Researchers Reflect: The Power of Empathy

This blog post is the first of Researchers Reflect, a new series where we embark on the journey of a design researcher at the Innovation Hub. Each post will spotlight a different design researcher sharing their stories, experience and learning moments throughout the course of their research.

Amal is wearing a jean jacket, smiling towards the camera with a whit ebackground.

Written by Amal Yusuf, UTQAP Research Coordinator  

Since 2019, I was given the privilege and trust to listen to students’ stories and experiences throughout a variety of projects, such as the Presidential and Provostial Task Force for Student Mental Health, Food Insecurity on CampusLet’s Talk About Failure Project, Student Experiences at Rotman Commerce, and much more! Being a part of this work has been a real growing experience for me. Today, I will be sharing a bit about this journey and how it has made an impact in my area of work and studies.  

Reconciliation & Reflection: Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Please note that this post speaks about residential schools and the meaning behind Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We acknowledge that the land in which we work from at the The University of Toronto has been, for thousands of years, the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. Learn more about which lands you may reside on, and the treaties and histories connected with it, at: https://native-land.ca/  or https://www.whose.land/en/


On September 30th we commemorate Orange Shirt Day, a day intended to raise awareness on the centuries long impact Canada’s Residential School System has had on Indigenous communities, knowledge, traditions, and beyond. Orange Shirt day comes from the experience of Phyllis Webstad (Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation), who was six-years-old when she first arrived to a residential school. On her first day of arriving at the school she was stripped of her new orange shirt. This is what she has shared on what it felt like – and you can learn more about Phyllis’s story in the link provided:   

Acknowledging Black Experiences – A List of Resources for Learning & Growth

Two message boxes on top of one another

When it comes to social justice everyone has a role in ensuring our society is equitable and fair for all its members – no matter their race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or educational background. 

For generations, Black lives continue to be undermined within our society as a result of long-standing institutional racism embedded in daily practices. To dismantle these systems in place, and to truly be anti-racist, we must understand the experiences of Black lives in various communities and examine our view of ourselves and one another. 

Food Security: The Key to Student Self-Fulfillment

By Johanna Pokorny – Senior Research Assistant, Amal Yusuf – Data Analysis Researcher, Rosemarie Shephard – Data Analysis Researcher and Betelehem Gulilat – Lead Editor & Writer

A vending machine next to a clock on the right hand side

In Canada alone, 2 out of 5 post-secondary students experience some form of food insecurity2Food insecurity is described as inadequate and insecure access to food as a result of financial constraints3. Its prevalence within the student population is overlooked by many considering the significant implications it has on students’ livelihood, learning and overall well-being. It’s complex and interconnected with our core needs and different for each and every individual in our communities.  

In Honour of Black History Month: Shining A Light on Anti-Black Racism

A magnifying glass looking into a heart

As we approach the month of February, the Innovation Hub will be recognizing and honouring Black History Month, a period dedicated to celebrating the centuries of traditions, heritage and achievements made by African Diaspora across the world. This upcoming month, a new chapter of history will be added to this powerful novel, based upon the series of unfortunate events that transpired over the past year. The previously existing racial injustices and violence faced by Black communities were for the first time observed on a world-wide scale. But most importantly, what was clearly observed was the concern of not only the past and present, but the future to come.  

‘Silence ensures that history repeats itself’  

Erin Gruwell

Using Design Thinking Mindsets For Rapid Change

Two hands putting puzzle pieces together into a circle.

With restrictions in place in many of our communities being flexible and responsive to new ideas has become essential. By finding creative ways to work around limitations, design thinking has come to the forefront. Organizations (like the Innovation Hub) are using design thinking to solve their own unique set of challenges, and nurture mindsets that inspire change. Since the lockdown, our Leadership Team has been navigating and responding to internal challenges in new ways and are continuing to do so – many of which are explored in this post.  

Transforming the Instructional Landscape: Moving Towards Learner Centric Design in Times of Change

By Philippa Gosine, Senior Research Assistant

Philippa Gosine, Senior Researcher, smiling at the camera in the sunny outdoors.

Through our user-centered consultations, we’ve realized that learning spaces are extremely personal and important places for the people that use them. Instructors and students have a strong sense of ownership over their classrooms and want to see their individual needs and preferences in the design of learning spaces.  

In Conversation with Sebastian Smith: Understanding the Impact of COVID-19 for International Students in Higher Education

By Betelehem Gulilat, Lead Writer and Editor 

What makes the international student experience different from those of domestic students?  Since the pandemica new set of challenges has emerged on top of the pre-pandemic realm of campus life that international students are valiantly navigating. In turning to our vibrant and diverse community at UofT, we hope to spark discussions by bringing student stories to light.

The E-Motion of Research at the Innovation Hub

By Terri-Lynn Langdon, Lead Editor and Writer – in collaboration with Johanna Pokorny (Ethnography and Insights Team Lead) and Danielle Baillargeon (Data Analysis Team Lead)

A mosaic of students connecting over Microsoft Teams, with sticky notes around the outside with writing on them such as "navigating resources" or "commuting students". Dashed lines and icons are connecting with one another to visualize collaboration in research.
Virtual Collaboration at the Innovation Hub, Summer 2020

At the Innovation Hub an intended focus of our research as a by and for student research Hub at U of T is empathy and the tapestry of it in the development of our questions, writing, and its role in research findings.

[1]The research process at the Innovation Hub includes design thinking supported by ethnographic research methodology, which seek to understand people in context. Where other qualitative methods (like survey work) operate through “extracting” data, ethnography is wholistic and expanding. The goal is not to be ‘statistically significant’ but rather to identify insights and themes from a few rich and unique stories.