Sometimes not getting what you want is a massive stroke of luck

This summer, the Arts & Culture section of The Varsity will be exploring how to survive your first year at U of T

Sometimes not getting what you want is a massive stroke of luck

The room was empty, vacant of all objects except for a wooden desk and a bed, both of which were broken — stuck at their hinges for time eternal. It was a nice spring day. Sunlight bathed the walls over my head and brightened my outfit: blue jeans, a blue button-up, and blue pleather shoes matched with a blue jacket.

I scanned the room’s figure one final time. For eight months, I had built up my dorm, covered it in French art, philosophy books, and coordinating sheets. It was home. But as May 1 came and went, so would my access to the building.

When I moved into residence, university was unknown. Although scared of being alone and innocent, I was anxious for a new start, and it seemed as if there was a bounty of opportunities for one. I diligently chose coffee cups, slaved over course selection, and awaited move-in day like a horse before a race. Facts could not yet impede my imagination which told me that there was perfection ahead.

From existence comes expectations of essence. Humans like to envision a world where ideals are attainable. We live in one moment, yet look forward to the next in order to create the ‘good life.’ Thus, when expectations of university are not met, students can become forlorn and feel obliged to live amongst the debris of our dreams. Or that’s what happened to me, at least. I had to tackle feelings of disappointment after the school year ended.  

I found myself looking out the window of my kitchen. The house felt stiff. Its red bricks weathered by the hot summers and long winters. I saw straight green trees, black planters, blue spruces, and baby grass. And I thought that this had always been the way — the trees, the house, the pool — nothing had changed, but something was missing. I wasn’t a new person.  

It’s from there that I had to look into myself, and truly distinguish that which I desired and that which I am.  

At the AGO, there is a piece comprising of five white canvases taped onto the back of a cardboard-like material. Its description is “finding the artist’s presence in absence.” The idea that deficiency isn’t negative strikes me quite well, and it’s important for incoming first years in my experience.

In the time ahead, you are going to hold preconceived notions about what university life is supposed to be like. These ideas are never going to conform with what your reality presents, so find presence in their absence. Learn to carve meaning from every moment, whether it’s ideal or not. Releasing the notion of ‘what I desire to be’ is a process, but it’s helping me to recognize all the good around me. I’m letting myself grow in between the broken pieces of my expectations — to feel bliss, and not disappointment. If you can accept that there is nothing controllable or definitive in your existence, the year will be great.

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.

Bookclub: Warlight

U of T alum Michael Ondaatje’s most recent novel is not to be missed

Bookclub: <em>Warlight</em>

How does one reconcile the differences between ‘postwar’ and ‘life after the war’? Famous Canadian writer and University of Toronto alum Michael Ondaatje attempts to answer this in his most recent novel, Warlight.

Warlight is a story of many shapes and sizes that takes place over many years. Although the novel is set in the context of siblings Nathaniel and Rachel growing up in London after World War II, the effects of that war pervade the lives of the characters throughout.

Above all, the novel is about growing up in a postwar world without the guidance of one’s parents. Nathaniel and Rachel see the world through this absence, informed by their childhood with parents who have left them for Singapore and under the care of a man they name ‘The Moth’ and his band of eccentrics. Growing up without parents is hard for any child, let alone in the shadow of a war under the care of law-skirting individuals.

Although the siblings live with The Moth, The Moth does not raise them. Told from Nathaniel’s perspective, the children essentially raise themselves. But they quickly veer off course and Nathaniel descends into London’s underworld, living a life that he would not have had if his parents were still in London. We unfortunately do not see much of Rachel’s psychology, which I would have liked to know more about. Nevertheless, Nathaniel’s inner musings are compelling enough to lead the story. His meditations on family, the past, childhood, and postwar life are filled with Ondaatje’s signature wisdom.

The story follows Nathaniel into adulthood when he gets recruited by Britain’s Home Office to wade through documents relating to the war. This section of the novel answers a lot of questions about Nathaniel and Rachel’s parents and allows Nathaniel to view his childhood and family from a different perspective.

Ondaatje’s novels like to keep things mysterious and not provide you with answers to the questions that you undoubtedly have. The same is true about Warlight. Nathaniel’s job in espionage is to discover the past, but just like in real life, the more he wades into the past the murkier it gets. Memories, like human beings, are greatly flawed and there are always many sides to a story. This is what Warlight tries to tell us by its end.

Warlight is a great novel by a Canadian master who has honed his craft to a diamond sheen and is well worth reading by fans of literary and Canadian fiction.

What’s it like to work for U of T?

Forbes says U of T is Canada’s second-best employer, but how close is that to the truth?

What’s it like to work for U of T?

Forbes recently ranked U of T as the second-best employer in Canada, “a mere fraction of a point” short of Google. One year ago, U of T was ranked 63rd. What’s changed between then and now to justify the 61-spot jump? And do the experiences of employees at U of T measure up?

Beyond the rankings

U of T employs over 20,000 people across all three campuses, including groundskeepers, graphic designers, and financial service analysts with the University of Toronto Asset Management corporation, and library technicians who support the library facilities that students and researchers rely on.

The next highest-ranked Canadian postsecondary institution in Forbes’ employee satisfaction list is the fifth-place Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, followed by Montréal’s Concordia University in eighth place.

But Forbes seems to be inconsistent in how it rates universities, since U of T is not the only workplace to have made big jumps. In 2017, Queen’s University took home the number one spot, yet it is now ranked well below U of T as the 17th best employer in Canada. The University of Guelph was sixth in 2016, but now finds itself 61st.

This result may be due to the methodology employed: Forbes surveyed 8,000 Canadians working at companies with over 500 employees across the nation. There seems to be no guarantee of proportional distribution across companies, hence the dramatic shift in U of T’s position might be due to an underrepresentation of the university’s employees last year, or an overabundance of responses this year.

In the end, the real stakeholders are flesh-and-blood employees, and it’s the policies that U of T has in place that truly determine how it compares as an employer. While there is ambiguity about Forbes’ data collection methods, its rankings provide a good opportunity to look at what U of T does for its tens of thousands of employees.

Tuition waivers

Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice-President Human Resources and Equity (HR&E) believes that U of T’s jump in the rankings is partly due to Forbes having a better understanding of the university’s employment standards. “They got a more fulsome understanding of all of the things going on, and our… continuous efforts to improve, and to ensure that we have meaningful benefits, meaningful programs, flexible work — all of the things that we’re doing every single year to make sure that we’re a good inclusive environment to work in.”

Benefits make up a large part of what U of T offers its employees. Chief among these is the university’s tuition waiver scheme, which allows full-time staff to take courses at the undergraduate and master’s level on the university’s dime.

U of T is not the only university to offer such a scheme, but its details are generous compared to peer institutions in Canada. Staff can take up to three fall or winter undergraduate courses, compared to staff at the University of Waterloo, for example, who can take a maximum of two courses using tuition waivers.

Tuition waivers can also be applied to dependents of the staff. According to the tuition waiver request form for dependents, the proportion of tuition exempted depends on “the staff member employment date; percentage of employment; and the eligibility of the program of study.” Kazi Arif, a University College Food Services employee since 2005, has taken advantage of this support: his son completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering at UTSG through a tuition waiver. Arif received the full amount of his son’s tuition.

Pension plan

Speaking to job benefits more broadly, Arif said, “U of T has a good pension plan. All other facilities are better than any other job.”

Retirement packages differ by role, but for Professional & Managerial Staff, any employee with at least 15 years of service can receive a reduced workload in the year leading up to their retirement, while their pensions accrue at full-time rates.

“[The retirement scheme] allows us to have knowledge transferred with the employee who is departing and with somebody else who might be coming into the unit,” said Hannah-Moffat.

Pension amounts also differ by role. The precise amount is a function of the number of years of service, the annual average of the highest 36 months of salaried work, and a maximum pension amount set by the government, currently held at $57,400.

Pensions increase annually to account for inflation. For Professional & Managerial Staff who have worked at U of T for a year and who are over 35, enrolment in the pension plan is mandatory.

The pension plan is conferrable onto an employee’s spouse and dependents in the event of their death.

At the other end of the employee spectrum are people like Sarah Stiller, a library technician at Kelly Library. This is her first full-time job since she graduated from Seneca College. At this stage in her career, she has relatively few complaints about working at U of T; the hours and pay are good, and while retiring at U of T isn’t an ambition, she said that the health plan is good for her needs.

Positive feedback from different age groups of employees is a sign of a healthy workplace that delivers on the various needs of its staff, such as childcare and professional development. But with thousands of employees distributed across three campuses and 21 different bargaining units representing them, gleaning an overall pattern of employee satisfaction at U of T just isn’t possible without access to comprehensive survey data.

Surveys and equity in the workplace

HR&E conducts a number of surveys with faculty and staff to gain a picture of the U of T workplace environment. In 2014, the Speaking Up survey went out to faculty, staff, and librarians. The results went on to inform specific workplace issues that the university is looking to improve on — what HR&E calls its “areas of focus,” which include equity and diversity.

According to Hannah-Moffat, the university makes a big commitment toward being a diverse and inclusive workplace. “Excellence is diversity and diversity is excellence. The two are just not separable.”

There is particular stress placed on the representation of Black and Indigenous employees in the university. The latest HR&E Employment Equity Report, released in November, is an anonymized summation of a voluntary questionnaire that had been sent to all active employees. This year, 81 per cent, or 8,897 employees, responded.

Only two per cent of faculty and librarians and six per cent of staff self-identified as Black, and only one per cent each of faculty and librarians and staff self-identified as Indigenous. Overall, 19 per cent of faculty and librarians and 33 per cent of staff indicated that they were people of colour.

In response to this survey as well as a call to action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the university has committed $2.5 million to the hiring of 20 new staff and faculty members each who come from Indigenous backgrounds. Strategic recruitment practices by which the university actively reaches out to communities in search of excellent candidates are ongoing, according to Hannah-Moffat.

The Varsity has learned that the Office of Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost Students, is currently conducting a Workplace Culture and Professional Development Review of the Division of Student Life at UTSG, following an external review of the division last year. Student Life incorporates services such as Academic Services, Hart House, and Health & Wellness. In a memo describing the review, Welsh wrote that the survey was motivated by the university’s “collective desire to foster an inclusive and diverse working environment.” It is being conducted by Toronto-based law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP.

Confidential interviews will occur throughout March as part of the survey.

U of T did not respond to questions about whether the survey results would be made publicly available. However, in line with the university’s commitment to promoting diversity and equity, the survey results should be made available to Student Life employees, if not to the general public.

Employees have the right to know what their peers say about their working environments. Students should also be informed about the working conditions of their university’s employees. After all, Welsh said that these employees’ “passion for [their] work and enriching the student experience is unmistakable.”

Interview requests with Campus Police constables were denied by the university.

The reality of being an African woman at U of T

Navigating being a woman of colour during an undergraduate degree at Canada’s top university

The reality of being an African woman at U of T

It’s about that time, everybody — cue Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” for dramatic effect. Closing up my final year, I can safely describe this ending as rather bittersweet. With big wide eyes and being rather used to the West as a privileged Nigerian, I had great expectations coming into my first year and didn’t want to take the opportunity of studying at U of T — an opportunity that many do not have access to — for granted. But inevitably, my realities regularly fell short of that.

It was my African parents who were particularly fond of Canada and the chances it could give me for upward mobility. The choice to attend the University of Toronto was also heavily guided by them. While I wasn’t expecting the great social extravaganza shown to me in movies and books, a girl could dream.

I wasted no time in my first year not living up to these expectations. Yes, I identify as a Black African woman, but it’s been interesting acknowledging that I have been rather privileged to have limited experiences with overt racism. Shuffling between Nigeria and England until I was 16, and having travelled to various places around the world, I rarely registered my race as a salient factor in my bad experiences with people. I might just not remember as a result of young naïveties, but it’s still something I’m in the process of dissecting. Having matured though — rather aggressively in the recent political climate — I’ve had to reconcile such favoured experiences with the subsumed guilt of knowing the experiences of Black communities across the world. Either way, I took it upon myself to get an education and better understand their situations.

But only through living in Canada did I get a practical understanding of the nuances of covert racism and racial microaggressions. Coming in, my parents had already advised me to shorten my native name, Oluwatamilore, to the more Western abbreviation, Tami, to ease communication with people and have a simpler tool for blending in. It’s not my parents’ fault; they just understood how the system worked and they were right. You could see it in people’s breaths of relief when they didn’t have to put in that extra effort with pronunciations. It was the first step to being seen.

By the end of my first year, I had already been ‘randomly’ picked out and trailed by attendants in stores several times, accosted with unwanted touching of my hair, praised for speaking ‘good’ English, and more. I was regularly struck by the sheer ignorance of many Canadians about realities outside of their immediate world and how comfortable they were in that lack of knowledge and their refusal to educate themselves. I’d been fed, or rather, shoved with so much knowledge about Western cultures and ways of life that it felt unfair to not be afforded the same act in return. So I grew bitter toward this country, its people, and its shell-like appreciation of foreign cultures.

Though I tried to overcome this bitterness over the years, these feelings affected my relations with Canadians at work and school. I became overly cynical of others and our interactions. I took their questions about my culture at face value, assuming they already had their stereotypical preconceived notions — so why bother trying to correct them? I allowed my disdain for Canada to wholly consume me.

To be honest, it wasn’t until my third year that I finally allowed myself to be more open to embracing Canadian culture. Before, I felt forced to choose between becoming the ‘digestible’ foreigner — changing my speech, clothing, and all that — or keeping true to my identity. Eventually, I realized that I shouldn’t have to compromise. By fourth year, my experiences at university and outside of it made me see the value in my identity as a proud Black African woman. I gravitated toward school associations that coincided with my national and racial identity and worked to involve myself in these communities. Thankfully, I decided not to diminish myself in order to make others comfortable.

Quite happily, I took in the poutine, maple syrup, theme parks, and monuments. But most importantly, I took in what I believe to be the most beautiful thing about this country: its social progressiveness. Especially since I come from an environment filled with rather regressive mindsets about the rights of women, LGBTQ+ people, children, and other minorities, Canada has served as a stark example of a high-functioning society, something for which Canadians should be truly proud and appreciative. Through my years here, it has enabled me to be a more forward thinker, and encouraged me to do my bit in supporting equality for all.

With my degree soon to be completed, I have chosen to be pleased with this chapter of my life. It’s safe to say that the university experience was just okay for me. It wasn’t the wondrous journey of a lifetime I’d envisioned, but the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve been able to meet have made for great memories. I’m proud of myself for overcoming the struggles, for those moments were sometimes all too overwhelming. These years have taught me to stand strong in my truth and convictions. Convictions of what I feel, and a holistic recognition and acknowledgement of all parts of my identity should be warranted by society. I guess it explains why, through my writing, I’m venturing into a field that seeks to educate people on topics and issues that many can’t begin to fathom beyond the borders of Canada. Yes, I’m anxious, but more so, I’m so ready for the future ahead, in whatever part of the world I choose to fulfil it.

Only time will tell if I will be able to achieve all the things that I have naturally assumed I will, and overcome the stacked odds of systemic gender and racial discrimination working against me. But then, with all this, I remember that I’m also an African. Failure just hasn’t been presented to me, or rather, internalized by me as a feasible option. Even if I do happen to falter or fall below my own expectations, I will write about it.

How U of T could adjust to provincial tuition cuts

Ford government’s 10 per cent domestic tuition slash could prompt university to borrow from reserves, make cuts

How U of T could adjust to provincial tuition cuts

U of T is set to decrease its domestic tuition fees in 2019–2020 by 10 per cent, courtesy of the provincial government’s mandatory reductions, announced January 17. Tuition will then remain frozen for the 2020–2021 years. According to the Toronto Star, the plan is expected to eliminate $360 million from Ontario universities’ operating budgets.

The province’s previous tuition framework, effective since 2013, enforced an overall annual three per cent cap on undergraduate Arts & Science domestic tuition fee increases at U of T. Between the 2013–2014 and 2018–2019 academic years, U of T has increased gross domestic tuition by an average of 2.96 per cent year-on-year.

Based on this trend, U of T would likely have set tuition for domestic undergraduate Arts & Science students in 2019–2020 at around $6,980. Instead, tuition will likely be around $6,100.

U of T has increased its gross international tuition by an average of 6.1 per cent year-on-year between the 2014–2015 and 2018–2019 academic years. Between 2014–2015 and 2017–2018, the university has seen an average year-on-year domestic student intake decrease of 0.36 per cent while international student intake has increased by an average of 9.75 per cent.

The university signed the Strategic Mandate Agreement with the previous Liberal provincial government in 2018, which means it must decrease domestic undergraduate seats by 1,800 students through 2020. As such, U of T is unlikely to increase its domestic undergraduate intake, so any increases in recruitment to compensate would likely focus on domestic graduate and international student intake.

The 2008 economic recession is a useful comparison in determining how U of T could react to losses from the provincial government’s new policies. During the 2008–2009 academic year, the university’s endowment lost approximately 30 per cent of its value, with the university’s operating budget subsequently losing approximately $46 million. During that period, there were no endowment payouts.

In response to financial troubles, the university prioritized its funding to shared service areas and used carryforward and contingency funds to partially finance these areas in order to minimize use of new revenue for non-academic divisions.

At the latest Planning and Budget Committee meeting on January 10, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr discussed some of the steps U of T took during this period, saying that “there was a combination of cuts, borrowing from reserves, and other kinds of mechanisms.” Regehr also noted the creation of a collective central reserves system from which divisions that did not have sufficient reserves could borrow to fund operating costs.

The university has yet to discuss what steps it will take in light of impending losses due to the government’s announcements, but similar financial management as in 2008 seems to be a likely option to limit losses to the operating budget.

Although the latest provisions will hinder the university’s operating budget, its external investments through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation are unlikely to face losses to the same extent as those in 2008.

An unwelcome shadow

How imposter syndrome impacts U of T students

An unwelcome shadow

It’s that special time of the year. The leaves are falling, the air is cold, and everyone is freaking out about the future. What tests are we all taking? What grad schools are we going to? Who passed the LSAT, the MCAT, the GRE, or any of the other acronyms that I don’t know? But the real challenge is going to come later this year, when we watch as our peers are accepted to dream schools and dream jobs, and we realize that, in comparison, we’ve done nothing.

I’m a fourth-year student. Despite having gone through three full years of courses here at U of T, I find myself still in fear that someone will discover the truth: I don’t belong here. I’m not smart enough, I don’t work hard enough, and I don’t deserve it. I’m surrounded by people who are planning extraordinary things, from grad school to enviable jobs, people who can speak multiple languages or balance multiple jobs, all while remaining here and being a good student.

I realize that, logically, this doesn’t make any sense. I did not trick anyone into accepting me, nor did I trick professors and teaching assistants into passing me. I didn’t trick the clubs I’ve been a part of into letting me work with them, and I didn’t trick The Varsity into letting me write for them. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like everything I have is unearned.

Like a lot of students, I suffer from what’s called imposter syndrome. According to Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, who first identified the concept in 1978, the term ‘imposter syndrome’ is used “to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.” In other words, despite someone having a record of achievement, they feel like they have not earned any of it properly and that they do not deserve it, which causes them to live with the fear that someone will discover the truth.

It makes sense that this would be especially prevalent among women. Oftentimes, women are taught to earn their accomplishments, while men are taught that success is their birthright. To see evidence of this you do not need to look further than the recent hearing for the US Supreme Court Judge and alleged rapist Brett Kavanaugh. Commenters have noted that his demeanour and the demeanour of the Republican senators trying to put him in office were characteristic of pure entitlement. It was as though he believed that he deserved his spot on the court by virtue of his wealth, race, and gender, as if even questioning his place on the court was tantamount to a partisan witch hunt, an absurd political action undertaken due to desperation. Indeed, the president even apologized to him. To quote comedian John Oliver, “That surly tone [during questioning] was emblematic of Kavanaugh’s demeanour throughout the hearing. Not the tone of a man who hopes to one day have the honour of serving on the Supreme Court, but the tone of someone who feels entitled to be on it.”

In fact, when I asked the people around me if they had ever felt a kind of imposter syndrome, most of the responses came from women, especially queer women and women of colour.

Victoria, for example, thinks that this is related to feelings of not belonging and alienation from traditionally segmented institutions among marginalized people. As she put it, “This also means folks in marginalized social positions likely experience it more and more intensely because there is already limited space for us in all sorts of fields, and we are met more often with suspicion of our ability to accomplish what needs to be done. Even the most confident person will start to experience self-doubt if they feel as if the entire world is pushing back against them all the time.”

CJ* has felt imposter syndrome all their life, but it became heightened upon entering university. They described feeling like everyone around them deserved to have accomplishments, while they did not. But rather than providing a motivation to allow them to work harder, the effect on CJ’s academic life and mental health is destructive: “I tend to worry more than actually work or study a lot, and I feel my productivity could be so much better if I wasn’t so busy worrying that I’m going to mess up and that everyone will figure out I’m not good enough.”

Beth* also described this cycle of feeling inadequate. “The anxiety of it really just makes it impossible to work. It was a vicious cycle. I would feel in over my head, so I’d shut down and fall behind, and then when I’d go to class I’d feel like a phony who didn’t belong. And then it would repeat.”

That cycle is clearly detrimental to confidence and self-worth. Maria described often doubting her own intelligence, certain that her merits shouldn’t have been enough to get her accepted to university. She also worries that she chose an easy major and wouldn’t have been successful otherwise. As a side note, I don’t think there are any easy majors. While some may be perceived as easier, in actual practice, academic struggles are universal to everyone, no matter the program.

Of course, this is all made worse by the pressures of attending U of T. The acceptance letter to U of T lures many of us into believing that we are academically superior in some way, only to have that superiority snatched away from us once we realize that everyone got the same letter. It can be easy to only see the accomplishments of your peers without realizing that they could be struggling as well. And even if they aren’t, even if you lived in a world where everyone around you achieved things that you could only dream of, and succeeded where you failed, exactly how productive would it be to compare yourself to them? Consider the famous lines from Mean Girls, during the mathletes competition filmed in Con Hall, when Cady realizes that “calling someone fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter.” The inverse is also true. Recognizing the accomplishments of others does not make you inferior. I know it’s hard to think of that in this hyper-competitive environment, with fewer and fewer jobs and places in grad school, where the expectations placed on us only increase, but at the end of the day, we cannot control any of those external factors.

So what do we do? I suggest we follow the advice of The Chronicle of Higher Education, which recommends that we compare ourselves to our own progress. “Focus on what you have accomplished in and of itself, not as compared to what you had hoped to accomplish… Reframing your narrative as one of concrete accomplishments shifts your focus to the presence of labor and achievement, and away from the absence of ‘more.’ Once you do that, work on the story you tell others about yourself.”

For example, in first year, I felt intimidated by even the smallest amounts of readings and the shortest of essays. Now, I can breeze through them, if not with ease than with more understanding and clarity. Getting a lower-than-expected grade on an assignment would have once easily sent me into a tailspin then. Now, however, I am able to move past that and try to improve.

In fact, it was Beth’s ability to move past her imposter syndrome that allowed her to work more productively and improve her confidence, not to mention that it helped her keep up with her workload. Victoria found that challenging herself in a creative writing course to try to push past her insecurities, along with seeking advice from peers and talking to her professor about mental health, had a great effect and she was able to write “several short stories and some poetry for the first time in years and met most of [her] deadlines.”

Of course, improvement and progress don’t happen overnight, and in order to get to a place where you feel proficient, you have to start somewhere below perfection, which can exacerbate the whole issue. As YouTuber Nathan Zed put it in a 2016 video, “The thing is, the only way you can be amazing at something is if you practice. But I don’t want to be at that first level where I’m trash at it. I just hate feeling like the most unqualified person in the room.” That feeling is all too relatable, but as Zed also points out, the assumption that everyone secretly dislikes you and your work is more an issue of paranoia than anything else.

This is something that Maria has struggled with. She worries that her classmates are all far above her, despite performing consistently well in university. But the certainty of judgment and inadequacy forces Maria to keep quiet in class in the fear that she will be exposed.

None of this is to say that we should all swing in the opposite direction and put ourselves on a pedestal above those around us. What’s easy for you can often be torture for another, and what you’d see as a disappointing grade might be the height of someone else’s academic career. It doesn’t mean that any of us are inherently smarter or work any harder. Maybe we have mental illnesses or physical illnesses preventing us from working, families to care for, or jobs to get through. Or maybe people are just different and work differently. And, as a bonus, if we offer this type of generosity to others, we can more easily offer it to ourselves.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also offers another piece of advice, “Think about how you cede authority.” In other words, consider why you feel unqualified to make certain arguments in papers or in seminars. All revelations and discoveries come from people mulling them over, and all those people were, at one point, wholly ignorant about the topic. When you’re doing work as an undergraduate, nobody expects you to be below or above that level. If someone is asking a question and you think you may have the answer, go with your instinct. Be prepared to find that you could be wrong but don’t hold back and prevent something new from being said. Either way, you’ll be that much closer to learning the answer. This kind of confidence is invaluable, and it rests in knowing that you understand enough to be part of the conversation.

This last piece of advice has been especially relevant to me as I’ve been writing this. What makes me so qualified to tell everyone how to feel about themselves, especially after I’ve just admitted that I don’t always get past the point of comparing myself to others? Well, it’s just that. I can talk about this because I’ve experienced it. And I’ve researched it. And I’ve asked other people about it. So, I probably don’t have all the answers, but I’ve worked hard enough and thought enough about it that I can be a part of the discussion. And so can you.

*Names have been changed at the individual’s request.

The Breakdown: What will cannabis legalization even look like at U of T?

University officials say cannabis is an “evolving issue”

The Breakdown: What will cannabis legalization even look like at U of T?

With cannabis legalization coming up on October 17, the university plans to treat cannabis in the same way that it treats tobacco. This means that, among other things, students will be banned from smoking in residence and from receiving deliveries for online orders.

In an interview with The Varsity, Senior Director for Student Success Heather Kelly said that, like other institutions, U of T would “largely rely on existing policies to respond to the changes for smoking cannabis in residence.”

For instance, residences currently have a zero-tolerance policy for smoking cigarettes indoors.

“The smoking of cannabis will not be any different,” said Kelly. “Students will not be allowed to smoke cannabis in dorms.”

For medical users, Kelly assured that they will continue to make necessary accommodations.

“We’ve always accommodated for medical marijuana. Academic accommodations or any accommodations are individualized in nature. So it really depends on the nature of the request and the residents’ environment, but we have and will continue to make exceptions for students who require marijuana for medical purposes.”

However, the issues will continue to evolve, even after the legalization of cannabis. For smoking outdoors, students are expected to obey federal and provincial legislation, which will allow people to smoke in public places such as parks and sidewalks, but not in indoor common areas.

Outdoor smoking rules would also be very difficult to enforce. In an interview with The Varsity, Sociology Professor Patricia Erickson said that there are “very difficult enforcement issues.”

“It’s probably easier to tie it into tobacco, then try to sort out which drug is being used where.”

Erickson, whose main area of expertise is the cultural and legal normalization of cannabis, also spoke about how legalization could affect campus culture. She said that despite common belief, legalization will not change much in terms of the normalization of cannabis, especially among younger people.

“The law, I think, is now coinciding more with the normalization process rather than the normalization process driving the legal change,” she said. “I would also say be careful, I think, about assuming that use will go up… It depends on age, and sex, and your kind of cultural setting, and so on.”

“I really thought legalization was coming,” said Erickson, speaking about the beginning of her career in the ’70s. “And instead, we’ve gone through decades of very modest proposals about decriminalizing possession and reducing the penalties. There was never a serious proposal put forward.”

Edibles will not be available for legal purchase in Canada as of October 17, so the university is taking more time to come up with an appropriate policy relating to this issue.

“Once there is more information with respect to edibles, we’ll review it, and we will also take a look at our existing policy. However, currently, because the new law does not cover edibles, again, we expect students to obey the law, and so we are only addressing the smoking of cannabis at this time,” noted Kelly.

The university is also planning to educate students on responsible marijuana usage. “Starting with orientation and continuing with our health promotions programming throughout the year, what we are doing is talking to students about safety, understanding their limits, making sure they’re aware of their rights, but also their responsibilities… and I think most importantly where to seek help,” said Kelly.

Particular importance will also be placed on helping students understand how to recognize and respond to situations in which they or someone else is in distress, and how to seek assistance if they believe that cannabis is negatively impacting their or someone else’s academic or personal life.

“Our focus is really about helping students learn about resources available to them.”

— With files from Andy Takagi