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We Can’t All Live in a Tree… October 14, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Leadership, Student Life.
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But we can do something! That’s a message I try to pass on to students through my work with the Leadership Development Program here at U of T.

One person who actually did live in a tree is Julia Butterfly-Hill. She will be speaking at Hart House on October 18, and will talk about what you can do to have an impact on the community around you. In 1997, Julia climbed 180 feet into the branches of a 1000-year-old redwood tree in California and refused to come down until she received a guarantee that the tree would be protected from logging. She stayed for a very long time.

It’s pretty impressive. Not only did she find the time to get involved in something that mattered to her – protecting an ancient forest from clear-cutting – she did so by climbing into a 1000-year-old redwood tree for 738 straight days! That’s more than two years! In a tree!

There are a million ways to make a difference, and some of them may even complement your studies, your skills and, if you’re lucky, your interests. As a staff member I try and role model that message through my own involvement in my community as well.

But amidst the bustle of classes, clubs, and trying to stay attuned to the latest trends of pop culture, finding the time to seek out that special something that gets your fired up can be the straw that breaks a student’s back. As someone on the other side of a Bachelor’s degree from U of T, I can certainly sympathize. For students and professionals alike, squeezing in the time to make a meaningful difference isn’t always easy.

Now, we can’t all live in a tree, but we can do something! Whether you have ten minutes, or two years, what meaningful contributions can you make to your community? In a sense, what’s your tree?

– Kate Bowers, Student Life Coordinator, Leadership Programs

Turn dissatisfaction into action July 21, 2011

Posted by Chris Garbutt in Student Life.
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I admit that it’s a lot easier to complain about something than it is to change it. In the last Toronto election, 53 percent of eligible voters turned out. But doesn’t it seem like a lot more than half of the population is complaining? This same pattern is reflected in our own university where last year’s UTSU elections only attracted a voter turnout of only 7 percent!

Political activism is about making an effort to change policies and create better ones. And it begins at home. Every year, you can vote for your representative on U of T’s Governing Council. It’s as easy as logging into ROSI! U of T also offers an elected student union for each program on campus. Whether you’re interested in adding your name to the ballot or just casting a vote, it’s easier than you think.

Voting isn’t the only opportunity for some good ol’ fashioned democratic action! “Political activism is so simple,” says Sane Moyo, a 2011 U of T grad who founded her own charity to protect oppressed communities in Kenya. “It’s not just about joining clubs. When you’re walking down St George, accept a flyer. Take a minute to stop. Engage in conversation! Even if you disagree, dialogue is where it starts.”

And dialogue encourages action. As students, we have spent a good portion of our lives stocking up on information. University is a forum where we share that information with others and form ideas through discourse. What better place to apply these new ideas than at a level where they make a difference?

There are several politically active groups on campus. These range from the party-affiliated like the Campus Conservatives, U of T NDP or the U of T Liberals, to other unaffiliated groups such as the Black Students Association. Sane worked with the BSA to organize events raising awareness about political injustice towards marginalized groups. Cultural and special interest groups are politically active without adhering to specific party politics.

Max Pachecho, a member of the U of T NDP, describes his interest in political involvement as “awareness of what is happening in our world”. Working with the NDP has given him an opportunity to “reach out to the student body and other like minded groups.” Meeting others who share your beliefs gives you the confidence to spread awareness and inspire action.

For those of us who prefer to complain (yes, sometimes me!), there is a way to turn political dissatisfaction into action. The Varsity prints opinion pieces from readers as do the larger city newspapers. If you like to aim a little higher, letters to your Member of Parliament or even the Prime Minister are free to send!

So get out there and be heard! As Sane points out “It’s our school. It’s our campus. It’s our country. If we don’t speak up about it, no one else will.”

– Bethany McKoy, Communications Assistant and Writer, Office of Student Life