Free pancakes changed my life

We need student organizations to create community on campus

Free pancakes changed my life

From the outside, UTSG is an odd collection of dissimilar buildings. It’s a mosaic of clashing architectural styles, filled with students and academics of wildly different disciplines.

Yet, on any given day, in any given building, you can probably find a fold-out table with buttons, stickers, and a cardstock sign that says “free food.” At Woodsworth College, you’ll find this table every Wednesday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, staffed with dedicated student volunteers flipping pancakes to hand out to their peers.

Student organizations are what bring university to life. With thriving clubs, course unions, and student societies, a collection of buildings becomes a vibrant campus.

It was a Wednesday at Woodsworth that I found out about the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA), and later decided to run for mental health director. I found more than free breakfast every week; I found a group of students who work to make our college a home for everyone.

The WCSA uses student fees to create social events, professional opportunities, wellness workshops, and so much more. When our $7.50 student levy each semester becomes a pizza party with a make-your-own sundae bar, a coffee social with free donuts and boardgames, or an open-mic night, it becomes conversation, friendships, and community.

The importance of free food to university students should not be understated, but the role of student organizations goes beyond providing snacks — they also advocate for and empower students. The WCSA provides professional development grants, funds clubs at Woodsworth College such as the American Sign Language club and the Woodsworth College Racialized Students Collective, and meets with administrators to lobby for student interests.

My position, mental health director, was added last year to further mental health advocacy on campus. Our equity director is spearheading the push for gender-neutral washrooms at Woodsworth College.

The WCSA dedicates funds to mental health and equity, not only to make our college a safer space, but also to signal to the administration that equity and mental health are priorities to us as students and to push the administration to dedicate further resources to these areas.

Being involved with the WCSA and The Varsity, I often receive questions about whether extracurriculars take away from academics or the ‘real’ reason for my being at university. But I can’t imagine school without these outlets. I’m developing skills I know will help me after I graduate, including email correspondence, teamwork, and project management.

Beyond professional skills, I’ve found my voice as an advocate. If it weren’t for joining the WCSA as mental health director, I would never have applied to be part of Plan International Canada’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), where I work with young people from across the country to advocate for gender equality.

As trivial as it sounds, I’m simply a happier person because I’m involved on campus. Writing for The Varsity, serving on the WCSA, competing in moot tournaments, and being part of the YAC have all had a positive impact on my mental health. These activities provide me with a support network, structure, and a greater sense of purpose. It’s difficult to imagine succeeding in school without these communities.

But I’m worried for the future of student organizations in the wake of the recent announcement of the tuition cut and “non-essential” non-tuition fees becoming no longer mandatory. Involvement in student organizations and the student press is something I want to be available to every student. When tuition is cut, funds for student associations may be the first to go as they become optional.

By cutting these opportunities, the provincial government is doing more than putting free pancakes at risk — it is taking away our outlet, our community, and our voice.

A retail worker’s Black Friday

Being lionhearted, dealing with indecisive shoppers, tidying up to Lorde

A retail worker’s Black Friday

Black Friday — the time of year when even the most sophisticated stores are redesigned by former window shoppers to match the aesthetic feel of a flea market.

Five weeks prior to the day, the countdown begins. Calls are made daily to sales associates to ask not if, but when, we are free to work the notorious weekend. During this time, the excuse of ‘focusing on school’ is a luxury reserved for the lionhearted — those associates who, in the weeks leading up to the big day, can withstand the relentless pleas of stressed and understaffed managers.

I am not lionhearted.

Still, for the sake of my sanity, I try to limit the proportion of my shift spent dealing with customers. Last year, that meant working from 5:00–10:00 am so that by the time that we opened for business, I only had an hour left of work. This year, I worked from 5:00 pm to 1:00 am — less of a treat, since we don’t close up shop until 9:30 pm. Fortunately though, that meant that a decent portion of my shift was spent peacefully rearranging the store in the wake of the consumer hurricane that had swept through the store throughout the day to the calming tunes of Lorde’s Pure Heroine.

No purchases for me.

The “DOOR BUSTING SALE!” the store had offered was the employee discount I normally get, with the only difference being that any purchase I would make on this day would come with a complimentary 30-minute line-up paired with claustrophobia.  

The real disappointment: I didn’t even get to enjoy the mall food, my habitual break-time treat. Much like the rest of the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, the Urban Eatery — my third home — was infested with eager yet slow-walking shoppers who don’t have their orders memorized and also like to kick off their lunches with a million samples. Meanwhile, the decisive ones among us watch from the back of the line, frustrated.

No, thank you, I’ll settle for a chocolate bar from Shoppers and a cigarette.

Still, I can’t deny that there is a part of me that loves Black Friday. It’s a joy to hustle with my retail family, bringing good cheer to eager shoppers who probably care about material possessions more than they should.  

We’ll save that discussion for New Year’s resolutions. Just kidding; see you next year.

Watching my team from the stands

The life of an injured athlete

Watching my team from the stands

Injuries suck. As an athlete, the worst thing I’ve ever experienced is being told that I can’t play. Throughout my years of competing in high-performance field hockey, my most difficult moments are when I’m forced to watch my team play from the stands.

No injury of mine has been more difficult to cope with than the concussion I sustained in an August pre-season match against the Calgary Dinos while preparing for the 2018 Varsity Blues field hockey season. With 30 seconds left on the clock, I reached out my stick to trap a loose ball when someone knocked into me. I didn’t know if she had come from beside me or behind me, but I knew that my neck and my head hurt. As I fell to the ground, the half ended and, with some assistance, I waddled uncomfortably to a seat on the far side of the bench, away from the team. As I sat frozen still with the floodlights stinging my eyes, only one thought entered my mind: this is not happening.

I knew what a concussion felt like. My season ended one game too early in 2017 when a ball smacked me in the eye, leaving me with a nasty black eye and a moderate concussion. Sitting on the bench while our therapist asked about my symptoms and tested my memory, I tried my best to downplay how I was feeling and score perfectly on the tests — but I soon knew it was over. Based on my sensitivity to the bright back-campus lights, my difficulty focusing on the words that the therapist kept repeating, and the general sensation that I was spinning, I could tell I was concussed. After the game, my teammates repeatedly asked, “You’re okay right?” to which I responded, “Yeah, don’t worry, my neck just hurts a little,” attempting to convince them I was fine as a way of trying to convince myself too.

A doctor’s appointment the next day confirmed what I already knew but refused to believe: I had a concussion. In the weeks following my injury, I spent time away from the team — missing meetings, practices, and weightlifting sessions. Focusing on my rest and recovery, I still had two weeks before the regular season started to get myself back into the lineup. Those two weeks passed, and despite my dedication to my rehabilitation program, I achieved minimal progress. The team traveled to Waterloo to open the regular season and I stayed at home. Part of me was sad to be missing the start of the season, while part of me was relieved. I knew my concussed brain couldn’t handle the bus trip, the game, or the emotional experience of sitting out of our season opener — a moment I had looked forward to and trained for over the past nine months.

As the season went on, I stayed home while the team traveled. After a month of sitting out, it became clear that I would not step on the field for the 2018 field hockey season. I mourned this news for weeks. I sobbed as I sat at home every night knowing that my team was on the field without me; because of the severity of my symptoms, I wasn’t even allowed to go watch. Maybe I was so upset because it was my fourth season and I felt like I was reaching the peak of my career, or that I devoted most of my summer to training for the season more than I ever had before, or because I’m a captain and I felt that I was letting my team down more and more with every game I missed. Likely, all three reasons, combined with my concussion symptoms, trapped me in a gloomy haze of mourning over field hockey. I was unable to look at pictures, read game recaps, or look at my stick without choking up.

It was not until the final weeks of the season when I embraced my role as an injured player. Due to several other injuries throughout the season, a group of injured players began to emerge — some of whom were also concussed — and we helped each other navigate the difficult experience of sitting out. We formed a community of support, always there for each other because we had a shared understanding of how brutal injuries can be. My fellow injured teammates and I helped the team prepare for games and kept them focused. We cheered them on as loudly as we could from the stands, and we were the first ones to comfort them during tough losses. I felt more a part of the team during these weeks than I had earlier in the season, when I still pictured myself on the field.

Despite never attending a practice or stepping on the field in a game, this season taught me the importance of every member on the team, no matter how seemingly small their role. I learned that I am a valued member of our team, even if I’m at home in bed during practice or in the bleachers at the game. Watching this season from the stands also made me realize how much I love field hockey. Watching my teammates thrive on the field was inspiring and I wanted nothing more than to be out there with them. I still look forward to the day when I pick my stick back up.

Perhaps most importantly, I realized how much I take my health for granted. With my days full of uninterrupted dizziness, difficulty focusing, and struggling to do any basic exercise without provoking symptoms, I long for the healthy field hockey player I used to be. I picture the athlete who enjoyed her afternoons in the gym weightlifting with her team, her evenings and weekends at the field, and sharing in the collective struggle of the climbing machine with her friends. I know she’ll be back soon and I can’t wait.

TIFF 2018: Volunteering at one of the world’s largest film festivals

Volunteering allows you to learn about and support smaller independent films

TIFF 2018: Volunteering at one of the world’s largest film festivals

Sunday, September 16 marked the final day of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) — or, in other words, the final day that I could compulsively stalk any human person with a reputable IMDb page who was in the Toronto area while not appearing to be a complete psychopath.

This year, I had the pleasure of volunteering alongside TIFF’s remarkable staff, where I was granted behind the scenes, 3D, and high-definition access to one of the world’s largest and most prestigious film festivals.

You’re probably wondering how I, a small, doe-eyed liberal arts student from rural Ontario got the opportunity to work at an event with such high stakes.

It began when I heard that TIFF was looking for another batch of eager volunteers. As an aspiring filmmaker, actor, and director, I knew that I needed to play a part in this year’s festival.

Like every other millennial that had applied, I had stars in my eyes as I dreamed of meeting internationally renowned celebrities. Whether it was icon and multi-Academy Award winner Meryl Streep or heartthrob Timothée Chalamet, having the chance to meet any star would be a mission accomplished.

That being said, during volunteer training, we were told with utter transparency that ‘stargazing’ was strictly prohibited, and so, in a matter of seconds, they had shattered all my hopes and dreams.

As I sat in my room, digesting this information, I contemplated just forgetting about it all. Was it worth it to volunteer and not have the chance to meet celebrities?

In that moment, I had to think of what was best for me. I yearned for a signal from someone, from something. Then I recalled a famous lyric from pop queen Ariana Grande: “I’m so into you, I can barely breathe,” she whispered to me. I knew that she didn’t write “Into You” so I could just quit on this whole thing. I had to do it for her, but more importantly, for me.

After attending orientation, picking up my badge and t-shirt, and signing up for my shifts, I was officially a TIFF volunteer. I was ecstatic. At this point, my mentality was to enter the festival with high hopes and the willingness to learn more about the organization, and to support the smaller, independent films that were premiering.

If you were lucky, you could work in the cinemas and view the films. I was working at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, which is a multi-screen venue, meaning that there were lots of opportunities for me to see a plethora of films that I would never have had the opportunity to see outside of TIFF.

On one of my earlier shifts, I was assigned to Cinema 4, where I viewed Bi Gan’s experimental Chinese film, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

On my final shift, I had the pleasure of watching Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters, which I can confidently say is my favourite film of the year, and cinematically one of my all-time favourites.

Sandwiched between these shifts is a day I will never forget.

This year at TIFF, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star is Born premiered. Not only was their film premiering on the same day that I was working, but they were also promoting it at a press conference on the same morning that I was in the venue.

Even with this knowledge burning in the back of my mind, I never thought anything of it, until a TIFF staff member approached me. “You and you, follow me.”  I was the chosen one. But for what?

We were told that we would be scanning press tickets for the conference, meaning that I would have a chance of seeing Lady Gaga, my gay icon and the forever love of my life.

At that moment, my 10-year-old self and my current self let out an internal scream. This is what I had been waiting for: the chance to meet the multifaceted, legendary songstress and activist who produced all of my favourite songs as an impressionable queer boy.

After learning how to operate our scanning devices, my friend and I headed downstairs to the gallery where the conference was being held.

My role model of so many years would be standing in the same room as me.

Breathing the same air as me.

I had to stay calm.

After anxiously waiting, another staff member with two volunteers caught my eye and sternly marched over to me. I was expecting to get a time check for when Lady Gaga would arrive, or the okay to start scanning press tickets, but instead, I was told to return back to my previous job.

I was quite disturbed by this request and I let it show on my face. However, I am not confrontational, so I silently cursed the boy who replaced me and returned to my station.

As the day went on, I forgot about the incident and, to my surprise, thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my shift. Near the end of the day though, I overheard a conversation between two other volunteers: “I don’t really get the hype about Lady Gaga anyway.”

“Okay,” I thought, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but how does one disregard her stellar performance in A Star is Born?”

I turned around to see who dared criticize my idol it was that volunteer who had replaced me earlier in the day.

I am a firm believer in good karma, and I know that, at some point in my life, I will be graced by Lady Gaga’s presence.

Redefining relationships: students share stories of romance in 2017

Four writers break down traditional notions of sex, love, and break-ups

Redefining relationships: students share stories of romance in 2017

Five months later

A third-year discusses mental health and why he hasn’t had sex in five months

By Avneet Sharma

I haven’t had sex in five months. No, I don’t want pity, and I don’t think of it as a big deal. It’s simply a matter of fact. To be honest, it never occurred to me until I started thinking about it.

Part of the reason I haven’t had sex is that one of the side-effects of my medication involves a decrease of my sex drive, although my sex drive is already low on average. The other part is that I find myself making a decision, almost subconsciously, to only pursue sex with someone I can connect with on a deep personal level.

I’m not looking for ‘the one’ or anything like that. I’m far too cynical to believe in the concept that there is a perfect person out there for me, nor do I believe that I will find this supposed perfect person in my early 20s. I guess I’m looking for a relationship.

One of my biggest priorities lately has been my mental health. I’ve taken time this summer to focus on my health, well-being, and becoming a happier person in general. For the most part, I feel a lot more confident in myself. I want to reach a point where I don’t need a relationship, but want a relationship.

The most difficult part about stating this is that I’m currently tip-toeing the fine line between being hopeful and being desperate, and I’m trying my best to be the former. I have felt a certain pressure, especially within the gay community, to pursue casual or anonymous sex. It has become something of a rite of passage for young gay men to download Grindr, a hookup app for queer men, and pursue a no-strings-attached sexual encounter with an older man.

I did this a few months into my first year. One night, I was drunkenly messaging a guy on Grindr who wanted me to come over to his bizarre apartment in Harbord Village. My most vivid memory of the night was how strange and uncomfortable I felt in his windowless bedroom with a ceiling that curved too low above his bed. It didn’t help that he was wearing cheap Old Navy flip-flops.

It was then that I realized I don’t like having sex for the sake of having sex. The fun and excitement of my sexual encounters in the past have been with people who I have known for a while and had a palpable connection with.

Does waiting for a connection before having sex make me too much of an idealist? It has been five months, but I’m not too concerned about whether it will happen again soon. Sometimes, I do have those moments of weakness where I think about speeding through the process, fixating on one guy and trying to create a connection artificially. I also start to wonder if my expectations are too high and if I should just settle for any guy who is remotely interested in me, even if it’s just an anonymous hookup.

I say this to emphasize that I am nowhere near perfect. I have moments of weakness, self-consciousness, and desperation. But when it comes to something as personal as sex, it’s important to really think about what you want in an honest and realistic manner. And remember that if you aren’t having sex now, it doesn’t have to mean anything.

AVNEET-SHARMA
VIVIAN-XIE

Will you be my metamour?

A student reflects on the intricacy and beauty of polyamory

By Vanessa Perruzza

“So, you’re polygamous?” the white boy asks me, nursing a watery beer and staring at me with inquiring eyes.

“No, that’s when one man takes many wives. I am not a man, nor am I married. I don’t practice polyandry either, which is one woman with many husbands,” I explain, tired of the same, overly simplistic explanations.

“But you said—”

“What I said was: I am polyamorous. You know? ‘Poly’ as in many? ‘Amour’ as in love? My partner and I can have other relationships in a safe and consensual way.”

It’s a conversation I’ve had countless times, and every person in a monogamous relationship has had a similar response. I distinctly recall a heated argument during Nuit Blanche a few years ago, in the very beginning of my current relationship, that truly tested my patience.

“If your boyfriend has another girlfriend, then he obviously doesn’t love you. If he loved you for real, you’d be enough for him,” someone told me. Using self-restraint that I’m still proud of to this day, I simply walked away.

Polyamory is an inconceivably gorgeous thing. Love, when it is pure and unselfish, is life-giving and wonderful. Still, many monogamous people find me dirty and selfish, when all I want to do is share the love I have.

Unlike an open relationship, where there are often no-holds-barred interactions with people outside the relationship, polyamory is more complicated and communicative. A polyamorous couple, triad, or constellation — which is an interconnected web of partners — will always communicate their needs, expectations, and limits in an open and honest way. This helps to avoid feelings of jealousy and resentment that often destroy both monogamous and open relationships.

Truly though, one of the most beautiful parts of polyamory — the part that often goes forgotten — are the metamours. That is, the partner of your partner.

In a monogamous relationship, the partner of your partner is a homewrecker. In an open relationship, the partner of your partner is a jealousy-inducing stranger. But in polyamory, the partner of your partner is the most intimate of friends; the person you can trust to have your lover’s best interests at heart, and with whom you can share things you can’t share with anyone else.

Think girl talk, but on steroids. When metamours meet, and have a good relationship, the support between them is unparalleled. In my own experience, conversations between metamours are some of the funniest you’ll overhear.

“He never used to bite before. Did he learn biting from you? Look at this bruise! I love it!”

“You’re one to talk! Was that tongue-thing your doing? Because, wow!”

Beyond sharing intimacy, having someone to care for your partner as much as you do is beautiful and it makes the stupid comments worth the trouble. If they’re sick or suffering, love is on all sides. To me, this is the best part of polyamory: I’m getting love in more way than one.

Romance, of the virtual kind

What four Tinder dates taught a student about modern human interaction

By Sonali Gill

Finding love is never easy. This little nugget of wisdom is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

Given that we live in a digital age, however, the questions surrounding love and sex have been redefined. We are increasingly relying on technology in all aspects of our lives, which is evident in the proliferation of mobile applications. Because of this I find myself asking the question: does technology improve or destroy our love lives?

My experiences with a variety of online dating apps indicate the latter. To prove my point, I am going to tell my story. To paraphrase Charles Dickens: a tale of one city and three dates.

I was unprepared for the events of Date Number One. After some heavily erotic flirting on Tinder, I met a well-built young man who was part-Iranian and part-Japanese. The awkward conversation came in stark contrast to the significant amount of build-up we experienced virtually. I extended my hand to shake his, which was decidedly unromantic, and an internal war raged inside my head: What does he want? Do we sleep together after we get coffee or before? Do we have to sleep together at all?

To myself, I marvelled at all the people who found their soulmates online. I felt like online courting lacked the spontaneity that a real-life, at-the-bar opportunity, naturally oozed. I also found that it was difficult to set boundaries, physically speaking, with someone I had just met. The pressure was ramped up in a situation that was intended as enjoyable.

While searching for Date Number Two, I got the distinct feeling that I was catalogue shopping on an Amazon-like platform. Going through the profiles of various boys on Tinder greatly resembled flipping through the features of an online catalogue of electronics or clothing. Once again, I was unprepared for the deluge of information that I received from some boys, all of which reeked of desperation. Unsurprisingly, the date didn’t go well.

After the first two disasters, I was certain the worst was over. And, for the most part, it was.

Date Number Three took place at a quaint pub somewhere on campus. I had been careful to avoid any erotic exchanges on Tinder to ensure that the bar wasn’t set high. My date was polite and instigated conversation on topics of mutual interest. We connected intellectually, but I still felt no spark. This date led me to believe that it’s probably better to go to a pub or a club if you want a raunchy night out.

The fact that even the third date didn’t go well served as testament to the hit-and-miss of online dating. When dating online, there’s massive potential to mislead people, given that people tend to portray what they think needs to be said rather than what they want to express. The chances of miscommunication are high since most online daters are busy misinterpreting emojis and punctuation marks. Therefore, it’s best to start conservatively and maintain caution in all virtual romance.

Online dating provides us with more choices than ever before which is both a strength and a weakness. The weaknesses of using technology in our romantic lives outweigh the strengths. Romances should have a solid, real-world beginning with minimum opportunities for deception, no matter what their eventual fate may be.

GABRIELLE-WARREN
VIVIAN-XIE

The breakup

How heartbreak was experienced from the ending of a friendship

By Gabrielle Warren

Music albums are powerful. There comes a moment when albums deviate from their original meaning and somehow mould to your life; they become one with an experience or a period of time.

For me, A Seat at the Table by Solange was one of those albums. When it first came out, I didn’t know what its full significance would be. While the entire album encompasses me, one of its most important features was helping me navigate through a breakup.

University is a difficult period. It’s a time when so many things are changing and you are constantly learning about yourself. In Freshman year, I broke up with one of the first people I might have loved. In sophomore year, I broke up with a person I considered a very close friend.

In retrospect, it was the friendship that impacted me most. Even to this day, I have a strong reaction when I think of that time. Everyone wants to talk about romantic breakups. There are whole genres dedicated to the topic of falling in and out of romantic love but few speak about what it means to fall out of love with a friend. Perhaps it’s because it hurts more. To write about it would mean you would have to encounter it.

Friendship is a slow burn. A flame that only gets stronger each interaction. A burn that moves beyond the mental and reaches the spiritual. Romance can exist without friendship, but friendship cannot exist without itself.

I believe that it is the spiritual nature of friendship that makes that breakup hurt more. The exchange of life experiences means that there is a human who holds a piece of who you are. Even when you are torn apart by circumstance — they’ll always hold you.

A month before the official breaking point, I began to feel a disconnect. When we talked, the subjects hadn’t changed but the spirit had. My mind wandered toward other things and people. The glee of our get-togethers had faded. Now silence and apathy filled the space that joy once occupied. The feeling was mutual.

It was late at night. My nose was running. I was stressed for a test I had the next week. A notification popped on my screen. As I began to read, frustration turned into anger. The content of the text included things that needed to be said, things I knew to be true, and things that could not be taken back.

I began to play “Mad.” Solange crooned in my ear, “You got the light, count it all joy. You got the right to be mad. But when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way. They say you gotta let it go.”

After the song finished, I stared at the long message. I didn’t know what to do. Could we still be friends after this? Some things are better left unsaid. Where could we go from this point?

“Where Do We Go” began to play; it was as if Solange herself was with me, asking the same questions I was thinking: “And I don’t know where to go. No, I don’t know where to stay. Don’t know where to go. And I don’t know where to stay. Where do we go from here? Do you know? Where do we go from here?”

When the song ended, I found some strength. I responded to her text. It was difficult and long. I apologized if I had been a bad friend and claimed I needed time. In reality, I knew that those things that had been said would always be a wall between us. A wall that would cause insecurity and mistrust. I didn’t want that for them or for myself.

Finally, “Don’t Wish Me Well” began to play. Like a song at the end of an emotional movie, it reassured me: “And I’m going all the way. But I’ll leave on the lights for you…I’m going all the way. And now you’re almost out of view.” That moment felt like the end of a sitcom. A sense of sadness that something so beloved would not return, but also a sense of relief that we can move on to new stories.

“Success has no time limit”

A science student reflects on the meaning of success during the summer months

“Success has no time limit”

When I’m feeling unmotivated or inadequate, I like to read the success stories of notable scientists for inspiration. Lynn Margulis, for example, is a renowned pioneer of the endosymbiotic theory central to cellular evolution. Her work was rejected by 15 journals, and she was once told that her research was “crap” — told never to apply for a grant again. Robert Sternberg, former President of the American Psychological Association, was considered a failure by most of his grade-school teachers, and his introductory psychology professor told him to consider another major. Sternberg later graduated in the top five per cent of his class at Yale University.

To a third-year Life Sciences student like me, these stories are a beacon of hope. I can understand all too well the pressure to fast-track in school and to keep busy after school. This is especially true when it comes to engaging in summer research.

Long before summer even approached, my friends and peers were already planning the courses they would be taking, considering the internships they had been offered, and preparing for the research position interviews they had lined up. I know students who have interned with organizations like the World Health Organization over the summer and have had their work published in journals like Nature.

Amidst all of this, I was not among the lucky few who managed to fill up their calendar in preparation for a productive summer. I had the gnawing feeling that I was doing something wrong.

Going to a school like U of T doesn’t do much to ease this feeling. The university boasts about its numerous summer research opportunities for undergraduate students, but I can vouch that the competition is fierce and finding a position is no easy task.

If you’re a science student, you’ll know what I mean when I say that getting involved in research is something that is drilled into your head from day one. Not only is it reinforced in our courses, there’s also no shortage of seminars and newsletters on campus offering advice on how to get started in research. On top of that, graduate programs certainly like seeing research on your resume.

If I’m being completely honest, before my second year, I hadn’t really given much thought to how I was going to spend my summer. I soon realized that this attitude wasn’t going to cut it. No longer are we praised simply for getting good grades; now, the stakes are higher, and our performance is assessed even after the school year ends.

I wanted to do research, but I was severely lacking when it came to experience. So I joined the Model United Nations group on campus, started volunteering at hospitals, and contributed to a number of science outreach groups both on and off campus instead. I probably spent more time fulfilling the responsibilities of these positions than I did on my actual schoolwork during the year.

Feeling more confident about my résumé, I began sending it out to every research program in Toronto as soon as applications opened in the winter. And then I waited. When the weeks turned into months and I still hadn’t heard back, I was faced with the prospect that I might have no job for the summer. The ‘break’ became less like something to look forward to and more like something to dread.

I was later surprised to find that one of the principle investigators to whom I sent an application did reach out to me, meaning that I’ll be spending my summer doing research at a hospital downtown.

The experience made me realize something: there is a culture of toxicity among science students. We are expected to succeed in as little time as possible, and this expectation is compounded when it comes to summer. As such, I wrongly felt that I had failed to fulfill a requirement that I ought to have achieved during the summer.

I felt inadequate because I believed that a research position defined my success as a science student.

Reading the success stories of great scientists helps suppress those thoughts. Knowing their stories, it becomes obvious that success has no time limit.

Slowly, but surely

During the toughest of times, a student works to rebuild his faith in the kindness of friends and the world around him

Slowly, but surely

It’s Friday night. As usual, Michael phones me to ask to go out for drinks. As usual, I can’t, because I’m dealing with yet another issue at home.

“Again?” he says.

“Yeah, sorry. Maybe next week.”

I know next week won’t work either. It’s hard to decide what’s worse: having to turn down friends for reasons they do not really understand and that I’ve never fully explained — even if they do try to empathize — or being cut out completely from their social lives because they stop sending the invitations after I say no enough times.

The reasons for my social isolation are surprisingly simple. Over the summer, my mother fell ill, leaving me suddenly responsible for things like taking care of the family home, managing the finances and bills, and shopping and cooking for myself, my brother, and my mother. All this goes on while I am still juggling being a full-time student, involvement in student politics and campus life, applying for graduate school, and everything else that someone my age deals with.

Of course, trying to balance school with “adulting” as we have cutely started calling it, is something that anyone with experience living on their own has done. But it is made significantly more arduous with the real-world implications of your parent being in hospital or at home recovering with you.

You might assume the biggest repercussions that arise are academic, but this has not been the case for me. After explaining to a professor that I would be missing a class to pick up my mom from the hospital, she very graciously offered any accommodation I would need throughout the semester without me having to ask. My college’s administration was also quick to help me navigate the plethora of bursaries and awards available to help with my financial situation.

I’ve found that the worst repercussions are social. Friends, understandably, do not know how to respond to situations like mine. People who have not experienced this kind of hardship are rarely sure what to do besides a well-intentioned Facebook message stating that they’ll be there for me if I need anything. One friend ordered me a pizza once, which is actually more helpful than it sounds.

After the initial ‘hope you’re okay’ message, what would be really helpful is companionship. Inevitably, people worry about how to act around me and sometimes avoid any interaction at all, out of indecision over what actions or words might fracture my apparently eggshell exterior. One outcome is that people never mention that anything is wrong, while another is that people only ever mention that something is wrong.

After a couple weeks of not hearing from Michael, I shoot him a message. “Hey, how come you haven’t been in touch for a while?” I ask.

“You seemed really busy, so I didn’t want to bother you,” he responds. But even at the worst of times, hearing from friends is never a bother.

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It can sometimes be easy to let yourself slip into despair about everything.

[/pullquote-default]”Why aren’t my ‘friends’ even asking if I’m doing okay?” I later vent to a friend.

“Probably because you don’t give them any indication that you need their support,” she suggests. And she’s right. I continually refuse to reach out to most people and ask for help, so how would anyone know?

At the same time, there are some who, without fail, always ask very personal questions about how my life is going. “Are you doing okay? How has everything been?” asks the boss of my summer job every time I had to meet with her. There’s an infuriating, unspoken emphasis on “everything.”

She was reducing my identity down to the bad things in my life and doing so only makes it harder for me to move on. I always give the honest truth, even when people just ask to be polite. Rationally, all of this is, of course, a contradiction. I cannot have it both ways: I should either want people to ask me how I’m doing or not.

On top of this is the guilt. When those impossibly few people who both ask about my problems but do not ask too much, I agonize that I will be the one to talk too much. It is very easy to get sucked into despair and lose faith in those around me, either because they do not seem to care or because I do not want them to care too much.

“I want you to like me for me, not because you are worried that I have nobody else to vent to,” I confide to a close friend after a particularly difficult time.

Their response helps enormously: “Talking with you is one of the highlights of my day, even when the conversations are hard.” I never tell them just how much it helps to hear that.

All of this is just the new normal. It can sometimes be easy to let yourself slip into despair about everything. Most people are good people who do want to help, but that understanding is very easily buried under the belief that most people just do not care.

It takes a lot to rebuild that kind of faith in others, and it would be very easy to hold on to that negative belief system. But I’m working on it  slowly, but surely.

The Belief Issue of The Varsity Magazine is on stands March 22. Read more on magazine.thevarsity.ca.

Moments of light

An awkward encounter on Toronto Island keeps one girl believing in happiness

Moments of light

It takes a lot of heart: an eventful year both on campus and abroad, 2016 was a divisive year for a lot of us. As another year begins, this series of personal essays invites you to ponder this question: where is the love?


Last year was absolute and complete garbage. By the start of this year, we found ourselves in a decidedly more violent, tense, and terrifying world. Throughout it all though, the minuscule instances of light make me get up every morning and look forward to potential moments of happiness.

More than anything, my happiness depends heavily on my friendships. If it wasn’t for my friends, I could easily say that I wouldn’t be here today. My friends are my source of support and provide me with light in the darkest of times. I would like to take a moment to dissect and separate the good moments from the mess that threatens to eat us up.

I become most aware of my own happiness under the clear skies of summer. The happiness that I feel when enveloped in the warmth of the summer is almost palpable.

Last summer, my friends and I went to have a picnic on the Toronto Islands, in an attempt to enjoy the last of the lingering heat. The day started as a struggle: the ferry took ages; we felt like we were being swallowed by the sun; the food became soggy; and we didn’t pack nearly enough water as we should have.

We eventually found a cozy picnic table and I blasted my Troye Sivan playlist throughout the silence of the island; we ate and babbled about all sorts of irrelevant nonsense. At one point, my friend and I decided to go to the bathroom, bringing a camera to indulge our shallow hearts with mirror selfies.

We found a washroom with the door propped open. My friend headed to the stall right away, while I puckered my lips in front of the mirror and reapplied my lipstick.

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If it wasn’t for the people I love and their constant support and kindness, waking up every day would be absolutely meaningless.

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I was in the middle of my best Kim Kardashian expression when a tall, bald man emerged from one of the stalls. He gave me a curious look as he reached for the sink and I stared at him with wide eyes. Minutes passed as he washed his hands and all I did was stare, transfixed by this man who, as far as I was concerned, could be a pervert.

“I’m sorry, but what are you doing here?” I finally asked him, my voice trembling slightly as I looked at the man.

“Um, washing my hands?” He replied, looking almost scared of me, a 20-year-old girl with the body of a 12-year-old boy.

“This is the girls’ washroom though. I know the door was opened, so it’s all good if you made a mistake,” I said.

He looked from me to the door, back to me and back to the door. He finally walked over, pulling the door back to reveal a sign that said MEN in bold, black lettering.

It was my turn to look at the door to the man, back to the door and back to him. I bowed my head in shame and mumbled a quiet apology as he practically ran out of the washroom.

Each ensuing wave of laughter echoed through the walls and vibrated back to me. My friend, who had practically left me to die in shame, joined me and her laughter mixed with mine. She stepped out of the stall and I grasped onto her for support, our uncontrollable giggling obnoxiously reverberating throughout the tight space of the washroom.

Still committed to our original mission, she grabbed her camera and pointed it to the mirror as we tried our best to pose through the laughter seizing our bodies, each snort breaking our regained composure again and again. We left the washroom hanging off each other, chortling every time we shared a look.

It turned out to be the best day of the summer. If it wasn’t for the people I love and their constant support and kindness, waking up every day would be absolutely meaningless. Even if the worst were to happen, I’d still have these small moments of light to look forward to.