Photo Credit: SMCSU Logo
How the student union is working to keep St. Mike’s students involved during online learning
Chiara Greco, Editor-in-Chief
The University of St. Michael’s College Student Union (SMCSU), like other student unions within the University of Toronto (U of T), has had to adjust to virtual operations. In an interview with The Mike, the SMCSU team outlined their plans and the challenges faced in starting the academic year online.
In response to the virtual switch this year SMCSU Vice President (VP) Nicholas Pagano states, “SMCSU has been committed to promoting health and safety for all our students at St. Mike’s” and as such the student union has moved all their operations online, conducting internal meetings via video chats and holding office hours virtually. Pagano continues that this switch to virtual meetings, “has been difficult to schedule, since some of our Councillors are in Asia and Africa, and accommodating time zones can be a challenge.”
“This also applies similarly to our events” Pagano tells The Mike, as, “all SMCSU events have been moved to be held online…encouraging safe practices to avoid the spread of COVID-19.” Pagano continues, “We tried the first virtual Kelly’s Korner during Orientation and it was a success, so we are very excited for everything coming up. It has been a challenge for us to conduct our affairs as if it were status quo, and we all miss being on campus interacting with students.”
In this regard, “It does take a toll on morale” Pagano notes, “but we have a highly motivated and creative group of Councillors that are serving great ideas for events and contests to keep St. Mike’s students entertained and involved. While it isn’t the norm, we are taking advantage of this to adapt our typical practices for now and the future.”
While cultivating a strong sense of community for St. Mike’s students may be difficult to do online this year with so many international students, SMCSU’s President Cianna Choo highlights the importance of collaboration and inclusivity during this time. Choo tells The Mike, “this year I am collaborating with…one of the commuter dons to head an International Student Outreach Committee. Our plan is to gather resources for our website, and create some events that are geared towards International Students to build community and provide the tools they need for success.” Some of the ideas for this International Student Outreach Committee include, “having a career panel and filming some tutorials on how to best navigate the U of T resources.”
The whole SMCSU team is also “trying to host events at varied times so that we can accommodate more students. Events like the grad school application workshop are recorded and will be posted on social media” Choo states. SMCSU is also hosting various online and social media contests and activities in the hopes of bringing together the St. Mike’s community during this challenging time when students are spread out globally.
In terms of further accommodating these students who may otherwise not be represented on campus Choo tells The Mike that she is, “working with the St. George Round Table, which is composed of the presidents of every college and faculty, to communicate with the U of T Provost’s office and advocate for international students and demand more support and accommodations in their academics and finances.” Choo continues, “Access to strong Wi-Fi, learning services, and professors’ time is limited when you are living outside of Canada. We want to bring these concerns to the university and work to help our students.”
Though there have been challenges faced from the switch to virtual operations, Chiara Perry SMCSU VP of Community Life states that, “it can be difficult to transfer the same enthusiasm and interest that students have had in the past over to online events.” Perry recognizes that it can be difficult for students to constantly be engaging through a computer screen for both school and extracurricular activities all day. In such cases, student turn out to some events has been low, noting that especially now, “it can be difficult to take some time out of busy schedules to attend an event.” But Perry mentions that “with everyone tying to adapt to the new normal” SMCSU hopes “that students are taking time to practice self-care and…SMCSU’s events are a great opportunity to destress.”
Perry echoes Choo telling The Mike that, “another challenge we are working with is trying to run events that are accommodating to international students in different time zones.” On this front, SMCSU is working to collaborate “with specific student associations to run events at times ideal for the specific region.”
Alessia DeBattista VP of Communications at SMCSU tells The Mike that students can look to SMCSU’s socials for upcoming events and ways to get involved while staying connected to campus life. DeBattista states, “We…have online initiatives such as our SMCSU Art takeover, our Pen Pal program and our Student Culture Showcase which feature you, the St. Mike’s students. As a council we have planned workshops such as the Grad School application workshop and Savings 101 workshop to help the student body with academic and financial decisions. We have done our best to integrate our favorite in person events such as Kelly’s Korner, Philosophers Cafe and Games Days and adapt them into online events.”
Though SMCSU’s main goal seems to be keeping the student’s interests at top priority. In regard to the student union’s goals for the 2020-21 year Choo tells The Mike, “this year it is more difficult to keep students engaged. Everyone is tired from screens. However, we still want students to know we are working for their benefit.”
“We hope to continue to give back to students with live and recorded workshops, fun craft and games days so they can stay connected, and work to prepare for next year and when we can return to campus.” As such SMCSU is “working to build relationships with other student groups at St. Mike’s and across U of T to pool our resources and attract more students” Choo states.
In terms of plans for the Student Improvement Fund, Pagano mentions that “the Student Improvement Fund has been one of the largest ways for SMCSU to give back to St. Mike’s in a long-term way.” This year, the Student Improvement Fund will be focusing on the future of St. Mike’s.
Pagano notes that this year, SMCSU is carrying “out projects that will last years beyond our term of office.”
Choo adds on to this stating that SMCSU is “currently working on the Student Improvement purchases from last year such as the charging stations for Brennan Hall and more outdoor lighting…items that have already been added are the new automatic water fountains to [Brennan Hall], Carr Hall, and a few other St. Mike’s buildings,” as well as the now completed, “Emsley Residence Building…renovation.”
Pagano continues, “we have plans to revamp the Wellness Centre at St. Mike’s, to bring life to a space that can support yoga, tai chi, and other activities. We recently came to an agreement to assure a dedicated commuter lounge in Brennan Hall, and will be furnishing it during the school year. We have projects planned and are excited to put them in place, so that when we all return to campus, we can celebrate in tons of new ways.”
In all, the SMCSU team is, according to Choo, “working to advocate for international students, but also for the safety of our students. This time is difficult and COVID has caused hardships for many students and families.” But the SMCSU team maintains that they “are passionate about ensuring our students are informed.”