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Sometimes not getting what you want is a massive stroke of luck

This summer, the Arts & Culture section of The Varsity will be exploring how to survive your first year at U of T

Sometimes not getting what you want is a massive stroke of luck

The room was empty, vacant of all objects except for a wooden desk and a bed, both of which were broken — stuck at their hinges for time eternal. It was a nice spring day. Sunlight bathed the walls over my head and brightened my outfit: blue jeans, a blue button-up, and blue pleather shoes matched with a blue jacket.

I scanned the room’s figure one final time. For eight months, I had built up my dorm, covered it in French art, philosophy books, and coordinating sheets. It was home. But as May 1 came and went, so would my access to the building.

When I moved into residence, university was unknown. Although scared of being alone and innocent, I was anxious for a new start, and it seemed as if there was a bounty of opportunities for one. I diligently chose coffee cups, slaved over course selection, and awaited move-in day like a horse before a race. Facts could not yet impede my imagination which told me that there was perfection ahead.

From existence comes expectations of essence. Humans like to envision a world where ideals are attainable. We live in one moment, yet look forward to the next in order to create the ‘good life.’ Thus, when expectations of university are not met, students can become forlorn and feel obliged to live amongst the debris of our dreams. Or that’s what happened to me, at least. I had to tackle feelings of disappointment after the school year ended.  

I found myself looking out the window of my kitchen. The house felt stiff. Its red bricks weathered by the hot summers and long winters. I saw straight green trees, black planters, blue spruces, and baby grass. And I thought that this had always been the way — the trees, the house, the pool — nothing had changed, but something was missing. I wasn’t a new person.  

It’s from there that I had to look into myself, and truly distinguish that which I desired and that which I am.  

At the AGO, there is a piece comprising of five white canvases taped onto the back of a cardboard-like material. Its description is “finding the artist’s presence in absence.” The idea that deficiency isn’t negative strikes me quite well, and it’s important for incoming first years in my experience.

In the time ahead, you are going to hold preconceived notions about what university life is supposed to be like. These ideas are never going to conform with what your reality presents, so find presence in their absence. Learn to carve meaning from every moment, whether it’s ideal or not. Releasing the notion of ‘what I desire to be’ is a process, but it’s helping me to recognize all the good around me. I’m letting myself grow in between the broken pieces of my expectations — to feel bliss, and not disappointment. If you can accept that there is nothing controllable or definitive in your existence, the year will be great.

Faculty of Arts & Science looking to implement mandatory small class requirement

Faculty in beginnings of proposal process, hopes to expand small class offerings

Faculty of Arts & Science looking to implement mandatory small class requirement

The Faculty of Arts & Science is proposing to implement a mandatory small class requirement for incoming first-year students, which would not take effect in the coming academic year but would encourage the faculty to build its small class offerings. The proposal comes amid increasing enrolment and the need for diverse course offerings throughout each department.

Students would be required to enrol in a half or full-year seminar in their first year of study. “We are considering making it a requirement that a small foundational seminar be taken by all students in their first year because we believe the small class experience is an ideal environment to help students transition to university studies, make early connections with peers and professors and start to develop the technical research and communication skills to support them through their degree and beyond,” said Sean Bettam, Communications & Media Relations Specialist for the faculty, in an email to The Varsity.

The faculty currently has several small-class offerings limited to first-year students, including the First-Year Foundation (FYF) One programs, which require external applications, and FYF Seminars capped at 30 students.

Both academically rigorous and competitive, the College One programs offer a variety of curated courses to arts and science students.

First-year seminars focus on timely topics, but do not count toward program requirements.

While these offerings are highly encouraged, students are not required to enrol in a small class.

However, other programs without existing small classes are restructuring in order to meet the demands of the requirement.

Charlie Keil, Principal at Innis College, spoke to The Varsity about the effects that the proposed changes would bring to Innis’ current offerings, commenting on the current challenges faced by these courses and the demands they would bring to the small sizes overall.

“The problem [with the 199 courses] was that because [students] didn’t have to take them, what would often happen is that students would end up dropping them not because they didn’t like them, but because they either wouldn’t fit in their schedule or the courses that they needed to take to get into a POSt would conflict,” said Keil.

New College’s One program will drop the external application in order to encourage engagement and overall make the experience much easier for students.

When asked about such a change, Keil said that “the idea… in eliminating application processes… was just to make [the Ones] that much easier when students make their choices in terms of the different kinds of small-class learning experiences, to try to just make it as streamlined as possible for students to try to reduce as many impediments.”

Other colleges share the same sentiments as Keil, both drawing on the advantages of smaller class sizes for incoming students and reflecting on the challenges of fitting in as many undergraduate students while offering a small class experience.

“Victoria College has long believed that small-class experiences bring tangible benefits. Together with the FYF initiative, we are working to expand the disciplinary diversity of Vic One Hundred offerings,” reads a statement to The Varsity from Victoria College’s Office of the Principal.

First-year students at Victoria College are already required to take a small class as part of their degree component. The application for the Vic One programs remains unchanged.

New College, on the other hand, is focusing on restructuring its courses in order to meet the larger incoming undergraduate population.

“At New One, we have updated all our courses — changing titles, updating their descriptions to better match content — and we will offer more courses next year. We stay committed to limiting our class sizes to 25 students and to offering interdisciplinary courses,” said Alexandra Guerson, Coordinator of the New One program.

“Since New College is the largest undergraduate college at the university, it would be challenging to accommodate every first-year New College student with the existing One programs across campus. We currently have over 1,000 first-year students and we are actively researching models for expanding our offerings without compromising the quality of the program.”

If approved, updated course offerings will be uploaded to the 2019–2020 academic calendar at the end of April. The policy is still in the consultation stages, but, if the faculty chooses to move forward with it, the new framework would eventually have to be approved by the Arts & Science Council.

Editor’s Note (February 25, 10:30 am): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the changes would be implemented in the upcoming academic year. In fact, the faculty will be beginning to build its small course offerings next school year. The Varsity regrets the error. 

10 tips for getting through first year unscathed

Step outside your comfort zone — everyone else is desperately searching for their lifelong friends, too

10 tips for getting through first year unscathed

The beginning of the school year is always new and exciting. Second years are embarking on the first year of their majors, many fourth years are entering their final semesters, and third years — well, they just have one more year left until their final year, so that’s something.

Yet, somewhere far outside the confines of Toronto, past Mississauga and Scarborough, the faint squeals of incoming first years can be heard. Frosh!

Welcome to U of T, class of 2022! Thank you for joining us. Disregard our dishevelled hair, deep eye bags, and pungent smell.

Your first year will become a collection of great — and some not so great — memories of exploring your massive campus, attempting to understand classroom locations, and realizing that apparently everything you learnt about writing in high school is useless.

To ensure that you survive your frosh year unscathed, I have compiled a list of my 10 top tips:

1. Acknowledge from the beginning that your frosh experience is primarily dependent on your college or faculty, and it may not be what you initially anticipated. Vic, have fun at your dry frosh. St. Mike’s, you are no longer the party college your parents went to, sorry to disappoint. UC, look forward to chilling in the Whitney courtyard. And Trin kids, well, what you’ve seen in college movies is a pretty good portrayal of the escapades you’ll have during your first year. Also, everyone’s going to hate you — #sorrynotsorry.

2. Make the most of frosh week. No matter how silly you might think the cheers are, scream them at the top of your lungs — I promise it’s fun!

3. Talk to as many people as possible. Everyone else is just as nervous and desperate to find their lifelong friends as you are.

4. Try everything in your café or dining hall. Not only will you discover exactly what the tastiest food is, but you will also quickly figure out what may give you food poisoning.

5. Lose your room key early on. Most people might think this is the opposite of good advice, but the shame I felt when the front desk lady rolled her eyes at me was so unbearable that from then on, I always knew where I left my key.

6. Give up on trying to remember the names of accomplished alumni. Just know that they’re pretty much all old white guys and Margaret Atwood.

7. Become friends with your residence dons! They are usually lovely, hilarious people, and they’re also great for emotional, social, and academic support.

8. Avoid Robarts at all costs. That looming turkey — it’s not a peacock — sucks the energy from everyone who enters. Why put yourself through that when there are 43 other libraries across the three campuses to explore?

9. Step outside of your comfort zone and get involved! U of T is huge and boasts clubs for everyone. It might take some effort to find a crochet club, but I assure you that you can find one that will support your interests. If not, then start one yourself!

10. Buy Muji pens! I didn’t know what Muji was until I moved to Toronto, but let me tell you, nothing is more orgasmic than gliding the tip of a Muji pen over a piece of paper. Nothing!

These are just some tips to help you survive your first year. Whether you follow them all or not, I hope your frosh year is everything you want it to be and more!

Oh, and one more thing. The most important tip of all — don’t wear nice shoes to frat parties, unless you want them to be destroyed.


UTM expects to welcome its largest group of first-year students

Student surge comes as much of the campus remains under construction

UTM expects to welcome its largest group of first-year students

UTM expects to welcome its largest incoming undergraduate class ever this fall, though much of the campus is under construction.

Professor Ulrich Krull, Vice-President and Principal of UTM, told The Varsity in an email that “it is expected that the incoming class may be about 10% larger than that [of] last year,” though he added that he is sure that the growth of the campus would properly accommodate the large wave of incoming students.

Krull called the increase in acceptances of offers “unexpected,” but he added that “this outcome reflects the competitive positioning that UTM has achieved.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, UTM has grown considerably over the years. From a single academic building that held 155 students, 28 faculty, and 40 staff members in its inaugural year, today UTM is host to 14,000 undergraduate students, 682 graduate students, and over 54,000 alumni.

These numbers are only increasing, so what exactly is UTM going to do in order to properly accommodate its growing student population?

“As done every year, arrangements are being made with academic departments and institutes, and with the various student service operations to accommodate the incoming class and ensure that all UTM students have an outstanding experience,” wrote Krull.

Buildings still under renovation at UTM include the Davis Building, the Health Sciences Complex, Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre, Kaneff Centre, North Building, Principal’s Residence Lislehurst, and Erindale Hall.

According to UTM’s Facilities Management and Planning, its project schedules indicated that most of these buildings needed at least three more weeks of construction in August. However, this does not guarantee that the buildings would be fully completed.

Since the start of construction, there have been concerns about student access to study spaces, classrooms, and eating areas, as the rate of student growth has not changed.

“The campus has experienced total undergraduate enrolment growth at a rate of about 10% each year for the past 10 years and we welcome and look forward to the arrival of the incoming class,” wrote Krull.

From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

How ice skating and ice hockey helped me become the happiest version of myself

From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

People who live within reach of ice often find themselves at odds with its creeping, heat-sapping fingers. Ice isn’t the most hospitable. Or the most helpful. Or even preventable. In truth, ice is quite a nuisance.

I suppose you could say people have a complex relationship with ice. I, for one, certainly did.

Growing up in Southern California, ice activities were a kitschy luxury — something you did when you wanted to avoid the pretense of enjoying the beach. Figure skaters were folk tales, and hockey was just something Canadians did, maybe.

When I arrived at university in the heat of August, I had no idea of the icy wonderland Toronto would become. As it turned out, ice was waiting patiently for me on the periphery. With a dangerous combination of my friends, the True North Strong and Free, and some sheer dumb luck, ice moved from the sidelines to straight under my sweaty, nervous feet in skates.

One fateful week in late November, my friends, as good, Instagramming university students, formally requested we go to Nathan Phillips Square. Any normal Art History specialist might have jumped at the photo op, but me? I was scared stiff.

In the past, my wide feet and more mediocre friends had made me feel as though I could not be ‘good’ at ice skating. It’s difficult to ignore old insecurities, and my anxieties tripped into a conviction that I just couldn’t do it. I told myself that I was going to fail before I even tried, but both my friends and the ice were having none of that.

Even though I could barely balance without someone holding me up, my friends ever so gently took my fear in their hands, ripped it straight out of my chest, and made me skate over it, again and again. By the end, I couldn’t imagine not being on the ice. Frozen water had actually convinced me that I was good enough.

This was my first change to who I was in years.

From there, it all just snowballed perilously out of control. I saw my first Varsity Blues ice hockey game against the Queen’s Gaels — and got a puck, no less! — and fell in love instantly. The 2017–2018 school year then became both my first year in university and my first year as a hockey fan. Who knew sports could be fun?

Just like ice skating, I had always told myself sports weren’t my thing. I was never very athletic or physical. Soccer, volleyball, and — God forbid — baseball, never really did it for me. But when I watched my first ice hockey game?

Oh, man.

Remember the first time you listened to your favourite song? Or how it feels when you see someone you really love? Or when a movie makes you weep tears of joy? I felt like a little kid again. It had highs and lows, drama, fights, passion, and some sick jerseys. And plastic discs flying at the speed of cars in school zones!

And my new friend, ice.

Ice skating had instilled a sense of confidence in me that I didn’t know I could have, and ice hockey provided me with a community that I didn’t know I could belong to. In an odd way, ice allowed me to become my favourite version of myself.

Ice is that annoying little sibling that we wish to get away from but also can’t stand to leave entirely. Of course, it might cause you to slip in the middle of Queen’s Park right in front of a really cute guy, but it can also turn your lemonade into a delicacy and a boring winter’s day into a crystallized miracle.

So, if you’re in the area, take my advice and stop by some ice. Shoot the breeze! Live a little! Who knows, it might just change your life.

Take it from me, ice certainly isn’t all it seems to be.

Table for one

A student realizes she survived first year on her own

Table for one

In the fall, U of T will welcome hoards of eager frosh waiting for the university experience to turn their lives upside down. This summer series of personal essays delves into the minds of seasoned upper-year students, and everything they never expected to learn.

Social networks are strange. I joined them to feel more connected to people around me, but more often than not, I ended up feeling completely alone. This was especially true when I went to university.

As I saw people bantering on Twitter, I discovered that I had no one with whom I felt close enough to do that. As I saw new people tagging my old friends on Facebook, I realized that I was not making new friends as I had expected I would in university. As I tapped through Snapchat stories, it hit me that I had not updated my own story in months. As I scrolled down Instagram and saw the fun things people were doing, I felt insufficient because I had not left my room all weekend.

I spent my entire first year of university living vicariously through people on my social networks and sulking on the inside because I had made a total of only two friends, one of whom only talked to me during class.

During my last year of high school, all of my friends had applied to business or science programs at schools away from home, so they could experience the ‘independence’ that had been so lacking in high school. I had chosen writing-based programs at a school only eight minutes away from home.

[pullquote-default]I had dealt with both the good and the bad, the happy days and the hard days. And I had done it on my own.[/pullquote-default]

I consoled myself with the promise that I would make new friends. After all, change, I told myself, was the pinnacle of the university experience.

However, I forgot how shy and reserved I become when I meet new people. When September hit, I approached no one, and no one approached me. A month passed. Two months passed. Autumn faded into winter. The ground, once covered in leaves in all shades of yellow and red, became covered with an inch-tall sheet of snow.

During the week, I would go to class alone, eat lunch alone, and study alone. There were days where my only human contact outside of home was with the Tim Hortons cashier, but I was too immersed in the cycle of lecture-tutorial-assignment-quiz to worry about it.

On the weekends, though, the embarrassment of being alone ate me up. I begged my high school friends to go out, only to be met with choruses of, “I’m busy studying.” I did not want to go anywhere alone so instead, I did not go anywhere.

Two semesters passed like this, and suddenly, it was April.

On a surprisingly sunny Saturday afternoon, after I had finished the last of my first-year exams, I was lounging on my bed, my phone in hand, ready to double tap pictures of other people having fun and then brood about them afterwards. Scrolling down my Instagram feed, I was bombarded with various group pictures whose captions ran along the lines of: “First year would have been different without you,” and “Couldn’t have survived first year without these people!”

My first instinct was to search my gallery and post a picture with a caption echoing these sentiments, to show that I had also found great friends who had gotten me through first year. Until I realized that this was not true at all. No one had gotten me through my first year except myself.

I had gone to all my classes, done my readings, turned in all of my assignments and packed my own lunch. I had only cried twice, no matter how hopeless my situation had felt. I did not get angry at my friends for cancelling almost all our plans and I did not complain to my parents so that they would not worry. I had dealt with both the good and the bad, the happy days and the hard days. And I had done it on my own.

Although company is nice, I realized that I really did not need someone to share every single experience with me. I would have to spend the rest of my life with myself, so it was worthwhile to get to know me — to be comfortable with myself.

This summer, I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do, alone and unencumbered by other people. I visited bakeries by myself, went shopping solo. I even had dinner with myself.

“Table for two?” the host asked me.

“No, just me,” I replied with a smile.