Alternative Orientation Reviews
For first years, frosh week is one of the easiest and quickest ways to familiarize oneself with the campus and meet a lot of new people. The first week of September for them becomes a
free-for-all of new experiences, new memories and new faces.
But frosh week isn’t the only orientation U of T has to offer.
Disorientation Week is an alternative to frosh week for many students in which discussion panels and events are organized focusing on social justice, community involvement and environmental justice.
Running from September 21 to 25, Disorientation is the first of many different U of T Orientations that a student can enjoy on St. George campus.
Rethinking HIV Risk, Monday Sept. 21
HIV/AIDS poses many risks to individuals, but its impacts have been misinterpreted throughout history due to racism, sexism, homophobia and other social problems. This discussion panel was facilitated by Shriya Hari, the Community Development and Volunteer Coordinator at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASSAP).
Sexual health was highlighted as an important part of any person’s life; it is important in forming relationships, positive energy and maintaining longevity. However, the stigma and fear of HIV/ AIDS can bar people from fully participating in sexual encounters with others. This event revealed that South Asians are especially prone to fear of HIV/AIDS due to cultural standards of abstaining from sex until marriage and arranged marriage practices. Additionally, HIV/AIDS is particularly troublesome to South Asians because the virus is more widespread on that subcontinent than it is the West.
For a long time in many countries, HIV/AIDS was thought of as the ‘gay virus.’ Gay men were labelled by society as the primary carriers of the virus. In reality, the virus developed in Africa and is predominant amongst heterosexual men and women.
Toronto has events and sites that commemorate the struggle against HIV/AIDS in the
LGBTQ+ community as well as others. The most prominent event is World AIDS Day and the most prominent site is the Toronto AIDS Memorial located in Barbara Hall Park, within walking distance of the St. George campus.
Surviving the Colonized Classroom, Sept. 23
Facilitated by Victoria Herrera and Lisa Boivin, “Surviving the Colonized Classroom” opened my eyes to the repercussions of colonialism and imperialism that are present in the Canadian school system today. Boivin, herself a member of the Dininu K’ue First Nations of the Northwest Territories, spearheaded the discussion by stressing that the modern Canadian school curriculum has ‘dehumanized’ many First Nations and other minority children by focusing on the ‘colonial’ perspective of the story of Canada.
Despite the fact I was taught about residential schools and given some Aboriginal perspectives on Canadian history growing up in Alberta, Boivin pointed out that there is a reason why there are so few First Nations children in public schools: partly that the curriculum is in English and partly that it teaches that European explorers and officials ‘discovered’ and ‘civilized’ Canada. First Nations and their histories on this land are totally ignored.
The discussion made its way to the main theme of the talk: the Sixties Scoop. This was
something I and many others in the room had never heard about. In essence, the Sixties Scoop was the Canadian government’s practice of ‘scooping’ up First Nations children from their families—taking them away forever from their roots—and giving them to European-Canadian families for adoption in order to ‘civilize’ the children.
Boivin admitted to herself being a victim of the Sixties Scoop. She stated that the moment that she was born, her mother was not allowed to hold her: it was only decades later when she finally met her biological mother. Reconnecting with her biological mother and father allowed Boivin to learn about the first-hand experiences of her parents in residential schools. “The first thing they did was they cut your hair,” Boivin said. “Then they burned your clothes, gave you a uniform, changed your name and gave you a number.”
At this moment I realized how uninformed I was about the residential school system: in class, I’d read about this in the textbooks, we’d have a test on the key terms and events and then we’d move on to the next topic. It would be more truthful to have speakers like Boivin in Canadian schools to personalize the residential school experience for students.
The discussion’s main conclusion was that First Nations—particularly First Nations women—are dehumanized in the classroom and in Canadian society. First Nations customs are not taken into consideration when forming the curriculum. In Canadian society, First Nations are largely treated as second-class citizens. The Cindy Gladue case, in which a First Nations woman was raped and the Crown allowed the body to be ‘cut into pieces’ for evidence with no guilty verdict ultimately given yet to date, serves as an example of this dehumanization.
Boivin has advice for anyone who feels that they are dehumanized: “Draw something that’s you! Pick a symbol!” Boivin has coped with her experiences by drawing symbols to represent her family, her birth, her friends and her culture. Samples of her art can be found here: https://indigenousbioethicist.wordpress.com.
PANEL: Toronto, Baltimore and Beyond: Confronting Police Violence in Communities, Wednesday, Sept. 23
This was a very popular event. There was a full crowd in the Koffler House auditorium and it was being filmed by media outlets, too. The panel involved Alicia Garza, the co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, Yusra Ali, the leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in Toronto and Kimalee Phillip, a member of the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence.
The aim of the panel was to voice opinions about police violence against black communities and to highlight the movement and its aspirations. The first theme was to highlight black activism in Canada versus the activism present in the United States. It was stressed that ‘anti-blackness’ was a global phenomenon and that the ‘myth’ of Canada being a ‘safe haven’ for black people was a lie. It was stated that racism exists in Canada because of the global societal construction of ‘white supremacy.’ There were loud cheers for this argument.
In Toronto, it was pointed out that black people have a problem with defining what ‘blackness’ is. The example of student clubs at the University of Toronto was brought up. There is a club for black students, but in that club, Caribbean voices are not represented and only Eastern African blacks are represented. In essence, there exists a “homogenization of blacks.”
Yusra Ali took the spotlight and stated that black people face a lot of mental illnesses because of white supremacy.
It was suggested that the best strategy for activism in the Black Lives Matter movement was to organize, “challenge the capitalist system because it kills relationships” and include everyone in the movement, black elders in particular. It was argued that there are links between “heterosexism, patriarchy and women’s rights,” and all of those elements need to be challenged. A speaker added, “The structure of society is wrong—it is very white. The education in high schools is very Euro-centric, very white. We need to affirm blackness in the curriculum.”
But if Disorientation is a little heavy, go for a run down to UC to visit the Sexual and Gender Diversities Office—the headquarters for Queer Orientation, an orientation purely for LGBTQ+ people and allies regardless of age, which runs during the third week of September starting from September 19 to September 25.
U of T’s Queer Orientation is a week-long orientation available for all students, especially LGBTQ+ people and allies, to network and meet other people on campus through a series of activities.
Events are vast and diverse, each drawing in a different crowd full of excitable first-years exclaiming, “This is the first gay event that I’ve ever been to!” to the older students, whose eyes may shine slightly less at the familiar prospect of Queer Orientation, but are certainly still eager to attend.
Queer Orientation on the St. George campus begins with a Cupcake Mixer, a small social to get to know the campus Sexual Education Centre (SEC) and address any needs one may have concerning the campus’s queer accessibility—a fantastic way to start off the week by first making sure how to best accommodate their students’ needs. The cupcakes are free and DIY, allowing you to exercise your creativity over your confectionary design as well as meeting people you may never see again.
There are several different aspects of Queer Orientation for queer people and allies who are looking for all sorts of activities, which is the most charming point of U of T’s Queer Orientation.
If you were looking to get involved in the U of T’s queer community, Queer Orientation had just the events for you, with several more events and socials. On Sunday, you could attend the Board Game Cafe—since there is no better way to get to know someone than over coffee and a game of Monopoly or Uno. Or, if you’re more of a party person, there is also an event for you on Thursday: Homohop, a 45-year-old annual event featuring hip hop beats, where you can meet all sorts of people and watch drag performances as well.
Even more specific events were available to seek people you can identify with within the LGBTQ+ community, including POC, queer or trans parents, international student lunches, several events for women and trans people and some events for asexual people and allies as well.
Not only is Queer Orientation a great way to meet other queer people, it’s also a great event to facilitate discussion, groups, and discourse about LGBTQ+ issues. In events like Decolonizing Queerness, storytelling and performances are used to explore intersectionality within POC and Aboriginal people. In events like Queer and Trans Students of Colour, students sit around in a circle to discuss their experiences as people of colour, venting about the microaggressions they experience and acting as support for one another.
Sometimes events can be self-reflective as well. In Mapping Wellness, people are asked to look at their past experiences in their lives and to pinpoint challenges and wellness periods.
A History Lesson
A large part of the LGBTQ+ community is the people from the past who paved the way to make an event like this possible. No Queer Orientation would be complete without a commemoration of their past hardships and a little history lesson about Toronto’s rich LGBTQ+ community.
On Saturday, you could attend the Campus to Village tour in order to familiarize yourself with the hub of the Torontonian LGBTQ+ community just east of U of T at Wellesley and Church—a good place to keep in mind for the weekend. Or, on Wednesday, you could learn about the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, a museum-archive for LGBTQ+ files and artifacts with a focus on Canadian items.
Some Time Off
As per all orientation weeks, Queer Orientation also has its relaxing activities to keep your mind off of the end-of-September school crunch—fun events you can take time off from your busy schedule for, and what better fun is it than to do so in a safe space and environment?
If you want time off to relax or to stimulate your body, Queer Orientation had a vast selection of events to choose from. On Monday, you could take salsa and hip hop classes at Dance with Pride. On Tuesday, there is a biking event for queer women and trans people. On Friday, you could choose to start the day off with some relaxing yoga in the Quad—and finish it off that night with Strength Basics, where you could learn the correct way to lift weights.
For the more arts-oriented people, there is also Get Crafty with Hart House on Friday, an arts and crafts event to bedazzle your items for the new school year. Inspired by ’80s glam metal stars and rock gods, Get Crafty asks you to find your inner rockstar and channel that through studding and DIY dogtagging. Earlier in the week on Thursday, you could catch LGBT Film Night with a movie called Appropriate Behaviour, a comedy about a bisexual Persian-American woman in Manhattan; these film nights are a monthly feature at U of T throughout the school year.
No matter who you are or how you identify or what you like to do, don’t worry. There’s always going to be an Orientation for you, and honestly—it’ll be a lot more fun than Frosh.
To learn more about the CLGA, read online here.