Teaching at the University of Toronto offers the experience of meeting and working with one of the most diverse groups of students in the country. As the most multicultural city in North America (more than half the population was born outside of Canada), Toronto is culturally and linguistically diverse, but as we know from surveys such as the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE), there are many more factors that influence our students backgrounds. How does this diversity affect their experiences here as students? CTSI interviewed a group of undergraduate students to learn more about their orientations to campus life.
1. Commuting affects us all
UofT students are very likely to have long commutes to campus, with 1 in 4 taking 1 hour or more to travel to campus. Senka Zahirovic, a 5th year student in Criminology and Psychology, when she had the option to study at either St. George or UTM campus, chose UTM because it meant an easier commute of one bus trip instead of a transfer to the crowded subway. Even when the commute is only 15 minutes long, as for Ayyaz Aamer, a 4th year student Majoring in Equity Studies and English, it still means thinking about “all the things commuters have to do to plan the day.”
2. It’s important to be close to home
We also know that the majority of UofT students life off-campus with family while completing their degree. This can be both challenging and rewarding for many students. Julia Toadere, a 3rd-year student in Commerce and Management and a Toronto native, chose UofT because of the quick commute, and learned as much as she could about campus by making visits the summer before her first year. For many students it can mean the pressure of added family responsibilities outside of class as well. When Ivan Solano, a PhD candidate in the Department of Rehabilitation Science, first moved to Toronto to begin his graduate work, one of his first priorities was to find care and schooling for his 4-year-old son.
3. Getting involved makes a difference.
It’s normal for students to spend several hours per week on work or volunteer activities outside of class. Spending these hours on campus helps students feel a sense of community. For Kimberley Elias, a Master’s student at OISE, living 20 minutes away from campus seemed close at first, but she soon learned the distance kept her from connecting to campus life. She found support available at Victoria College from Orientation week onward, and staying involved in extra-curriculars gave her a confidence she didn’t find in academics, despite achieving well. Likewise, when Aamer began working with student groups such as LGBTOUT, which offers a drop-in centre for the UofT LGBT community, he became part of the support system for students going through a difficult period.
4. It helps when professors can relate.
When professors relate to students’ experiences, or when they relate their own experience to the course material, it makes the course more positive. As Zahirovic says, “Students find it interesting when their courses relate back to their lives. I remember a course where my professor shared personal experiences with the subject and it showed me, ‘he’s not just an academic, he’s actually lived the experience.’” Toadere thinks about it in terms of common experiences: “I think it doesn’t take much because they were students once too. It’s just looking back to the old shoes they used to wear too.”
Read the profiles on these and other students in CTSI’s Student+Faculty module.