Student engagement at UTM


Last week I stood in line to get my U-Pass from the Presentation Room. I was bored, so I did what I always do: eavesdrop on the people in front of me.

There were two people in front of me: one guy and one girl. As the line failed to move ahead, the girl looked up to the second level of the Student Centre, where The Medium’s office is.

“The Meeediuuum,” the girl read. “What’s The Medium?”

The guy responded, without looking up, “I dunno.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” the girl asked him.

“Well, it’s your school, too. Why don’t you know?” the guy replied.

I know what The Medium is. I assume you do as well. However, in an informal survey of 10 students, only six out of 10 people could correctly identify the name of UTM’s campus newspaper. Only two could identify the name of UTMSU’s president, and only two could identify a member of the U of T administration, such as the dean or principal. Despite these answers, though, eight out of the 10 clearly said that it was important to be involved in campus life. We stopped asking after 10 students because we get enough depression in our regular lives.

At the end of the year, colourful, annoyingly charismatic volunteers bombard passersby with questions: Did you vote or not? Have you heard of our campaign? But do we really know, or care about what happens on our campus? I recall reading that only 1,000 people voted last year at the St. George Student Union elections.

A student can feasibly participate on campus without knowing the administration, student representatives, or even the campus newspaper. But despite the assurance of the eight out of 10 that said involvement was important, are we actually engaged? And is engagement even important to us?

“Being involved is a great way to get practical experience that you just can’t get in classes,” says Antara Ashra, a fourth-year English and CCIT major and Volunteer Coordinator at the UTM Women’s Centre.

“I think a balance is important,” says Catherine Lopes, a major in English and professional writing. “Organization and time management are key in university.”

This opinion, echoed by several others, implies that a university education is not simply made up of what you learn in class. We are constantly told, by professors, peers, Frosh leaders, Residence Life Staff, and countless others, that the so-called “university experience” comes out of what you learn outside the classroom, too—or even primarily, according to some. The term “university experience” is nebulous. It implies some sort of social change, not just an academic one, within the time a student spends as an undergraduate.

Many students believe that taking extra responsibilities at UTM will strain their academics. However, studies show students who participate in university activities are rewarded for lost time with
superior critical thinking; an
analysis of several studies done in the last decade in American universities indicated that undergraduates involved in a range of campus
activities enjoyed an increase in critical thinking abilities compared to students who were not involved.

Then again, there are several other activities that involve excessive amounts of alcohol that also seem to fit under “university experience,” and none of us are obliged to partake in those in order to be considered well-rounded
university students.

Personally, going into my fourth year at UTM, I realized that by the time I graduated I would have nothing to say for myself except that I had a university degree. While that’s definitely an achievement, it is a bit depressing. Some students may not feel ready to handle campus responsibilities in addition to academics until their fourth year. Others might want to jump in as soon as their first year starts. Still others might want to limit their experience to just attending classes. A student may fit freely into any of these categories, but it’s definitely something to consider as you work your way up through the academics at UTM, and especially as graduation

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