Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homestyle: An overview of UTSC's Student Housing service.

UTSC, I sincerely hope midterm season is being kind to you, or so by U of T standards. Philosophically speaking (or so I like to think), exam time coincides with the Fall for a very symbolic reason: the sight of those big, crunchy leaves falling from the tree often represents our own lives. Our falling grades, our falling social life, our falling sleep patterns. The concept exists of everything in life just going down the drain for these couple of weeks. So now that I've painted THAT happy little picture, we can all move on with this wave of optimism that I am sure has overcome you with my words.

With a population of over 10,000 students, and over 15 percent of the student body being comprised of International students, one of the much needed and widely-utilized facilities available to fellow humans here in Scarborough is on-campus housing. The Student Housing & Residence Life office operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days a year in some capacity or the other. However, its image in the eyes of the student population has become majorly obscured. To most residents, it is home. To everyone else, it’s a great party spot AWAY from home, or a place to crash before an 8 AM class that they still probably won’t attend. (In their defense, 8 AM classes? What were you thinking, Oh University overlords?)
So here’s to shining some light on our Student Housing service, just because I may provide a totally unbiased view. Okay, I lied, I actually live/work there.

An overview:

Residence is divided into three major portions: North Residence, located adjacent to the SY building on that side of campus nobody can ever bother to walk to. South Residence, the main entrance of which is closest to our Social Sciences building (MW, didn't you know? M and W are the new S. Cosmo says it’s all the rage this season). And Joan Foley hall, the ultra-exclusive (well, sort of) apartment building that looms over our MW wing. Students are accommodated in four- or six-person townhouses, or four-person apartments that come fully equipped and furnished. By fully equipped, I mean ovens/stoves/kettles. Unfortunately, no panini makers, PlayStations or waterbeds are offered as of yet. Overall, residence has the capacity to accommodate just over 750 students, with first-year students being guaranteed residence regardless of their actual hometown. Works well because every new student is entitled to that on-campus experience, but creates slight chaos when a froshie from Malaysia is competing for housing with a froshie from Markham road. Oh well, equity.

Students who chose to live on campus pay in housing fees what they do in tuition. The over $6,500 going towards residence contributes to a variety of facilities they are entitled to. The Student Housing maintenance office operates on a full-time basis during the school week, and is available for emergencies during the weekend. Those maintenance workers can fix ANYTHING, literally ANYTHING, from a broken faucet, to a broken bed; to a broken heart (some of them are incredibly easy on the eyes). Campus police is also a regular fixture on the grounds of residence, especially after hours, and are in close communication with student staff present.

Student Leadership on campus:

Speaking of student staff, the housing office’s greatest achievement (apart from you actually having houses) is an environment that fosters great student leadership. In a residence of 750 students, the office employs over 30 full-time student leaders, with committees and volunteer opportunities for whoever is interested. The student staff is thoroughly trained and certified in several areas of leadership before becoming eligible to actually take on the job.

The 17 Residence Advisers (RA’s) are full-time UTSC and residence students who take responsibility for mentoring, guiding residents, and creating a welcoming and positively sustainable atmosphere for everyone that lives there. They are there to counsel, support, hang out with, and lead students through those eight months of campus life. Then there are three Residence Programmers (RP’s and RCC) in charge of planning and coordinating all sorts of events and programs for student to ensure that there is always SOMETHING TO DO.

Academic Programmers and Promoters (APP’s) are 10 student leaders in separate roles. Trained with the Academic Advising and Career Center (AACC) and Registrar’s office on campus, their main focus is to encourage academic learning and provide more options for students who are more academically focused. From hosting study sessions and Professor-student mix and mingles to holding de-stressor yoga sessions, the APPS work around the clock to remind residents that there are options for them outside of just campus life (and that this is U of T and it WILL try to asphyxiate them with an unmanageable workload, so why not do some yoga and eat an apple once in a while).

Campus partners:

The student housing office has close connections with several other on-campus facilities they like to call their ‘campus partners’. The counselling service at Health & Wellness, the International Student Centre and other campus facilities regularly come to residence to speak, hold office hours and keep residents informed of what UTSC has to offer. Obviously, the Marketplace won’t be visiting anytime soon. But I’ll whine about that some other time.

With midterm’s undertow, and stress levels escalating quicker than Mitt Romney’s $5 bajillion tax plan, it’s a good place to be. The walk from home to class is never longer than five minutes, friends literally live 10 seconds away; there are RA’s and professional staff on duty at every hour of the day or night.
As second-year resident Elizabeth Jarrell would say, "There are times when I can get up 10 minutes before my exam, and not worry about being late. That, my friend, is priceless."

Many of our off-campus commuter students don’t even know where residence is. The faint shadow of townhouses in the background, and faint memories of throwing up on someone's couch that one time, may be all the information our students have on the Residence services at UTSC.
Hopefully, I’ve changed that just a little bit. Or more than just a little bit, maybe I’ve drastically altered your view of campus and changed your life in an irrevocable manner. If so, go get yourself checked out.

Stay well UTSC, exams WILL end, and you WILL see your pillow again very soon.
Farewells of all sorts,


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