On What (or Whom) Inspires You

It has been two months since the passing of Nelson Mandela and many are still mourning for the loss. I still remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when I read the headline that afternoon in December. Even though Mandela and his policies did not play an immediate role in my life, it still upset me greatly to know that the world had lost one of its greats.

Mandela’s death prompted me to think about the legacies people leave behind and the potential impact an individual has on the world. Although his passing was unfortunate, there were very few who referred to it as “untimely” – many believed that after all he had accomplished, he deserved to finally rest in peace. What would it be like to live a life so inspiring, and so monumental, that a young woman such as myself – a person so far removed from circumstances and consequences of human rights in South Africa – would feel as if your life resonated with them as well? To have a life so fulfilling, others look to you on your deathbed and say that your time here and all that you had accomplished was enough for one lifetime?

As a student at U of T, we are often told that our capabilities are boundless, even though we often feel otherwise after cycles of unreasonably difficult midterms. We are constantly and tirelessly challenged, frustratingly pushed to our limits in the pursuit of academia. One has to wonder (as I’m sure many of you have) what we are putting ourselves through all of this for. A common complaint (not so much a complaint now as just a general statement that is made) I hear from my fellow students is why they came here and rendered themselves victims to the toil and turmoil that is U of T coursework.

Our aspirations – whether it be to discover a cure, to become a mother, to become the first in the family to graduate – are all equally noble and important pursuits in their own right. But what differs from person to person is the motivation behind our goals. I believe that it’s because many of us here would like to believe that we, too, hold the capacity to live a life to inspire others by some means. Perhaps not to the magnitude that Mandela has inspired, but to make something of ourselves. I don’t know many underachievers here at U of T. That could just be because I choose to surround myself with other students who understand and encourage one another to go after their aspirations, or it could just be for the simple reason that a majority of the students who attend this school are determined to live up to the expectations and ambitions they have set for themselves.

But often I find myself in the predicament that I can’t quite pinpoint the exact reasons for why I continue to study. Somewhere along the way, we’ll lose sight of what we’re really here for. 2013 as a whole was a very harrowing and challenging time for me. I was physically, emotionally and mentally worn out. For the first time in my entire life, I began to have an inkling of a doubt my decision to pursue higher education. During the most tiring, soul-crushing moments, reasons like making my family proud, or living up to expectations, or wanting to give myself a challenge… they just don’t quite cut it. Very recently, I’ve come to the realization that my motivations for doing most of what I do stems from a very simple, very cliché explanation – I’m just striving to be the best version of myself, in anything that life throws at me. I am spurred (albeit, very frightened) by the idea of the unknown. I am inspired by the idea of possibility.

Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. At some point, did he question his motivations and actions that led to his confinement? I can’t speak entirely on his behalf, but I think it is fair to say that he, too, was very much inspired by the idea of promise – he understood what any one person was capable of doing for humanity, and set forth to do it himself.

My take on staying afloat at U of T? Find what keeps you from hitting the snooze button for the 7th time that Wednesday morning, what keeps you bouncing back after the next job interview you bomb, whatever it is that’s keeping you from going off the rails when its midterm season and you’re swamped back-to-back in deadlines and test dates. Remember to look at what you’ve accomplished so far, and how much more you can. Remind yourself of it. Hold on to whatever, or whomever, inspires you.

‘Til next time -

Life Schedule Conflicts – the real deal.

This week I had planned to write about a conference I was really pumped to go to.

But when the weekend hit and I assessed the work I needed to do for the week to come, I realized that the conference (which would take up most of the day) was a no-go if I wanted to get all my work done. So sadly, I bid adieu to the conference and threw myself into the embrace of the library, its winter-worn students, their haggard postures and hot beverages.

I decided to reflect upon this moment of crisis, which I call a Life Schedule Conflict (LSC), because it’s a crisis we face over and over again throughout our time in university.

The rigorous academic schedule at UofT seems to show its cruelest face around this time of the year, particularly the weeks just before and after Reading Week. Trying to juggle a fine balance of school, relationships and healthy living is definitely an art form. In fact, these priorities often conflict with each other, and jostle for our attention and energy.


Personal examples of LSC:
As an International student, it is not easy, trying to schedule times to Skype my family, and lately most of those efforts are prevented by my visits to the library.

Furthermore, as a soon-to-be-graduate, the relationships that sustain me span from university student to full-time working individuals, meaning that large study dates do not suffice for “social time” any more.

Even within academia itself, the layers of deadlines for different course assignments means that sometimes I have to forgo readings for classes, in order to get assignments done in others, compromising my in-class engagement, and setting myself back.

…and don’t get me started on laundry and dish piles…
oh ya. and my PT job. that too….

The point is, we are always dealing with LSCs. There are many different parts of our lives that operate at the same time and sometimes we are forced to make choices.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it is not necessarily that difficult to begin the process of facing LSCs.

First, decide on your priorities.


What is most important at this moment?
What am I most able to do right now?
What can I change or cannot change?

Ordering the tasks we have to execute, whether it be by urgency, by manageability or by functionality means we are actively thinking about the situation. These questions offer clarity into the state of our situation, and give us a chance to sort through the growing to-do lists and file our stress into a more manageable order.

Next, figure out an action plan.


What should I do first?
Set a deadline – try to finish each task by its given time.

I usually post-it my daily tasks, and tick them off as they are completed. This gives me encouragement when I’m tired, and prevents panic attacks when I start thinking about the work I have to do and sink into a paralysis at the overwhelming number of thoughts that surface…. …

Lastly, constantly redo the aforementioned actions.

Assess your results at the end of the day, and reshuffle your schedule the next day.
You shouldn’t feel the need to stick to a schedule or a list that you created yesterday because your body, your mind and your mood are in a different place today. Paying attention to where you are, helps you to know what you can do, and how you might go about doing it.


Above all, there is hope!
Reading week is (almost) here!
If there ever was an occasion for #joyatUofT, this would be it.


Student hacks: The Sleep Edition

Oh, the romanticization of the coffee-addicted student who sacrifices their sweet slumber at the expense of marks. It is no secret that at some point during the semester, many students will lose sleep over their assignments and exams.  But let’s face it, sleep deprivation is awful—so awful that it is technique of torture! Lack of sleep leaves me feeling run-down, blunted and unmotivated. Realistically though, getting less hours of sleep is often unavoidable for students because of our busy lifestyle that sometimes feels like we’re juggling eggs on a unicycle.

As you may realize if you’ve been following my posts, I love all things efficient and self-experimental. So I’ve decided to look into hacking my sleep using different methods to optimize my time awake and asleep. Here are my results in a nutshell (and yes, they’re all quite subjective).

Source: http://giphy.com/gifs/pEPocGaLWGVxK

Sometimes we’re all a little tired.
Source: http://giphy.com/gifs/pEPocGaLWGVxK

1: Lucid Dreaming to Accelerate Motor Skill Acquisition

What is this about? Dr. Dax Urbszat, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto describes lucid dreaming as “the act of being conscious—or what others would call “awake”—while dreaming”. Basically, lucid dreaming entails being aware that you’re in a dream state while sleep, which enables you to control your dreams. Studies have shown practicing a motor skill in a lucid dream can speed up its acquisition1.

The experiment: I play squash a lot and I like learning different techniques to improve my game. One of these is the power serve. However, I have a lot of difficulty with bringing my racquet behind my head and snapping it to the front to hit the ball and actually put power behind my serve. So, I decided to induce lucid dreaming 3x a week for 4 weeks and practice this specific move in my sleep. If you want to try lucid dreaming as well, here’s a how-to guide. (link: http://www.wikihow.com/Lucid-Dream)

Results: The hardest part of this experiment is actually inducing a lucid dream state, which takes some practice. Overall, I think it did help me refine my technique faster. By the end of the second week, my squash partner observed that I snapped the racquet back a certain way that I hadn’t done before without prior rehearsal except during my dreams. I wouldn’t recommend dreaming lucidly too often though, because it leaves you feeling faintly like you haven’t slept.

2: Placebo Sleep

What is this about? A new study (link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24417326) has shown that people who were told they slept better performed better on cognitive tasks (whether or not they actually did sleep better).

The experiment: Over a period of a month, whenever I got less than 8 hours sleep, or felt tired, I told myself that I actually got high quality sleep and felt rested. I also picked out a friend who I would tell upon seeing him that he looked like he had gotten a great night’s sleep.

Results: This only worked if I believed what I was telling myself. Some days I was so tired that it was hard to convince myself. As for my friend, he told me he felt a bit more energetic when I told him that he looked like he had a good night’s sleep, even when he said he was tired (Note to self:  don’t tell friends that they look tired, when they look tiredJ).

3. Actual Sleep

What is this about? There comes a time at 3am when I ask myself whether I should keep studying and pull an all-nighter, or go to sleep with what I know and go to the exam as well-rested as possible

The experiment: If I view the past 3 years of my student career as an experiment, then I can say that I’ve done repeated trials of seeing the outcomes of staying up and pulling an all-nighter, or going to an exam well-rested.

Results: I do much better going to an exam well-rested. The fact is information that you’ve learnt consolidates in your brain while you’re sleeping, so it’s important to let it seep in while you sleep!

Do you get enough sleep or do you feel sleep deprived? What are your sleep tips and tricks? Let me know below!


Selfies (at Robarts)

Our Community Crew Captain, Abdullah, posted the most honest, groundbreaking tweet that I’ve seen in my 5 months here at Student Life:

Ah, the fabulous Robarts selfie. You’re guilty, I’m guilty. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in your obsession with taking photographs of yourself when you should be studying.

Styles, angles, and locations all tell you a lot about the individual behind the Robarts selfie. One thing that ties all of our masterpieces together is the fact that we are all students, we are all tired, and we all dread the first announcement – “the library is closing in 45 minutes” – that’s basically asking us to get the heck out of the library at 10PM on Friday. You are not alone in the struggle to April, comrade.

Here are 6 common types of Robarts selfies that you might find on any given U of T student’s MacBook. Much love to my friends and colleagues that agreed to let me use their images!

1. The “I don’t get this concept so I’m going to take a selfie” selfie.
2. The “I don’t want anyone to catch me taking a selfie” selfie.
3. The “checking that your hair is in place and making sure you still look cute” selfie.
4. The Not-Quite-A-Selfie Selfie

5. The “I look too good to be here, let me take selfies instead” selfie.

6. The “I don’t care if people catch me taking a selfie because I’m over this day” selfie.

(This is me! Hello, everyone)

(This is me! Hello, everyone)

I want to see your selfies at Robarts! Tweet your selfies with the hashtag #SelfiesAtRobarts and show us how hard you’re working.

Finding Massey College…and More

Last Monday I heard about a reading by author David Bezmozgis being held at Massey College and decided to check it out. Stepping through the gated entranceway, past the porter’s lodge, along the stone pathway of the water garden, I was unsure of my expectations. I can say now that I was pleasantly assured, surprised and encouraged by my experience.

If you didn’t know, the University of Toronto is home to the Jack McClelland Writer in Residence program, under the joint sponsorship of the English Department and Massey College. The writer joins the U of T community to work with staff and students in the field of creative writing. Last year they had Joy Kogawa, and this year they are pleased to host David Bezmozgis.

In addition to holding office hours for students, the writer in residence also leads a non-credit creative writing workshop, usually in the spring term. There is a limited enrolment, and it’s very competitive (seems a lot of people out there want to be writers).

Source: http://bushwickdaily.com/tag/writers/

Source: http://bushwickdaily.com/tag/writers/

Admission to the workshop, however, all depends on the tastes of the resident writer. Maybe he will like your work, maybe he will hate it. Who really knows? If you like creative writing, apply, apply, apply!

If you have never visited Massey College, please do! I often hear people comment on the similarity of U of T to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But Massey College is different. Massey College is more reminiscent of a Buddhist monastery or something.

Source: http://ocs.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/onscholcomm/SEIA

Source: http://ocs.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/onscholcomm/SEIA

Tucked, rather nondescriptly, into the west side of Devonshire Place, across from William Graham Library, Massey College can be easily missed (especially in the winter). Inside, however, there are study spaces, a dining hall, and a quaint library. In a way, Massey College feels like a separate oasis within U of T, a secret get-away for those “deeper” meditations. Or just a nice place for a nap!

The Upper Library, where the reading was held, is a small, charming room, lined with books and blue stained glass windows. I had expected a larger turnout, but there was a good mix of workshop members, fans and readers, and academics. It was a casual reading, followed by a reception of coffee and tea and things.

David Bezmozgis, whose latest book sounds like a moral-political thriller, pleasantly debunked the stereotype of the disgruntled, cynical novelist. Well-spoken and approachable, Bezmozgis explained that writing can be a force of enquiry into unknown, disagreeable issues. If you look at the world and see that something is wrong, then write about it!

Source: http://rebloggy.com/post/gif-love-american-horror-story-evan-peters-hot-show-world-fox-fx-wrong-asylum/33844260366

Source: http://rebloggy.com/post/gif-love-american-horror-story-evan-peters-hot-show-world-fox-fx-wrong-asylum/33844260366

He spoke also of his process. Three years of research, reading memoirs, travelling, and endlessly talking to people. I found this, most of all, to be a helpful reminder that the skills and habits we learn at university are very useful, and often necessary in later life. Even the free, boundless writer has to do research, readings, and talk to people!

These events and programs are great because they encourage young writers to pursue their passion and their craft. We have the opportunity to meet and mingle with professionals, faculty and other students, who share similar interests and goals. As a professor of creative writing adroitly noted, even ‘old’ writers can benefit from encouragement.

U of T is home to many programs and groups, and events are happening all the time! If you follow your interests, even on a whim, you never know what opportunity will just appear out of the side of a snow covered street. #TryitUofT

‘Til next time. Stay diamond.

- Stephen

Ideas for the U of T.

Last Wednesday I enrolled in a free lecture series called ‘Ideas for the World’, hosted for students at Victoria College.

With the options of different sessions within the program, each focusing on different topics and hosted at different times, the program is an initiative to engage students in academic discussions and learning about issues in the real world, to bridge the gap between theoretical learning and practical application.

Each class has either a professor or a series of professors who come in and host discussion sessions with the students, and here’s the best part: no assignments, no grades. Class sizes are generally around 30 students and food is served, as well.

I signed up and dropped in on Conflict in Culture, a course that explores media representation in our modern world. We watched sections of a documentary called “The Century of the Self” and then hosted a free form discussion about thoughts on what we’d just watched.

What interested me most was the degree of engagement with which the students were responding, there was some energetic discussion about topics that had surfaced in the documentary, and by discussion I mean some real back and forth dialogue.

the enthusiastic class discussion.

My general past experience with tutorials has mostly always involved a relatively silent group of students who participate reluctantly or sporadically. Questions raised might start with the material, but also inevitably moves to assignments, marks, and other housekeeping questions. Even a good T.A. can only do so much in circumstances like these.

The winning advantage of the Ideas for the World program for me is its complete disinterest in grading.

Students are released from the pressure to being graded on their performance and therefore their interest in the discussion at hand is motivated by other reasons. This results in less inhibition, more airing of opinions and ultimately, from my experience so far, more critical discussion.

U of T is a rigorous academic environment.

All semester the community crew has been sharing experiences and giving tips on how to make it through such a rigorous academic environment with your sanity intact.

But what if we talked more openly about how the grading system impacted our learning?

There are plenty of different responses to grades:

  1. Some people like the challenge, and feel their potential being unlocked as they ‘conquer’ tough assignments and achieve better grade results.
  2. Others feel crippled by the pressure of expectation, and the rigidity of the grading system, and are afraid they cannot meet the demands asked of them.
  3. There are also those who feel that grades are a box-in, reducing learning to a series of formulas that favour some, and exclude others.
  4. And some take the system to be inevitable and unchangeable, grades are what they are and there is nothing to be done about it.


Thinking consciously about how our grades affect our performance and expectations toward learning helps us orient ourselves better in our positions on the subject.

When we do this, we can actively and productively contribute the discussions around grading, and how they impact our experience.

What kind of response do you have?
Would you be motivated to work hard and learn without grades?
What kind of learning environment do you thrive in?


New Year, New Resolutions.

It’s 2014. Second semester has already started and I’m still trying to settle in. Along with my two full-year courses, I’ve got three new half-year courses, so my schedule has completely changed. And speaking of change, my schedule isn’t the only thing getting an overhaul. My goals have changed too. I know, it’s typical for everyone to make a few resolutions at the beginning of the year, and also to drop them after a few weeks, but this year I’m a little more hopeful.

My reaction to every new years resolution making before 2014. – VIA BILLBOARD.TUMBLR.COM

During the holidays, I took some time to reflect on my last semester and my attempts to establish a healthier lifestyle. I made a jumpstart on my aspiration to make a total 180 by getting out there and being active.I signed up for a Pilates class at the Athletic Centre. I made a pact to go to the gym at least once a week, and conquered the ever-so-despised plank. That was only the beginning. With the new year, I’ve come prepared with new, yet realistic, goals that I hope to achieve by the end of the semester. My goals for 2014 are as follows:

1) Try out a new exercise class.
With the second semester starting and all, I’ve been a bit inspired by the #tryitUofT campaign celebrating January as the month to get into new clubs and events. When it comes to exercise, I am craving a new approach. I’ve always stuck to slow, relaxation exercises, like yoga and Pilates. I think it’s now time to try something new. Now that doesn’t mean that I will quit Pilates— I mean, that whole semester spent doing planks wasn’t all for naught. I plan to keep up my relaxation exercises, along with my crazy dancing when I’m in my dorm, and in the gym.

I’ve been looking into martial arts, to even quirky classes like archery. Oh the many options that Hart House and the Athletic Centre at U of T has to offer!

2) Eat healthier
First semester was all about getting off my butt and moving my body. Second semester is still going to be about that, but it will also be about finding balance with the meals that nourish and energize my body. This is especially important after workouts, when I need my muscles to recover. I’ve realized how important eating healthy is; I find it affects my stamina when I have to move around all day. If I want to achieve my new goals, I need to start treating myself better.

Most of all, I don’t want to have a mid-day slump. I want to be able to be energized going into the gym and relaxed going out of it.

For inspiration, I took a look at fellow Student Life, and Health & Wellness, blogger Gloria’s post on mindful eating.

3) Go to the gym three times a week
Last semester was all about getting rid of the fear of going to the gym alone and exercising in public, and honestly, even though there are some days when I find myself slipping back to those thoughts, I’ve never once regretted going to the gym. Now it’s time to bump it up from going to the gym casually to making my commitment official.

4) No More Sleeping In
Oh my, sleep is a wonderful thing. Sleeping in is even better. But it’s a time-costing luxury that gets in the way of doing my work, and being an active person. Just like eating healthy, sleeping well is another goal that isn’t directly connected to being more active, but plays a huge role in the quality of exercise I get. So I want to be able to get to sleep earlier, and wake up earlier. I don’t want to go to the gym in the evenings, but instead, I want to start off my day by going to the gym first! That old expression, “you snooze, you lose” has never been this relevant!

What I used to think about sleeping. – VIA THETEENAGEGENTLEMAN.TUMBLR.COM

So far, these are my “healthy” goals for this semester.

Care to share your resolutions for 2014?

5 Things Alumni Taught Me

It’s called Backpack to Briefcase. The idea is that students will benefit from early experience with the professional world, such as listening to industry lectures, attending faculty events, and meeting U of T alumni. This year B2B is offering program specific breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for students and Alumni to meet in a comfortable, laid-back environment where they can chat and learn a thing or two.

A week ago, I was invited to one of these dinners. My first reaction was:

Source: http://www.fairfaxunderground.com/forum/file.php?2,file=110290,filename=lame.gif

Source: http://www.fairfaxunderground.com/forum/file.php?2,file=110290,filename=lame.gif

I just imagined a terribly forced, awkward party—lots of silent eating noises, uncomfortable small talk, stiff jokes, phoney laughter, bizarre ‘Faculty Club’ dinner etiquette—the kind of situation that made my wannabe Danny Zuko run for the hills!

So, of course, I went. I’ve learned the value of attending unexpected events. If anything, it would give me a story to write.

But it turned out all right. It was good. It was interesting. Much different and better than I had feared. And best of all, I learned stuff. Stuff is my favourite thing to learn.

I thought I would share a thing or two. Here are 5 good ones, I think.

1. It’s okay.

Source: http://nkayesel.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/no-its-not.gif

Source: http://nkayesel.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/no-its-not.gif

Yes. It is. That mid-term you failed, it’s okay. That club you didn’t join, it’s okay. That interesting-looking someone you lacked the nerve to approach, it’s okay. Everything you think you missed or messed up, it’s really, really okay. There’s always next time.

2. Undergrad is the opening of a door.

Source: http://masquefandom.livejournal.com/920.html

Source: http://masquefandom.livejournal.com/920.html

It’s a struggle. We have to muster all our strength to push it open, but once we do that door is propped. Nothing can close it. It remains as a base where we can stand and look out. It remains as a reminder of our hard work. It remains as an excellent first step.

3. Entropy is confusing.

Source: http://www.universetoday.com/51887/define-entropy/

Source: http://www.universetoday.com/51887/define-entropy/

Luckily, life after graduation is not a closed system. In fact, there so many options that at least one of them is bound to come together into some form of order. Of all the Alumni I met during dinner, only one had found that “dream-job” of her undergrad, and it was blind luck. But then again, it proves it can happen.

4. Success takes time.

Source: http://mrwgifs.com/ron-swanson-fist-of-feels-success/

Source: http://mrwgifs.com/ron-swanson-fist-of-feels-success/

Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen overnight. Even if it feels like our true calling, we have to wait, and try, and try again. We have to keep our eyes open. Success comes in many different shapes and forms and sizes. We have to engage each opportunity with the same positivity, interest, and fulfilment as though it were success itself. Success is in every day, if we can find it and make it real.

5. People are people.

Source: http://www.geekosystem.com/google-adds-gif-filter/

Source: http://www.geekosystem.com/google-adds-gif-filter/

They like dancing. Or they don’t. They like talking. Or they don’t. They like ice-cream desserts, or hockey, or they don’t. I’ve heard that getting a career comes down to the people you know—your contacts. But I wasn’t listening before. Getting a career comes down to YOU. Networking is good and useful, but it’s not important. People are important. The woman with whom you have a conversation about Italy is important. The fact that she doesn’t want butter on her bread is important. Meeting people and actually getting to know them is important. (If you look away from dancing Abed, he seems to move faster!)

In addition to the B2B program, there is also a club called Dinner with 12 Strangers that encourages student, faculty, and alumni engagement. I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun. If I get a chance, I’ll try it. I never know, I might learn stuff.


‘Til next time, U of T, stay diamond.



Minding Our Minds: Unpacking Mental Health

Created with easel.ly

Created with easel.ly

Academic panels and conferences can often be dry, which is why I mainly go for the free food. If I happen to learn something interesting, great; if not, I’ll have made my case against the “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” crowd. But at Victoria College’s Minding Our Minds conference on mental health in universities last Friday, I happened to get both a free lunch and learn a few things.

  • Know what you can handle

As a naïve and arrogant second-year, I thought I could take on a six-course workload. And start a company. After a summer of working full-time and taking courses. And still be able to have all the fun I’d had as a care-free first year. Obviously you can see where this is headed…

I should have seen the second term burn-out coming because by then I was running on empty. At the pace I was going for first term, I had to take a reduced course load for winter term or face the pending implosion. I’m pretty sure all the bells and whistles were going off but I had just hit “dismiss” (it’s ill-advised).

Anyway, the point of the story is that it’s okay. Being honest about what you’re able to handle will make your life significantly easier in the long term. And that term with a reduced course load has had no significant bearing on my ability to graduate or otherwise do well in school. It probably helped, in fact.

  • Find your person

This is advice that was given at the conference by Vic’s Dean of Students, Kelley Castle. Finding your person doesn’t mean finding a psychologist or professional help, she said. It can refer to finding a mentor, parent or good friend to rely on.

When those bells and whistles do go off and you keep hitting “dismiss”, you’ll be sure to want to have surrounded yourself with people who can tell you that you should probably shift your priorities.

  • Get help early

Not just limited to mental illness but to issues of mental health and academic advising in general, it’s best to seek help early. Though there are services and staff who want to help and students who may need it, the two don’t often meet until the situation is dire. At that point, dropping courses can be the only option.

Dropping courses can be a difficult decision considering students often have to do so after they have paid tuition. More lenient policies, such as those of other universities, help take the financial burden off students by back-dating the course drop so that the student is not financially penalized for it.
Part of this delay in reaching out for help may stem from problems that begin before university does, said some conference presenters. Students in high school are often told to toughen up in preparation for university’s more rigorous workload, different teaching style and lack of one-on-one attention.

In fact, there are perhaps more supports at university, from academic advising to peer support to health services. In university, you don’t always have to ‘be tough’, as you may have been taught. But you do have to be willing to reach out.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that there are staff and faculty who are available to support you. And sometimes, they’ve had a very personal connection to issues of mental health. U of T’s own Chancellor, Michael Wilson, had begun the conference by talking about his son who had committed suicide and the impacts of mental illness on his family. Staff and faculty know that break ups, deaths and mental health crises happen and are likely more understanding than is often assumed. They are, after all, people too.

- Kay

What Comes After Pain?

Forgiveness Project 1

The F Word: The Forgiveness Project Exhibition in Hart House’s main hall.

In the peaceful main hallway at Hart House, there hangs a series of panels that depict murderers, mothers, former gang members and an archbishop. This seemingly eclectic collection of photos and stories seeks to “explore how ideas around forgiveness, reconciliation and conflict resolution can be used to impact positively on people’s lives.” As part of the Wounds into Wisdom series of tri-campus events this year, The F Word: The Forgiveness Project Exhibition highlights exceptional stories of what comes after pain.

There were many different, including some very surprising, reactions to the idea of what comes after pain and whether forgiveness, or otherwise, was an appropriate response. One perpetrator felt asking for forgiveness added “insult to injury” to the relatives and family member. Robi Damelin, whose son was killed while serving in the Israeli army, urged the army not to take revenge in the name of her son upon hearing the news of his death.

Mariane Pearl whose husband, the American journalist Daniel Pearl, was “murdered by a militant Islamic fundamentalist group” said that she had no reason to forgive her husband’s killer, that forgiveness was “too lame an answer for extreme situations”. She instead has chosen “to win some sort of victory over the people who have hurt [her]” by continuing to live and value life.

Conversely, Azim Khamisa found what was called for was forgiveness, and then some. Azim offered a job to his son’s murderer at the foundation Azim had set up in his son’s name after he realized that “there were victims at both ends of the gun.”

Walking through the exhibit, I found it to be more moving that I thought it would be. After all, these sorts of conflicts are things I have studied for the last four years as part of my Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies program. But many of these stories and reactions to the conflicts were deeply personal and certainly beyond what I had expected to find while wandering the halls on campus.

Stories like the ones in the exhibit reminded me of a great quote from journalist Nahlah Ayed in her book, A Thousand Farewells:

“People are not quotes or clips, used to illustrate stories about war and conflict. People are the story, always.”

Particularly when we’re immersed in theoretical academia, this sentiment can be an easy thing to forget.

Forgiveness, on a day-to-day basis, can also be easily forgotten. One of favourite stories of everyday forgiveness comes from a friend who saw her wallet being stolen out of her bag while she was giving a presentation in class. Instead of calling the thief out (as I likely would have done), Toronto-based poet and artist Paloma wrote a poem called “to the man who stole my wallet”, part of which is excerpted below.

i am not so angry

as you expect

me to be.


those sixty-one dollars,

i am happy to

give you.


please buy yourself something

that makes you happy

and something that makes

you full.


the quarter with the triangle of turquoise

I was keeping,

for my sister who collects coins.


maybe your sister

collects coins.

The ability to see the person within the perpetrator is what humbles me both in this poem and in The F Word exhibit. It is something for us all to keep in mind as we navigate what comes after pain.



The Forgiveness Project was founded by journalist Marina Cantacuzino, with photos taken by Brian Moody. The University of Toronto version is a joint collaboration between Hart House, the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, Hillel of Toronto (U of T), Ask Big Questions and the Multi-Faith Centre. Exhibits can be seen from Sept. 20th – Oct. 16th at Hart House (main hall) with additional panels at Hillel of Toronto, the Multi-Faith Centre, First Nations House and in the lobby of 215 Huron St. Further information for the exhibit, along with info for the related movie screenings and conflict resolution workshops may be found here.