Carly Jazbec was excited to kick off her final year at the University of Toronto by sitting in class – in an actual classroom.
Perched in the front row for her media and advertising course inside Carr Hall on the St. George campus, Jazbec said she is particularly keen to participate in discussions and form new connections in person after two years of virtual experiences.
“Being back in the classroom is really nice,” says Jazbec, who is doing a double major in cognitive science and book and media studies, and a minor in mental health studies. There are more opportunities to connect with different people.
“I missed that.”
As for students who are brand new to U of T, Jazbec suggests talking to the people sitting beside them and to take advantage of the office hours to visit professors.
“When I first came to U of T, I would say I didn’t do that. But now that I’ve gotten older and done more classes, it’s easier to talk to that person beside you.”
Students at U of T Mississauga listen to a lecture during the first week of classes (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)
Jazbec was one of more than 90,000 students from across Canada and around the world starting their fall term across U of T’s three campuses during what U of T President Meric Gertler has described as “our biggest back-to-school ever.”
New and returning students were welcomed back with a wide range of events, including the student clubs fair, a cheer-off at Varsity Stadium, welcoming ceremonies and the openings of two new spaces for students.
The U of T Students’ Union kicked off the week by officially opening the Student Commons building at 230 College Street, a new hub for students to gather, socialize and study.
“It’s wonderful to have this new facility that will provide so many important services and spaces for our students – both of which are badly needed and long-awaited,” said President Gertler, who attended the event.
U of T President Meric Gertler attended the opening of the new Student Commons building at 230 College Street on the St. George campus (photo by Johnny Guatto)
He also attended a ribbon cutting ceremony later in the week to officially open Robarts Common, a five-storey study and meeting space for students. The multi-year renovations created 1,200 new study spots, soundproof rooms with big screens to practice presentations and charging stations everywhere.
At U of T Scarborough, Welcome Day on Sept. 6 was an opportunity for new and returning students to explore the campus and all the resources available on the first day of classes. There was a performance by a brass band, balloons, games, food trucks and plenty of information booths for students to check out.
Professor Wisdom Tettey, a U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough, was in attendance to greet students and answer their questions.
“They look at all the sea of people and go, ‘Together with these folks, we can make an impact,’” said Tettey in a video that was posted to YouTube. “That’s the kind of feeling I want folks to have and everything else will flow from that.”
Meanwhile, at U of T Mississauga, students participated in the Eagle Orientation from Sept. 6 to 8 before classes began for the fall term. Scheduled events included a tour of campus, a carnival, a barbecue and a keynote speech by graduate and spoken word poet Wali Shah.
Back on the St. George campus, on a hot and humid Wednesday, students gathered for 2022’s cheer-off at Varsity Stadium. Dressed in colours representing their faculty or college, they traded chants, cheers and banter.
It was the first time Brooke Abdulah had participated in a cheer-off. Arriving from Trinidad and Tobago for her first year as a student in the Faculty of Arts & Science, Abdulah said she was looking forward to meeting new people.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she said. “I’m from the Caribbean so this is very different and exciting.
“I want to make a lot of friends from all over.”
Students from the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design participate in a cheer-off event at Varsity Stadium on the St. George campus (photo by Johnny Guatto)
The sentiment was echoed by two students who accompanied Abdulah.
Ariann Ramdhanie, a first-year Faculty of Arts & Science student who plans to major in microbiology, and Astika Bhandari, a first-year Faculty of Arts & Science student who wants to major in human biology, both said they intend to make the most out of their in-person university experience.
“I want to explore the city with everyone and have friends in my classes,” Bhandari said. “I want a support system and to find my people.”
For third-year students Nadia Persaud and Soban Atique, the cheer-off was an opportunity to attend frosh events that had been previously virtual.
Atique, who is working on a double major in criminology and political science, said it feels awesome to be back.
“I am here to be in that environment that I lacked in my first year and really hope that people can have an engaging and enthusiastic experience,” he said.
“The energy is so amazing,” added Persaud, who was covered in colourful markings and is pursuing a double major in criminology and political science and a minor in gender studies. “Everyone is chanting.”
Students fill the street at Devonshire Place during the clubs fair on the St. George campus (photo by Johnny Guatto)
Following the cheer-off, students filled the street on Devonshire Place for the clubs fair. With hundreds of clubs and student groups to join at U of T, students were invited to explore everything from the Autism Alliance to the Quidditch team.
Owen Darling, a second-year student in the Faculty of Arts & Science, was standing near the U of T rowing team’s booth handing out flyers.
In hopes of recruiting members, the team had two rowing machines set up in front of their booths to test people’s rowing abilities.
“Being on the team is awesome,” Darling said. “It’s a great, hard-working environment.”
There are hundreds of clubs and student groups to join at U of T (photo by Johnny Guatto)
In addition to being a second-year student working on a double major in the department of molecular genetics in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, Amelia Wilder is also the assistant music director for U of T’s “Tunes. Beats. Awesome” a cappella club.
“A cappella is a great way to meet people that like to sing,” Wilder said. “I had a lot of fun last year, singing and putting on concerts, making arrangements and I’m really excited to have more in-person events this year.”
“We hope people join. We really need a beat boxer.”
Members of the U of T Naginata club, dedicated to the practice of the Japanese martial art of Atarashii (Modern) Naginata, were dressed in head-to-toe traditional armour.
Banrong Hu, a fourth-year student in physiology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, said he discovered the group, which practises at Hart House, through the clubs fair in 2019.
“Joining the club has been the best part of my university experience,” he said. “Last time I was at clubs fair, I was the one receiving the flyers, but now I’m handing out flyers to introduce the club and Hart House to more people.”
Wisdom Tettey (far right), U of T vice-president and principal of U of T Scarborough, takes a photo with students in front of a balloon wall (photo courtesy of U of T Scarborough)
Students weren’t the only ones soaking up the campus atmosphere.
Felan Parker, associate professor, teaching stream, in the book and media studies program at St. Michael’s College, said he is looking forward to inviting guest lecturers and taking students on field trips – one of them being to U of T Mississauga to see the Syd Bolton Collection of video games.
“Showing that kind of material online would have been okay, but not really the same as getting hands on with historical video games,” said Parker, who was teaching the media and advertising course in Carr Hall.
Felan Parker, associate professor, teaching stream, in the book and media studies program at St. Michael’s College, teaches a course on media and advertising (photo by Johnny Guatto)
He also reflected on the value of in-person learning and what he planned to do differently in the classroom after two years of virtual teaching.
“I’ve done away with late penalties entirely in my classes,” he said. “Back in April 2020, it felt downright unethical to put late penalties on people. I’ve come to see it as something that is unnecessary – a sort of stick when it comes to keeping students on task.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, it doesn't make that much of a difference to me if I'm marking something a week or two later.”
Parker added that his big takeaway from pandemic teaching was to lead with compassion.
“I’m really excited about the possibilities of what we can do in the classroom. What new ways can we learn together?”