All posts by Victoria Wicks

Comment Editor 2015–2016 Associate Comment Editor 2014–2015

The Question: Is frosh week a worthy endeavour?

Embracing frosh

Frosh week may not be perfect, but it’s a memorable, important university experience

Being a froshie is a one time occurrence — it’s a golden ticket not only to drink in public and dance down the middle of Bloor Street, but also to take your mind off of the fact that you’ll soon be embarking on one of the most important periods of your life.

Frosh week is not for the faint of heart. Activities routinely include hazing, public humiliation, and drinking to excess.

In the past several years, however, students have started demanding more from frosh week activities. Issues of safety and inclusiveness have been brought to the forefront of conversations about orientation week, to the point that some universities, around the country, have started requiring more equitable practices.

U of T has made it a priority to erase the stereotypes attached to frosh week — like the one that the entire week is just one big drunken stumble through the city.

Most of U of T’s colleges and faculties have created frosh committees, which elect chairs and co-chairs who are influential during the hiring process for frosh leaders. The chairs of these committees are not only well  versed in their college’s administrative system, but are also student leaders and role models.   

Even in the past few years there have been significant changes to frosh week activities and experiences, but essentially, the tradition remains unchanged. Regardless of how much we hate to admit it, many actually enjoy the cheering and florescent shirts. 

My frosh experience nearly four years ago consisted of my leader taking shots atop the City Sightseeing bus, then proceed to reach out to grab an overhead street-car wire, quickly prompting our already fed-up tour guide to stop and kick us off the bus.

While scary and embarrassing at the time, it was also a perfect icebreaker that prompted a laughter filled walk back to campus with my fellow froshies. Funnily enough, none of the planned events and activities managed to forge this kind of bond.

Frosh week is not at all representative of your university experience — but that’s okay. Most of your time at U of T will see you attending class, writing essays, and taking exams, so it’s important that you have the opportunity to kick-back, lose your voice from cheering, and maybe even dye yourself purple. You’re not likely to get the same chance again. 

Emma Kikulis is a fourth year student at Innis College studying English and sociology. She is The Varsity’s Sports editor.

Frosh week is not reflective of the university experience

Time to tear it down from its pedestal

While free food and condoms are certainly worthy of celebration, frosh week itself hardly deserves the pedestal it is routinely placed upon.

Perhaps most striking is the sheer superficiality of the entire affair. People talk in perky voices, yet conversations are more like hollow surveys — hi, what’s your major, where are you living, this ice breaker is pretty fun, eh. Cue nervous laughter.

Understandably, students are worried about making good impressions and eager to dramatically recreate their identities in a new space. And surely, some will be lucky enough to stumble into another student with whom they instantly click.

But for most, such exchanges simply become cringe-worthy memories and nothing more. It is bizarre then, that we continue to idealize the social aspect of frosh as a formative rite of passage into university.

More unfortunately, the majority of socializing during frosh is done under the constant and disturbing pressure to drink yourself into oblivion. Despite the attempts of noble frosh executives to introduce quieter games nights, many frosh will ultimately turn to alcohol in order to both ease their insecurities, and fulfill, real or imagined, expectations on the resilience of their livers.

While laughter during drunken nights can certainly create some affection between students, binge drinking is, at best, a questionable basis for the long-lasting and meaningful relationships that frosh week purports to encourage.

Not to mention the fact that the culmination of frosh week  — that is, the street parade downtown — fails to foster a coherent school spirit. Instead, it is premised on segregating the student body based on college, faculty, or campus. Most notably, this annual institutional emphasis on internal rivalry reifies the notorious and regrettable disconnect between our UTM, UTSC, and UTSG campuses.

As students will find out after frosh week, university is not simply a series of awkward conversations and booze-filled evenings. Your experience at U of T will not be characterized by strict hourly scheduling, nor peppy handholding authorities. That was what high school was for. 

Instead, the next four years of your life will be based on your decisions and ability to explore what you care most about, at your own pace. Your engagement — whether with course material, professors, or other like-minded students — will certainly be more long-term, deeper, and thus more formative, than the superficial experience of frosh week.

So if you don’t have a good time at frosh week, don’t worry — it only gets better from here.

Victoria Wicks is a third year student at Trinity College studying political science and ethics, society & law. She is The Varsity’s Comment editor.

“Putting ourselves back into writing”

I’ve always thought certain types of writing should be private. Reflections in journals, letters to friends, notes passed in class — they’re handwritten, personal, and thus seem inherently confidential. It is unsurprising, then, that each of my diaries has “do not read” scrawled angrily inside the cover.

Naturally, I was intrigued when I heard about Jane Alice Keachie and Marsha McLeod, who are deliberately putting personal stories at the centre of public attention.

After realizing that the University of Toronto is sorely lacking in explicitly feminist publications and spaces, Keachie and MacLeod decided to create a feminist writing society, named HERE, in the fall of last year. At monthly meetings, contributors handwrite letters in response to a general prompt, with some choosing to read their work aloud. At the end of each session, Keachie and McLeod collect the letters, and later scan and upload them onto HERE’s website.

THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL

Even the quickest scan of HERE’s online archives reveals the intimacy of contributor’s stories, which recount experiences with body image, mental health, harassment, and, of course, sex.

To be entirely honest, I felt quite uncomfortable reading most of the passages. Not necessarily because of the nature of the topics, but rather because I could find myself reflected in certain elements of each story. It’s chilling to read a stranger’s particular account of navigating puberty and the shame that comes with it, only to realize I went through almost exactly the same experience.

“Once you start to interrogate your own life, you realize there’s a lot of fucked up shit that you thought was normal,” Keachie says, adding, “Once you start talking to someone else about it, you’re like, ‘There’s a bigger problem here.’”

All letters written by collective members are hand written. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
All letters written by collective members are hand written. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

Indeed, personal stories provide a visceral, accessible avenue to explore the seemingly abstract and broad issues of feminism and sexism. What’s more, the emphasis on the individual is a direct resistance against academic constraints on expression.

At such a large institution like U of T, students can end up feeling insecure, as though they’re just a number.

“We’re always taught to be objective, and take ourselves out. How am I supposed to pretend I’m not there?” McLeod asks exasperatedly. “This is about putting ourselves back into writing.”

A UNIQUE STYLE

HERE emphasizes the individual not only through their content, but also through their preferred form of expression. Handwriting effectively captures a writer’s personality, which could be lost in a standardized typeface. Since each type of handwriting is distinct, it forces readers to slow down and engage with the text.

Handwriting also makes editing a lot harder to do. While unedited work can be considered sloppy in the world of academia, Keachie and McLeod assured me that it encourages more meaningful and honest responses.

“People end up saying things they’ve never told anyone before,” Keachie explains, adding, “You start questioning, why have you been censoring yourself? Why don’t we talk about this?”

Letter writing was another deliberate stylistic choice for the group. Historically, letters have been a subversive form of communication for feminists. HERE recognizes itself as building upon this tradition. Letters aren’t articles or essays, yet they remain very direct and purposeful.

“I’m calling you out, I’m writing to you: an institution, a thing, myself,” McLeod says. “It has a point, because it’s to someone, and implicates something.”

I didn’t fully appreciate these sentiments until I actually tried writing a letter myself. Though it was outside of the group’s monthly meeting, I still felt the rush of confession through directing my letter to the HERE community. There’s also something immensely satisfying about seeing your own handwriting take up space.

GROUP VALIDATION

Perhaps most interesting is how HERE provides a space to have your voice heard, literally. The intonation, pauses, volume, and speed of reading out loud give stories personality which would otherwise be lost if simply read in someone’s head. Reading aloud also allows contributors more control over their work, and is an empowering practice.

Especially in the context of feminism, reading aloud amplifies feminist voices in a way that is desperately needed. It rejects the sexist caricatures of women as simply narcissistic or shallow for talking about themselves and is an antidote to the constant silencing of women who speak out about oppression.

Letters are inspired by prompts and are often incredibly personaL. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY
Letters are inspired by prompts and are often incredibly personaL. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

“I think girls can often be made to feel silly when talking about feminism,” says Kendall Andison, a fourth-year contributor. “Sometimes it’s difficult to trust that what you have to say on the subject is of value.”

Consequently, reading out loud to attentive, like-minded listeners is a way of instilling a sense of ownership and pride in personal experiences. In fact, every contributor I spoke to expressed almost identical feelings of validation. Even the simple act of mailing my letter to HERE prompted similar, albeit diluted, excitement that my story was worthy of being published and read.

CREATING SAFE SPACES

Emphasizing personal experiences has the potential to promote greater inclusivity because all stories are appreciated. This is particularly significant for feminism, which has long been monopolized by white, heterosexual women. In fact, Manaal Ismacil, a third-year contributor, had a high school teacher once tell her that feminism was simply “a white woman’s approach to how white men treated them.”

As a queer black woman, Ismacil discussed how this rhetoric made her feel excluded for a long time. Such stories prompted Keachie and McLeod to specify in their constitution that HERE is safe space for everyone.

“We really emphasized from the get-go: if you have felt that feminism doesn’t include you, we want to be the kind of feminism that includes you,” explains Keachie.

Their dedication to inclusivity has been successful. All feedback thus far praises HERE for establishing a positive and nonjudgmental environment. There is little doubt that HERE will continue living up to their namesake: boldly taking up physical and intellectual space, declaring a feminist presence on campus.

 

Correction (February 26, 2015): A previous version of this article referred to “women’s voices.” This has been changed to “feminist voices” to reflect the broader inclusivity of HERE.