The Breakdown: Commuter resources on campus

Lounges, special dons, pancakes among commuter services

The Breakdown: Commuter resources on campus

Despite its large commuter population — over 75 per cent of U of T students identify as commuters — almost all students who commute more than an hour each way say they feel discouraged from participating in off-campus activities.

Considering the barriers that face commuter students, various colleges and student groups have created initiatives to support the needs of these commuter students and enhance their overall student experience on and off campus.

Innis College

Among the services that Innis provides to commuter students are a commuter lounge equipped with couches, tables, beanbags, a kitchenette, a microwave, a football table, and a TV; lockers available for rent starting at $10; and monthly commuter-oriented events. In addition, students can run for the two Commuter Representative positions in the Innis College Student Society.

New College

Like many other colleges, New is home to a commuter don program, which consists of two Commuter Dons and one lead don. These dons plan programming once or twice a month for commuters. Upcoming events include community hours for students to reach out to Commuter Dons and residence students alike, as well as information sessions about TTC tips.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

St. Michael’s College

St. Michael’s also has a commuter donship program, which helps facilitate commuter-friendly programming and acts as a resource to both commuter and international students.

Trinity College

Trinity has a Non-Resident Affairs Committee (NRAC) made up of 14 members who meet four times a year. Members in the NRAC are responsible for facilitating commuter-friendly events, maintaining the commuter students’ common room, and integrating commuter students into student life, while also encouraging participation in student government. Trinity also has a meal plan for commuter students, which includes 10 free meals for part-time students and 15 free meals for full-time students.

University College (UC)

The Commuter Student Centre (CSC), located in the UC Union building at 79 St. George Street, is the primary space for commuter students at UC. It is equipped with a lounge, a kitchenette with a microwave and refrigerator, a study space, a group study room, lockers for rent each semester, and board games. The CSC is supported by Community Coordinators (CoCo), who facilitate programming, events, and activities at the centre.

“The UC Literary and Athletic Society, Off Campus Commission is a volunteer organization that has as its goal the betterment of the university experience for UC students that live off campus. They create community and organize events for commuter students, often in collaboration with the CoCos,” wrote Naeem Ordonez, Assistant to the Dean of Students at UC, in an email to The Varsity.

Victoria College

Victoria is home to two commuter student groups: Victoria College Off Campus Association (VOCA) and Commuter Dons. The college hosts several commuter-oriented events throughout the academic year including a weekly free pancake breakfast by VOCA.

The Goldring Student Centre also has a commuter lounge in its basement with lockers that students can rent free of charge and a quiet study space equipped with couches, desks, and charging tables.

“We (VOCA) are responsible for hosting and facilitating events throughout the year for commuter students. VOCA also holds monthly collaborations with residence dons as a way to connect residence and commuter students,” wrote Emilia De Fabritiis, Commuter Commissioner of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council in an email to The Varsity.

“The other commuter initiatives are the Vic Commuter Dons. Similar to VOCA, they host events for commuters. However, Commuter Dons are trained to provide more of an emotional support for students.”

Students are encouraged to get involved at VOCA through applications for general commission members, first year execs, upper year executives, commissioner, and co-chair.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

Woodsworth College

Woodsworth has several commuter resources including lockers available for rent starting at $15; a commuter lounge equipped with a microwave, books, whiteboard, outlets, tables, and comfortable seats; and events such as Woodsworth College Students’ Association Wednesdays, when free pancakes are served. Commuter students can also run for positions, including Off-Campus Directors, and they can participate in Woodsworth’s Off-Campus Committee.

UTSC

The City of Toronto’s Smart Commute Scarborough initiative allows users to be matched with a fellow commuter taking the same route, in an effort to encourage sustainability. The campus also runs a bikeshare program that allows students and staff to rent out bikes free of charge. Commuter meal plans are also available for $390.

UTM

Like UTSC, Smart Commute is also made available for commuter students at UTM. A U-Pass — a transit pass granting unlimited travel — is made available for students using MiWay. Lockers are also available for rent in the student centre.

Trinity, UTSC, and UTM did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

U of T welcomed 19,187 international students last year

Colleges, student unions expand representation for international students

Amid a rising international student population, student unions and the seven colleges are expanding their representation on campus and creating services catered to those demographics. The Varsity reached out to several student unions and college governments for a roundup of international student representation on campus.

UTSU

The University of Toronto Students’ Union does not have a specific committee geared toward international students. However, it does have positions which serve the international student population, such as Vice-President Student Life and Vice-President Equity.

UTGSU

The International Students’ Caucus (ISC) at the University of Toronto Graduate Students Union (UTGSU) aims to address the interests and concerns regarding international graduate students.

The caucus hosts social, academic, and professional workshops and meetings concerning governance and policy changes within the university community and the city at large.

“The ISC is a group under the UTGSU [that] mainly serves international students’ interests, including academic success, social interaction, and networking,” reads a statement on its website.

“Meetings will be held monthly and will focus on the needs of the caucus’ members and the needs of all international graduate students including social interaction, networking, and potential changes in programming and/or governance at the university, city, and/or provincial levels.”

The ISC’s elected positions include the chair, who oversees the caucus as a whole, and the UTGSU Executive Liaison.

UTMSU

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) represents over 13,500 students across the UTM, with 20 per cent of students being international. While the UTMSU does not have a specific position or caucus dedicated to international students, they do provide several services.

“We endeavour to ensure that the rights of all students are respected, provide cost-saving services, programs and events, and represent the voices of part-time undergraduate students across the University and to all levels of government,” reads a statement on their website. “We are fundamentally committed to the principle of access to education for all.”

The UTMSU also has several campaigns in partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) regarding international student issues, including Fight for Fees, Fairness for International Students, and OHIP for International Students.

SCSU

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) currently does not have a specific levy or caucus dedicated to international students; however, it has positions aimed toward serving the needs of domestic and international students alike on campus, such as Vice-President Campus Life and Vice-President Equity.

SCSU also provides specific services in partnership with the CFS for international students including the International Student Identity Card, which provides students with exclusive discounts such as airfare and entertainment.

Innis College

The Innis College student body provides a number of resources and services made available to international students. The Innis Residence Council has six positions for Junior International House Representatives who work alongside Senior House Representatives to coordinate events and foster a sense of involvement. An International Transition Advisor is also available on campus.

New College

New College houses the International Foundation Program, which provides conditional acceptance to international students whose English proficiency scores do not meet direct entrance requirements. The program guarantees admission to the Faculty of Arts & Science or the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering upon completion.

Madison Hönig, New College Student Council President, told The Varsity, “At New College, international students make up an important part of our student population. We are lucky to house the International Foundation Program (IFP) at New College. As such, we do have an International Foundation Program Representative to advocate for these students.”

“Additionally, we work closely with the New College Residence Council and the main governance structures within the College to ensure that international students are being advocated for and included in our programming, academic initiatives and support at New College,” continued Hönig. “We are working to see that international student representation and advocacy is considered within the portfolios of all of our members.”

University College

University College’s International Student Advisor aims to provide academic and personal resources to International students through their sUCcess Centre. Appointments can be made to meet with an advisor.

Victoria College

Victoria College International Students Association (VISA) is a levy funded by the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council that aims to support the needs and interests of international students at Victoria College.

VISA is used to host social, academic, and professional events throughout the year and also funds a mentorship program for incoming students.

“Our program offered help to students from all backgrounds, in which the mentor would be providing both academic and moral support to the students transitioning into the new university environment, through a two-hour session every two weeks,” reads a statement from the mentorship program’s website.

Woodsworth College

The International Students Director under the Woodsworth College Student Association (WCSA) is the representative for international students at Woodsworth College. The International Students Director also coordinates events hosted by the association catered to international students.

“With this role, I hope to connect with not only incoming international students but also upper year students to bridge the gap between them. I look forward to continuing with some of the events introduced by last year’s director as well as introducing a few new ones,” reads a statement on its website from from Leslie Mutoni, WCSA’s International Students Director.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, the university welcomed over 19,187 international students from across 163 countries and regions, mainly from China, India, the United States, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

The Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students and student societies at St. Michael’s College and Trinity College did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

A summer’s worth of opinions

A compilation of Comment-in-Briefs in reaction to some of the major stories of the summer semester

A summer’s worth of opinions

The new School of Cities could be the pivotal voice we need for complex urban issues, as long as it pulls together

Re: “U of T’s School of Cities to Launch July 1”

U of T’s new School of Cities has vowed to tackle urban-related issues through interdisciplinary methods and collaborations. However, finding more coherent information on the partnerships or direction of this school has been unsatisfying. Apart from their slogans, the School of Cities’ website features pictures and short descriptions of the professors comprising the Interim Working Group, and three articles and two podcast links which are informative but overlap in content.

On the one hand, this is a frustrating start to an institution that encompasses many of the most important and immediate issues of our modernizing time. With Associate Director Shauna Brail calling the School “a big-tent approach” to urban research, and U of T President Meric Gertler claiming it to be a “hub in a global network” of scholars and practitioners, the school is not lacking in grand objectives. However, this has so far failed to reveal convincing short-term targets.

On the other hand, the school has only taken its very first public baby steps, and a definite outline of objectives often hurts the creativity of budding institutions. Cities are the playgrounds of the future, and though the school shouldn’t have to trudge carefully toward a path, they need to pave their way holistically. The extremely diverse group of professors seems to suggest an optimistic direction, as they draw from Civil and Mineral Engineering to Indigenous Health to Women and Gender Studies.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect about the School of Cities is the bridge it shall attempt to build between theory and practice. Hopefully the school will encourage U of T students to help build this bridge and contribute significantly to not only the initiatives, but the very soul of the institution.

For students and urban dwellers in general, never have cities felt more saturated with potential, yet held back by issues regarding housing, transportation, and public safety, to name a few. The School of Cities presents an exciting and critical opportunity for diverse urban communities to contribute to the dialogue of the future of cities.

Grace Ma is a second-year English and Environmental Sciences student at Trinity College.


We cannot have religious freedom at the expense of social equality

Re: “Trinity Western loses Supreme Court case on religious freedom v. LGBTQ+ rights”

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

The battle between the constitutional right to freedom of religion and LGBTQ+ rights has taken shape in Trinity Western University’s (TWU) Supreme Court case against the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario. Unsurprisingly, the university lost the case seven to two.

The very law that allows the evangelical Christian university to exist has been proven to have clear boundaries. When pitted against each other, religious freedom comes second in modern Canadian society to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. The problem with the covenant signed by all TWU students is that it requires abstinence from any sexual intimacy, not only outside of a heterosexual marriage, but also from any intimacy that “violated the sacredness” of that marriage. This very clearly alienated the LGBTQ+ population, allowing TWU to deny them admission.

U of T campus group LGBTOUT, the intervenors on the case, brought this very point up, arguing that the proposed law school would bar LGBTQ+ students solely based on sexual or gender preferences, which is clearly a discriminatory action.

The case was a big win for the LGBTQ+ community as the Supreme Court clearly announced that the law must protect each and every individual of the Canadian population. The court’s decision came at a celebratory time, enhancing the joy and excitement for Pride Month.

This is not the first time TWU has faced the Supreme Court over religious freedoms. I expect it to continue happening over different issues until TWU recognizes that although religious freedom is crucial to a democratic society, its importance should never surpass the importance of equality in a society that is constantly growing and changing.

Varsha Pillai is a first-year Social Sciences student at University College.


Provost’s action plan does not account for safety or student leadership

Re: “Alcohol at Trinity events can no longer be paid for with student fees”

VASSILIA JULIA AL AKAILA/THE VARSITY

In an email correspondence informing Trinity College students of the administration’s action plan, the Office of the Provost mentions their “aim to improve transparency and communications, while focusing on education, safety and harm reduction, and leadership development.”

As a Trinity College student, I feel that there are numerous inconsistencies with this statement.

First, putting forward an action plan without adequate consultation with student leaders undermines the direct democracy and commitment to student autonomy that has defined Trinity College tradition. Preventing student leaders from spending student fees in a manner they deem fit does not make for effective leadership development. While it’s true that not all students are drinkers, the reality of student fees is that they do not always benefit each student individually.

Second, focusing on safety and harm reduction includes acknowledging that a significant percentage of young adults are going to drink. Harm reduction involves creating a safe environment in which students are familiar with their surroundings and have non-punitive support networks when it comes to alcohol consumption, including a sober patrol and Dons in case of emergency. Moving such events off campus does not guarantee such an environment.

Additionally, the claim that the administration created this action plan primarily due to a 10-month survey of students is dubious given the college’s response to a motion of no confidence passed at the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) last year.

The first meeting at the TCM included a motion of no confidence in which students shared their grievances regarding Dean Kristen Moore and her staff. The motion passed with an overwhelming majority, but it was then overlooked by Provost Mayo Moran, who ensured that she had “full confidence in [Moore].”

Avneet Sharma is a fourth-year English and Cinema Studies student at Trinity College.


The loss of popular locations for students points to a decline in affordability

Re: “Saint George hotel opens on Bloor Street West, replacing Holiday Inn”

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

In July, the Saint George hotel officially opened in place of the Holiday Inn, Fox and Fiddle Pub, and New York Fries on Bloor Street West. After the Starbucks on College and Beverley Street also closed its doors earlier this year to make way for a condominium to be built by January 2020, there are now a total of four popular locations around campus that are no longer available for U of T students.

Holiday Inn housed many families when students visited U of T for the very first time. The Fox and Fiddle Pub had just the right vibe for all kinds of rendezvous, whether it be post-exam celebrations or simple get-togethers. New York Fries was the kitchen of Bloor Street that students resorted to after long hours at the library, often because they were too exhausted to walk any further.

Henceforth, these places will live only in the memories of soon-to-be graduates, while prospective students will no longer share the experience of what had already become part of the ‘typical U of T student’ routine.

From a student perspective, opening a luxury hotel such as the Saint George in the Annex is not ideal, considering its expensive price point of almost $300 per night. Although Gyubee — a somewhat pricey Japanese BBQ joint just across from the Saint George — had already broken the concept of affordable eateries in the Annex, the Saint George will now completely reform the image of a cost-friendly neighborhood for students. This end of the Annex is looking more and more like luxurious Yorkville.

Annie Hu is a third-year Criminology, Music, and Sociology student at Woodsworth College.