Alone, Together: Social Life at the Country’s Most Competitive University
Students’ role in neutralizing social isolation
Ted Fraser CONTRIBUTOR
When he was at Queen’s University, Elon Musk would tell his girlfriend where and when he was willing to socialize. He was not ‘on-call’ to hang out. Time was spent studying, working, or as Musk told one of his classmates, “thinking about electric cars.” Musk dodged the so-called university experience. It’s hard to imagine him boozin’, mellowing out, or chewing the fat with friends. But 20 years later, Musk, who, after founding a cluster of new-age super-companies, got to do all that and more during a banter-and-smoke-filled interview with his frat-looking foil, Joe Rogan. Sure, he was two decades late to the party, but all that hard work did pay off.
The University of Toronto student body sometimes resembles a tired, beady-eyed army of Musks. Students are intense, the work is tough, campus is harsh. These ingredients don’t make the best cocktail for socializing and it shows. When Maclean’s polled university students for time spent partying per week, the University of Toronto ranked 44th out of 49 universities. The school also garnered a dismal C+ rating for ‘quality of social life’ on www.studentsreview.com.
This isn’t shocking. Any school where the chess club is more popular than the football team is going to foster a thinned-out, offbeat social scene. Whisk in a fast-paced downtown campus and 60,000 speed-walking perfectionists, and it’s no wonder you’re hit with an alienating university experience.
The kneejerk response is to blame the university. It’s fashionable and easy to smear the administration for everything going wrong in one’s life, whether it’s mental health, poor grades, or a hollowed-out social life. But once universities have set-up the basic infrastructure, they’re absolved of guilt. That responsibility also falls with the student — and it’s easy to get started. There are over 900 Ulife-affiliated clubs, scores of events and conferences to attend, and dozens of newspapers to write for.
That said, there’s more that can be done. Namely, obliging leaders on campus to pester lower years. Facebook posts and flyers sometimes aren’t enough to coax newer students out of bed and toward a club or event. For many, moving to bold, busy Toronto from a quieter hometown felt like being shipped from the deserts of Nevada to the main strip of Las Vegas. Pile on thousand-person lectures, Canada Room cuisine, and cold, bleak weather, and first-years can get lonely. Knowing this, club leaders and dons need to consistently engage face-to-face with lower years.
Life at the University of Toronto, contrary to most universities in Canada, gets more fulfilling as the years go by. Fun bottoms out in Orientation Week of first-year, and creeps upward after that. It never eclipses the sort of reckless, heart-thumping fun Musk missed during his time at Queen’s, but the longer you stay, and the harder you work, the more benefits you’ll reap.