, a platform to express yourselves.

We’re always looking for writers, designers, photographers, illustrators, copy editors, and more, so join us if you’d like to make a difference in how this paper is run. And if you’re a reader who wants to know what U of T is up to, pick up a print issue on a stand near you, or hit up our website.

Our doors are always open, so drop by on February 14 to say hi.

Love yourself

No matter how much you might be struggling with school right now, or stressing over getting into graduate, medical, or law school in the future, remember that everything working out depends on you taking care of yourself.

So get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and do things that make you healthy and happy. Life is short, but university life is even shorter. So take it day by day, and make sure that moving forward doesn’t mean leaving you and your needs behind.

On Valentine’s Day, remember that love starts with loving yourself.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Okay, U of T, let’s talk

But put your money where your mouth is — invest in mental health services

Okay, U of T, let’s talk

Content warning: discussion of suicide.

Paralleling the annual “Bell Let’s Talk” campaign, a “Let’s Talk UTM” event will take place on January 30. There are wall posters across UTM encouraging students, staff, and faculty to open up about their struggles with mental health. This kind of event aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

U of T’s promotion of “Bell Let’s Talk” is nothing new, and the focus on awareness and conversation-based initiatives, as with the recent Mindfest event, appears to be favoured. There is no question that enabling students to speak without shame and educating people on the seriousness of mental illness are important.

However, these alone are not sufficient. When it comes to mental health, U of T can’t just talk the talk. It must walk the walk, by providing adequate services, resources, and allyship to students who are struggling. Otherwise, these events amount to token gestures designed to market the university as an institution that values mental health, without actually making the necessary material investment.

Mental illness is a growing problem on campuses, and services intended to deal with it are operating over capacity. Consider the dramatic increase in student registration at Accessibility Services in recent years for mental health reasons. Perhaps this is an indication that mental health initiatives, designed to reduce the stigma, are working. Students, rightly, are told that they aren’t alone and that it is okay to seek help.

But when they do seek help, students aren’t met with the kind of support they are promised. Instead, they face long wait times for appointments, and caps on the number of counselling sessions they are allowed to receive from university health care providers.

Time and resources allocated to operating mental health campaigns should be matched with hiring more counsellors and mental health nurses. Although the limit on appointments at Health & Wellness per year has not been verifiable, the personal experiences of Varsity masthead and contributors suggest that UTM has a cap of five, UTSC has a cap of eight, and UTSG has a cap of 10.

One of the most common forms of therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), CBT is a common form of psychotherapy that takes a thought-based approach. This means that individuals are taught to develop skills and strategies to improve their mental health.

CAMH indicates that CBT can be beneficial if done in six to 20 sessions. But given U of T’s caps, students who build the strength and courage to attend counselling will likely not benefit from CBT. The same applies to other forms of counselling. The sessions won’t be effective if students are restricted to a certain number of visits. Students who reach their cap are advised to seek counselling outside the university.

Although students are automatically enrolled in a health insurance plan, which would pay for a portion of these appointments, the amount provided through insurance is not always enough to cover the entire cost. This means that counselling services remain out of reach for some students, especially those who are financially insecure. Additionally, there is a cap on the amount of money students may receive through insurance in a single policy year — leaving students alone, once again, when their policy runs out.

The very willingness of students to access mental health services has likely also been compromised since the approval of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP) last summer.

According to the university, the UMLAP is a positive step toward better mental health on campus. Under the UMLAP, students experiencing mental health issues that the university believes interfere with their studies, or pose a threat to themselves or others, can be asked to leave the university until they are able to demonstrate that they are mentally well enough to continue their schooling.

The Varsity’s editorial board has expressed concern about the UMLAP in the past. It takes away students’ autonomy, and its existence likely deters students from seeking help in fear of the policy’s consequences. Revealing too much could result in students being asked to leave the school.

This is the university’s answer, even though a student may simply prefer a middle ground of better accommodation while still progressing in their degree, pursuing extracurricular activities, and remaining in a social space and support network on campus — all of which can boost their mental health.

Ironically, then, the UMLAP does not address the problem. Rather, it re-stigmatizes mental illness and forces students to face their challenges alone. The application of this policy completely contradicts the messages of encouragement and support peddled through university-run mental health campaigns.

When somebody died by suicide last June at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, it was a grave reminder of the reality of students’ struggles with mental health. And when the university still chose to approve the UMLAP just days after this incident — and on top of significant student opposition — it revealed a severe lack of judgement and sensitivity toward campus affairs.

U of T would much rather pretend that there is no mental health crisis on campus, because it likely fears that such a revelation would compromise its reputation and deter student enrolment, ultimately affecting the university’s bottom line. It would much rather pathologize, isolate, and remove vulnerable students who challenge U of T’s sterling reputation.

But mental illness is not exogenous to the university. Surely, cultures of stigma toward mental illness and an emphasis on competitive academics, for which U of T needs to take responsibility, produce students with mental illness.

If the university were to adequately invest in services and policies that encourage openness and properly accommodate students, it could help students reach their potential and strengthen the academic reputation it prioritizes so much. It could even bolster U of T’s image as a benevolent institution that cares about its students, and thereby stimulate enrolment.

To this end, doing better for the mental health of students is also a matter of self-interest — even though it shouldn’t be — and is financially within reach if the university makes it a priority in their multibillion dollar budget.

If U of T is going to encourage students to open up about their struggles, the university should adequately respond and support them when they do. Students need access to mental health resources, and not in the form of toques or self-care bags. So, okay U of T, let’s talk — but put your money where your mouth is.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

For the people, except the students (and almost everyone else)

We must resist Ford’s onslaught against affordable education and campus democracy

For the people, except the students (and almost everyone else)

Last week, the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) government announced devastating changes to the domestic tuition and student fee frameworks for postsecondary students. While disturbing, this move was not surprising. 

Since taking office, Premier Doug Ford has re-introduced an outdated sex ed curriculum to children, mandated universities to develop ‘free speech’ policies in a perverse attempt to silence campus opposition to the far right, prevented minimum wage from increasing to a fairer standard as needed by student and youth workers, and cancelled funding for three new GTA university campuses. 

In other words, what happened this week is the latest in a series of actions by a government that has little respect for education as an institution and students as an electorate. And it’s only been seven months. There’s 41 still to go, and we must settle in for the long haul. 

Lose-lose: less affordable, lower quality 

Last Tuesday, when the PCs announced a 10 per cent tuition cut for domestic students, the story was met with skepticism. While lower, or even free, tuition is a cornerstone of the student movement, critics were concerned that the PC version of this would be coupled with other cuts detrimental to students. 

This turned out to be true when the complete PC framework was revealed on Thursday. Under the sly slogan of “for the students,” Ford plans to implement major cuts to affordable education and debilitate the student voice and capacity to organize, starting in September. 

Fewer students will qualify for financial aid. Fewer still will receive substantial grants. No longer will students from low-income families receive non-repayable grants amounting to free tuition, which was the model introduced by the previous Liberal government. Furthermore, the PCs have eliminated the six-month interest-free grace period on OSAP loans, meaning that interest will start to accrue immediately after graduation. 

The PCs have tried to sell their plan as “refocusing” on lower-income students. But exchanging free tuition grants for lower-income students with a 10 per cent tuition cut for all students is giving an unnecessary cut to those who can already afford the cost of education, while reducing assistance for those who actually need it. 

These changes mean an increase in the amount of debt that students will accrue, deterring many low-income students from enrolling in postsecondary education at all. It will also force many graduating students to seek employment immediately after graduating to pay off their debt and avoid accumulating more, rather than continuing to graduate or professional programs to which they may have aspired.

Not only is this model ineffective, given that students lose financial stability and are at a higher risk of defaulting on their loans, but it is also unethical to profit off student debt in the pursuit of “financial sustainability” and to “reduce complexity.” The PCs fail to understand that education is a public good and a long-term investment. Investing in more affordable and accessible education lays the groundwork for a larger and more skilled labour force that will ultimately produce wealth and give back to society.

These changes undermine the ideal to which meritocracies should aspire: that students, no matter their financial circumstance, should be supported to go as far as their abilities can take them. Now, universities and colleges might become a place primarily populated by privileged students.

Such exclusion also affects marginalized communities who relied on free tuition the most. For example, Indigenous students and single mothers benefitted greatly from the previous plan. These groups will certainly lose out. 

Alongside affordability, the quality of higher education is also at a serious risk. The PCs announced that there will be no corresponding support from the government to offset the loss of revenue caused by the tuition cut for universities and colleges. The Varsity projects that U of T will lose at least $43 million in revenue from undergraduate students, although such a big institution will likely bear this loss better than smaller universities and colleges. 

This inevitably means that institutions will intensify their corporate model, transferring their losses back to students in the form of cost-cutting measures. This could mean reduced services, fewer staff, increased class sizes, fewer course options, and an increasing reliance on contract instructors. 

Ultimately, a reduction in the price of education is meaningless if quality is compromised. Tuition reduction and elimination work only if the government increases funding for students and institutions — yet per-student funding at Ontario colleges and universities is already among the lowest in the country.

The end of student democracy?

An equally dangerous aspect of the Ford model is that students will be able to opt-out of “non-essential” incidental fees, which go toward student unions, media, clubs, and services on campus. The PCs argue that this will provide students with more choice regarding how their money is spent, and like the tuition cut, will put more money back into their pockets. 

This opt-out model is problematic because it treats students as individual, private consumers, as opposed to members of a broader community to which we belong. 

Student fees are the product of past democratic endeavours to collectively pool resources and produce services from which all can benefit. Consider the analogy of our single-payer health care system: we all pay into and benefit from essential health care services. 

However, the dilemma, as with health care, is that students do not always know that they need a particular service until they actually need it. Some services covered by student fees, like the Health and Dental Plan, are already refundable for students. Moreover, student fees are only a marginal part of the overall costs that students pay. 

It is clear that the PCs failed to adequately consult the student community in making these decisions. When The Varsity questioned them on this matter, the PCs defended their consultation process but failed to be transparent about which specific groups were heard. 

Perhaps some students will feel relieved that they no longer have to pay into organizations that they feel abuse their fees. When it comes to student unions specifically, the frustration and distrust that many students feel is justified, and The Varsity is the first to sympathize. We’ve reported frequently on issues of accountability and transparency within our student unions. We all expect functioning democracy from them. 

However, the solution is not to destroy institutions that aren’t working. Rather, it is to increase political participation and effect reform. Student unions are ultimately what students make of them. Through elections and referenda, students can democratically change how their fees are allocated. When we are dissatisfied with the government, we don’t opt out of paying our taxes. We participate in campaigns and elect better leaders to change how our taxes are spent.

Aside from the services they provide, student unions also play an important role in advocacy. Through the opt-out option, Ford is opening the door to the destruction of the student voice as a political movement that negotiates with powerful forces like the university administration and the government.

Since student fees fund clubs, community life on campus would be compromised, especially at U of T, where students often feel alienated from one another. Student groups are also vital for marginalized communities, as they offer a space for solidarity, inclusion, and voice. Groups like LGBTOUT and the Muslims Students’ Association would likely lose funding. By casting student groups and activities as “non-essential,” Ford implies that the marginalized students of Ontario too, are non-essential. 

We will not go down without a fight 

The PCs indicated that it will be up to the university to determine which fees are “essential” and “non-essential.” Student media like The Varsity are funded primarily through student fees and are essential to student democracy: they are often the only watchdogs to hold both student unions and the university administration accountable. They also give a platform to the stories and struggles of students who might not otherwise be heard. 

The broader media landscape also relies on campus media to elevate underreported stories from campuses to a national platform. The Varsity has a track record of doing this, with our reporting on Muslims Students’ Association executives receiving surprise visits from law enforcement, and our dogged reporting on the progress of the university-mandated leave of absence policy as recent examples of U of T stories that have received national attention. 

If the province institutes an option for students to choose which student fees they pay, we’re concerned that students will opt out of fees for campus media without knowing the value lost from such a choice. Moreover, the unpredictability of the student fee opt-out would prove to be a grave challenge to our operational and financial stability. 

It is therefore vital that U of T categorize and protect student media as an “essential” service. We do recognize that this dynamic is problematic: student unions and the student media suddenly find themselves at the mercy of administrators, even though they are meant to operate independent of the university. Nonetheless, we will advocate to ensure that the university makes the correct decision. 

If we have to launch a wider petition campaign, we will call on the students who benefit from our reporting, and our alumni working in Canadian media from coast to coast to coast to help make our case to the university. We are in close contact with our colleagues in other campus media outlets, primarily organized through the Ontario chapter of the Canadian University Press (CUP). We have also not ruled out a formal lobbying approach to this issue, whether through CUP or individually.

Last Friday, student unions and other groups gathered at Queen’s Park to articulate their rage against Ford’s decisions. It is clear that all of us — low-income students, student unions, clubs and associations, and the student media — must continue to organize and fight against the assault of this government. Whichever people Ford is for, it’s certainly not the students, and we will not go down without a fight.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Check out The Varsity’s hottest new projects

Following last year’s levy increase, Volume 139 is excited to deliver

Check out <i>The Varsity</i>’s hottest new projects

Last year, in the face of financial pressure stemming from a decade-long decline in advertising revenue across the media industry, The Varsity sought the direct support of students. We needed you to help sustain and grow our operations as a newspaper committed to building a strong and informed student voice at U of T.

Specifically, we asked you to vote ‘yes’ on two levy referenda: one to increase our full-time undergraduate membership levy by $0.80; and another to establish a new levy of $0.80 for full-time graduate students. We were thrilled when you approved us on both accounts.

The levy increase has enabled us to compensate our employees fairly, according to the new provincial minimum wage, without cutting costs. Furthermore, the new graduate levy means that full-time graduate students can fully participate in our operations, and our coverage of graduate politics and affairs has correspondingly grown significantly.

And that’s not all. With the addition of five new masthead positions and the commission of seven new projects overall, our coverage and scope have grown and improved on an unprecedented scale this year.

At the halfway mark of the year, we update you below on these expansions in detail, and we hope you find them to be worthy. We owe you for the support you’ve shown to your student press, and Volume 139 is excited to deliver.

A truly tri-campus newspaper: the UTM and UTSC Bureau Chiefs

The addition of the UTM and UTSC Bureau Chiefs has helped immensely in improving the quantity, quality, and diversity of coverage of the two campuses. With additional resources, we have been able to offer UTM and UTSC students the reporting they deserve and expect of us as a tri-campus newspaper. The bureau chiefs understand these campuses in a way that the UTSG-centred News team, alone, never could.

The bureau chiefs have two major roles: to pitch stories about their campuses and to be there on the ground to report. If you glance through the News section, the vast majority of the articles about UTM and UTSC have come from pitches from the bureau chiefs.

For example, one article announced the now open Chatime at UTSC. This seemingly small piece of news turned out to be one of our most popular articles of the year. The chiefs help the News section tap into our readership on a much deeper level. They also inform the other six section editors about stories that are relevant to their content.

In the past, the News section would only have the resources to superficially report on UTM and UTSC student politics, especially due to the difficulty of getting students to go out to other campuses. Now, we cover a wide range of board and Campus Council meetings.

Having our reporters in rooms where decisions get made means that we have caught major policies that we otherwise would have missed in the past — for example, the article on the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s disregard for its Annual General Meeting consensus.

Most importantly, the bureau chiefs are themselves students on the ground who are well-informed about the issues that matter at UTM and UTSC. This means that we are no longer limited to just covering routine governance meetings.

In September, when there was a lot of buzz around UTM accepting more students than it could accommodate, our UTM Bureau Chief pitched articles documenting the space constraints of the campus, which have been an ongoing and pressing issue. When there was another discovery of a bug in food at UTSC, we were able to delve deeper into the issue when our UTSC Bureau Chief wrote about the wider healthy food concerns that students had.

This is the type of coverage that the News section hopes to expand on this semester. With the support of the bureau chiefs, News intends to continue its watchdog-type reporting of governance at the satellite campuses, but also focus more attention on everyday issues that UTM and UTSC students care about.

To get involved with News coverage at all three U of T campuses, contact News Editor Josie Kao at news@thevarsity.ca.

Our seventh section: Business

The new Business section was launched in October, with 30 articles published so far. This allows us to dedicate more attention and detail to the financial side of the university. Specifically, Business has focused on university investments and partnerships, student and alumni startups and entrepreneurship, donations and gifts, and events. The section is open to both reporting and opinion writing, so News and Comment contributors are equally welcome.

Business is especially committed to keeping student readers informed about where university funding comes from and how it is being used, so as to hold the university more accountable for its dealings. For instance, our coverage of Huawei discussed the details of its partnership with U of T and how funding is used to support student research, while also questioning concerns over security and intellectual copyright.

For the upcoming semester, Business strives to do more service journalism, cover the financial side of labour agreements and disputes, and begin to produce longer, more in-depth investigations and analyses of university finances and investments.

To get involved with the section, contact Business Editor Michael Teoh at biz@thevarsity.ca.

The Sports documentary: Beyond the Blue Line

Since last semester, the Sports section has been filming and editing a documentary series on the journey of the members of the Varsity Blues men’s hockey team in the 2018–2019 season. It promises to provide students, alumni, and the general public with an in-depth look into the course of an Ontario University Athletics season, and the joys, frustrations, and challenges of such an experience.

Founded in 1891, the men’s hockey team is one of the oldest in U of T’s history, making it an easy pick for a documentary series. The series is still being filmed and edited, and approximately four episodes will be released over the course of this semester, including a final feature-length cut.

The project has been an incredible and invaluable experience for the 14-member documentary team and is a feat that has never before been attempted at The Varsity. Stay tuned for its upcoming release.

For more information on Behind the Blue Line, contact Sports Editor Daniel Samuel at sports@thevarsity.ca.

The student life blog: The Squirrel

The new blog, launched last week, is a lighthearted opportunity for students to express themselves and their interests in a concise, short, and humorous way. It focuses on activities to do and places to see on campus and in the wider city of Toronto. Furthermore, the blog showcases the unique experiences of some students who wish to either describe their interesting travel stories or share stories about how they overcame a challenge.

The blog has been developing steadily throughout the past semester, with articles already available for readers. Ultimately, given the plethora of blogs these days, the project hopes to find and create a unique voice specifically for U of T, which we hope many students will wish to contribute to and read.

Visit the blog at thesquirrel.thevarsity.ca. To get involved with the section, contact Blog Editor Joseph Naim at blog@thevarsity.ca.

Hearing people out: Podcast

This year, we’ve built a podcast studio and started a Podcast section because we believe that podcasts offer more creative possibilities for our contributors. We currently have two shows: Bazaar and (Un)Spoken. The first is a variety show with multiple individually produced segments under one cool theme. Episode one was “FEAR OF,” and both “INFAMY” and “HEAD” episodes are on the way.

The second is a talk show focusing on the experiences of marginalized groups at U of T. We’ve done episodes on exclusionary tendencies in academia and Chinese diaspora on campus so far, and we’re planning episodes on Black students’ experiences as well as women in STEM.

Podcasts bring a unique focus to the importance of hearing people out — hearing a discussion as it was spoken or hearing the exact tone of someone’s voice. We hope to harness this to make the podcasts a more accessible way for people to look below the surface of U of T. As we continue with this very new project, we hope the podcasts can come to be seen as uniquely relatable and insightful output from The Varsity.

To get involved with the section, contact Podcast Editor Blythe Hunter at podcast@thevarsity.ca.

Website redesign

The Varsity’s website has not had a major redesign since 2011. This semester, our online and creative teams will be working diligently to redesign the website, making it more user-friendly, intuitive, and accessible. A primary focus in the redesign will be showcasing the variety of content we produce — from Arts & Culture articles to videos to live-tweeting governance meetings. We also want to creatively present featured stories in a visually appealing way and provide readers with contextual stories alongside the latest news.

The Varsity is committed to reaching as many people in its community as possible and providing them with the information they need to know. The majority of our readership is online and we’d like to engage readers in a dialogue, ensuring that our communication is a two-way conversation.

Over the course of the year, The Varsity has implemented a few new projects designed to increase our online presence and gradually merge into a digitally-focused newspaper. Our new blog, podcast section, and this upcoming website redesign have been a three-pronged online strategy to this end.

For more information about our online strategy, contact Managing Online Editor Kaitlyn Simpson at online@thevarsity.ca.

Professional development: we went to NASH

The levy increase helped The Varsity to supplement its budget for professional development. This meant that a contingent of Varsity staff were able to travel to Calgary from January 3–6 for the Canadian University Press’ annual NASH conference. This opportunity allowed us to attend presentations, panels, and workshops from industry leaders in media on topics ranging from social media strategies to innovations in visual journalism to using open-source intelligence tools in campus reporting.

Though only a delegation of staff were able to attend, the entire masthead and staff base will benefit from the takeaways from this conference. The conference also connected Varsity staff to student journalists from across the country, allowing us to share experiences and knowledge with a view to improving the strength and outlook of the student press across the country. Ultimately, we hope to apply what we’ve gained from NASH to improve the quality of our journalism for readers.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

Damn the exam cram

Screw ‘term tests’ and final assignments due during the last week of class

Damn the exam cram

As we arrive in December and the semester draws to a close, U of T students are forced to grapple with the ramping up of classes, the approach of exams, and the intensification of winter.

The brutality of this time is particularly felt by students with final assignments and exams that are due during the regular class period. They have to juggle their regular class schedules, readings, and smaller assignments with huge final assignments and ‘term tests’ in the very same week. This puts an unfair amount of pressure on students to constantly perform, without being given any downtime.

The unfairness of it all

This pre-exam period practice only further renders students overworked, overwhelmed, or even hopeless, and adds to the stress and anxiety that they already feel as the exam period arrives. As mental health awareness rises, it seems contradictory to allow the practice of in-course finals or assignments while supposedly supporting students’ well-being.

There’s a reason why the exam period was established as a separate entity from the regular schedule of classes: to help mitigate the intensity of studying for final exams while trying to keep up with regular classes. While professors have a right to enjoy their Decembers, students should not have to pay for it.

Professors also have to adhere to having the final due date of all papers and term tests by the last day of class. This means that if a paper is due this late in the term, students with accommodations may not be able to implement their extra time, because the university gives professors very little freedom to grade papers once school has finished for the semester. This often results in students struggling to finish papers, while also having to start studying for their finals.

Furthermore, this practice puts students with final assignments and term tests at a significant disadvantage to their counterparts who are tested solely in the exam period. These students are given much more time to prepare, organize, and even take a break.

Are we human, or are we robots?

University is supposed to teach students how to think critically and engage with new material. Students are told that this is their chance to expand their horizons, learn more about themselves, and explore different ways of thinking.

But cramming assignments and exams in the last two weeks of November and early December teaches students to be robotic and mechanically pump out content that they know their professors want. Ultimately, they are driven by the need to produce and the mission to get a high grade.

The sheer volume of responsibilities heaped upon students inhibits the genuine learning, growth, and development that they want to derive from the classroom in the first place. While time management is a vital life skill that is developed at university, there is a difference between being responsible and being overwhelmed. Students aren’t given Time-Turners with their admission letters, and shouldn’t be expected to perform as if they had.

Grades over happiness

There is also the added pressure of taking part in extracurricular activities, maintaining a social life, and, for many, the added burden of having to focus on finances. The unspoken rhetoric that ‘if you aren’t doing everything, then you aren’t doing enough’ is heightened during the exam period and, typically, something ends up falling through the cracks. Unfortunately, it’s usually mental health.

At any university, particularly one as academically rigorous as U of T, it is difficult for students to feel as though they are excelling simply by having high grades. Therefore, they often balance feelings of inadequacy with other creative outlets. However, grades will almost always be the main focus of their university careers.

When there are term tests and papers due before the exam period begins, it is difficult for students to escape from the monotony and pressure that comes with being examined, and they therefore stop prioritizing other aspects of their lives that make them happy. After all, there is nothing more important than that A-grade.

Being kinder to students

Going forward, professors should be held to a higher standard of course organization. If professors prefer to assign a final paper instead of an exam, but they weight the paper as if it were an exam, then that paper should be due in the exam period — not during regular classes. Furthermore, if a ‘term test’ is used as a metonym for a full-year course midterm or a half-year course final, it should likewise take place in the exam period.

In other words, the expectation should be that any assignment, test, or paper that is being marked as if it were a final exam should be due when an exam would be. If one is being swapped for the other, the swap shouldn’t carry repercussions for students.

Students should also be given time to breathe between the end of classes and the beginning of the exam period. They should not be burnt out before they have sat their first final.

Grades and exams can themselves be relatively arbitrary, but they can also have a significant impact on the rest of a student’s academic career, especially in upper years. In a world where employment is increasingly precarious and undergraduate degrees seem to matter less, students are constantly worried about their futures. They should feel supported by their university, not hindered by it.

U of T prides itself on being the leading university in Canada. However, if the institution wants to maintain this high standard, it needs to start being kinder to its students. U of T students are doing their best, but they also need to be provided with a secure safety net. Unfortunately, the brand name just isn’t going to cut it.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.