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Where to find community at U of T

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

Where to find community at U of T

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

So, what was Roseto’s secret? 

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

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

Small classes  

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

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


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

Hobbies, leadership, and arts 

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

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

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


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

Orientation and mentorship 

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

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


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


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

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


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

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

UTSU reveals Student Commons opening delayed again to April 2019

UTSU AGM 2018: Question period sees inquiries on CFS, Student Commons

Students took full advantage of a question period at the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting, asking the executives about topics ranging from the operations of the Student Commons to the union’s relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

Immediately prior to question period, UTSU President Anne Boucher delivered her presidential address. Boucher reflected on the tumultuous relationship the union has had with its constituency in the past, citing, in particular, how 95 per cent of engineering students voted to leave the UTSU in 2013.

She stressed that the UTSU is focused on building strong financial relationships and wants “to be the best UTSU possible in absolute terms rather than relative ones.”

Following Boucher’s address, the floor was opened up to questions from members.

Canadian Federation of Students

Joshua Bowman, Academic Director for Social Sciences, asked about the executives’ campaign promise to leave the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national student association representing over 70 post-secondary student associations across the country.

Boucher said that, through her personal experience with the CFS, she feels that there is no room for internal change in the organization. In the past, she has been a strong supporter of leaving the CFS.

In response to another question from Bowman about You Decide — a student-led campaign to hold a referendum on leaving the CFS — Boucher stated that the UTSU is not actively collecting signatures for a referendum, and added that any petitions are independent of the UTSU.

Student Commons

In one of the more notable parts of the AGM, Vice President, Operations Tyler Biswurm revealed that the opening date for the Student Commons has been pushed back — again — from January 2019 to April 2019.

The Students Commons is a proposed student-run centre at UTSG that is 11 years in the making. The building was originally scheduled to open in September 2018 but was delayed to January 2019 over the summer.

Biswurm gave similar reasons for this delay as he did for the last one, saying that the building’s age as well as contracting complications have caused problems in the renovation process.

On this point, member Tom Yun asked about reports that The Newspaper, an independent campus publication, had been denied office space in the Commons.

Former UTSU President and current UTSU contractor Mathias Memmel responded that despite covering issues relating to U of T, The Newspaper does not have status within the university. As such, the UTSU made the decision to prioritize U of T clubs.

Boucher assured the union’s membership that other student groups that were promised space in the Student Commons were told about the delay and have spaces elsewhere until the opening.

Other questions

New College Student Council President Madison Hönig raised a concern about a lack of preparedness during orientation, specifically regarding students’ access to water.

Hönig said that the UTSU did not provide a sufficient supply of water to students, which posed a health problem on Parade Day, as it was especially hot.

In response, UTSU Vice President, Student Life Yolanda Alfaro acknowledged that they were not prepared for the extreme heat. Alfaro stated that more needed to be done in creating contingency plans for unexpected events like weather.

Following that, Arts and Science Students’ Union President Haseeb Hassaan asked about who was taking on the responsibilities of the UTSU’s General Manager (GM) position, which has been vacant since mid-July.

Boucher responded that the union has brought in Memmel to help with financial management while the UTSU searches for a new GM, which they hope to have by mid-November.

Explaining the rationale behind Memmel’s hire, Boucher acknowledged that “people tend to jump to certain conspiracies,” but that “when you have someone who has had three years of experience with an organization… it’s a good resource to have.”

“It’s unfair to assume that having a presence of someone who has been a past executive would be something that is worth discussing,” she added.

With regard to the empty GM position, 2018 UTSU Junior Orientation Coordinator Dhvani Ramanujam asked about who was handling the union’s human resources concerns. When Biswurm responded that he and Boucher were filling the role, Ramanujam asked if it was a conflict of interest that the person who handles paycheques also handles complaints.

Biswurm responded that he did not think it was a conflict of interest. He said he believes it is the “default arrangement” in other employment contexts, as “the boss telling you how to do your job is also the person who signs your cheques.”

However, Biswurm acknowledged that there were gaps that he and Boucher could not fill, which is why the UTSU is aiming to hire a GM soon.

Near the end of the question period, a student asked the executives if they would endorse a college for the U of T Memes for True 🅱lue Teens meme bracket, a competition in a Facebook group that is pitting the university’s colleges and faculties against each other.

Boucher responded that while “there is not an official UTSU take on the war going on… my heart is in engineering.”

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Ann Marie Elpa, Josie Kao, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi


Disclosure: Tom Yun is The Varsity’s former Managing Online Editor (2017–2018) and News Editor (2016–2017).


Editor’s Note (December 13, 5:18 pm): This article has been updated to correct a quote from Boucher about the UTSU being the best in absolute terms rather than relative ones.

Scarborough student union apologizes for food quality issue at frosh

Student claims she saw dead, caterpillar-like bug in food

Scarborough student union apologizes for food quality issue at frosh

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has issued an apology for a “food quality issue” that occurred during its orientation.

SCSU’s frosh week, which took place from August 29–31, apparently employed a deficient food vendor, though the union did not say what the problem was or how many people were affected by the food.

In a statement to The Varsity, the SCSU wrote that “upon receiving a food complaint the union stopped serving the food.”

“Since Frosh, the Union has met with the food vendor, and after inspection from Health and Safety, it has been confirmed that the issue stemmed from the food supplier for the vendor, rather than the vendor itself. The vendor has assured the Union that they immediately switched suppliers upon receiving the complaint.”

First-year student Ellen Eshenko told The Varsity that they were given Chinese food that contained broccoli, cabbage, and rice. As she was eating, she saw a dead, green, caterpillar-like bug on a piece of broccoli. Eshenko described the bug to be the size of her fingernail.

She added that the “SCSU executives were really nice about it and so worried about it they took my info down.”

The statement that the SCSU posted on Facebook on September 6 read, “We would like to reassure you that all food vendors at Frosh were fully screened in accordance to the appropriate measures of UTSC, as well as sampled prior to ordering for the event.”

“However, despite our best efforts, we are disappointed with one of the vendors of our event. In response, we have been taking thorough measures to investigate and resolve the matter.”

The statement was signed by all SCSU executives and it included a note to contact SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis at for any further inquiries.

The SCSU added that executives “would be attending Food Handling courses” in preparation for future events.

The union’s three-day orientation, which was called Infinity, cost $65–80 to attend and was open to all incoming first-year UTSC students. According to the event website, tickets are non-refundable.

In Photos: Orientation Week 2018

U of T welcomes the class of 2022

In Photos: Orientation Week 2018


Trimming orientation falls short of expectations

Re: “The Breakdown: orientation week”

Trimming orientation falls short of expectations

In contrast to the usual full week of Frosh, incoming first-year students found themselves partaking in just three days of orientation this year. This is an unfortunate departure from the initial picture provided to students by the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), and it appears to have worked to some students’ detriment.

Two years ago, the ASSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held a joint referendum regarding the future introduction of a fall reading week, the results of which came into effect this academic year. The condition of the implementation of the new break, as stated in the question drafted by then ASSU president Abdullah Shihipar, was “moving the start of orientation week to a few days before Labor Day.” At a UTSU meeting in September 2015, Shihipar said that orientation would not be shortened as a result of the change.

6112 students voted in favour of fall reading week under these terms. Yet what actually transpired was an earlier start to the academic year, which reduced the timeframe new students had to adjust to their surroundings. In a previous interview with The Varsity, Helen Hayes, who organized Victoria College Orientation, expressed that her team would make efforts to include “almost all the events that have been staples of orientation in the past.” At the same time, Bo Wang, a student who attended the orientation, commented that “maybe five days would be better” because this would allow for “more opportunities for fun activities and more chances to meet people and get used to the university.”

With the resumption of the full orientation week next year, students settling into the campus environment will hopefully benefit from a restoration of the status quo.

Mira Chow is a first-year student at Innis College studying Social Sciences.

The Breakdown: orientation week

How the university community welcomed new students this year

The Breakdown: orientation week

Last week, the University of Toronto welcomed thousands of new students across its three campuses, seven colleges, and multiple professional faculties. The Varsity talked to those responsible for organizing orientation events about their respective frosh weeks.

Unlike in years past, 2017’s orientation week consisted of just three days, thanks to the implementation of Fall Reading Week for Arts & Science Students at UTSG, set to take place November 6–10. The reading week was passed in November 2015 after a joint referendum held by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and Arts & Science Student Union (ASSU). A year later, the new reading week was announced.

“I think it’s a pretty significant disruption, I think it’s disappointing,” said UTSU Vice-President Campus Life Stuart Norton of the shortened orientation week. “I know when the referendum was initially posed, the question wasn’t exactly clear. It sort of implied that orientation week would be pushed earlier, but it didn’t imply that the week would be shortened three days, so I know… there’s been concerns… it’s a huge disadvantage… I know it can be a bit of an aggressive transition to be here on Wednesday, cheering and screaming and having a good time, and then showing up for your 9:00 am Con Hall lecture on Thursday morning.”

Norton said that the UTSU has engaged the university in discussions regarding scheduling move-in and orientation a week earlier.

Some divisions around campus, including the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) and Victoria College, continued running orientation activities after Wednesday’s UTSU parade — the event that would usually signify the end of orientation week across all divisions. For example, first-year music students enjoyed a trip to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament on Saturday.

“We pack our week full with excursions,” said FMUA Orientation organizer Katelyn Katic. “Turnout for these events can vary so much from what you expect and hope for; that being said, we are pleased with the amount of students who had a great time at our events.” Trinity College Orientation Co-Chair Jing Wang told The Varsity that though she thought the week was a success, “with classes cutting into orientation, it affected turnout and made it harder to monitor first years.”

Victoria College Orientation organizer Helen Hayes wrote in an email to The Varsity that, “As a group, our first major projects were brainstorming a theme… and re-working our schedule from five days of programming to three. With the shortened week, we tried our best to include as much programming as possible, and I think we did a really effective job of that! By removing ‘free time’ blocks in the schedule, we were able to include almost all the events that have been staples of orientation in the past.”

Norton noted that everyone on the St. George campus, save a few of the professional faculty students, was dealing with a condensed week, which made fitting the UTSU’s programming into one of the three days a significant undertaking. “It’s sort of a balancing act between not taking up too much time, respecting the different divisions that do their own great programming, but also… not sacrificing the programming that we do,” he said.

Norton and the UTSU Orientation team, led by Alyy Patel and Yolanda Alfaro, decided to condense the UTSU’s clubs fair and carnival into one event, the Clubs Carnival, which took place after the parade on Wednesday. The UTSU held the carnival in place of a concert. According to UTSU President Mathias Memmel, “we can’t afford anyone worth having, so we decided to focus our resources on other events.”

“The UTSU’s Orientation is funded almost entirely through sponsorship, and as such, resources are limited,” he explained.

“I should also note that, at most other universities, the administration helps with the cost of orientation programming. The U of T administration helps with health and safety costs, but we don’t get funding for Orientation as a whole. RSU receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the university in support of their orientation programming.”

The Varsity reached out to the orientation coordinators from Woodsworth College, New College, Innis College, St. Michael’s College, and the Faculty of Kinesiology, but did not receive comment from them by the time of publication.

The Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering told The Varsity that their orientation activities were wrapping up at Hart House Farm in Caledon, and that they would not return in time to give comment.

University College Orientation Coordinator Lindsay Kruitwagen rejected The Varsity’s request for comment.