Making a magazine boils down to a series of choices.
Months ago, when we began the process of producing the pages that you now hold in your hands, we had a vision. Naively, we thought it would all turn out according to the blueprint. The final product reads nothing like those expectations — just like, if I’m being honest, my life today bears almost no resemblance to the vision I had for myself at the start of university four years ago. Continue reading Letter from the editor Fall 2014→
Your first steps on campus are the beginning of a journey. As in any adventure, there will be frustrations, excitement, and — whether they be the product of an amazing night out or a procrastinated term paper — some sleepless nights.
I would be remiss if I said that it’s going to be easy. I spent my own first year feeling a little lost in the throngs of students and, as a commuter, felt distanced from campus life. You’ll find yourself caught in the flow of student traffic on St. George Street, wondering whether you’ll ever feel like more than a number. These struggles are part of the journey; take advantage of the resources to help you along the way, from your college registrar to the many available accessibility services. Put yourself out there; join a club; make a few mistakes. Soon enough, the confusion and uncertainty of the first few months will fade into memory, and you will discover that you really can do this.
This guide is the product of our discoveries and journeys, and we hope it helps you find your own niche. It’s far from comprehensive, but, hopefully, it will serve as a launch pad for your own investigation — compiled by students who, not too long ago, felt just like you.
The next four years will not be perfect, but with any luck, you’ll walk into Convocation Hall at your graduation with memories you’ll keep for a lifetime — including a few drunken ones you would probably rather forget. As you begin your adventure, remember that this place is yours to explore, to shape, and to call your home.
Buy a calendar and write down all of your due dates and exam dates. Realize now that you’ll plan to get everything done with time to spare, but will end up with at least one all-nighter; don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Run — don’t walk — to get your textbooks. Used copies sell out quickly, and you don’t want to be stuck paying full price — or, even worse, be stuck waiting for the feared second shipment of books that takes forever to show up. Check online and at the discount bookstore before spending big bucks.
Join a club, or at least give something a try. The school year gets hectic fast; take the free time you have now to check out some extracurricular options that will help you de-stress and make friends.
Enjoy the campus greenery. It disappears quickly, and when you’re locked in Gerstein Library in a blizzard, you’ll need fond memories of frisbee in King’s College Circle to keep you going.
Get moving! With tons of options for all activity levels, U of T’s gyms are a great place to get fit, meet friends, and burn off that ill-conceived poutine.
Check out The Varsity in print or online at thevarsity.ca to stay up-to-date on all of the happenings on and around the university. New issues are on stands across U of T’s three campuses every Monday.
Participate in tutorial; it will show your TA or professor that you care, and will make you feel like more than just a number.
Do your readings. But actually.
Go to a Thursday pub night run by your college, and wake up the next day terribly hung over for your Friday class. Vow to never schedule classes on Friday for the rest of your university career.
Get the number of a peer in each tutorial or class. You will inevitably miss or come late to lecture at some point during the year. Whether your absence is because of a faulty alarm clock transportation delay, or a concert you just have to attend, you’ll feel a lot better knowing you’ve got a back-up plan.
While downtown in the wee hours of the morning, enjoy the mysterious drunk-food specialty that is St. George street meat.
Walk into Convocation Hall early to get a prime seat. Realize that, although you might feel very small in a crowd of 1,000 students, U of T is filled with endless possibilities.
Whether you’re a native Torontonian, new to the city, or visiting from UTM or UTSC, the area surrounding the St. George campus has plenty to offer. If libraries and lecture halls fail to inspire you, head to a local coffee shop where you’re certain to find your muse for that ENG140 essay surrounded by fellow aspiring literary geniuses. To celebrate (or mourn) the results of your first paper, head to one of the bars in the area, because at the end of the day, drinks and nachos can make almost anything better. When you’ve exhausted the areas immediately surrounding campus, branch out and explore the many unique corners of this diverse city.
154 Cumberland Street
Remarkably affordable for its swanky Yorkville location, Shogun is a great place for lunch or dinner after a class on the east side of campus. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to dine with Richard Gere (or, at least, his photo).
656A Spadina Avenue
Located just a few steps from campus, Cora Pizza is a cheap, deliciously greasy staple among U of T students. Its late-night hours make it ideal fuel for long nights of studying at Robarts.
326 Bloor Street West
One of several in the city, Fresh’s Bloor and Spadina location is constantly packed with lovers of healthy and delicious eats. The portions are huge, and you can’t help feeling like you’re doing your body good with their largely organic, vegan fare. With dine-in and take-out options, Fresh is perfect for dinner with friends or food on-the-go. Try their $7.50 smoothie and treat special, available weekdays from 2:30 pm–5:30 pm, for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Future Bakery & Café
483 Bloor Street West
Its prime location near some of the most frequented Bloor Street West bars makes Future Bakery a great place for 1:00 am cake. It’s also a favourite student spot for cheap breakfast.
7 Charles Street West
Located near the east side of campus, 7 West is a great place to grab a bite with friends. The café’s three levels mean that there are almost always seats available, and the menu has a variety of options to please any palate. The best part: it’s open 24/7, 365 days a year.
115 Harbord Street
This place has been around since 1945, and its longevity is really no surprise. With delicious baked goods and prepared food items, you can’t go wrong. Stop by for a sandwich or an entire loaf of bread — those three-hour lectures can really drag on — on your way to class.
8 St. Andrew Street
Offering delicious Korean fare, good service, and located a short walk from campus, Ka Chi is an excellent spot for lunch or dinner with friends. Their prices are also well-suited to a student budget.
The Original Gyro Grill
4 Walmer Road
This relatively new Annex joint serves traditional Greek food, with creative twists on old classics. The food is delicious, the staff is warm, the portions are huge, and the price is right; it’s essentially a student’s dream restaurant.
Coffee and tea
It’s no surprise that caffeine is the go-to fuel for the young academic. Luckily, the Toronto café scene is varied and often exceptional. These coffee shops are not only a great place to get your mid-afternoon jolt, but also boast prime off-campus study spaces — just bring headphones and a fully charged laptop battery.
426 College Street
This College Street favourite not only features delicious coffee, but also a great variety of gelato. Although often busy, the seating in the back is fairly quiet and regularly populated by work-focused students.
Seven Grams Espresso Bar
131 Avenue Road
Although a bit of a walk from campus on a cold winter day, Yorkville’s Seven Grams offers a delicious variety of coffee and loose-leaf tea. The comfy, inviting downstairs seating and quiet atmosphere, perfect for a coffee date or study session, make it worth the walk.
Moonbean Coffee Company
30 St. Andrew Street
This Kensington spot is hard to beat and wins the award for best beans. It’s worth investing in a coffee pot to be able to brew your own at home. Sitting at the café is also always a treat; the staff is warm, welcoming, and knowledgeable.
Bicerin Espresso Bar
37 Baldwin Street
Located in Baldwin Village, Bicerin Espresso Bar serves up coffee that is both delicious and beautiful. If latte art doesn’t pique your interest, it also has free Wi-Fi and plenty of power outlets.
There are plenty of options for alcoholic beverages in the area surrounding campus, with venues ranging from classic pubs and questionable dives to cozy conversational joints. While you’re sure to quickly discover the Brunswick House, the Fox and Fiddle, and the Madison Avenue Pub, here are a few lesser-known watering holes and a couple of must-try classics.
581 Markham Street
This restaurant and bar is nestled in a refurbished Victorian home on Markham Street, just a short walk from campus. It’s a favourite among students, with a variety of craft beer and well-priced eats. The patio is a great place to sip sangria and people-watch in the warmer months, and the upstairs room is spacious for larger get-togethers.
431 College Street
While this joint is far from a well-kept secret, it’s a staple that demands mentioning. A classic, albeit rather grungy, hangout, Sneaky Dee’s is a great spot for drinks with friends after a long exam. Its nachos are some of the best in the city, and it offers food and drink specials each night of the week. Ignore the stickiness of the floor and enjoy.
416 Snack Bar
181 Bathurst Street
This Bathurst and Queen spot is a bit of a trek from campus, but it’s definitely worth the walk. An ode to Toronto, both the food and décor are based on the city’s history and diversity. The drink menu is sophisticated and the food is delicious, but snack-sized — so if you’re craving a huge meal, this probably isn’t the place for you. 416 can get a little pricey, but it’s definitely a spot to tick off of your Toronto checklist.
60 Kensington Avenue
You can’t help but feel cool as you walk through the secret entrance to this Kensington bar. With a substantial patio, great drink deals, and dim sum appetizers until the wee hours of the morning, Cold Tea is a must try.
Academics might be an important part of university, but so is having fun. Toronto has endless options for entertainment, from theatre and slam poetry to rock climbing and bowling. Here are some entertainment spots around campus at which you can take a well-deserved break.
Castle Board Game Café
454 Spadina Avenue
This spot is one of several installations in the board game café craze. Similar to Snakes and Lattes, Castle Board Game Café is large and generally lacks the lengthy wait time that other board game venues always seem to have. The spacious location is ideal for larger groups on a quest to conquer fantasy worlds. That being said, Snakes and Lattes, Snakes and Lagers, and Bampot House of Tea & Board Games are great alternatives.
471 Bloor Street West
Whether you’re searching for some recreational reading or a copy of T.S. Eliot for your English lit seminar, BMV Books has an incredible selection and even more impressive prices. The majority of its books are new — or close to it — but they’re generally 50 per cent cheaper than the prices at the big chain stores. Also check out Eliot’s Bookshop, Balfour Books, and Ten Editions Bookstore.
Kula Yoga Studio
304 Brunswick Avenue
This yoga studio, located in the Annex, is a great place to drop in for a little body-mind relaxation and rejuvenation. It offers discounted rates for students, as well as select $8 classes that change daily. It prides itself on being a welcoming space for all, and boasts several positive space initiatives — including queer yoga, a gender-neutral changing pod, and classes for all body types and skill levels.
Hey Lucy Café
440 Bloor Street West
$4.50 martinis on Wednesdays
Insomnia Restaurant & Lounge
563 Bloor Street West
$4 Steam Whistle on Tuesdays
298 Brunswick Avenue
$3 rail drinks Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
Nirvana Restaurant Bar Lounge
434 College Street
Sangria Sundays: $4.75 for a pint,
$ 14.50 for a pitcher
Rodney Rousseau is a student working towards an Honours BSc in biochemistry and sexual diversity studies at U of T. He is 25 years old, and grew up in a small town in Northwestern Ontario. He is also HIV-positive.
In the 1980s, headlines proclaimed that the spread of HIV/AIDS had reached epidemic levels. The wave of fear spread faster than the then-untreatable condition, and left an emphasis on prevention and hyper-vigilance in its wake.
In Rousseau’s experience, the majority of people know, at least generally, how HIV is transmitted, but certain social situations seem to override that knowledge. He describes, “[A]s soon as it comes to sharing a straw or a fork with someone there’s often a clear moment of hesitation. Or I’ll be asked, ‘You’re sure it’s all right?’”
In spite of his awareness of the potential for negative attention, Rousseau describes his status as HIV–positive as “a matter of public record.”
“I disclosed both my status and my sexuality to one professor last semester in an attempt to help her understand my academic needs… I regretted that decision almost instantly. The term was almost completely a back-and-forth of terse and non-supportive communication that lacked any appropriate amount of humility,” he says.
Rousseau adds that discussing being HIV-positive is generally not easy: “I’ve had the experience of planning to go on a date with a guy, disclosing my status, and then him saying something like, ‘okay, well, as long as we don’t have sex’ …or just flat out stop talking to me. Those experiences are really common.”
Negative reactions to disclosure reinforce the notion that being HIV-positive is something to keep quiet about, as Rousseau explains: “I’ve had people in my life tell me that I shouldn’t be open about my status — that it will cost me any future career options.”
Advancements in the medical field impact representations of HIV/AIDS as well. Dan Allman, assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, explains: “We increasingly hear about how medical advances are transforming HIV into a chronic and manageable disease ‘like diabetes,’ as if a chronic and manageable disease [is] not something to prevent — as if somehow recasting HIV as a chronic disease will act to transform it, and the stigma associated with it, into something benign.”
Rayter adds that medical progress can eliminate the focus on preventative measures. “People aren’t thinking that it affects them, and if it does, then [they think] ‘oh well, there’s drugs now’ — there’s much less frank discussion,” he says.
Something we don’t talk about
Many HIV-positive individuals are scared silent by the potential repercussions of these misconceptions — which include rejection, stigma, and even criminal charges in certain circumstances.
When asked whether his experiences with stigmatization make him hesitant to share his status, Rousseau replies, “Yes and no. I do fear being stigmatized, but for me, I’d rather face that stigma head on than perpetuate it by being shameful.”
HIV/AIDS remains a taboo subject in North America, not because we lack the information or freedom to discuss it, but because we seem to be afraid to do so. Most people feel comfortable advocating for a future without HIV/AIDS, more support for patients, and increased funding for prevention and research. When confronted with HIV, however — whether it be meeting a diagnosed individual or encountering the potential for transmission in sex or drug use — we falter.
“We may be able to discuss HIV on social media, or walk in support of HIV, or wear a ribbon. Yet when it comes to talking about HIV in the moment… the nature of what HIV is and represents becomes transformed within intimate interpersonal contexts into taboo matter,” says Allman.
Allman attributes some of this reluctance to society’s tendency to label a subject taboo as a protective measure — as if not talking about it will somehow make it disappear. He explains that there is an association between HIV and behaviours that are categorized as deviant, “because of its association with blood, semen, and other body fluids, because of the behaviours and identities associated with it — sex, drugs, rock n’ roll — because taboos act, in society, often to protect some form of public good.”
Rayter draws a link between the stifled discussion of HIV and the increasingly individualized nature of public health, whereby individuals are ‘at fault’ for or ‘deserve’ the consequences of their actions. He adds, “Even the term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [sounds] like you went out and got it — there is this sense that you went out and did it to yourself.”
Rethinking awareness campaigns
Some challenges to raising awareness lie in the way information is being disseminated. Rayter says awareness campaigns need to be reevaluated. “Definitely. Both in schools and media campaigns — and looking at what messages are being put out there and what information people are taking [in],” he says.
“[S]tigma can prevent the uptake of prevention messaging,” Allman says. “In some ways to prevent HIV, we need to continue to find ways to prevent HIV stigma also,” he adds.
Unfortunately, the importance of being politically correct in prevention messaging often focuses on being universally inoffensive, rather than effective. One example is the Kisses 4 CANFAR campaign, featured in ads on the TTC, which aims to “kiss HIV & AIDS goodbye.” The vague subway ad images can be misunderstood as suggesting a causal relationship between kissing and HIV/AIDS transmission.
Allman explains, “Prevention messaging that is attuned to true cultural diversity, to the political sensitivities of funders and donors, to populations and individuals, some of whom will be living with HIV, such sensitization can water down messaging to the point of, if not irrelevance, perhaps ineffectiveness.”
This focus on sensitivity to public reception impacts the way in which individuals respond to disclosures of HIV-positive status. Rousseau describes, “I feel like people perpetuate the stigma of HIV by feeling sorry for those that are infected. Often the first thing people say to me is ‘I’m sorry,’ or, ‘That’s terrible.’ As far as my experience goes, sure it sucks, but it’s nothing to pity me over.” He explains that, alternatively, there is more value in asking productive or inquisitive questions.
Awareness campaigns are important, but they only fulfill their purpose if HIV becomes something that can be freely and safely discussed in public forums. The experience of HIV is unique to each individual impacted by it — and as such cannot be summarized into a single, all-encompassing campaign.
The strongest voices in the fight against HIV/AIDS often come from those with the most intimate experience — people who are diagnosed as positive and those who are close to them. Allman, who teaches a course on HIV prevention research at U of T, says, “I can tell you that in such a class, little has as much impact as when a student turns in her or his seat to face the rest of their class and says, ‘I am HIV–positive.’”
Allman describes that those four words can transform a subject that, for some, embodies fear and make it instead a symbol of courage.
Amid the misconceptions about the disease, there is an imperative truth: there is no cure for HIV. It can be prevented if people are aware of the risks and take precautions against them — but this can only happen when society ends the self-sabotaging cycle of fear and stigmatization.
Allman reflects, “In the absence of a vaccine, in the absence of a cure, prevention remains the road ahead. Let us not allow fear to limit how that road rises up to meet us.”
With files from Ipsos Reid and Casey House; infographic data from Public Health Agency of Canada and Canada AIDS Society.
In conversation: Rodney Rousseau
The Varsity: Do you think there is enough public school education about HIV? How can it be improved? What information do you think is lacking the most?
Rodney Rousseau: I finished high school a few years ago, so things may be a bit different now from when I received sexual health education. I was taught about abstinence when I was in high school. Abstinence-based sexual health education ignores the needs of those at risk for HIV, and quite frankly, just doesn’t work.
I also believe that there isn’t enough information being taught in history classes. First of all, the women’s rights movement is justly part of history education, but how is the LGBT rights movement just ignored as if it didn’t happen? And then HIV/AIDS? We’re now talking about an epidemic that is decades old and has a rich history, how are young people not learning about that history? It’s important.
TV: There have been some large steps taken in terms of medical advancements for HIV treatment in the last [thirty] years. Do you think awareness has taken a backseat to medical successes? In your opinion, is there too much information that remains unspoken? Do you feel that society is too quick to define the individual by the condition?
RR: Well, my first response to this question is: what is awareness? Awareness of HIV transmission? Awareness of what it’s like to live with HIV? Prevalence? Incidence? Prevention?
I don’t particularly think that HIV awareness and medical successes are at odds with each other. I think the field of HIV/AIDS work overall tends to realize the necessity of interdisciplinary work to help overcome this health issue. Both medical and social sides of HIV/AIDS work are under-funded, in my opinion. I think that what we need to look at, though, is how we can bridge these two sides together and create more impactful outcomes for those living with, and at risk for, HIV.
TV: How, if at all, does HIV impact your life as a student? Does it play a role in your chosen studies, or in any extracurricular/volunteer involvement? Do you have physical symptoms that factor into your days?
RR: Coming back to school as a newly diagnosed full-time student was tough. I ended up reducing my course load a bit. I was consistently having a tough time sleeping, so that effected my productivity, of course. I would say that most of my health symptoms are mental-health-related. Tiredness and worry play into a bit of a vicious cycle that sometimes makes it hard to focus or recall information efficiently.
I was interested in HIV before I became infected, so it was already a big part of my studies. I did a 400-level HIV stigma project last year before I was diagnosed, and I work part time in an HIV immunology lab on campus.
If you could ask students and alumni of the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) as children what they wanted to be when they grew up, you would likely get typical answers: a zoologist, boxer, dancer, or pediatrician. If you asked the same question to them as young adults, you’d get a very different answer: alive.
Since its inauguration in 1976, the TYP has been in place to assist adults without formal educational qualifications in building the foundation needed to successfully attain an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. The program, however, goes far beyond its written mandate. Behind the walls of 49 St. George Street, the central TYP office, there is a palpable sense of community and cooperation — the building is also a home, and a symbol of renewed confidence and access to opportunities.
“This place is special,” comments Michael, a TYP alumnus from 27 years ago. Michael still remembers his admission interview clearly. “I grew up thinking that I would never be anything… When they asked me why they should accept me, I said, ‘Just give me a chance, a chance to try.’” He went on to complete his Bachelor of Arts at U of T, and his Bachelor of Law at Osgoode Hall in York University.
“The program is completely inclusive. Here, all voices are relevant.”
Current TYP student Cheyenne is pursuing post-secondary education to provide a better life for her four-year-old son. She grew up in subsidized housing with a single mother and spent her teenage years living with whichever friend’s parents were kind enough to take her in.
“I realized that I was repeating the choices my mother made and decided I needed to make a change for my son’s sake,” she reflects. “This place is like a family. Everyone wants to help.”
This is especially true for the tight-knit community of single mothers: “Last year before an exam I couldn’t find a babysitter, and I knew I could leave my son here with the other moms and he would be safe,” said Cheyenne. She now aspires to become a film director.
Rehema, also a current student of the program, immigrated to Canada from Kenya four years ago to find work to support her family back home. With the help of the TYP, she hopes to someday return as a doctor to an orphanage at which she previously volunteered to help children born with HIV/AIDS.
Alumna Michelle Jarvis credits the program with changing her entire outlook on life: “The program is completely inclusive. Here, all voices are relevant.”
Shazali Samah, also an alumnus, agrees. To him, the program provides a space where students from marginalized backgrounds can pursue their dreams without fear of authority or feelings of inferiority. While Samah hopes to pursue law school, Jarvis, like many undergraduates, isn’t quite sure of her career path, but knows she wants to help people.
Helping others is a value emphasized and strengthened by the experience of studying through the TYP. Samah notes: “We’re very family-oriented. This place is a home for most of the students, and alumni come back because they want to support and give back to this place.”
This sense of home is what students and alumni now fear losing, as the U of T administration has proposed a merger of the TYP with the Faculty of Arts & Science. The move would entail relocating to Woodsworth College, which also houses the Academic Bridging Program.
The TYP Preservation Alliance (TYPPA) is a group dedicated to ensuring the program’s continued existence. Rather than contest the physical relocation of the program, the group is more concerned that the new space and the loss of autonomy will damage the integrity of the program and, by extension, its ability to support students in their goals. The TYPPA has several concerns about the proposed space at Woodsworth, including facility’s decreased size. This will impede alumni from visiting to the same extent that they have so far and prevent students from having drop-in access to faculty and advisors — the exact kind of support that is a hallmark of the program.
With rumours swirling that the TYP will be forced to move this December, there is growing anxiety among students who want a promise from the administration that their needs and voices will not be ignored.
“I’m concerned that the change isn’t what’s best for the program. The discussion [with the university administration] has been one-sided. There’s been a lot of talking with staff and no talking with students to hear their perspectives and needs,” said C.C., a program alumnus and active member of the TYPPA.
Michelle, a 2012 alumna, laughed as she described her sometimes difficult relationship with the program: “It was hard, but it was life-changing. This place became a home. The people here became family, and the support was what kept me on track.”
Michelle’s fear is that the program will eventually be phased out or amalgamated with the Academic Bridging Program: “Losing this program would mean a huge loss of knowledge, and it would silence so many distinct voices that deserve to be heard.”
“When I first got here, I was lost. I had people helping me, the older alumni, and that’s what has inspired me to give back,” adds Samah. He worries that the move will eliminate easy access to support from alumni and faculty, and compromise the unique nature of the program and the safe space it provides for students.
Samah expressed concern that if students lose the sanctuary the program currently provides, they may feel too overwhelmed to achieve their full potential: “It’s intimidating, coming here [to the downtown campus].”
For 37 years, the TYP has been, and continues to be, dedicated to supporting individuals who need the help in achieving their academic goals. More than its practical impact, the TYP has served as a boon for its students and alumni, providing an understanding, close community on the St. George campus.
Changes to the TYP, for better or for worse, seems inevitable. The move to eliminate the program, however, is unlikely to withstand the opposition of the strong cohort of students that testify to the impact of the program upon their lives. The TYP goes far beyond building academic foundations and supporting career aspirations. It rekindles students’ dreams and provides them with the hope that their aspirations can become reality. It gives people a home, a community, and a chance — and they are determined to fight to ensure that it will continue to exist and offer these same opportunities to incoming students in need.