Eight students elected to Governing Council, The Varsity breaks down the results

Past decade of Governing Council elections shows sharp decline in voter turnout

Eight students elected to Governing Council, <i>The Varsity</i> breaks down the results

U of T’s Governing Council released the official results of its student election on Friday. Eight students have been elected to serve one-year terms on the Governing Council, which is made up of 50 members.

This year’s election saw low voter turnout, consistent with a downward trend that has plagued recent Governing Council elections despite a growing student population, according to The Varsity’s analysis. Looking over the past 10 years of Governing Council elections, The Varsity tracked election patterns and votes for students elected to U of T’s highest governing body.

Full-time undergraduate representatives for the Faculty of Arts & Science

The two representatives for full-time undergraduates students in the Faculty of Art & Science are Marium Nur Vahed of Trinity College and Vishar Yaghoubian of Woodsworth College. These newly-elected governors received 220 and 213 votes, respectively.

Out of the remaining 20 students who ran in this category, five were within a 100 vote margin of the frontrunner Vahed, with two of those candidates within the 30 vote margin.

Winners in this category have seen declining vote counts since 2017 — the two governors that year were elected with 1057 and 636 votes each. This year, the successful candidates won with the lowest number of votes seen in the past decade.

This election also had the lowest total number of votes cast among all candidates in this category since 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, the average total vote count was 3,904, making this year’s total 46 per cent lower than average, at 2,117 individual votes cast. Since students in this constituency can vote for up to two candidates, the actual number of students who participated in this election is likely over-represented in the vote count. According to university data for the 2018 academic year, there were over 25,000 full-time undergraduate students enrolled in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

With the election of Vahed, this marks the seventh year since 2010 in which a Trinity College student has been elected to represent this constituency. 2020 and 2017 have been the only years this past decade in which a student from either UTM or UTSC did not win a position in this category.

Yaghoubian is the first Woodsworth College student to be elected to this position since at least 2010. No Innis College or St. Michael’s College students have been in this role for at least a decade.

2020 and 2019 were the only years since 2010 in which the full-time undergraduate representatives for the Faculty of Arts & Science students were both women. There has been one man and one woman in these roles for four terms, with the remaining five years having both governor positions filled by men.

Full-time undergraduate representatives for the professional faculties

Full-time undergraduate students in professional faculties will be represented by Diana Li from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and Stephane Martin Demers from the Faculty of Music. The former received 106 votes, and the latter 92 votes. Martin Demers was elected despite coming in third based on vote totals. According to 2018 data, there are just under 13,000 full-time undergraduate students in professional faculties.

The second-place candidate, Charlie Chen, received 97 votes — however, he is also a Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering student.

In order to ensure diverse representation, Section 9.3 of the 2020 Election Guidelines prevents the election of governors in the same faculty or school for the same constituency. Since Li was the frontrunner, the second governor position was won by the candidate with the most votes who wasn’t affiliated with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

Section 9.3 has been invoked four times this decade. Three out of the four instances of its use has been within the professional faculties constituency including two engineering students and one law student. The only time it has been used outside of the professional faculties constituency in this decade came in 2010 when two Trinity College students were passed over in favour of electing a UTSC student.

All professional faculty representatives since 2010 have come from the faculties of Applied Science & Engineering, with six governors; Law, with six governors; Pharmacy, with four governors; or Medicine, with four governors.

This year and 2016 are the only years in which a Faculty of Music student has been elected in this constituency over the past decade. However, both times this has occurred was due to an invocation of section 9.3 disqualifying another candidate with a higher vote count.

In this decade, the two governor positions for professional faculty undergraduates students have never been occupied by two women. Both positions were filled by men in seven academic terms, and the remaining four terms saw a man and a woman in these roles.

The professional faculty representative elections have also seen declining voter numbers. While this year’s combined vote total across all candidates, at 677, did increase from last year, it is still consistent with a downward trend since 2010. That year, the combined vote total was 2,111 — the highest of this decade.

With an average vote count of 899 per election for the professional faculty governor positions, this year’s turn out is 25 per cent lower than average.

Representatives for part-time undergraduates

The two positions for part-time undergraduate representatives were won in an uncontested election by Susan Froom of Trinity College and Olivia Batt of Woodsworth College. While both of these governors are incumbents, Froom has served on the Governing Council in this position since 2014. In the seven times she has been elected, she has won uncontested five times. As there have been 22 governors in the part-time undergraduate constituency since 2010, Froom has filled 32 per cent of all part-time undergraduate governor positions this decade.

This category of the Governing Council elections has the highest number of uncontested races. Since 2010, 13 governors have been acclaimed to their roles due to a lack of other candidates. In all but one of these instances, the uncontested election was for the part-time undergraduate constituency. The only time a representative was acclaimed outside of this category was in 2012, when a governor won uncontested in the graduate students constituency for physical sciences and life sciences.

Nine of the 13 acclamations since 2010 saw governor positions remain in the hands of an incumbent, with the past four part-time undergraduate elections for the Governing Council won through acclamation and one governor position filled in a by-election. Controlling for uncontested elections, the average vote count across candidates in the part-time undergraduate constituency election was 239 votes. When compared to 2018 enrolment data, and considering that vote counts over-represent voters, the voter turnout rate is considerably low, as there are over 6,000 part-time undergraduate students.

The representatives for part-time undergraduate students have the highest election rate for women of any category. In the past decade, six terms have seen two women governors and five terms of one man and one woman filling the positions.

Representatives for graduates

Amassing 149 votes, Ada Adanna Chigbo from the Faculty of Information will represent graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. Amin Kameleddin from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering will be the new student governor for graduate students in physical sciences and life sciences. Kameleddin won with the most votes in any category of this election, with 523 ballots cast in his favour.

Unlike the other student constituencies, graduate students only vote for one candidate, making vote counts match the number of students voting. According to 2018 data, there are over 19,000 graduate students across both constituencies.

Since 2010, the graduate constituency representing physical sciences and life sciences and the constituency representing the humanities and social sciences have both seen an upward trend in voter participation throughout the decade — the only constituencies to do so. However, on average, the election for the physical sciences and life sciences category draws about 100 more voters than the elections for the humanities and social sciences category — with 466 and 368 average total votes, respectively.

For both graduate constituencies, there have been six men and five women in governor positions since 2010.

Personal, powerful, palatable: Mick Robertson rediscovers our fondness for food

U of T student premieres her short film Eating is a Very Tender Thing at TIFF Next Wave

Personal, powerful, palatable: Mick Robertson rediscovers our fondness for food

Michaela Robertson’s favourite time to eat is in the middle of the night. She likes to stand with the fridge open and about four different containers of leftovers strewn around her. She told me, with a chuckle in her voice, that she gets this from her father.

Eating is a very tender thing. It’s how we stay connected to our bodies, and, often, how we tell other people that we love them. That’s exactly what Robertson set out to document, with cinematographer Isaac Roberts and a set of DV camcorders.

As a part of the Battle of the Scores competition, an event that opened the TIFF Next Wave Festival, three filmmakers each created a silent film. Following this, six musicians performed original scores inspired by these films live at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on February 14.

Robertson’s three-minute silent film depicts her close family and friends eating their favourite foods, how and where they like to eat them. “The idea was to make it a love letter to eating,” she told me in a Skype interview — a fittingly grainy form of communication for talking about Robertson’s film, which she designed to look like a wedding video. Robertson was sitting in front of her childhood bunk beds with a smile on her face as she told me about all of the sparkling ideas that had shaped her project. 

The Varsity: Can you tell me a little bit about your film?

Micaela Robertson: My project is called Eating is a Very Tender Thing, and it was inspired by this passage from a play called Concord Floral by Jordan Tannahill, in which there’s this girl who talks about how she’s always felt like an outsider. And so she’s talking about how, at the cafeteria, she always felt comfortable, because in her mind, what she says is, “eating is a very tender thing. When we were apes we would all stand around and guard each other as we ate, because it’s the time when we’re most vulnerable,” and so I always really liked that. 

And so, when the opportunity came around, when I saw the posting for [the festival], I got excited at the prospect of being able to buy all of these people I cared about a meal, and then was hoping that I would be able to capture them eating the way that they love to eat, on camera, capturing them eating as comfortably as possible. And so, basically what my film ended up being is three minutes of over a dozen people eating some of their favourite meals the way that they love to eat them the most.

TV: If the film as a whole was a type of food, what would it be? 

MR: There’s one shot in it of a friend of mine eating a full brunch, but in bed. He’s eating takeout brunch, so it’s way too much to be eating while you’re sitting in bed, but he’s in bed in his pajamas. That’s the tone of the film. Or, honestly, noodles because [that’s] the image that I was really keen on trying to get at some point in the film. When I pitched it to TIFF Next Wave and Insomniac [Film Festival], I was like, “I want to have a film that has a shot of a big noodle going into someone’s mouth and slapping their mouth. I need some messy noodle eating.” I feel like messy noodle eating maybe encapsulates the film. 

TV: It sounds like there’s a lot of warmth in it, but there’s also a sort of a carefree aspect to it. Is that what you mean by the messy noodles? 

MR: The cinematographer for the film — his name is Isaac Roberts — used these old DV camcorders to shoot the entirety of the film, which gives it this feeling of [looking] almost like a wedding video. It looks sort of romantic in the way that it looks like it maybe wasn’t necessarily meant to be produced and shown at TIFF. It looks like it was meant to be shown on a TV screen to other loved ones. So, I think that that’s where the messiness comes in, because it’s shot in standard definition, which is so messy compared to the glory of HD. But it’s just the right tone for this film. It wouldn’t have worked, I think, if it was shot on a DSLR or anything like that.

TV: Would you describe your relationship with food as something that’s a bit romantic?

MR: This year, the Battle of the Scores falls on Valentine’s Day. So, the pitch had to be about romance. And so I think that my relationship with food is probably one of the most intimate relationships I’ve ever experienced. When I engage in that relationship it is just for me; it’s for nobody else. It makes me feel all sorts of ways, and I think that because the way that I love to eat is alone in the middle of the night, the only thing that surpasses the intimacy of those moments has been finding a romantic partner who also loves to eat like I do — in the middle of the night. All of a sudden, I’m comfortable doing this super personal thing with another person. And in that regard, I think it’s a highly romantic thing. 

TV: Were there ever any discussions, undertones, or thoughts about body image involved in the film? 

MR: I was conscious of how eating is related to body image as I was dealing with the participants. And so, before the participants were officially signed onto the project, they all filled out a survey outlining very necessary things that I said I explicitly needed to know about, like food allergies. But there were also areas in the survey in which I encouraged them, that if they wanted, they could share with me things that I might need to know in order to make this more comfortable with them.

I did make a conscious decision for this film not to be about body image, but in a way, to me, that makes it about body image in a certain regard.

My eating habits are insane — like, loving to eat until you’re really, really full right before you fall asleep is not good for someone’s body image, but nevertheless, it’s something that I love to do, and I do try to eat as healthily as possible. Therefore, I wanted to enjoy the fact that I really love to eat, and make a film that was about really loving to eat. Which, in a way, because of the way that it doesn’t give time to talk about the dark underbelly of [eating], it kind of is talking about it. It’s about trying to dismiss those dark thoughts in the form of a film. Like, it’s okay to love to eat late at night. It’s okay. So, that was the idea, to make it a love letter to eating, to highlight all the positives of it, rather than focusing on the negatives.

TV: How did you try to capture the different cultural approaches to eating communally? 

MR: It was more personal. Although, the thing that ended up happening was that there ended up being a focus on eating individually. That’s not a complete throughline in the film. There’s a couple of siblings eating together, actually. So, although that sounds like there’s a lot of people who eat communally together in the film, there’s actually way more people who eat by themselves. I think I was more interested in what people do when they’re alone and enjoying eating, just because I know that I have my own rituals that I perform when I’m eating alone.

Of course, a lot of that ended up being people watching TV, which is interesting in and of itself, but I did try to encourage some of the participants who I felt particularly comfortable with to try to engage in something that wasn’t watching TV. My friend Michael for example did a series where he photographed all these people eating brunch in his apartment. Right where his kitchen table is, there’s a skylight above, so all of this natural light floods in, and so for him, we kind of did this artificial thing where we got him to sit where his participants would have sat, and he just kind of sat and ate quietly.

With regard to cultural aspects of eating, communally or non-communally, that was the goal of the survey, to make it so that if people wanted to include culturally specific rituals around food or culturally specific food, they could, but that they also didn’t feel like they had to perform that for me. The goal was to acknowledge that food and culture go hand in hand, but the ultimate goal was for the participants to feel comfortable, and to feel seen as they appear most normally, or be seen as they would most typically be, or would want to be seen. And I really hope that everyone felt comfortable with that.

TV: There’s a growing culture of watching Netflix while you eat, or getting home late from a long day of work and eating. It’s sort of the ritual and system that we’ve built up, as opposed to some cultures in which it’s extremely important that you eat together. So, how did you diversify the film in terms of cultural expectations and individual behaviour?

MR: I tried to make sure that the age range was wide in the film. That being said, it ended up largely being people who are in their twenties. However, I think there’s something to be said about how people in their twenties are most often alone, because you’re not living necessarily with your family anymore, and you also might not have your own family set up yet. 

So, I think there’s a lot of normalcy in the people who are in their twenties eating by themselves. There’s also a lot of them eating in bed, which I feel is very typical because apartments are small. And, you know, usually, the dining space is a communal living area, so you’d rather eat in your bed. That said, the siblings we filmed eating together — both groups of siblings were substantially younger than I am, they were all under the age of 20. So, under the age of 20, people tend to still be living at home, and therefore be eating with their siblings.

Then, with my dad, he’s captured eating alone, but we faked that one a little bit because we had to tell my family to leave him alone so we could capture him as he would normally be once we’re all in bed.

Robertson’s film highlights the importance of cultivating a love of self through meditating upon what we put in our bodies, as well as using food as a vehicle to express our feelings to others. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Book Club: Ben Ghan’s upcoming novel, What We See in the Smoke

A new novel by a U of T alum on Torontonian apocalypses at the intersection of Bradbury and Bloor

Book Club: Ben Ghan’s upcoming novel, <i>What We See in the Smoke</i>

You would be hard-pressed to find a U of T student who is not painfully aware of the catalogue of accomplishments that the Office of the President shills for the now-retired Boundless campaign: our nine Nobel Prize laureates, our four Prime Ministers, and our engineering and medical marvels.

But our less marketable assets conveniently slip through the cracks of campaigns, newsletters, and student awareness. Not as many students can list the accomplishments of Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, and the other name-droppable contributors to Canadian culture as easily as they can recite the now-trite laundry list of accomplishments from the campaign.

This familiar cultural issue forms the core of one motifs explored by the hand-stitched literary debut of Ben Berman Ghan: What We See in the Smoke. The book, a self-described “patchwork” of interrelated, but ultimately not codependent, stories, leads the reader through increasingly fictional and farfetched plots with the city of Toronto at its center. It is a Bradbury-esque adventure that takes its reader across time and space at the intersection of science fiction and the yearning for a better home.

The vector for each of these Torontonian escapades? Apocalypses. Big and small; banal and fundamental; at times familiar yet oftentimes not.  

The destruction of a standard becomes Ghan’s mandate. True to form, each of the seventeen ‘patches’ that form his quilted narrative eventually destroys themselves. The earlier stories, ones both chronologically and thematically closer to our present time, destruct in forms that are quite familiar to denizens of a city built upon seemingly-constant renewal and construction.

It is upon this concept of familiarity that Ghan seems to base his most successful heel-turns in character development and plot. He wields What We See’s dramatic irony so aptly that the reader rarely expects the destruction wrought in his stories. The later, more futuristic, and certainly more science-fiction-like stories, transition slowly from the familiar bounds of the city we all know, yet remain consistent in motif, providing the reader with a sense of recognizability, despite constant content shifts.

Truly, the whole novel feels like Toronto — all of its tragic and painful moments, which happen more often than expected — are caught up in cherry blossoms, major intersections, and, of course, the unassailable CN Tower.

When the reader begins the novel, Ghan seems to sell his stories short, making them almost too recognizable, too familiar. Certainly, in my first read-through of the novel, I questioned what interest I had in reading realistic stories of Toronto’s grittiness when I was faced with them in one way or another almost every day. I live here.

But that familiarity deceives. Ghan allows you to become comfortable in a surrounding you feel like you know, before making you believe that you never knew it in the first place. This happens to the point of uncanniness, where the feeling of Toronto, despite all the changes each story makes in plot and content, begin to signal something uneasy. For Ghan, there are only two certainties in Toronto: a mild-yet-still-somehow-debilitating winter and similarly enduring business development.

Despite its unique motley demeanour, What We See ends up being a novel rich in motifs that the average Torontonian can recognize and understand. A mixture of the heinous and the righteous, and a spark of constant renewal that keeps it all in flux, Ben Ghan’s debut is a solid underscoring of the Torontonian ethos.

Ghan seems to ask each of his stories, and the reader as well, what Toronto they would like to see. How would you give Toronto the identity it so desperately aches to discover?  

The only way for you to know is to pick up the book yourself.

What We See in the Smoke is set to release on June 6, 2019.

You can pre-order the novel on amazon.

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Using Ka Wei, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Caffiends to your advantage

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Toronto is a city of opportunity, and with opportunity comes temptation. A 15-minute walk anywhere south of Bloor will lead you past fine dining and food trucks, cafes and bars, book stores and record shops — all of which will tax your willpower, strain your attention, and ultimately drain your wallet.

It’s a battle I know all too well; after popping off in the early days of September like some sort of pudgy, pretentious Drake, my lifestyle caught up with me, and I was forced to reform. I sought out the advice of my smarter, thriftier friends, and scraped by for the next five months on eggs, sriracha, cheap coffee, and handouts.  

That episode let me in on one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets: with some luck and resourcefulness, the city can be liveable — you just have to know the right spots.

For food, fifth-year Clara Rutherford recommends Chinatown’s big-time produce vendors: Ka Wei, Hua Sheng, and Lucky Moose. Stocking up on cheap, nutritious grub like kale, beans, and rice will keep you full throughout the day, while dashing into a hole-in-the-wall bakery, like Mashion Bakery on Baldwin and Spadina, is great for loading up on banana bread or pork buns, says Rutherford.

However, flying around these crazy, mosh-pit produce markets can be stressful. The employees blur past you, prefer cash, and have no time to chit-chat. But when you can find a kilogram of quick oats for $3, it’s a trip worth taking.  

On your way back from Hua Sheng, scoop these up and throw ‘em in the freezer: meats, bread, produce, sriracha, whatever. Each are savoury, cheap, and will let you save up some money for your nights out.  

Another food tip: after 3:00 pm, the CityMarkets across town sell ‘enjoy tonight’ products; food that they’re forced to sell because it will ‘expire tomorrow.’

If you’re planning on hitting the town, fourth-year architecture student David Suskin recommends pre-gaming with some cheap alcohol. Pabst Blue Ribbon is always in vogue, while some of the grimier Ontarian wines are sold for around $7. After loosening up, Suskin and I recommend storming into Wide Open, Sneaky Dee’s, the Madison Pub, or Ein-Stein — of meme page fame. All boast cheap beer, and the latter has free cover on Friday and Saturday.

If you’re feeling some cheap coffee after your night out, avoid hitting the more bougie Toronto areas, like Yorkville, Queen West, and King Street. Instead, slip into Caffiends. This tiny, student-run cafe, based out of a shoe closet in Old Vic, sells coffee at a dollar per mug, and offers up one of the best atmospheres in Toronto.

There are other great, inexpensive dives on campus, too. Recent graduate Arielle Mantes recommends Trinity’s The Buttery or Victoria’s Ned’s, but with a few caveats. The drinks there can be pricey, Mantes says, so make sure to bring a reusable mug and tea bag with you to skip the line and cut costs.

If you’re really down and out —think early April, trapped at Robarts, snow on the ground — you can always go to Starbucks. If you’re a Starbucks Gold member, you get a free drink on your birthday. The good news is all it takes to become a member is an email and a few spare minutes to sign up, so make sure to pop by on your birthday for that free drink.

Everyone has their own strategies on how to get by in Toronto. Maybe you sniff out free food on campus: college societies and Frosh week are especially known for this. Perhaps you budget, prep meals, and fast through breakfast. Safe to say, there are hundreds of things you can do, and even more waiting to be discovered.

Top 3 activities to do in Toronto this summer

Twenty degrees, a mild breeze, and Insta-worthy pics — summer in the Six has never looked better

Top 3 activities to do in Toronto this summer

Being a student in the city can be costly, which is why we’ve found three things you can do this summer in Toronto that are both fun and free. 

Miami meets Monaco in downtown’s very own Harbourfront. Where the yachts and water meet the horizon, Toronto’s Harbourfront has one of the most beautiful sceneries this city has to offer. While the Harbourfront is perfect for a pleasant yacht trip, those living on a student budget can enjoy a beautiful summer afternoon here too.

Upon arrival, you will find yourself surrounded by water vehicles of all kinds, from speed boats and sailboats, to yachts and cruises. Following Lake Ontario’s shoreline, the boardwalk is a great place to walk while seeing all the boats, both parked and coasting. Walking further to the west down the shoreline, you can enjoy the sand between your toes, as well as the beautiful view of boats sailing across the water.

Where is this sand you speak of? If you walk far enough along the coast, you will reach Lake Shore Boulevard West and Toronto’s Waterfront. Here, you will find even more boats, but also sand, bikes, and walking trails perfect for those who want to get fit in the great outdoors. 

If you want to feel like you’re in the streets of Europe, check out the Distillery District.

Located in a little pocket of east downtown, the area is known for its cobblestone laneways. At the heart of the District is the romantic love lock sign where visitors are invited to secure their feelings under lock and key. Reminiscent of the Pont Des Arts ‘Love Lock’ Bridge in Paris, the Distillery District provides students with a taste of Parisian romance.

For a little taste of Japan, the famously beautiful cherry blossoms are back for another round. They can be enjoyed for free at  High Park, U of T’s Robarts Library, and Trinity Bellwoods Park amongst other locations across the GTA. These flowers only bloom once a year, so keep your eyes peeled for their bright colours. 

Toronto is such a diverse and vibrant city, and you can enjoy its many perks without breaking the bank. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get that perfect Instagram photo!