Psychology independent study class welcomes students to day camp at Sidney Smith
Photo Credit/Zach Morgenstern
This December, How Does UofT Make You Feel, a campaign that has encouraged students to express their feelings on a construction-paper display board at Sidney Smith, released a call on its Facebook page for students to apply to an independent study course based on the project. I was lucky enough to be accepted, and soon found myself in a small group of students who I may not know much about yet, but whom I do share a commitment to a brand of activism that is both brutally honest in its critiques of UofT, and brutally friendly in its community engagement.
Our group is broadly referred to as the Campaign for Community. The members of the group are working on a number of projects, tackling topics ranging from mental health services, to courses (in all fairness: my area of focus), to access to space at UofT. This Friday, the community-building wing of the campaign became its first visible element, as the St. George-facing study room on the Sidney Smith ground floor was converted into a student play space. I arrived at the event, in some ways as a promoter, but largely (since it was not my personal project) as a guest.
Prior to Friday, I hadn’t really tried imagining what the event would look like. Though it was, of course, modest, and forced to co-exist with the surrounding monotonous UofT architecture, I was impressed with how much color the decorators had brought to the space. The door to the study room was decorated with streamers and instructions telling students to stop worrying about their GPA and enjoy themselves when they came in.
The event was described by co-organizer David Fishbayn as “camp”, and the activities which included a guitar station, a card table, a drawing table and a playdough table, fit that bill. The event did not lose sight of the Campaign for Community's political qualities, as students were encouraged to draw pictures explaining how UofT made them feel. Even this activity was not without whimsicality, however, as students were given the chance to incorporate popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes in their pieces.
Perhaps this space is not every UofT student’s sense of fun; though I certainly enjoyed letting go and making playdough sculptures for the first time in years. I would argue, however, that in addition to entertainment value this event had political value. While university is inevitably a different, more challenging experience than high school, the chasm between the good elements of high school and UofT is particularly bleak. Our school has huge, weed-out classes and strikes many students, myself included, as non-conducive to community building. While UofT can’t be blamed for all of its shortcomings, given the lack of government funding post-secondary institutions receive, it should be held accountable for the fact that rather than being apologetic about its flaws and trying to find ways to make student experiences more bearable, UofT hides behind its label as the supposed best university in Canada.
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A school as big and influential as UofT cannot hide forever. When I applied to this independent study project, I was asked how I envisioned it making a difference. My reply was simply that UofT never gets held accountable for its very obvious problems, so therefore, even if one child proclaims that the St. George Emperor is naked, there will be infinitely more pressure on the school to address student unhappiness than there was before. Colorful, caring events like the Sidney Smith play space serve this purpose, as they illustrate what our corporatized, impersonal, campus lacks. We may have just spent a few hours at arts and crafts tables, but what we did was an absurdist, and inspired act of protest.