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They have faith

For students of faith, the university space poses unique challenges regarding reconciliation with the self and the world. Faith is not erasable; for those who are religious, it exists at the core of their conscience and defines their sense of dignity.

When spaces that foster faith do not exist, are lacking, or are threatened at university, communities of faith become ‘othered.’

To build true inclusivity, it is important to reflect upon the unique experiences of people of faith and how it is possible to build new dialogues, relationships, and solidarities that can forge real plurality in Canada.

Why faith matters

Sarim Irfan, a Muslim first-year student at the University of Toronto, sees his faith and worldview as intertwined. His faith has played a major role in determining his morals, values, and general sense of conduct.

“The Islamic perspective influences me such that, where problems arise, I look for the outcome that satisfies the most people without compromising my religious rules and regulations,” Irfan reveals. “Islam preaches love and respect for others, as well as steadfastness in practice,” he explains.

Martha Nussbaum, an ethics theorist at the University of Chicago, argues for the importance of accommodating different belief systems. She writes that two elements make people equal: dignity and freedom of conscience. Though the sources of dignity may differ, possessing it always means having autonomy over your mind and body.

For Ifran and others like him, faith is a filter through which to reason, evaluate, and view the world, and to realize dignity in the sense that Nussbaum describes. To learn and embrace each other’s faith opens up a channel to mutual understanding.

Fady Andraws, an Egyptian Orthodox student, describes her faith in a similar way. She sees it as a vital part of her culture, family life, and value system. “It provides an ethical code, as well as a familial and national identity,” she reflects.

For others, the integration of faith and behaviour happens more gradually.

“I’ve begun the process of incorporating my religious beliefs in my day to day life,” comments Monique Gill of the Sikh Students Association. “Specifically, Sikhism places a high value on community service or ‘seva’ and for the past few years I’ve been restructuring my personal and career goals with seva in mind. This relationship between belief and action in Sikhism is what I’ve been focusing on implementing as an integral part of my worldview.”

However, when people of faith’s personal experiences, worldviews, and dignities are subject to reduction and homogenization, the consequences are alarming. This is evident in the way popular Western culture commonly portrays Islam — not as a faith comprised of unique individuals and diverse communities, but as a monolithic, dangerous ‘ideology.’

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Being the ‘other’

It is clear that religious beliefs are not just individual and personal. They are subject to politicization, which may result in exclusion and even violence.

At a Québec City mosque in February, a white university student massacred six praying Muslims. Atrocities like this shed light on the skepticism people of faith may have surrounding the Canadian narrative of multiculturalism, progressiveness, and tolerance.

The regularity with which the Muslim community is described as separate from a Canadian identity accentuates a pitfall of Canada’s multiculturalism myth.

At a vigil held at the University of Toronto for the Québec City attack, Muslim third-year Afghan Students Society Vice-President Madina Siddiqui vocalized the challenge of her own competing identities. “I grew up with little knowledge of my own culture. And my parents always pushed me to be more Canadian. To learn English. To forget my own culture,” she said.

One way to understand Siddiqui’s experience is to conclude that the visibility of visible minorities of faith — whether at mosques, in the appearance of niqabs or beards, or in foreign names — is not always accepted as ‘Canadian.’

That Muslim Canadians are made to view their faith and their Canadian identity as competing attributes demonstrates how assimilation marginalizes these minority groups.

The Québec attack is part of a broader history of Islamophobia; it is not new on campus, let alone in other spaces in Canada. Siddiqui’s speech cited an event that took place in 2006, when a female Muslim student was assaulted at Hart House. The following day, on International Women’s Day, female Muslim students were egged.

Ten years later, in late 2016, St. Michael’s College student executives were exposed for Islamophobic behaviour via leaked Snapchat videos. Despite how internationally-accepting the University of Toronto appears to be, it is clear that Islamophobia systematically thrives here.

What is more, the response to Islamophobia is not sufficient, as the denunciation of Islamophobia by public officials has been criticized for being superficial.

For example, York University-based spoken word poet Nasim Asgari told CP24 that the presence and speeches of Mayor John Tory and Liberal Member of Parliament Bill Morneau at the Québec City vigil were merely symbolic and hollow.

Asgari argued that politicians are complicit in the lack of police accountability in the deaths of racialized folks in Toronto and contribute to a largely obscured but real structure of Islamophobia by crafting legislation like the Cultural Barbaric Practices Act and Bill C-51 — both of which, it has been argued, target Muslims.

The Toronto police killing of 18-year-old Muslim Sammy Yatim in 2013 serves as a painful reminder that an Islamophobic structure exists in this city. Hence, the veneer of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ at vigils and descriptions of attacks as ‘senseless’ do not mask the underlying structural cause of such violent attacks: the othering of visible faith minorities.

The Toronto police killing of 18-year-old Muslim Sammy Yatim in 2013 serves as a painful reminder that an Islamophobic structure exists in this city.

Belief in the university space

Finding spaces where solidarity between communities develops is wonderful in theory, but carving out spaces of mutual respect and tolerance remains challenging. The reality of existing as an other means looking for safe spaces where your values are not only shared, but considered.

A central challenge for people of faith in Canada is the clash between their deeply rooted beliefs and a secular culture that demands assimilation. In the midst of this tension, people of faith are compelled to learn to mediate between worlds, reshape their identities, and form communities.

The university space may be the first place that many students are challenged to actively practice their beliefs away from their families or communities.

Joining a student association lent Gill a sense of community within Canada. Since Sikhism is often tied geographically to the state of Punjab in India, Gill says it is quite common to see a person of Punjabi culture practicing Sikhism. This sentiment led her to the Sikh Students Association in hopes of meeting people with a similar background.

“Being a part of this faith group has opened me up to a process in which I examine the intertwining of culture and faith specifically in looking at gendered practices in this Punjabi-Sikh community,” Gill says. “That being said, the Sikh Students Association goes out of our way to distinguish between practices of religion and practices of culture as we find it makes the space more inclusive by encouraging people of any race to join.”

She adds that reaching out to her faith community and discussing how fellow second generation immigrants practice their faith has helped her navigate the Western and South Asian binary. “I’ve always needed support in coming to terms with my contemporary Toronto lifestyle while also balancing the way I practice Sikhism so this community that I’ve reached out to has really supported me in that,” Gill says.

These spaces help students of faith feel supported and affirmed and provide them with a venue to have their concerns addressed.

Andraws feels that having a faith group is important to her on both spiritual and social levels: “Being part of a faith group gives me more friends, more support, and more people who have my struggles. In general, it’s just really hard to meet people on campus.”

“[The Egyptian Orthodox Student Group has] a lot of people downtown who help each other and pray for each other,” Andraws says.

University is meant to be a space that encourages students to explore new ideas. For faith perspectives, this can mean an opportunity for philosophical exchange, dialogue, and inquiry.

Alternative worldviews can initially create discomfort, alienation, and fragmentation. Where ideas and beliefs diverge, we can turn to Nussbaum’s ideas about dignity, which remind us that mutual respect and tolerance are possible.

In some cases, the proliferation of new ideas and perspectives can be the very thing that fosters faith.

Gill speaks on how the university environment helped her find faith. “Being in Equity Studies has really developed my self awareness (ideologically) alongside an understanding of how I situate myself in the world socially, economically, geographically,” she says. “I feel like the growth of my character coincided with the growth of my faith because in addition to acknowledging my privilege and positionality, I explored my identity through analyzing my worldview and religious roots.”

However, not all students find the freedom to express their beliefs. It can be hard to find like-minded people, and it can be exhausting to constantly defend one’s own beliefs.

“This may also be due to the fact that I’m a first-generation immigrant,” Andraws says, “But I find that I’m continuously experiencing a culture shock with the things my peers do and say. I also find it difficult to stand up for things I believe in. I find myself being unable to confidently answer questions about my faith. Some people ask questions for really sinister reasons, or to find faults in you as a person, so they can push academic faults on you as well.”

For some, the juxtaposition of faith and an academic university setting makes for opportunities as well as tensions.

“If a prayer time comes about while I’m with friends at [university], I’ll excuse myself from the conversation and pray right there in my seat,” Irfan says. “People respect that I am in prayer and do not talk loudly or play music while I pray, and ask polite questions afterwards,” he explains. “Being a person of faith in a secular university space is a conversation starter.”

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Towards pluralism

Earlier this year, grassroots organization Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East hosted Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan to speak to the University of Toronto community on “Creating Thriving Societies in Troubling Times.”

The phrase “Troubling Times,” as it pertains to religious discrimination, does not refer exclusively to the state of affairs south of the border where President Donald Trump has assumed office. In 2015, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government supported policies that marginalized womens’ choices to wear a niqab and defended the securitization of Syrian refugees as potential terrorist threats.

It has been over 15 years since past American President George Bush declared a ‘War on Terror,’ which has emphasized radical Islamic terrorist groups.

Since then, the West — including Canada — has continually deployed discourse about ‘terrorism’ and ‘jihad’ that inadvertently or explicitly criminalizes Islam.

Ramadan challenges Muslims and non-Muslims alike to reclaim the discourse of jihad in terms of its original meaning: a dual struggle to resist bad and promote good in every dimension. Doing this, Ramadan argues, would help to illuminate the fact that Islam’s values are part of universal values that can help us offer solidarity and humanize one another.

In a deep condemnation of the global rise of nationalism and discourses surrounding ‘my people first,’ Ramadan insists that a pluralistic society with multiple narratives should and can prosper when we fight for each other’s communities.

He calls us all to wage a jihad in struggles like Black Lives Matter, gender equity, and climate justice, because ultimately, they are all rooted in philosophical and faith communities that converge toward a defense of human dignity.

Ramadan’s call for pluralism is, importantly, centred in the recognition that having or practicing faith does not preclude holding other identities. Embracing the plurality of society means embracing the plurality of our own identities.

Hence, to be Muslim does not mean to either not belong in Canada or to practice Islam with a monolithic standard. With nuance and a will to reject popular generalizations, we can better understand ourselves and others and define our own identities.

It is on this land that interconnected relationships and communities form — communities which are not marked by shared values, but by time spent together.

New Solidarities

Fostering mutual respect first means respecting the original faith communities of Canada, as well as the land upon which such respect can develop. Namely, we must defer to Indigenous worldviews.

At this year’s Hart House Hancock Lecture, Anishinaabe artist Susan Blight spoke on “Land and Life in Tkaronto: New Solidarities Toward a Decolonial Future.” Blight, who works to rename roads and landmarks as a means to visibilize the Indigenous history of Toronto, emphasized that Indigenous worldviews are centred around land.

It is on this land that interconnected relationships and communities form — communities which are not marked by shared values, but by time spent together.

In Toronto, cultural diversity and Indigenous resurgence make for a fertile moment in which vibrant relationships are being formed. For example, in 2016, Black Lives Matter and Indigenous communities in Toronto formed conspicuous solidarities against anti-Black police brutality and the Attawapiskat suicide crisis.

It is faith within and between these communities that reminds us that “Black Lives Matter on Indigenous land.”   

Whether in the form of street signs or protests, increased Indigenous visibility compels settler Canadians to acknowledge the worldviews of those who have ancestral connections to the land. These encounters can prove fruitful in the quest to form strong interpersonal relationships and communities.

As Blight urges, such relationships can reaffirm the “Dish with One Spoon” treaty: that we must share, protect, and preserve the land together, peacefully. Given that settler colonialism is a living history that concerns all of us, it must be dismantled by all of us if we are to create a more sustainable, inclusive future.

At the University of Toronto, the Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee has just released its report of 32 recommendations on how the university can respond to the legacies of residential schools and ongoing systemic racism against Indigenous peoples.

President Meric Gertler stated that the university “acknowledges its responsibility in contributing to the plight of Indigenous peoples, and we embrace the opportunity to engage with Indigenous communities and, together, lead the process of reconciliation.” The report advises Gertler to create visible Indigenous spaces on campus, hire more Indigenous faculty and staff members, and integrate Indigenous curricula into university education.

Moving past stereotypes, misconceptions, and isolation, it is important to recognize that the Indigenous population of Canada is comprised of plural communities, whose worldviews about interconnectedness and land protection can inform a more harmonious future for the University of Toronto and Canada more broadly. It is not Indigenous beliefs that require scrutiny and dismissal, but rather our disbelief in them.

One can consider the case of Professor Brenda Wastasecoot, a member of the York Factory Cree Nation. In teaching the course “Indigenous Worldviews, Spiritual and Healing Traditions,” she implements Indigenous pedagogy in the most uplifting forms.

Wastasecoot uses circle teaching by which method all students are given a chance to speak. She emphasizes that everyone’s voice, presence, and story must be valued. She is also very candid about her own personal experiences with trauma and abuse and their connections to settler colonialism. Her openness is a radical call to believe in the lived experiences, worldviews, and right to human dignity of marginalized communities of faith.

Wastasecoot also compares the Western mental health system, which bases itself on individual treatment and pharmaceutical drugs, to the Indigenous sweat lodge, which focuses on natural medicine and community healing. Last year, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto opened a sweat lodge — the first of its kind in Ontario.

At the university and in Toronto generally, reclamation of Indigenous spaces and traditions is important for decolonization and how we conceive Indigeneity. When othered people of faith build solidarities with one another under an Indigenous framework of interconnectedness, community, and respect for the land, we can begin constructing a more inclusive future for all.

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Learning to listen

People of faith do not exist in a bubble. They learn quickly that disagreeing with a point of view does not disqualify them from creating communities of respect. Not only do students of faith learn from others, but others can learn from them.

“I think I’ve become more open,” Andraws says in reference to her faith practice. “I have a lot of friends that have converted, and I think understanding all faiths is incredibly important. Not only to ‘defend’ your own, but to [understand] what is out there. It makes you appreciate other people, and it gives you an opportunity to solidify your own beliefs.”

So, perhaps there is hope for Ramadan’s call for an intersectional jihad. At the National Day of Action against Islamophobia and White Supremacy in downtown Toronto for example, the Sikh community demonstrated solidarity by serving samosas, tea, and hot chocolate to protesters in cold February weather. The Sikh community is frequently confused for and attacked as Muslims, and it remains a leading ally in the anti-Islamophobia struggle.

By understanding the plural communities of faith and their politicization, we can better understand the unique experiences of those we come across.

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter Toronto led the rally itself, given the existence of Black Muslims and more importantly, their commitment to anti-racism in general. University of Toronto student groups led several contingents to the rally, including the ASSU and PoC@Trin. Hope is highest where solidarity between othered communities flourishes, in defense of the right to faith, self-determination, and dignity.   

By understanding the plural communities of faith and their politicization, we can better understand the unique experiences of those we come across.

At university and in Canada, making sustainable learning spaces does not mean that we only believe in the validity of our own communities, but that if we believe that we are valid, others can be as well. Only then, perhaps, can ‘they’ become ‘us.’

Up in the air.

Amy Hosotsuji might be the paragon of millennial cosmopolitanism in Toronto. I met the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) master’s student at the new Jimmy’s coffee shop on McCaul Street, where individual-sized tables line a long bench to form single-person stations. The setup parallels the social paradigm of the coffee shop goers themselves: adamant individualism is the common thread that unites them with their fellows.

When she walks into the shop to meet me, Hosotsuji is lugging a large plastic bag full of bedsheets. This meeting is transitory for her; she is coming from class at OCAD U and on her way to her Airbnb listing nearby, before heading home.

Despite what some might perceive as a hectic schedule, Hosotsuji is completely at ease ­— one might even say in her element. She exudes warmth and energy and seems genuinely engaged at the prospect of our discussion. I take this to mean that she is accustomed to a lack of routine. Like many others in her generation, she is far from tethered to the nine-to-five slog and this seems to suit her just fine.

I reached out to her through my own Airbnb profile, as part of a search for other students who were tapped into this ill-defined but expanding trend known as ‘home sharing.’ Sunny as the term sounds, it is currently the subject of debate in cities like Toronto, where the rise of platforms such as Airbnb has precipitated debates about residential zoning and the appropriateness of homeowners profiting off short-term rentals. This is due to the scarcity and high cost of rental apartments.

Airbnb works by connecting people with extra space in their homes, or ‘hosts,’  with travellers looking for short-term accommodation. Some decry that the availability of this short-term rental option for prospective hosts may sap the supply of long-term rentals in cities where Airbnb is very popular, which would drive the cost of housing up.

Concerns about the cost of housing are not new, especially to students in Toronto who face some of the highest rental rates in the country.

To some students, home sharing acts more as a solution to rental rates rather than an exacerbating factor. I would place myself among that camp. Faced with a seemingly impossible search for a room in September of 2015 — my 25 pound furry cat hardly made me an enviable roommate — I signed a lease for a small one-bedroom apartment above a shop. Renting out the daybed in my den through Airbnb part-time helps offset the cost of living on my own. It’s the most cost-effective living arrangement I’ve had in the four years I’ve lived in the city.

Satisfied as I may be with my own home sharing experience, the growing trend warrants careful attention. Airbnb listings and hosts vary tremendously, from students offering glorified air mattresses to casual business owners operating multiple listings at once, the so-called ‘professional hosts.’ In Toronto, Airbnb is not regulated and has received far less attention from regulators than other ‘sharing economy’ giants like Uber, despite the fact that Airbnb itself welcomes the prospect of regulation as it marches steadily into the mainstream.

Regardless of where individuals stand on home sharing, it seems certain that the pressures brought on by Airbnb and similar platforms are symptomatic of a mentality shift about what constitutes a commodity in 2016.

For better or worse, our private lives and our work lives are increasingly blended: a hobby for calligraphy can serve as currency on Benz, a bartering platform, and owning a bicycle can qualify you as courier for a plethora of delivery services like Hurrier, Foodora, and Uber Eats. Airbnb shows that spare space within our homes can also be a commodity. Students who will be entering the workforce in the coming years will undoubtedly find themselves in the midst of this changing ethos.

A portal to the world and a paycheque

After having completed her undergraduate degree in New York City, Hosotsuji worked in the not-for-profit sector for five years before deciding to return to school. She is pursuing a Master of Design degree, with a focus on strategic foresight and innovation.

“I’m really interested in designing for social causes, particularly for social services or like community development,” Hosotsuji explained. Her degree program was founded in 2009, and OCAD U’s website describes it as answering a need for “a new kind of designer: A strategist who sees the world from a human perspective and re-thinks what is possible; An innovator who can imagine, plan and develop a better world.”

Taken simply, Hosotsuji is studying how to prepare and strategize for an unpredictable future — a tall order in this constantly evolving world. Nevertheless, she seems not only to have accepted the old saying ‘change is the only constant’ but also to have embraced it; she has made it her mission to master this reality.

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Hosotsuji’s program of study seems like an appropriate path for a person who is more sure of her leadership abilities than where they will take her.

“I’m particularly interested in being my own boss and starting a company once I graduate. So I’m not exactly sure what yet, but I know that I’m passionate about designing and community service particularly around, how [to] amplify marginalized voices,” she explained.

It seems fitting then, that in order to pay for her education, Hosotsuji is making use of Airbnb, a platform that affords hosts near complete control over the design of their space and how it is offered, while connecting them to guests with various needs from all over the world.

Hosotsuji’s entrance into Airbnb was near serendipitous. Her father had owned a townhouse close to both OCAD U and U of T, which he saw as a potential revenue stream that could go towards Hosotsuji’s higher education.

“It became my dad’s suggestion to basically finance my education, because I said I wanted to go back to school to get my master’s. He was like, ‘Yeah, why don’t you do it, so that you can basically finance your own education by running this Airbnb, and I’ll give you the building.’”

It took the two of them a couple of months to renovate and furnish the place. When they were done, Hosotsuji listed the building’s three bedrooms separately on Airbnb. She received her first booking five minutes later, and it has kept her busy ever since.

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“Just yesterday I had to go in between classes to run, make a bed, check someone in, and then go back to class,” she told me. “So yeah, it’s really crazy sometimes with scheduling.”

She also recently received ‘Super Host’ status on the platform, which means that she receives consistently high ratings from guests, never cancels a booking, and responds to requests within 24 hours on average. “I try to always respond as quickly as possible, even if I get one at midnight and I’m half asleep, I still respond,” she told me.

Throughout the frenzy, Hosotsuji notes a sense of community brought on by the Airbnb network.

“I’m in a global network now where I’m connected; it’s open, it’s a portal to the world. Which was really freaky for a second, but I’ve definitely gotten used to it a bit, just meeting people from all over the world and being like, ‘Okay, this is just the Airbnb network and community.’”

Exposure to perspectives from all over the world is not just a novelty to Hosotsuji. She explained that part of what she has learned in her master’s program is an appreciation for the various ‘truths’ that individuals bring to the table depending on their background and experiences.

“I think that by meeting people from all over the world, being able to be exposed to their truths… this is my… portal to the whole world and being able to understand people from wherever they’re from, whatever life journey they’re from, it certainly helps me better understand things and also just get a bigger lens of the world,” she said.

When I asked her how her listing relates to her program, Hosotsuji said, “I think that directly translates, in terms of hosting and Airbnb, because you’re hosting a physical space now, as well as the ambiance, as well as the environment, right? As well as the conversations with your guests, so I think it directly translated into something that became essentially a profitable form of [strategic design].”

Airbnb also enables Hosotsuji to attend her program full-time. “I think with this particular program there’s no way — they say you cannot do full-time with this program and do full-time work,” she said. Without her listing as a source of income, Hosotsuji would have had to take on her program part-time and look for consulting work on the side

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Instead, she is hosting individuals from around the world and applying lessons from the experience to her studies.

The end of the nine-to-five? 

The origin story of Airbnb is close to a modern legend; it epitomizes the nature of entrepreneurship in the digital age and, particularly, the apparent triumph of hard work and good ideas in the face of growing inequality.

About a decade ago, two roommates in their 20s, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky, were living in the infamously expensive San Francisco on tight budgets. Both designers with a flair for business, they wanted to create something new but held disdain for the seemingly endless cycle of waste that stemmed from developing ‘better’ stuff.

They also wanted to have enough money to pay rent.

So they made use of one of the most valuable commodities available to them: their apartment. The friends rented out three air mattresses on their living room floor when demand for short-term stays were high — during conferences in San Francisco, for instance. True to the ‘bed and breakfast’ meme, they also cooked morning meals for their first guests.

Then, of course, they scaled the idea, bringing in a third partner who was a skilled web developer and making their platform available to connect hosts and guests around the world. As of press time, Airbnb is active in over 34,000 cities, with over two million listings available; the company is worth over $30 billion.

There is no doubt that Gebbia and Chesky have enjoyed enormous success for their invention, but the circumstances which

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precipitated their idea weren’t exactly hopeful. Innovation in the San Francisco Bay Area has brought tremendous wealth to the region, which has pushed the cost of living up. This has posed a major problem because, though there is ample wealth in the city, it is far from evenly distributed. Individuals who have not shared in the most profitable aspects of the Bay Area find themselves relegated to the margins. Presumably, this is how educated people like Gebbia and Chesky found themselves in a bind to make rent.

The San Francisco-based news source SFGate reported in 2014 that the city’s Gini coefficient —  a number between zero and one that measures wealth distribution, with zero being completely even distribution and one indicating all wealth vested in one person — was very high at 0.523. This figure, which at the time was roughly equivalent to that of Rwanda, is just one piece of evidence out of many that indicate the spoils of wealth are not enjoyed evenly.

For all the success it has brought its founders, it is important to recognize that Airbnb was born out of a prohibitive cost of living in a city where wealth is highly concentrated. Gebbia and Chesky popularized the idea that a solution to this problem may be to commodify space that was previously thought to be private. Opinions undoubtedly differ as to whether this approach to our homes is a gain, a loss, or neither.

In Toronto, income inequality is not as high as it is in San Francisco, but it is still greater than the national average; Toronto’s Gini coefficient is around 0.4, according to Toronto Vital Signs’ 2016 report. Canada’s Gini coefficient is around 0.34, according to statistics from the World Bank. The Conference Board of Canada, a think tank, indicates that the Gini coefficient has been rising in Canada since the early 1990s, while the Fraser Institute, another think tank, published a report by U of T student Matthew Lau that says income inequality has been steady in Canada since the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, the price of housing is soaring in Toronto. On average, a one-bedroom apartment in the city costs $1,100 per month, while the average cost to purchase a home is $641,617.

It’s not stretch to suggest that the conditions in Toronto mimic those that gave rise to Airbnb in the first place: housing costs are high, as are rates of income inequality. Another factor at play may be the rate of unemployment among youth, which was recently reported to be over 20 per cent in early 2016.

In a setting where young people consistently find themselves without jobs in an expensive city, it would be unsurprising for them to turn to alternative revenue sources found in the sharing economy.

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Hosotsuji, however, thinks that there are other reasons that may compel young people to use Airbnb.

“This whole conversation around there’s no jobs, I don’t actually know if that’s true,” she says. “It could be that there’s a lesser amount of jobs available, so we’re resorting to these sorts of things like Uber and Airbnb, but I certainly think that the mentality is a big thing of why we resort to or why we choose these types of jobs.”

For Hosotsuji, the rise of Airbnb in cities like Toronto is not necessarily the result of a shortage of jobs; in her view, young people choose to work for themselves through platforms like Airbnb because they have a greater standard for job satisfaction than previous generations have had, and they seek to break away from the monotony of nine-to-five labour.

“So I think 10 or 15 years ago, people would just take the random jobs that they really [didn’t] like but they would deal with it; they would live with that job and they would go in day in and day out still hating their job, but that was just what the world was and people accepted that,” Hosotsuji posits.

She continues, “I think our generation is learning [that] we don’t want to repeat those mistakes, so then, we’re finding as a generation these new opportunities for us to be able to pay the bills and have a healthy lifestyle and make money but in a healthy way, in a fun way, which I think is kind of the emergence of Airbnb.”

A disruption in the housing sector

Not everyone is as optimistic about Airbnb and its opportunities as Hosotsuji. Most of the opposition to Airbnb in the city has come from those who see it as a threat to the fragile state of affordable housing and long-term rental availability in the city.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released a report in September 2016 called Nobody’s Business: Airbnb in Toronto, which shows that rental vacancy rates are low in the areas of the city where Airbnb listings are the most common. “The increased usage of unregulated, short-term rentals could very well impact the supply of long-term rentals and increase the cost of the rest of the housing stock that is available,” a portion of the report reads.

The authors of the CCPA report caution that the term home sharing may not accurately describe some of the economic activity that takes place on the platform. According to the report, “13 per cent of listings are posted by a host who is listing more than one unit for rent, and those hosts who offer multiple listings account for 46 per cent of all revenue — making them more akin to commercial hosts rather than ‘home sharing’ hosts.”

The report also echoes statistics from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association, saying that 82,414 households were on the waitlist for affordable housing in the city of Toronto — a harrowing figure by any standard.

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One of the people to speak most publicly about the need to reign in the platform has been Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who serves Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale. She has called for regulation of the platform.

“It can literally destabilize an entire housing sector,” she claimed of the volume of Airbnb listings in Toronto, “and in the City of Toronto where people are already struggling with the rising cost of housing and accommodation, it could marginalize vulnerable people and often times this includes students who are tied to fixed incomes or they’re working precarious jobs to make ends meet.”

As councillor for the ward that includes Ryerson and part of U of T, Wong-Tam said that she regularly hears concerns from students about housing costs. In her view, housing and transit are the two primary municipal issues facing students today.

“Now I’m hearing that some of them are being asked to leave and they suspect that their landlord is not taking the unit back for their own personal use but rather, they suspect that they’re converting them to Airbnb,” Wong-Tam said. “There’s no document to prove [this], but I can tell you that it’s creating a lot of anxiety and fear amongst the students.”

The Residential Tenancies Act in Ontario affords landlords the right not to renew leases if they wish to retain their property for personal use. Converting a unit to a short-term rental would likely not constitute personal use and therefore, already be considered illegal. However, there is little clarity on this issue, since the provincial legislation does not refer directly to home sharing.

Hosotsuji agrees that the scarcity of rental apartments in Toronto is concerning. “We made the decision to go to Airbnb because we would make more money doing it,” she said. “Hearing that it’s actually become so explosive, that long-term rentals are going up, that does concern me, it does.”

She hopes that the city will be able to have dialogue that will help negotiate the valid concerns of short-term hosts, property owners, and long-term renters in the city. “It’s not about my problem versus your problem. It is a city problem, they’re all of our problems.”

As far as Wong-Tam sees it, casual hosts who are renting out spare rooms are not the cause of what she sees as a disruption in the stock of rental housing available. “So for the property owner that is simply renting out their rooms to supplement their incomes, whether it’s a student or a retiree, they’re usually not the ones that we have a problem with. Where I think we do run into a challenge is entire apartments, and I think it’s important to say that it’s entire apartments that seem to be the predominant choice out there,” she explained.

For these types of units, there needs to be “a set of rules and a set of operating conditions that are clear and transparent and that are fair,” she said. “I think we’re hearing loud and clearly from residents, as well as tenants who have lost their homes, as well as the hotel sector that they want clarity.”

Alex Dagg, Public Policy Manager for Airbnb Canada, has spoken to the topic of regulating the platform a number of times, saying that the company is open to discussions with cities. In her view, the core of the Airbnb community in Toronto is comprised of people who share their own homes fewer than 90 days each year.

“I’m in a global network now where I’m connected; it’s open, it’s a portal to the world. Which was really freaky for a second, but I’ve definitely gotten used to it a bit, just meeting people from all over the world and being like, ‘Okay, this is just the Airbnb network and community.’”

Dagg told Metro News, “That’s really an affordable housing strategy for the families that are using this platform,” pointing out that the typical host makes about $4,000 each year off of their listing.

It may be the case that some families are more easily able to afford their homes because of supplementary income through Airbnb, but I doubt that those advocating for affordable housing in Toronto will be touting home sharing as a broad solution to soaring home prices any time soon.

airbnb-blurbs-06

Another reason Airbnb may welcome regulation of their platform is to glean clarity about which entity is responsible for the safety concerns of guests and hosts.

Hosotsuji has borne the brunt of tense encounters between guests. She told me about a time when she had a particularly rowdy male guest staying next to a young woman who was travelling to Toronto for a meditation retreat. The latter was deeply uncomfortable with the former’s behaviour and even came close to calling the police. To say that their personalities did not mix would be an understatement — both guests ended up leaving their stay early.

In Hosotsuji’s view, issues of trust are not uncommon on platforms like Airbnb. “I think sometimes I get challenged with trust, and I think they do too as guests… I might get a weird vibe on the first impression and then I realize, ‘Oh they’re cool, I can totally trust them,’ but there are sometimes… especially… as a woman host, sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I, as a host, feel safe with this guest.’”

In our discussion about regulation, Wong-Tam touched on a point about the standard to which hotels are held. “Hotels are largely regulated and they’re regulated because you have to keep people safe, so any client walking into a hotel is guaranteed a certain level of service. They know that the rooms are going to be properly maintained, the health and safety and building inspectors combing through, fire plans that are registered in case there’s an emergency evacuation procedures. All of that happens in a hotel.”

“All of that,” in Hosotsuji’s view, is unnecessary — or at least not as important as other factors when it comes to what motivates guests today. In her view, individuals are drowned in options for customized consumption. Within families, she notes, corporations try to sell every individual a different product, and the notion of sharing is consequently reduced. The nuclear family, she notes, is less prevalent than it once was. People seem to rely less fervently on social networks forged through local communities.

In this setting, Hosotsuji posits, people are starving for authentic connections and are no longer enticed by the offerings of hotels. “Before it was because they wanted a clean sheet every day and they wanted… luxury and now it’s like, ‘I don’t even care about that anymore.’ Our priorities… are changing because we want connection. Connection’s becoming more important than the luxury of towels and bed sheets.”

It is without a doubt that Airbnb has disrupted the long-standing assumption that hotels must dominate the travel industry. Wide use of the platform may also disrupt the housing situation of Torontonians and urban residents worldwide. While cities reckon how to construct a regulatory climate around the platform, Hosotsuji and others like her are using it as a portal to a global community — and to make some cash.

Names to know

Meric Gertler. BRIAN RANKIN/THE VARSITY
Meric Gertler. BRIAN RANKIN/THE VARSITY

Meric Gertler: President

An urban theorist who has conducted authoritative research on cities and urban geography, Gertler is the sixteenth president of the University of Toronto. He is responsible for overseeing the university’s operations. Prior to his appointment in 2013, Gertler served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science.

Cheryl Regehr. DENIS OSIPOV/THE VARSITY
Cheryl Regehr. DENIS OSIPOV/THE VARSITY

Cheryl Regehr: Vice-President and Provost

Regehr oversees the university budget, as well as academic priorities. She previously served as the university’s Vice-Provost, academic and as Dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. Regehr’s extensive professional and academic background is in forensic social work and mental health programs.

Sandy Welsh. MALLIKA MAKKAR/THE VARSITY
Sandy Welsh. MALLIKA MAKKAR/THE VARSITY

Sandy Welsh: Vice-Provost, students

Welsh is responsible for supervising programs, services, and policies relevant to students and student groups. This includes enrolment, financial aid, international student services, and programs and services at Student Life. Welsh has previously held numerous administrative roles in the Faculty of Arts & Science and in the Department of Sociology.

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Jasmine Wong Denike: President, UTSU

Denike previously served as vice-president, external of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) for the 2015–2016 year. During the election cycle, Denike pledged to make the union’s operations more accessible to students. The UTSU represents and collects fees from all full-time undergraduate students at UTSG and UTM.

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Nour Alideeb: President, UTMSU

Alideeb was previously the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) vice-president, university affairs. Alideeb ran on a platform that included supporting ethical divestment, creating nap spaces on campus, and combatting tuition and fee increases.

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Jessica Kirk: President, SCSU

Kirk served as vice-president, equity of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) last year after being the only independent candidate to have won in the election. She has prioritized community involvement and engagement for students.

Backpack essentials

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]egardless of your academic year, it can always feel like you are at war with the university during the semester. For first-year students adjusting to new academic and social environments, these challenges can appear even more daunting.

There are a number of tools available to help you weather the challenges: your backpack is one of the most important ones.

Do not make the mistake of overloading your backpack with unnecessary items; this undermines productivity and needlessly increases the weight on your shoulders. Instead, take note of the items you absolutely need to carry to school each day:

1. Reusable water bottle

Benefit: The university does not sell bottled water on campus, so it is more likely that you will buy coffee, juice, carbonated drinks, and energy drinks to quench your thirst. All of these items are high on calorie content while some, such as coffee, are diuretics that dehydrate you.

Tip: Make use of the water fountains around campus and always keep your bottle filled.

2. $40 cash in your wallet

Benefit: You never know when you’ll run into a business that doesn’t accept debit or credit. Keeping cash handy also helps cover emergency transportation or phone calls.

Tip: In the unfortunate event of losing your wallet, the loss of a smaller sum hurts less.

3. Winter accessories

Benefit: Mittens, scarves, earmuffs, and gloves are absolutely essential if you’re attending university anywhere in Canada. Nobody can write exams with frost-bitten fingers.

Tip: Designate a certain part of your backpack for their storage. This helps maintain order and keeps you from losing these items.

4. Fruit/healthy snacks

Benefit: Simultaneously tasty and power-packed, carrying fruit to school will mitigate the temptations of the mighty food trucks along St. George Street. Fruit can be packed into small, leak-proof boxes and you can add a granola bar or two for cunchy snackage.

Tip: Changing the fruit you bring to school is a good way to keep things interesting. Strawberries, kiwis, apples, oranges, mangoes, pineapples, cherries: there is an abundance of mouth-watering options to choose from!

5. Flash drive

Benefit: You can use it to transfer and retain information easily.

Tip: This device is excellent for last-minute printing at the library.

6. Smartphone

Benefit: Your smartphone is capable of handling all your everyday needs. You can check your email, record lectures, and maintain your calendar all in one place. Remember: there is an app for everything! Additionally, there are several phone charging stations on campus, including some in Sid Smith.

Tip: Do not bring your laptop to campus every day. It needlessly increasing the weight on your shoulders. Carry it with you only when you plan to actively use it; for example, when you are writing an essay. If you need to conduct research for an assignment, use on of the many computers available at libraries around campus.

Campus athletic facilities

The University of Toronto has some of the best sports facilities in the country. With Tcard in hand, students have access to the same resources that our national teams used to train athletes for the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games and the Rio 2016 Olympics. The facilities provide opportunities for students to train, compete in intramurals, attend drop-in programs, and watch the Varsity Blues compete against other universities.


UTSG

The downtown Toronto campus is littered with fields, arenas, and high-performance athletic centres. Perhaps the most iconic is Varsity Centre located at Bloor Street West and Devonshire Place. It houses a 5,000 seat stadium and a 400m running track. The varsity football, soccer, lacrosse, and rugby teams all compete here.

At the Hart House Athletic Fitness Centre, you can work out in a building that’s nearly 100 years old. The state-of-the-art equipment is almost anachronistic against the stunning gothic architecture. The building houses a suspended indoor track, an art deco pool, as well as gym and fitness equipment.

The Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport is in its second year and is home to brand new weightlifting facilities. The varsity basketball and volleyball teams play their games here. The building also houses the David L. MacIntosh Sports Medicine Clinic, which offers athletic therapy, message therapy, physiotherapy, and chiropractic treatments.

The Athletic Centre (AC) is the most comprehensive of all the UTSG facilities — though it may be the ugliest. A 200m indoor track, three swimming pools, seven gymnasia, and a strength and conditioning centre are but a few of the features located within its massive, concrete walls. The AC hosts varsity swimming and track and field events.

UTSC

This campus is home to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (TPASC). Built for the games, it offers a strength and conditioning studio, a cardio studio, a 41-foot rock climbing wall, a diving tank, and a hardwood field house. TPASC is one of the most technologically advanced sports facilities at the university: there is a portion of running track equipped with pressure sensors and motion capture technology, and the depth of the pool is adjustable.

UTM

The Recreation, Athletics and Wellness Centre (RAWC) is another multi-purpose sport facility comprised of a 25m pool, three gyms, a sports medicine clinic, and an indoor running track. The centre also has a dance studio and hosts both the national and provincial training centre camps for Olympic weightlifting.

How to survive first-year Life Sciences

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ife Sciences students find themselves battling low course averages and large class sizes in an effort to maintain competitive GPAs for admission into professional and graduate schools. However, U of T also has one of the most diverse programs, led by brilliant and dedicated professors. The price to pay? Our sanity. Fortunately, according to upper year students, anyone can survive their first year with the right mindset, the right friends, and the right dose of caffeine.


NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Ariana Tang, second-year Life Sciences

“Go in with not super high and not super low expectations. Go in knowing it’s going to be hard, but also with the mindset that you’re going to do what it takes to do well. [A] lot of people don’t really do that well in first year because they go in thinking that they’re going to get 50s, that they’re going to fail everything. And then they fail because they don’t expect that they are going to do well.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITy
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITy

Abiramy Jeyagaran, fourth-year Molecular Biology Specialist

“Once you get a good group of friends to study with, it makes it easier. Everyone else is motivating you. You just have to find that group of friends that you can study with, that you feel comfortable with, that you can trust. I found my group with First Year Learning Communities.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Marta Haniszewski, fourth-year Molecular Genetics and Microbiology Specialist

“Don’t go to class if you’re just going to sleep. It’s a waste of your time. Don’t waste your money on textbooks, go to short loan. Just be aware of deadlines and make sure that you’re studying, but don’t beat yourself up because it’s a new experience and you’re going to have hurdles. But that’s okay, that’s part of the learning process.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Jesse Li, fourth-year Neuroscience and Physiology Double Major

“Time management is something you will learn throughout first year. A lot of the profs tell you to read things in advance, but I think that is very, very unpractical and doesn’t really happen. It depends on the style of learning, what works best for you.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Soomin Maeng, third-year Immunology and Physiology Double Major

“Facebook groups were very useful because people post notes and the really good seniors were posting their notes; most of them were really good. That’s something that you can trust.”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY
NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Sean Ihn, third-year Biochemistry Specialist and Neuroscience Major

“If you see people that are better than you [or] see people that have accomplished more than you, of course you’re going to feel a little inferior. It’s natural, but don’t give up because of those people. Instead, be motivated by those people.”

In the scientific 6ix

SickKids Hospital

The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is among the leading paediatric hospitals in the world. With an integrated network of care, research, and education, SickKids receives almost 300,000 visits in their clinics alone each year. It is considered one of the most research-intensive hospitals in Canada.

A cohesive team with diverse skill sets make up the foundation of this teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. Over 800 researchers work together in a spectrum of disciplines, from cell biology to neuroscience. Clinicians and scientists search for innovative solutions and technologies that would provide the best care for children.

SickKids is a global leader in medical research and is recognized internationally for its discoveries. It is also home to many Canadian firsts, including the first successful separation of conjoined twins, first bone marrow transplant program, and first living-donor kidney transplant in the paediatric population.

MaRS

Bringing together an interdisciplinary group of entrepreneurs, researchers, educators, and scientists in a centre of innovation, MaRS is on a mission to transform ideas into a ground-breaking reality.

MaRS provides a platform of commercialization for scientific discoveries: entrepreneurs get access to capital, mentorship, and laboratories to experiment with their designs and inspirations; and corporations are able to invest in talent, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

In partnership with its stakeholders, MaRS has developed several programs to help its clients access the market. Current initiatives include the Advanced Energy Centre, Building Future Leaders, Data Catalyst, MaRS Catalyst Fund, MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, MaRS EXCITE, MaRS Solution Lab, and Studio Y.

MaRS empowers entrepreneurs, which is why the impact of its discoveries resonates beyond its glass walls.

Gairdner Foundation Awards and Talks

The Canada Gairdner Awards, valued at $100,000 each, distinguish seven top scientists for their contributions to medicine, global health, and scientific leadership. As the most esteemed medical award in Canada, they are presented annually in October at a black tie gala hosted by the Royal Ontario Museum.

The Gairdner Foundation hosts National and Student Outreach Programs, where current and past awardees tour the country and speak with the next generation of scientists at over 20 universities. An annual symposium is also held in Toronto to further explore the themes presented in research by current Canada Gairdner Awardees.

University Health Network

Toronto Western Hospital, Toronto General Hospital, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute make up the University Health Network (UHN).

As teaching hospitals affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, the UHN provides education and medical training. It is at the forefront of research and patient care with over 1,000 trainees; it’s known for the mentorship and support system it provides for the next generation of researchers.

There are currently five research centres based in these hospitals that cover the spectrum of translational, clinical, and basic science research. From cardiovascular sciences to population health, the UHN is consistently on the edge of new discoveries. Just this past year, the UHN performed the world’s first triple-organ transplant of the liver, pancreas, and lung in a single operation.

Dalla Lana School of Public Health

The Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH) at U of T is a leader in public health, with world-renowned experts training hundreds of graduate students each year. The field of public health encompasses the prevention of disease and injury through education, policies, and research.

The DLSPH’s HIV Studies Unit has pioneered the social and behavioural approach to HIV research. Its faculty members have worked in overcoming health crises, such as the 2003 SARS outbreak. DLSPH graduates continue to apply their education beyond the school. Alumni have gone on to academia at Harvard University and biosciences with the Canadian Armed Forces.

Commuter survival guide

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]hout out to all the students living in Pickering, Markham, Brampton, Oakville, and beyond. The struggle is real. U of T is a hardcore commuter school, but commuters often feel left out of campus life. Fortunately, these past couple of years travelling on the beloved TTC have taught me a thing or two to share.

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that on Mondays through Saturdays, the TTC trains run from 6:00 am to 1:30 am, and most buses run from 6:00 am to 1:00 am. On Sundays, trains run from 8:00 am to 1:30 am, while buses run 9:00 am to 1:00 am.

Write down these times somewhere — they come in handy when you’re deciding whether to crash at a friend’s place or how much time you need to get downtown early on a Sunday.

In my first year, my student liaison mentioned that you should always have something to do on the subway: sleep, read, or listen to music. Do something, because if you stand — or sit when you’re lucky — in that crowded, rickety subway with nothing to do, you will quickly lose your patience. If you have some leeway with time, stick around campus to beat rush hour and leave for home after the worst of the crowds are gone.

Of course, the commute itself is not the only problem — so are the 8:00 am classes. Often, there is no time for a healthy breakfast and trudging a huge bag around campus all day sucks. So does not getting to attend late-night events and having on-residence friends who rarely understand the trials. However, none of this means we cannot enjoy life at U of T.

Be sure to check out places commuters and on-res students alike can hang out, such as the commuter lounges. Most colleges have lounges with couches, a TV, or a foosball table. My favourites are the Innis, New College, and University College lounges. Innis even has plastic cutlery for when you urgently need some.

It is also important to make friends with students living on residence. They can let you crash for the night if their residence allows it, and they can get you access to exclusive perks. For example, my commuter friends and I play pool in the Innis residence because our friend lets us in.

Most importantly, keep an eye out for free food events. Both UTSG and UTSC have active Facebook groups dedicated to free food events. There are also fun events organized by college student associations, sometimes specifically for commuters. Innis had a free TTC Metropass draw every month, so watch out for similar contests.

Finally, have a great time, meet new people, and enjoy U of T as much as you can.

Does U of T live up to its reputation?

[dropcap]U[/dropcap] of T’s notoriety follows it around like an intoxicating perfume — or a noxious cloud of smoke. Undoubtedly, many students sought out this university for its reputation of academic excellence. After all, we have some of the most prestigious research facilities in North America, and we consistently make top spots in university rankings. Yet, U of T’s prestige also comes with a price: rumours of uncompromising academic rigour, evil TAs, and the infamous ‘bell curve’ only aggravate its reputation.

Here, three students discuss their personal experiences in the hopes of debunking some of the ominous myths that surround this institution. Regardless of what you hear from anyone though, ensure that whatever path you choose to pursue is entirely your own.

Boundless opportunity — for those who take it

Stretching across three large campuses, with enormous classes and a reputation for remarkably low grades, U of T definitely does not come across as a friendly place.

The beginning of my time at U of T encompassed all those things: a seat in Con Hall, a sea of unsmiling faces around me, and a C+ on my first paper. Despite a stellar high school record, U of T felt impossible to crack. I had no idea how others around me were scoring As and participating in coveted research positions with professors and extracurriculars. For days after my first C+, my dream of law school felt more distant than ever.

After that dreadful first semester, I gritted my teeth. I took the paper to my professor and waited in a lengthy office hour line to get feedback. I visited my college’s writing centre, and made weekly appointments with my Trinity One professor. I made an effort to fit debate meetings and G20 research into my seemingly packed schedule, and I found the skills I was developing improved my academic performance. It felt difficult to admit that I needed help, but when I did reach out, help was most definitely there.

By my second year, I was balancing a full-time schedule with several extracurricular activities and starting my own campus club. I realized that, when I was willing to give U of T a chance instead of shrugging off my failures as an inevitable reality, opportunities truly were boundless. Furthermore, I realized that U of T’s support network went beyond academia. I was able to get my resume reviewed at the career centre, glean valuable career advice from faculty networking dinners, and meet some of my best friends in classes and clubs.

U of T has been both a draconian institution that threatened my career ambitions and a home. I truly believe that it can be the latter for anyone who gives it a fair chance.

-Daryna Kutsyna, fourth-year International Relations and History

A place where voices echo

There can be a lot of silence at U of T. I do not say this simply because I spend a lot of time in and around our many libraries; it is something I notice in other moments. Groups of students gather outside class or prepare to jaywalk across Queen’s Park, but everyone seems to be staring either straight ahead or down at their phones. We are all here, but it is so quiet.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The #uoftears reputation functions as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are warned about how unfriendly people are, and as a result, we are unfriendly in return. It’s ironic how newfound independence can come with so much anxiety about making friends.

Defying this reputation is mostly a matter of stepping outside your comfort zone, as cliché as that may sound. One of the best things about university, especially one as large as U of T, is the potential to be constantly surprised by the people you encounter and the experiences you gain. Any decision, from choosing a seat in a lecture hall to sneaking into an event for the free food, has the potential to introduce you to unexpected opportunities.

If you are the kind of person whose default conversational topic is the weather, you might be worried about chatting with fellow students who are still, for all intents and purposes, strangers. Fear not: bonding with peers at U of T is relatively simple. Look for something to complain about, and you will never run out of things to say — welcome to adulthood.

It is your first year and you can cry if you want to, but there is really no need for tears. It gets cold enough here in the True North without artificial distances, so we should work on warming up to each other. As a wise woman once said, “life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.”

-Reut Cohen, second-year International Relations

Not fact, but fiction

The popular depiction of the University of Toronto rests solidly on the foundation that this institution is colder, harder, and therefore worthier than its contemporaries.

[pullquote-features]There is no one way to attend U of T — there is no ‘right’ way.[/pullquote-features]

Apprehension and anticipation saturate the mind of any U of T applicant who spent years romanticizing the way this institution ought to be. The school itself, however, is often misrepresented. Although these grand flourishes and firm proprieties exist and permeate every aspect of academia at the institution, U of T is much more than this small facet of the experience.

Students may very well claim harsher conditions, a surplus of anxiety, and low GPAs. But they can also speak of outstanding extracurricular programs, impeccable recommendations, and high-grade equipment. There is no one way to attend U of T — there is no ‘right’ way. Every student at this school is composed of their own personal skills, goals, and expectations. When these three components meet on some equal ground, the student experience becomes fulfilling. When these components do not meet on equal ground, one might misunderstand the university as a cold and austere place.

When I first came to U of T, I enrolled in a program that did not fit my skills, my goals, or my expectations. Over the years, I came to find a better place for myself at U of T, where I was able to utilize my abilities to achieve my objectives.

Any university can seem cold and hollow and hopeless — but only if you let it.

-Jenisse Minott, second-year CCIT

Everything is art

Who decides what constitutes art? This is a question humans have grappled with for centuries.

Everything can be considered art; each paper you write and poutine you consume. Every night spent working on your assignments, slowly but surely, you are honing your craft.

It is unfair to differentiate between biology and English, or math and theatre when it comes to artistic value. They all require passion, conceptualization, and dedication. Art is simply the mastering of a craft to the extent of inspiration.

Art is also found in snapshots of life. The art of the successful all-nighter. The art of the 90 per cent test score. The art of the school/social-life balance. It’s more than a picture on a page; it is a way of being.

Strive to understand art and its prismatic, multifaceted nature. You practice art in everything you do, so take pride in that. Don’t hold yourself back by comparing your art to others, and you will succeed.