For commuter students, frosh week has little lasting impact

Stream-based orientation would foster more meaningful connections

For commuter students, frosh week has little lasting impact

Frosh week is seen as an exciting and somewhat necessary rite of passage for first-year students at university. Orientation is supposed to be a time to welcome new students, celebrate our community, and make new friends. But for commuters, frosh can be underwhelming. In my experience, it was overrated.

Commuters don’t have much to gain from frosh

Each college at UTSG, along with our two satellite campuses, hosts its own frosh week and activities. For students staying in campus residences, a week among peers from their college can be a productive experience. They get to experience what their college and their peers are like, which matters since they will live together for the year. Obviously, the same cannot be said about commuter students.

Last year, as a first-year commuter student, I attended frosh at New College. Throughout the week, I participated in activities meant to bring New College students together and create a sense of community. However, once the fall semester started, reality kicked in. I realized I was not really part of the college’s community, as I had no classes there, and likely never will. The tour I took around New College during frosh was of no use to me, an English student who had classes exclusively at Innis College and Victoria College.

Apart from meetings with the registrar, many commuters do not even set foot in their college during the school year. Thus, college-specific events that happen during orientation are not always useful for people who reside off-campus.

Frosh does not group programs together

It would make sense for frosh to be based on admission streams rather than college. If the week were organized by each stream, students would be able to meet peers with similar interests and aspirations, and truly develop a sense of community.

They would be able to attend academic guest lectures that are more specifically geared toward their interests. Connections could turn into friendships or study groups. An orientation  based on streams would allow new students to feel more acquainted with classmates before classes actually start.

Yes, the people I met during frosh were nice enough, but all of us had different academic interests, and I never saw any of them again after that week, as we did not have classes together. Though I did keep in touch with a few people over Instagram, it did not take long for us to drift apart.

All in all, commuter students who miss frosh are not missing out on much. There are many other things they could be doing during the last week of summer, and they will have plenty of better, more meaningful opportunities throughout the next four years to forge friendships and build a sense of community. 

First-year students who take public transit or drive to school usually feel left out from the university experience at first. Most of their time is spent at home, in a moving vehicle, and in class. Orientation week should acknowledge and include commuters. In 2017, students who didn’t live in residence made up almost 90 per cent of the university’s population. An attainable solution would be for the university to organize frosh by admission stream. Hosting stream-specific events for first-year students would stimulate bonding between students, no matter their housing situation.

Agata Mociani is a second-year English student at New College.

A dyeing tradition: Engineering F!rosh practice linked to cancer

Ingestion of purple dye poses risk, warns Health Canada following years-long international investigation

A dyeing tradition: Engineering F!rosh practice linked to cancer

They’re a familiar September sight on St. George campus: newly-minted engineering students with their skin stained a bright purple.

Large vats of violet dye and crowds of eager first-year students ready to submerge themselves are common to frosh orientation events at engineering faculties across Canada. The origin and meaning of the tradition are shrouded in mystery, but the infusion of the chemical gentian violet to a dyeing solution has become iconic.

The custom has now come under scrutiny due to a Health Canada warning, which associates the ingestion of gentian violet with an increased risk of cancer.

Warning stemmed from investigation by United Nations

The warning was issued on June 12, but gentian violet’s toxicity has been studied for some time. The seeds of what would become Health Canada’s advisory were sown in 2013 in a report written by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

The JECFA is composed of medical experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Both are organs of the United Nations.

Although the report was the first JECFA evaluation of gentian violet, the publication was more akin to a literature review than an experimental study. The investigators searched the databases Medline, CABI, Agricola, and Toxnet for studies on the toxicity of gentian violet.

Health Canada also provided its own collation and review of data on the chemical. The team reviewed papers dated as far back as 1980.

Gentian violet is typically used as a component of veterinary disinfectants, and the majority of the JECFA report concerns how much gentian violet residue could be found in the remains of food-producing animals. However, an important finding was that gentian violet can bind to and alter DNA.

The researchers also noted chemical similarities of the dye to malachite green, another chemical already acknowledged as carcinogenic. Accordingly, the expert committee resolved that there could not be an acceptable daily intake of gentian violet for humans.

International representatives debate over wording of advisory

Following the report’s publication, the JEFCA’s results were forwarded to the Codex Committee on Veterinary Drugs in Food (CCRVDF). The CCRVDF is a subsidiary of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, another joint FAO-WHO organization that oversees food-related advisories worldwide. The next convening of the CCRVDF came in 2015, two years after the JECFA’s determination.

Various national delegations to the CCRVDF agreed that a Risk Management Recommendation (RMR) needed to be applied to gentian violet, but they disputed over its precise wording.

Throughout three sessions, spanning from 2015–2018, the Commission debated the inclusion of a sentence specifically condemning the use of the chemical on food-producing animals.

Ultimately, in an April 2018 report, the committee decided to exclude the precise condemnation to “allow member countries to choose appropriate risk management approaches to prevent residues of Gentian Violet in food.”

This RMR was then sent for approval to the entire Codex Alimentarius Commission, which it received in July 2018.

Where does Health Canada come in?

Upon receiving notice of the RMR, Health Canada initiated its own review process to confirm the findings. This involved the analysis of Canadian reports of illness associated with gentian violet before comparing local findings to international reports.

After nearly a year of study, researchers decided that although there were no cases of gentian violet being linked to cancer in humans, the reports of carcinogenicity in animals were enough to warrant a warning.

The department then worked with manufacturers to remove from circulation the single human non-prescription medication and nine veterinary medications available in Canada that list gentian violet as an ingredient.

Three licensed medical devices continue to use gentian violet as part of a sterile dressing. However, Health Canada has assessed that they do not pose a risk to human health due to the short exposure time of gentian violet to patients.

Risk of applying gentian violet to skin is unclear

It is important to note that the entire process of investigation into gentian violet has been focused on toxicity if ingested, which is typically not a component of engineering orientation activities. Health Canada acknowledged this focus in its safety review on the substance, explicitly stating that the result of applying gentian violet to the skin is “unknown.” 

“Generally, the amount of a chemical that can get absorbed through the skin is small, but this is chemical-dependent, and I’m not sure anyone has ever looked to see whether gentian violet gets into the systemic circulation after topical application,” wrote Dr. Denis Grant, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, to The Varsity.

“Some chemicals can cause skin cancer if they’re topically applied. All in all, given the theoretical plausibility and limited demonstrated evidence for a cancer link, in my opinion it would be prudent to avoid bathing in the stuff.”

Where will the engineering tradition go from here?

While the risks of using gentian violet are now evident, the dyeing tradition is seen as an integral component of engineering student culture that should be maintained.

“The Toike really loves the purple dye tradition!” wrote Joanna Melnyk, Editor-in-Chief of the Toike Oike, to The Varsity. The Toike Oike is a humour publication managed by U of T’s Engineering Society for the purpose of commenting on aspects of engineering culture. 

Melnyk continued, “We feel really cool with our sword(s), wooden sticks, and red wagon, looking like a gang of people with a strange skin condition wielding potentially dangerous items!”

While the tradition is planned to continue this September, the Engineering Society is dedicated to providing a safe F!rosh to all first-year engineering students.

“Although the health concerns with gentian violet pertain to quantities and uses different from our own, we will not be using this dye for Orientation Week,” wrote Ben Mucsi, Chair of the Engineering Society’s Orientation Committee, to The Varsity. “At this point, we have studied a broad range of alternatives and we want to make sure that we are thorough and careful in our decision-making.”

“We are being very diligent in evaluation of our options to ensure that we provide the safest and most enjoyable experience during Orientation Week,” he continued. “Our goal is to ensure that all incoming students have the option to safely participate in our long-standing tradition, and my team, in collaboration with the Engineering Society leadership, have been working hard throughout the summer to try to make that happen!”

Op-ed: Become involved in campus politics through the First Year Council

The council is part of the UTSU’s effort to increase student engagement on campus

Op-ed: Become involved in campus politics through the First Year Council

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is unveiling the First Year Council (FYC) at the start of the fall 2019 semester. The goal of the FYC is to engage first-year students in campus politics and improve their overall experience at U of T.

The UTSU hopes that increasing first-year student engagement will help us in mounting a defense against the effects of the Student Choice Initiative, the provincial mandate to give students an opt-out option for certain ancillary fees. Part of the inspiration for the idea came from first-year councils established by other student unions, like those at McGill University and McMaster University

I did not become involved with any campus political organization until well into my third year at U of T. My story is the same as that of many others: entering student politics as a first-year student without any connection to the social networks within can be extremely intimidating, and sometimes feel impossible. The FYC aims to empower new students in a way that makes their insights feel respected and valued. 

In my first year, I went to several drop-in events before I found a club where I actually felt welcomed. As a member of Fight for $15 and Fairness UofT, I picketed outside of a Tim Hortons on Bloor Street with several students who shared my view on fair wages. As I was doing this, a student from my program recommended that we run for executive positions on our academic student union. This inspired me to run for and subsequently be elected to the Arts & Science Students’ Union executive, which oversees 62 active course unions at UTSG. 

I am now the President of the UTSU, but I had to meander through a myriad of lost connections and one-off experiences with clubs before I found my footing in student government. This should not be the only way for students to get involved with politics on campus. 

The UTSU is tasked with representing all full-time undergraduate students at the downtown campus, including first-year students. Students should not have to wait years before feeling comfortable enough to get involved in student politics. The FYC was created to change that. 

The UTSU is a huge organization. We have a 41-person Board of Directors, with seven executives and directors from across the colleges and faculties. Getting involved with such a large organization may seem daunting, and the reality is that for the most part, it is. 

Students are asked to balance their studies with a cumbersome election period that takes place both in-person and online. After rounds of debates, social media campaigns, and handing out pamphlets, there is still a possibility that candidates will not get elected. 

The incentive for students to actively get involved with UTSU programming and operations has been gradually chipped away over time.  Moreover, engagement is very low, as seen in the voter turnouts in our previous two election periods — respectively at 4.2 per cent and 2.9 per cent. We should be creating opportunities to change these trends.

The FYC will be one of the only institutions that is completely operated by first-year students at the University of Toronto. While residence councils and college-based student societies have long been creating positions for first-year students, they have done so with the impetus that senior students will be guiding their decision making. This is not the case with the FYC. 

The FYC will be composed of an appointed body of 10 councillors and two executives that will meet each month and report to the UTSU Board of Directors. At the first meeting, the FYC will select a president and vice-president from among its membership. After its inaugural year, the FYC will be elected entirely by first-year students. It will be able to create and lead its own committees, which will be dedicated to addressing specific issues facing first-year students.

Now in my fifth year at U of T, I know first-hand how long it takes to become meaningfully involved with the UTSU. Our hope is that, in creating the FYC, we can create a UTSU that genuinely supports its first-year members. We need fresh ideas, and this year, the UTSU wants to find new ways to implement those ideas from first-year students. Through this new initiative, we will be listening to first-year concerns and amplifying them in a supportive and meaningful way.

The FYC is a way to do this. Apply and become involved in a university that wants to hear from and work for you.

Applications for the first FYC will be accepted until September 20. Interested applicants should check out the FYC page on the UTSU website and fill out the application form.

Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College and current President of the UTSU.

In Photos: Orientation Week 2018

U of T welcomes the class of 2022

In Photos: Orientation Week 2018