Students upset by untimeliness of UTSG closure during winter storm, describe dangerous commutes

Upset students say that the decision to keep campus open endangers commuters

Students upset by untimeliness of UTSG closure during winter storm, describe dangerous commutes

UTSG students are reacting negatively to the university’s decision to keep the campus open during the winter storm that took place last Tuesday, when Environment Canada had issued a warning for a mix of snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, and strong winds.

While both UTM and UTSC were closed as of 6:45 am on Tuesday morning, UTSG did not announce that classes would be cancelled at 4:00 pm until nearly noon. The campus itself remained open throughout the day.

Upset students say that the decision to keep campus open endangers commuters, who are disadvantaged by the late notice of class cancellations, after many students have already arrived on campus.

During similar severe weather on January 28, U of T notified UTSG students that classes were cancelled as of 6:00 pm with a UTAlert email just minutes before.

Critics say that it is especially important make the announcement earlier because the majority of UTSG students are commuters — a 2015 study by StudentMoveTO found that 53 per cent of students take either local or regional transit to get to campus.

The university says it takes many factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to cancel classes or close a campus, and said that the safety of the U of T community is a “top priority.”

“The decision to cancel classes or close a campus is always challenging and a number of factors are considered, including public transportation, highway conditions, and snow and ice removal on campus grounds. In addition, differences in geographic locations may often lead to decisions that differ at our three campuses,” said U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church.

Church denied the rumour that circulated on social media that U of T’s funding is affected by the decision to close campus. “Our provincial funding is based primarily on enrolment and is not affected by campus closures because of severe weather,” she said.

A change.org petition was created by a U of T student on the day of the storm, calling on  Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat to close the St. George campus “in tandem with UTM and UTSC” during severe weather. It has already gathered over 4,000 signatures.

Maryama Ahmed, a fourth-year student, started the petition out of frustration, seeing early Tuesday morning that many other schools in the GTA were closed.

“I started the petition to respectfully show the decision-makers… that this kind of decision-making is irresponsible and dangerous, and that UTSG needs to change how they decide on school closures,” said Ahmed.

Several students described dangerous commutes to UTSG during the storms to The Varsity.

Miryam Kaduri, a second-year student, said that while walking between classes, she slipped on a patch of ice and fell face forward. After visiting the Health & Wellness Centre, it was determined that Kaduri had a suspected concussion.

“I am extremely concerned for the health and well being of my fellow students during this intense season, and troubled that the university did not foresee the potential for problems, despite every other university and school board closing,” she said.

A third-year industrial engineering student who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, and who commutes from Brampton, said that they decided not to come to campus on Tuesday after they were rear-ended on the way home due to the dangerous driving conditions of the January 28 storm.

“I didn’t want to endanger myself out in the storm again. I think it’s completely unfair that there even has to be a trade-off between my safety versus my academics,” they said.

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Anne Boucher commented on Reddit, “The university has a responsibility to ensure that students are able to attend classes safely.”

Boucher added that the UTSU is scheduling meetings with the administration to address the issue of campus closures in severe weather.

Schools and universities around the GTA closed their campuses in a similar fashion to UTM and UTSC. Ryerson University announced that it would be closed at 5:16 am, while York University announced that it would be closing its downtown locations and Keele and Glendon campuses effective 5:30 am The Toronto District School Board, the largest in Canada, also called its first snow day since 2011.

UTSG to cancel classes after 4:00 pm

UTM, UTSC already closed

UTSG to cancel classes after 4:00 pm

UTSG is cancelling classes from 4:00 pm onward today.

U of T said shortly before noon that, due to worsening weather conditions, all classes, tutorials, labs, tests, meetings, and other on-campus activities will be cancelled at UTSG.

Buildings and facilities remain open.

UTM and UTSC were closed earlier in the day.

A roundup of Black History Month at U of T

Where you can celebrate Black history on campus

A roundup of Black History Month at U of T

In honour of Black History Month, equity groups and student unions across U of T’s three campuses are organizing a series of events from panels to workshops throughout February. Here’s where you can participate and celebrate Black excellence on campus.

UTSG

Student unions, college governments, and equity collectives at UTSG have a plethora of events in celebration of Black History Month.

As part of the eXpression Against Oppression series, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) will be hosting an event on February 15 titled “Anti-black Racism and Mental Health.”

This event will take a look at mental health from an intersectional perspective while addressing the role of anti-Black racism and discrimination. The event will be moderated by Sudanese-Canadian writer Rania El Mugammar.

In collaboration with Hart House, the UTSU will also be hosting a career drop-in event, titled “Black Futures,” featuring résumé checkups and professional LinkedIn photography.

College student unions such as the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC), the Innis College Student Society (ICSS), and the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA) are hosting respective Black History Month events run by their equity commissions.

Along with the ICSS and the WCSA, the Woodsworth Racialized Students’ Collective will be hosting a panel discussion featuring three U of T graduates drawing on their experiences going through academia while Black.

VUSAC’s equity commission hosted an event on February 7, titled “A Taste of Black History,” highlighting the importance of food in Afro-Caribbean diasporas. It is also running a social media campaign highlighting the contributions of Black-Canadians to Canadian society.

The Varsity spoke with Vibhuti Kacholia, a member of VUSAC and organizer of its Black History Month programming, on the significance of commemorating Black histories in an academic environment.

“It is important for the U of T community to celebrate Black History Month because it is important for us to recognize and celebrate our Black students, faculty, and staff and provide spaces for that prioritizes them,” she said.

The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) will also be hosting various events throughout February and into March. Of note, the GSA will be presenting Black History “An Evening of Black Excellence” on February 28. This event will “showcase a variety of visual and performing artists” and those interested in presenting are encouraged to sign up.

UTSC

In collaboration with the U of T Black Students’ Association, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and the Olive Branch of Hope, a foundation aimed at breast cancer research, will be hosting Hoops for Hope, a tri-campus basketball tournament, on February 22.

Tickets start at $8, with the proceeds going toward cancer research.

The SCSU is also hosting the Black Joy Banquet on February 15, celebrating Afro-Caribbean culture over a three-course meal.

The UTSC Department of Student Life and International Student Centre will be hosting a Black History Month poetry slam competition on February 13 in collaboration with Hart House.

UTM

UTM will be hosting a Black History Month Luncheon on February 28, featuring Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors and co-founder of Giants of Africa. The event is free but space is limited.

The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, the UTM Black Students’ Collective, and Caribbean Connections UTM have partnered to host multiple events throughout the month of February. These events centre around themes such as mental health, self care, and more. They will also be hosting a Closing Ceremony on February 27 which includes an art showcase, which students can sign up to be a part of. 

UTSG to close due to severe weather

Managers, instructors asked to be flexible in letting people leave early

UTSG to close due to severe weather

UTSG is closing at 3:00 pm due to severe weather conditions.

U of T announced Wednesday afternoon that all classes, exams, extracurricular activities, and university-sponsored events are cancelled at UTSG due to freezing rain and ice pellets.

For classes that start before 3:00 pm, it will be up to the instructors whether to cancel class or not.

According to the notice, “Managers and instructors are asked to be flexible in allowing people to leave early from work or class.”

Only essential personnel should report to work.

UTM and UTSC are also closed.

UTM, UTSC closed for the morning due to weather

UTSG fully open

UTM, UTSC closed for the morning due to weather

Following yesterday’s class cancellations on all three U of T campuses, UTM and UTSC will remain closed for the morning, while UTSG has returned to being fully open.

UTM will be closed until at least 12:00 pm today. All classes, tutorials, labs, tests, and other course-related activities are cancelled. In addition, all university buildings are closed. UTM will post an update by 10:00 am in case the campus does not reopen.

UTSC will be closed until 10:00 am today, after which all academic activities will resume as scheduled. Non-essential staff should report to work when campus opens.

UTSG classes cancelled as of 6:00 pm

Campus will remain open

UTSG classes cancelled as of 6:00 pm

UTSG is cancelling all classes starting at 6:00 pm due to severe weather. However, the campus will remain open.

All classes, labs, tutorials, tests, and other course-related activities on the campus will be cancelled.

An update will be posted by 6:30 am tomorrow.

White nationalist posters found around UTSG

White nationalist group Students for Western Civilization advocates against “multiculturalism” in poster campaign

White nationalist posters found around UTSG

Posters that read “If everyone is Canadian, then to be Canadian means nothing” were found along St. George Street and Bloor Street on Monday night, in promotion of a group called “Students for Western Civilization” (SWC). SWC is a white nationalist group that was founded on claims that universities have fostered “extreme antagonism and hostility towards white people.”

According to a blog post on the group’s website about the campaign’s intent, “Multiculturalism and a Canadian National Identity are mutually exclusive.”

The post then goes on to argue against multiculturalism and calls for “European-Canadians” to “enlist” with SWC.

A similar poster campaign from SWC occurred in 2015, advertising a “White Students’ Union,” and again in 2017 at UTM.

According to the SWC website, one of the organization’s goals is to “organize for and advance the interests of European peoples.”

The front page of the group’s website links to a video from white nationalist Faith Goldy’s YouTube channel and a tweet from its Twitter feed reads, “Terms like ‘Racist’ and ‘White supremacist’ are weapons of oppression.”

In response to the presence of the posters on campus, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Anne Boucher wrote to The Varsity, “Being Canadian is not defined by whiteness. Being Canadian is defined by our shared values, traditions, and our embrace of multiculturalism.”

Boucher also questioned SWC’s intentions, calling its actions “malicious and unCanadian [sic],” and encourages students who feel unsafe to reach out to the university’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.

UTSU Vice-President, University Affairs Joshua Grondin echoed Boucher’s sentiments, writing that the union condemns “racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.”

“Unless you are Indigenous, you came to this country as a settler or an immigrant. If you are not Indigenous, it is hypocritical to condemn multiculturalism in Canada,” Grondin said. “Toronto is a place where people from all countries call home.”

Ombudsperson’s office expanded to all campuses in hopes of growing outreach

Office helps resolve university-related issues, addresses system problems

Ombudsperson’s office expanded to all campuses in hopes of growing outreach

After over 40 years servicing UTSG, the Office of the Ombudsperson has expanded to place officers on all three campuses, following a vote by Governing Council in May. The expansion was done in the hopes that it would increase awareness of the Office’s existence and assist in outreach, according to Ellen Hodnett, the recently re-appointed U of T Ombudsperson.

The Office of the Ombudsperson was founded in 1975 and acts as an independent body to help faculty, staff, students, and alumni resolve university-related issues and brings forward broader systemic problems to Governing Council.

Hodnett describes the position as largely about directing people to the correct resource. In the past, the Ombudsperson’s report to Governing Council proposed the contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy.

In an interview with The Varsity, Hodnett described a lack of engagement from the broader U of T community as motivation for the move. Despite efforts made through social media, Hodnett explained that “none of that made much of a difference at all.”

Hodnett was re-appointed to the ombudsperson position for an additional year after a three-year appointment ended last June.

“I’ve been at U of T since 1975 in one capacity or another, mostly as a professor, but also as a graduate student and now as ombudsperson,” Hodnett said. “I still find navigating all the various websites and finding out whom I should contact about a particular issue, a challenge.”

Hodnett and Secretary of the Governing Council Sheree Drummond decided to combine the roles of Assistant Secretary of Governing Council with Ombuds Officer — the positions are filled on the Campus Council at both UTM and UTSC.

“There’s no conflict of interest,” she said. “There’s no administrative connection here, so we can keep everything very confidential and within our office mandate.”

Rena Prashad is the Interim Director of Governance and Assistant Secretary of the Governing Council at UTSC. At UTM, Cindy Ferencz Hammond is the Director of Governance and Assistant Secretary of Governing Council. Both agreed to fill the Ombuds Officer role for the announced expansion and were trained by Hodnett for the position over the summer.

The appointment for UTSG took longer consideration. Hodnett explained that the job description had to be similar to those on the other campuses and also required looking through a number of applicants. In mid-November, Dr. Kristi Gourlay filled the position of Assistant Secretary of Governing Council and Ombuds Officer for UTSG. Gourlay is the former Manager of the Office of Student Academic Integrity.

On the topic of the university-mandated leave of absence policy, Hodnett confirmed that the annual review of the conditions under which the policy was applied will take place in coordination with her office.

“Our focus, as I said before, is unfairness,” she said. “We take that very, very seriously. I’ve written in previous annual reports [about] my awareness of the challenges posed by having the accessibility issues related to students with significant mental health problems. And there is no black and white here.”