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.

 

What’s in a meme?

U of T meme groups on Facebook offer an accessible vantage point into the student experience

What’s in a meme?

If you’re even slightly active on Facebook, chances are that you’re probably in a meme group of some kind. The most popular meme groups at the University of Toronto are ‘UofT Memes for Edgy Teens,’ which boasts over 13,500 members, and ‘UofT memes for true 🅱️lue teens,’ which has over 3,000 members. These groups have moderators, and although some content may not be approved or kept up for long, the groups are ultimately a free space wherein anyone can post whatever they want.

Merriam-Webster defines a meme as “an amusing or interesting item… spread widely online.” I like to think of memes as inside jokes for the internet, and often as inside jokes for a group of people with shared experiences. In the case of U of T meme groups, that experience is being a student at this university. Although some might question the wisdom of taking these memes too seriously, I think they express student concerns and anxieties better than any other medium.

This is not in spite of the informality of the medium — it’s because of it. As Marshall McLuhan would say, the medium is the message.

McLuhan was talking about how mediums like television, print, or radio would shape the way we think about the world and process information. Yet we can see his insights reflected in memes and internet culture as well. The fact is that memes permit a type of self-expression that is normally unavailable in other forms of discourse. Expressing qualms about the university through a meme is easier than filing a complaint through official channels, and it often garners attention nevertheless. Compulsory respect for public figures when expressing oneself, conversely, is unnecessary, and few if any topics are wholly off limits. All that is required to create a good meme is a sense of humour and a knowledge that the meme will be understood by the community.

In Elizabeth Bruenig’s Washington Post article “Why is Millennial Humor So Weird?,” she discusses how the absurdism of life for millennials, from economic anxiety to uncertainty about the future, has given way to embracement of the bizarre and strange. You can find plenty of especially strange memes in both U of T meme groups. One meme, for instance, explains how to look like a Rotman Commerce student — wearing an expensive but unremarkable suit and tie and purchasing a potato chip to place on your shoulder. Another meme, in rebuttal to a Trinity College student’s denial that the college is “extra,” displays a stained glass window depicting an angel holding a photo of the college in its hands.

To an outsider, these memes might seem nonsensical, yet they manage to convey the anxieties and oddities that are unique to U of T life — in this case, those anxieties and oddities that are unique to certain programs and colleges. Similarly, other memes in the groups focus on other commonplace concepts within the U of T community, such as the antics of Jordan Peterson or all of those posters around campus that call the university ‘boundless.’

The stresses of our lives, including extreme academic pressure, sky-high tuition fees, ever-increasing job insecurity, and a crumbling mental health system, have inevitably given way to the “the surreal and bizarre,” as Bruenig puts it. But memes have distilled our anxieties into something else — something that is, dare I say, boundless. Memes help us communicate and share inside jokes and references about the student experience without having to rely on formal language, reinforcing our sense of community as students at this university. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the content these memes could be expressed in any other medium.

Our memes have tapped into something that few other student publications or organizations have been able to truly understand, and they have helped us raise common thoughts about the student experience that might have previously stayed private. Since so many people are in one meme group, sharing thoughts on any given topic only requires creating a post. The impact of that accessibility can be unexpectedly far-reaching, especially for this campus — consider that only 4,403 students cast votes for UTSU President during the first round of last year’s UTSU elections, a figure lower than the amount of people who belong to ‘UofT Memes For Edgy Teens.’

In a way, memes are more representative of student beliefs than anything else, as they are so easily accessible and the groups are so democratized. If you really want to understand what’s going on in the student mind — what has resulted from our unique circumstances, and what issues actually draw people’s attention and concerns — look no further than our meme groups.

Adina Heisler is a third-year student at University College studying Women & Gender Studies and English. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

‘We Believe Survivors’

Community marches in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault

‘We Believe Survivors’

Content warning: discussion of sexual assault, suicide

Following the conclusion of Jian Ghomeshi’s trial, which ended with an acquittal, hundreds of people rallied and marched in support of survivors of sexual assault. 

The rally was entitled ‘We Believe Survivors,’ illustrating the march’s intent to support and stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and the women who came forward in the months leading up to the trial. The rally and subsequent march were organized weeks before the announcement of the trial’s verdict.  

“We wanted to make sure no matter the outcome, that there was a space for survivors to recognize and support the women who bravely came forward, all the survivors who couldn’t, and the many more survivors in our community that have been sexually assaulted, and you know just to make sure that they know there is a community backing them and supporting them in this process,” said Jennifer Hollett, a political activist and one of the organizers of the event.   

The rally began around 6:00 pm in the rain and below freezing temperatures.  Supporters were given sheets of paper with chants and messages printed on them. From blocks away, hundreds of people could be heard chanting ‘we believe survivors’ and ‘the system isn’t broken, it was built this way.’   

Influential activists and supporters came to speak to the crowd, including Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons. Parsons completed suicide in 2012, after photographs depicting her sexual assault surfaced and led to her being harassed and bullied. Canning voiced his support for the women who testified in the case and called for an end to victim blaming.   

When Lucy DeCoutere was introduced, she was met with thunderous applause and chants of ‘we believe you’ from the audience. DeCoutere was the first woman to publicly accuse Ghomeshi of sexual assault. DeCoutere said it would be “bad manners” for her to be in the area and not attend the rally, and thanked the audience for their support.   

Following DeCoutere, a woman who only wished to be known as Witness #1, took to the steps in front of Old City Hall. This woman was the first to testify against Ghomeshi in the trial, and she too thanked the audience for coming out to show their support despite the inclement weather.   

The contingent walked north on Bay Street to meet with Black Lives Matter-Toronto at the Toronto Police Services headquarters, where demonstrators have camped out for the past week. As the march passed, cars honked in support and onlookers clapped and stood in solidarity. 

When asked about whether the verdict changed the organizers’ outlook on the demonstration, Hollett stated, “Unfortunately I don’t think today’s verdict surprised anyone. Most people who’ve followed had a front row seat to see the injustice of our justice system when it comes to sexual assault, and a lot of us were hoping for the best, but it’s a flawed system, and it’s just about impossible for survivors to navigate… this is why so many women don’t come forward in the first place, because the women are put on trial, and it’s more about what happened after the assault rather than consent and the violence at the heart of the case.”   

Those at the rally called for legal reform and new rhetoric in the conversation surrounding sexual violence. They also stressed that the courts judge cases where survivors are scrutinized more harshly than the assailants. According to Hollett, ending the stigma surrounding sexual violence “starts as a conversation, but I think it’s a conversation that we need to bring in lawyers and politicians and activists and I know that that work is already starting as a result of this trial.”

LGBTOUT to receive student levy

‘Yes’ vote signals end of battle to obtain per-student funding

LGBTOUT to receive student levy

After years of trying to obtain student funding, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans people of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) has successfully acquired a levy of $0.25 per semester. A majority of students voted in favour of the levy with 1,627 voting yes, and 1,119 voting no. There were 1,691 abstentions.

The referendum ran concurrently with the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) spring elections’ voting period from March 22 to 24.

“To me, the referendum passing is an indicator of an overall improvement in the environment at U of T,” said Nathan Gibson, LGBTOUT drop-in centre director. “To be a queer student on campus and to have the MAIN [sic] queer organization on campus be a levied service group is such a comfort,” he added.

According to Gibson, the funds will be used to diversify programming to better serve the LGBTQ+ community. “It means that our events won’t perpetuate the rampant glorification of white, cis, party culture that we’ve tended toward in the past,” Gibson said. “It means we can start to regain the trust of intersectionally marginalized queer folks who have not felt represented or even welcome in this community for far too long.”

Gibson also suggested that the levy would allow LGBTOUT to subsidize students looking to attend conferences that they would otherwise not be able to, in an effort to support queer students in their equity work.

Inflation indexing

Despite passing the levy, the funds will not be immediately tied to inflation; the second referendum question that would have secured this indexation failed. There were 1,612 votes against the question, 1,328 in favour, and 1,497 abstentions.

“In all honesty I think the failure of the second question was mostly a result of a lack of understanding,” said Gibson, adding that the question could have been clearer and that the campaign could have better emphasized its importance.

The question read “Do you authorize the Board of Directors of the UTSU to request annual cost-of-living increases, based on December Ontario CPI to the designated LGBTOUT portion of the fee?”

“I [don’t] blame anyone for not knowing [the meaning of the question], I probably wouldn’t have if I weren’t working on the campaign,” Gibson said.

He does not believe that the failure of the second question reflects the overall attitude towards the levy increase.

Gibson said that he will likely investigate the processes by which such a change may come about for future years. “[The] most important thing is that the levy itself passed, the increase can happen at a later date,” Gibson said.

If a campaign to tie the levy to inflation were to run in the future, Gibson believes it will be easier to explain because it will the main focus of the campaign “[I hope] that the coming years will bring a further push toward equity and inclusivity on our campus and so when we do attempt to tie the levy to inflation, it will have a better chance at passing,” he said.

Historical significance

The passing of the referendum marks the first time in LGBTOUT’s 47-year history that the club will be levied. UTSU members at the St. George campus will pay the refundable levy in the same way that they fund other UTSU levy groups, such as Bike Chain and Downtown Legal Services.

LGBTOUT has been active since 1969. The club held four referenda between 1999 and 2004 in an attempt to become a levied service group. All attempts were unsuccessful.

In 1999, the response to the campaign was violent and homophobic, prompting U of T to create the Office of LGBTQ Resources and Programs, a forerunner to the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office.

“I’m really happy to see our campus becoming a more welcoming space for queer students and I can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish in the coming years!” Gibson said.

#BLMTOTentCity outside of police headquarters

Black Lives Matter demonstrators rally against police violence

#BLMTOTentCity outside of police headquarters

The Black Lives Matter-Toronto Coalition organized a BLMTO BlackOUT Against Police Brutality rally outside the Toronto Police Services headquarters on College Street last Saturday at 4 pm. Supporters of Black Lives Matter had been there since March 19, in a space they are calling #BLMTOTentCity.

The rally was held in response to police action that took place on March 21, which was also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Members of the police force removed tents and doused the fire that demonstrators were using to keep warm.

According to the Toronto Police Operations’ Twitter, the action was taken because of safety concerns. Eyewitnesses said that materials were broken, personal belongings were confiscated, and people — including children — were attacked.

“The unprovoked police action on peaceful protesters raising their concerns about Anti-Black violence is an affront to our civil liberties and freedoms,” read part of a statement from the organizers on the Facebook event page.

#BLMTOTentCity began in response to the civilian police watchdog group, Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) not indicting the officer who shot Andrew Loku. Loku, a black man, was shot inside a Toronto apartment building last July by an unidentified police officer.

Organizers with Black Lives Matter produced a list of demands which they sent to mayor John Tory, chief of police Mark Saunders, and premier Kathleen Wynne. The demands include: the immediate release of the names of the officer(s) who killed Loku and for charges to be laid accordingly; public release of any video footage from the scene of the shooting; and “the adoption of the African Canadian Legal Clinic’s demand for a coroner’s inquest into the death of Andrew Loku.”

Additional demands include the condemnation of the use of excessive force against a protester, an overhaul of the SIU, a commitment to the end of carding, and the release of the name(s) of the officer(s) who killed Alex Wettlaufer, along with appropriate charges. Wettlaufer was a 21 year old black man who was shot dead earlier this month.

The rally itself showed solidarity with other movements and people of intersecting identities. Among those in attendance were people who had marched in the We Believe Survivors rally, non-black supporters, ethnic and religious groups, and unions; attendees held signs in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. There was also a call for “black and Indigenous solidarity.”

“We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter—Toronto because CUPE members face anti-Black racism,” the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Ontario said in a statement of solidarity.  “We support Black Lives Matter because this is about us — about our members, our families, and our communities. But this is also about solidarity against oppression. We are proud to stand with Aboriginal groups, the student movement, and other allies in the fight against anti-Black racism.”

Protesters eventually moved onto the road, which remained closed for most of the day.

Student club aims to help homeless

WarmWorkers sets up U of T branch

Student club aims to help homeless

With approximately 5,000 homeless people living in the city of Toronto, Pooja Kaushal felt the need to help. She is co-president of WarmWorkers, a new U of T club that aims to help the homeless people of Toronto in an innovative way. 

Rather than collect monetary donations, the club collects redeemable food and drink coupons from companies, such as Tim Hortons’ Roll Up The Rim To Win or McDonald’s Monopoly Peel To Play. The group also collects gift cards for restaurants and grocery stores. 

“When dealing with the homeless, gift cards work better because we essentially know we’re making a difference with gift cards, because we know that we’re helping them at least get food [and] drinks,” Kaushal said.

The group hosts outreach days, where they move through the city as a group, engaging with homeless people. 

Kaushal told The Varsity about her experience with a man named Jesse, whom she met during one of the club’s outreach days. 

“He was just great to talk to… he had resumes prepared in his bag, he was attending workshops, and our program would be such a perfect fit for him.”

Brothers Karan and Arjun Kundra founded WarmWorkers, after they saw the plight of the homeless population in Toronto and decided they wanted to make a difference by focusing on “transitioning homeless people from a cycle of dependency to an independent, self-sufficient lifestyle.” 

The group’s plan consists of two phases: phase one is currently underway and involves collecting promotional food and drink prizes, coupons, and gift cards. Phase two involves consolidating the relationships they formed with homeless people.   

In conjunction with their corporate sponsors, the club is seeking to provide homeless people with long-term stable housing. From there, WarmWorkers will work to strengthen interview skills, refine resumes, and help supply professional attire. The main goal of phase two is to help individuals get off the streets, and prepare them for employment and self-sustainable lifestyles. 

So far Kaushal believes the reaction to WarmWorkers at U of T has been nothing but positive. “We’ve been very successful, usually people are very generous with giving away their winnings because, you know what, at the end of the day it’s coffee, it’s a donut and we can afford those things but not everyone can,” she said.

Library thefts on the decline

Robarts introduces new security measures

Library thefts on the decline

Despite 10 reported thefts at the University of Toronto’s libraries this semester, the overall number of thefts on campus has been on the decline since 2015. There was a decrease of 22 thefts in January 2016, and a decrease of six thefts in February 2015.

Lari Langford, head of Access and Information Services at Robarts, stated that Robarts has the highest traffic of all U of T libraries.

“It’s the most used library, so you’re going to have a higher incidence [of theft] because of the higher use. Bottom line is that if you go to the other libraries on this campus you won’t find the percentage of people that you find at Robarts,” she said.

Robarts has implemented several new initiatives that have resulted in a lower theft rate at the library, including the Stop Campus Theft campaign, a staffing service called iStaff, and a new service that lends out laptop locks to students.

The Stop Campus Theft campaign was launched in August of 2014. It involved postering the campus with messages that sought to heighten awareness of the theft problem and encourage students to consider taking precautionary measures.

At Robarts specifically, two other preventative initiatives exist. A new staffing service called iStaff consists of a group of staff members that make their way throughout the building, never fixed at one station. Students at Robarts may also borrow laptop locks from the course reserves desk. These devices enable the user to lock their laptop to their study desk.

Langford believes that the combination of these three measures is the key to the decreasing theft rates. “I think the whole campaign discouraged [people], people did get arrested. The reality is maybe we’ve made an environment that is a little less attractive to professional thieves because of our emphasis on community policing and so on that maybe they’ve gone elsewhere,” she said.

“Almost all thefts within our libraries are laptops, smart phones, etc. that are left unattended,” said associate director Sam D’Angelo of Campus Police. “Students should never leave their valuables unattended even to take a quick washroom break. It only takes a couple seconds for a thief to steal.”

Personal Librarian initiative helps first-year students

Arts and science, engineering students participate in growing project

Personal Librarian initiative helps first-year students

This year, 5,000 first-year arts and science students participated in the Personal Librarian project, an initiative designed to encourage students to ask questions, offer book consultations for difficult research questions, and provide a tour of the library and its resources.

“Students involved in the program receive advice and feedback from their personal librarian throughout their first year, and are encouraged to contact their librarian whenever they have questions about library resources, services, and research,” reads the University of Toronto Library website.

Originating in 2012, the project initially paired a group of 1,000 arts and science students with one of 10 librarians. In a year, the librarians are each responsible for 100 to 200 students.

When asked how the program has changed, Buchansky said: “It’s grown since then and in the last two years we’ve managed to reach out to all first-year Arts & Science students on St. George campus. For the 2015-16 academic year, there are 45 librarians… involved.”

In 2013, the Engineering & Computer Science Library (ECSL) joined the program, which  consisted of 300 students. The success led to the inclusion of more than 1,200 first year undergraduates. The ECSL is committed to “first year experience, developing outreach opportunities and ensuring that the student body develops important information literacy skills during their scholastic endeavours.”

The ECSL held a meet-and-greet for 100 first-year engineering students in October 2014 to provide tours of the library and a chance to speak one-on-one with their personal librarian.

The program does not extend to second-year students; however, they are able to contact their librarian for assistance, if needed.

According to the survey conducted at the end of the year, “[students] find the program beneficial and appreciate the support. And those that don’t contact their librarian still find the information they receive useful,” said Buchansky.

Buchansky stated that they are reaching out to other programs, but it isn’t possible to provide all first-year undergraduate students with a personal librarian.