Reflections on 2015


There’s no doubt, this time of year can be full of emotions.  We are reminded of all the things we witnessed and experienced over the past twelve months. Google is reminding us of what we Googled. Facebook is sharing our top moments. We count down 2015’s top songs, movies, sports moments, inventions, new stories, and of course, funny memes.

This time of year also calls on each of us to consider our personal Year in Review. I love counting down to the New Year, and feeling all the hope that comes with a fresh start. Looking forward with a vision for the next year can be daunting, however, I believe it’s important to reflect on our accomplishments and milestones from the past year.

Two familiar faces I spend New Years with each year. Courtesy of

On New Year’s Eve, I normally find myself lounging on a couch, babysitting, and reflecting the past year with these familiar faces. Photo courtesy of

Once exams are over, I often take some time to check in on how things are working in my life. I encourage you to try doing this too – patiently, thoughtfully, and truthfully. I like recording my thoughts down on paper so I can get a visual se. What were my ambitions for 2015? Did I achieve them?

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peanut butter and exam jam

Hey there!

The Community Crew has been sharing some great tips recently for de-stressing during exam season. Annette wrote about staying active when we are busy; Tiffany provided some very helpful study tips in her post; Madeline (our Arts & Science Blogger) wrote about remembering to eat healthfully; and Emma recently discussed the importance of taking breaks.

Now imagine taking all these tips and tricks, and showcasing them all in one lobby. That’s exactly what happened this past Thursday, as part of UofT’s annual Exam Jam – 2015 edition!


Brought to us in the spring and winter exam season by the ASSU and the Faculty of Arts & Science and friends

Somewhere in the building students reviewed with their profs, and elsewhere there were open study rooms to hang out in. The lobby was alive with activities!

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I recently chose to attend the safeTALK: Suicide Alertness for Everyone training for the same reason I decide to take First Aid and CPR training every year: I want to know what to do if someone needs my help. In other words, if ever I encounter someone who is thinking or talking about harming themselves, I want to make sure I can respond appropriately and feel confident in doing so. The safeTALK training helped me in many of these aspects, and incorporated a variety of helpful resources including a take-home manual, video modules, wallet cards, as well as opportunities to engage in role play.

 The Resource Book contains the course information, plus additional readings about suicide prevention policies, healing after a suicide has happened, and mental health.

The safeTALK Resource Book contains the course information, plus additional readings about suicide prevention policies, healing after a suicide has happened, and mental health.

I’ve included my thoughts and notes about how the training went here!

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Have No Fear: Peers are Here!


UofT St. George has some pretty fantastic student programming on campus, and opportunities to connect with resources. I think its particularly great that students who are seeking help are given autonomy and choice, and flexibility in health care options.

This week, I had the chance to chat with Peers are Here program coordinator, Adam, about the peer groups he helps to run, what you can expect from a session, and why he is passionate about this project.

Screenshot 2015-11-12 23.15.39

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Weighing In

Happy November all!

What if I told you I have absolutely no idea how much I weigh? In fact, I haven’t weighed myself in years!

It wasn’t always this way. In high school, I was a member of the school’s wrestling team. During wrestling season, not only was I acutely aware of my weight to the fraction of a kilogram, but so was my entire team. On top of that, I was responsible for maintaining or manipulating my weight in preparation for tournaments, so I could be at my “most competitive”.

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WABAM! “Stress Tummy” Strikes Again

Hi all,

If you’re like me, you probably have some go-to strategies for dealing with stress in your life. These may be coping skills or activities that help you slow down, relax, and take a break from life’s many pressures and expectations.

I like to call this my stress-busting toolbox.

It allows me to keep my stress under control, or under lock and key, if you will.

So the question is,

Why do I still experience stress sometimes?

image courtesy of

Mr. Incredible is confused too. (image courtesy of

Stress particularly shows up in my life as a delibitating pain in the pit of my stomach (colloquially referred to in my family as the “stress tummy”).

It’s familiar. It’s tangible. It’s unwelcome.

When I think about it, most of the stress that I experience can be traced back to the feeling that I’m not in control.

I feel in control when I feel my life is balanced. When that balance starts to slip, I feel myself starting to panic. My stress-busting tool box mysteriously goes missing. I stumble for one second, and my tummy is being attacked from every angle by stress.

When I am not stressed, I feel I can control my mealtimes, my study habits, and my self-care routines. However, these very things become challenging when stress builds, and often it feels like the stress itself comes out of nowhere.

Recently, I was studying under a tree on a beautiful autumn day when a piece of acorn landed in the fan of my brand new laptop. Unexpectedly, this caused my laptop to overheat, which led me to dramatically change my plans the next day to accommodate the necessary diagnostics and repairs.

WABAM! “Stress Tummy” Strikes Again

this tiny little piece of acorn wanted to stay warm for the winter in the fan of my computer. Nope. Nope. Nope.

When these unplanned occurrences happen (often in combination with a loss of something, technology failing, or something breaking) I tend to quickly fall victim to the “stress tummy”.

Some of the remedies I have developed to help me deal with the “stress tummy” in my tool box are: the Magical Medicine of Movement, afternoon napping, drinking (caffeine-free) tea, and partaking in some mindful breathing exercises.

But I’ve noticed that sometimes it is not enough to be reactive. Sometimes I have to be proactive in preventing myself from the “stress tummy”.

Here are some of the ways I work to defend against the “stress tummy” from striking in the first place:

Paying attention to the things I can control 

My dental hygiene

Photo on 2015-10-14 at 8.52 AM #3

flossing makes me feel like I can do anything

Waking up before the neighbourhood garbage truck wakes me up

I've included this image because it is evidence that I woke up before the neighbourhood garbage truck did

I’ve included this image because it is evidence that I woke up before the neighbourhood garbage truck did. Success!

Filling up my water bottle at the water bottle refill stations on campus

is there any better feeling than grabbing the water bottle just before it overflows? not that I can imagine

is there any better feeling than removing the water bottle just before it overflows?

When I shift my focus to these small, seemingly trivial accomplishments I feel like I am in control of the going ons in my life. The idea is to celebrate the small victories, and allow the focus to shift to what is going RIGHT in my life (and there is always something if I think hard enough!) as opposed to what is NOT.

By giving myself permission to focus on the things that I can control, I can dramatically reduce the amount of stress I expose myself to.

This is not my stress. But this is my stress-reducing candle

This is my stress-relieving candle, a recent but invaluable addition to my stress-busting toolbox

Last but not not least, I try my very best to find joy in the spontaneous or the unplanned—the joyful, unscheduled solo dance parties that take place in my bedroom, for example.

Stress is def not invited.

Wishing you a stress-free week,



What does your stress-busting toolbox contain? Comment below!

Overcoming my Fear of Professors

Up until last Thursday, I don’t think I had ever actually seen a professor up close. 

I mean, sure, I’ve sat front row in lecture or passed them while walking to class, but I am really bad at actually talking to my professors. I never bring my questions to them after class, or go to their office hours. I do all of these things with my TAs, but something about actually talking to a professor intimidates me. 

I think that I’m always worried I’ll sound stupid, or that I won’t have anything worth occupying their time with. When in reality, my philosophy professor would probably actually enjoy discussing Plato with me. I mean, isn’t that kind of why you become a teacher? To teach

Photo of a professor looking over a whiteboard as a student writes on it

Image via.

So when I was invited to the UCLit Coffee with the Profs: A Panel Discussion on Poverty and Homelessness, I immediately thought no way! 

Poster promoting equity with the profs. It reads:  A discussion on poverty presented by Coffee with the Profs.

Image via.

What could I possibly bring to this discussion that one of the expert panelists couldn’t say better? Do I even know anything about poverty and homelessness in Toronto? Do I even know ANYTHING AT ALL?!!?!!

But doing things that are out of my comfort zone was one of my new school year resolutions, and has created most of my other content here on the blog. I survived all those other awkward situations, so why not this one?

The layout of the panel!

The layout of the panel!

Coffee with the Profs is a regular event held by the UCLit. Anyone can come, and each event has a different theme or topic. Some, like this one, are panel-style, while others are more of a social and networking event. The atmosphere is always casual – they order pizza and make a cozy corner of couches in the JCR – and there are UCLit reps scattered throughout the group to ask a question when things get awkward and silent. 

The panel I attended was more of an informal round-table discussion than a panel, and included Professor Hulchanski from the Centre for Urban and Community studies, Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke, and Jesse Surdigo from the Yonge Street Mission. Each guest brought a different perspective to the topic as they discussed questions such as; what is poverty, why is it so difficult to escape, and what can we be doing to help? 

Students gathered around a large table and projector in the UC JCR

A different Coffee with the Profs session held by the UClit photo via.

I found that although I didn’t have a wealth of knowledge on the subject, I was able to ask more specific questions about what was being discussed – rather than overarching philosophical ones. I actually ended up leaving the panel having formulated the beginning of my own opinion on the subject.

I overcame my fear of feeling inadequate in the presence of professors, and learned some new things in the process. I even engaged in a bit of twitter-talk with Professor Hulchanski after the panel! 

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 11.35.35 PM

If you’re nervous about talking to professors, I would definitely suggest hitting up one of these events! The informal setting makes it a lot easier to interact, or to just sit back and watch if that’s what you’re more comfortable with. I would also suggest going if you’re particularly interested in one of the topics, as it’s a great place to share your passion with other academics and students. 

Congrats to the UClit on hosting such a great series of events! I can’t wait to see what topics you bring up next! 


I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to participate in an Aboriginal Peer Mentorship Program put on by OISE this semester and my first mentoring session happened this week.

OISE Elder-in-Residence Jacqui Lavalley and I went to visit a grade 11 Native Studies class in a Catholic School somewhere near the edge of the GTA. Jacqui is delightful, and we had a lot of fun travelling to and from the school. Jacqui gave a traditional opening ceremony to the presentation and also gave a wonderful teaching to the students. Next, I spoke about my educational journey as an Indigenous person, though there was not enough time to say as much as I wanted.

A close-up of a TTC token

All you need to get from downtown to Scarberia! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

The students were great listeners and asked great questions and even gave us Tim Horton’s gift cards! I’d never been to a Catholic school before and I’d never encountered school uniforms before either so the trip was a great learning opportunity!

A blue thank-you card with a Tim-Hortons gift card just begging to be spent

The beautiful thank-you card and gift from the mentee class! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

However, visiting a high school forced me to revisit some old feelings I haven’t encountered in a long time. Jacqui had mentioned that the tobacco tie I’d been given in the ceremony knew everything about me and that I could not hide anything from it. That’s an important fact and I finally realized I’d been hiding some emotions from myself ever since I left Cochrane High School.

My hand, holding a small red tobacco bag, with a turtle image peeking in from the background

This tobacco tie knows everything about me in this moment, and it looks like the turtle is watching me too… (Photo by Zachary Biech)

A Hart House stairway with it's Hogwarts style, surrounded by shadows

Even though I’m at U of T, the shadows of the past are always nearby (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Even before I left to go to the mentor session, I noticed myself falling into old trains of thought. I stood in front of a mirror and questioned my own appearance and physique because that’s what I was used to every day in high school. That can’t be healthy, right?

Many different feelings came back to me in a big rush. I remembered how hard it was being viciously judged by other kids for every little thing you did or said or wore. I remember how alone they all made me feel.

I also don’t drink or party and that left me excluded from 99% of social activities.

One of the students at the mentoring session asked me an amazing question: “How did you keep from caving in to the peer pressures?”

This question really helped me remember the good parts of high school. I remembered that I was proud that I wasn’t like those goofy peers of mine! I was proud of my accomplishments, my grades, my individuality, my interests, my heritage, my ability to say no to alcohol.

I learned to be proud because my parents always told me how proud they were of me. I can’t thank my parents enough for that support. When you are proud of yourself and you stay true to your heart, it doesn’t matter what a bunch of confused teenagers (or adults, for that matter) think of you!

Looking out a window from Hart House, with the sun shining bright behind a nearby tree

Even though the shadows are a part of life, light can always peek through too (Photo by Zachary Biech)

It breaks my heart to think other students out there don’t have parents who will say they are proud. Everybody has plenty to be proud of, no matter what. Everyone is important.

Looking out a window from Hart House, towards the towers of the main UC building

I’m proud of where I am; there’s certainly no view like this at my old high school! (Photo by Zachary Biech)

After returning from the mentor session, I had an evening lecture in First Nations House for my Anishinaabemowin class. I remembered how proud I am to be in U of T, learning an Indigenous language and reconnecting with my community. I remembered how good it feels to walk into a place like First Nations House and have great conversations and laughs with real friends in a supportive environment.

I remembered how far I’ve come and how far you can come too.

Me with shorter hair

Me in Grade 12, 2012 (Photo by Zachary Biech)

Me, but with longer hair and a pony-tail

Me in Third Year at U of T, 2015 (Photo by Zachary Biech)






Finding a Passion… For Fashion

Last week I attended the annual UFashion Spring Fashion show, held in co-ordination with the UClit and U of T Students for Wishes. 

The event is put on every year by the student-run organization UFashion It showcases different Toronto-based designers and stores, aiming to appeal to a variety of different styles and student budgets. 

This year’s event was held at Fiction nightclub, and proceeds benefitted the Make a Wish Foundation. Tickets to the fashion show were $10 a piece, and included entrance to Fiction after the show was over. 

two university aged girls sitting on a large leather couch in a club-like setting

Ainsley and Ashley getting ready for the show to start

Before attending the show I had never actually heard of UFashion before, so I didn’t know entirely what to expect. Creating fashionable looks that are not only locally accessible, but student-budget friendly, is difficult to say the least. Although I was excited for the experience of the show as a whole, I wasn’t holding out high hopes of seeing anything that I would “just have to have.” 

I couldn’t have been more wrong. 


The looks were edgy, fashionable, and well put together. There wasn’t a linear catwalk, but instead models walked a path that wound throughout the entire club. The audience was sat on the large velvet couches, and the layout gave everyone a front row view. 

The stores showcased included Toronto locals such as Over The Rainbow, Feroce, Parloque, Sauvage, and Original Penguin It also however, featured an online store created by two University of Toronto students. Haakem Bajwa and Parham Chinikar created their clothing line Cabaret Vesture in the attempts to create pieces that they would wear on a daily basis.  Instead of striving to achieve a certain aesthetic or style, they let their creativity guide them into making whatever pieces are inspiring them at the time. 


I left the fashion show having had a wonderful night, but also fuelled by a new interest in this aspect of UofT life I didn’t know existed before.  Almost at the end of my second year here, I still feel like I haven’t found something that I’m truly passionate about.  With hundreds of clubs I never expected it would be this difficult. 

However attending the UFashion event opened my eyes up to the world of UofT fashion, beauty, and style. It introduced me to an entire network of other students who share my passion for style, but who share many of the same student-related constraints. 

image via.

image via.

If UFashion sounds like something you want to get involved with too, check out their blog, or like them on Facebook here.  I’d love to get any suggestions of other beauty/fashion related clubs in the comments below, or hear your story of how you found your passion at U of T! Until next time, keep up to date with me on the other events I’m attending by following me on twitter at @Rachael_UofT.