Orientation Week, hosted by the UTM Students’ Union each year to welcome first-year students to UTM, carried on the week before classes began in spite of the resignation of the two coordinators in charge of its planning and execution.
The coordinators, Lara Stasiw and Neelam Din, quit three weeks before Orientation Week, alleging that the work environment created by the students’ union was “hostile”. The logistical Orientation Committee and the executive team, who picked up the slack, felt the event was successful despite several glitches.
An alternative orientation?
According to Stasiw and Din, members of the Orientation Committee, which consisted of 10 undergraduate students, contacted them after their resignation to follow them out of the organization and discuss “Plan B”, a possible alternative orientation. Shortly afterwards, however, the discussion of “Plan B” was dropped and no members left the committee.
“I am not resentful towards any of them,” said Stasiw in an interview. “Our choice to resign came in a moment where we said, ‘That’s it.’ […] Having a conversation about it [with] 10 different people is impractical.”
“This year’s logistics committee didn’t help with anything related to logistics; they were more there as creative minds,” said Din. She added that when she and Stasiw resigned, they already had 90% of the logistics planning completed, and the remaining 10% was a matter of waiting on phone calls and email responses.
Stasiw and Din asked to continue their term as OCs after their second resignation, but were rejected by UTMSU.
“The fact that we committed to finishing our term and were rejected by the executives without any of the committee’s support made us feel our help was not wanted,” said Stasiw. “If my intentions were to abandon Orientation, we would not have requested to finish our term or bother to be interviewed about our perspective.”
Being pulled two ways
Stasiw attributed some of the committee’s change of mind to a desire for personal recognition and described the lack of support as “hurtful”.
Committee member Nikka Aquino said in an interview that Stasiw and Din, as well as UTMSU executives, talked to committee members about the committee’s role in the upcoming weeks. Stasiw and Din, said Aquino, suggested “Plan B”, which would have been a two- to three-day event spearheaded by Stasiw and Din. At the same time, UTMSU executives were trying to convince them to stay with the original Orientation Week.
“Committee was kind of being pulled two [ways],” said Aquino.
She believes that committee members didn’t stay to take credit. “It was a really hard time for the committee. We were hearing a lot of things,” she said. “In the end, we chose to stay with UTMSU […] Most of us stayed because it’s for the benefit of the froshies, and I sucked it up.”
Other committee members, including Rosalina Scipione, agreed. “UTMSU is pretty much the only way of going about it. They’re the ones who would be able to fund everything,” said Scipione in an interview. “In order to have a legitimate Frosh like we’ve had for however long, you would need UTMSU. It’s impossible to have just as large-scale of a frosh without them.”
One committee member, Riccardo Nero, disputed Stasiw’s claim that he considered leaving after they resigned, but the other members of the committee did not.
Picking up the slack
After the resignations, people were unsure what would happen next.
“I wasn’t sure if Frosh was going to continue,” said Dima Ayache, a returning frosh leader, who said one or two weeks elapsed before they heard anything definite from the executive team.
“There was a big gap of confusion and uncertainty,” said committee member Jessica Chu.
Nero said that he called a committee meeting to discuss what would happen next. Andjela Ocicek and Juan Ariado, committee members and executives on the UTM Athletic Council, suggested that they prioritize the 1,300 first-years who had signed up for orientation over the “nine personality and ego clashes”, said Nero, referring to the two resigned OCs and the seven UTMSU executives.
“We decided it was time to pick up the slack, we took on more responsibility […] that’s essentially who picked up the ball,” said Nero.
Chu said that the whole team—committee members, executives, leaders, and volunteers—were involved after the OCs resigned.
“I wouldn’t say that just one group of people picked up the ball […] a lot of people stepped up,” she said.
How much still had to be done?
Ocicek said that she was told by Stasiw while Din was present that there still was a lot to be done and that it couldn’t be done in two weeks.
“What they said to me was, ‘It’s all in our heads, info that you guys need. We can’t provide it to you,’ ” said Ocicek.
Aquino said that some of the unfinished tasks were booking Medieval Times (a traditional Orientation Week event), deciding where the UTM cheer-off on Tuesday was to happen, sending in the designs for the t-shirts, and putting up the event website. No planning had been done for the Welcome Formal either, according to Aquino.
Several members of the committee alleged that Stasiw and Din were focused more on their personal issues than on Frosh.
Joycelin Lai, a committee member, said there had been no communication between the executives and the committee before Stasiw and Din resigned.
“After they left, we [found out] there were a lot of things they didn’t tell us and they didn’t tell the executives, and that’s why things weren’t getting done,” said Lai.
Lai pointed to the OCs’ failed proposal of the Argos game—rejected in a private meeting of the executives—as an obstacle that neither party could get past and a major source of hostility between them.
Grayce Slobodian, UTMSU’s VP campus life, said she had tried to mediate between the two parties in order to facilitate Frosh planning. After the coordinators resigned, “Everyone was on different pages,” she said. But “at the end of the day […] we saw the bigger picture and we did whatever was best for Frosh, whether I was right or they were right,” she said.
Aquino said that Stasiw and Din had taken on the majority of the work and that Orientation Committee “had a purpose” after their resignation.
Changing it up
The annual community service component of Orientation Week was omitted this year. According to members of the Orientation Committee, which was in charge of logistics, they spent more time on Tuesday’s cheer-off at Queen’s Park than they foresaw. This was the first year the cheer-off was held downtown instead of at the RAWC. According to Slobodian, they also miscalculated bussing times.
“It was either skip out on community service hours or cut off cheer-off,” said Aquino.
The other changes to Orientation Week this year included a leader bonding day planned by Stasiw and Din, a paint party, and a Welcome Formal that replaced the usual Wonderland trip, according to the UTMSU board minutes of July 22.
Better than expected
More than one frosh leader, including Aliza Farooqi in an interview and Teddy Brar in an online comment, has described the final result as “disorganized”. Most of the committee leaders felt it was a success.
“It wasn’t so much disorganized as much as it was under scrutiny. […] If it’s disorganized and all over the place, that’s just the way frosh is,” said Scipione.
“It went a lot more smoothly than I expected it to go,” said Ayache. “I didn’t expect it to be as well-organized as it was.”
A letter from Raymond Noronha, the president of UTMSU, cited the relatively high turnout as a measure of Orientation Week’s success.
In the preliminary operating budget posted on the UTMSU website, ticket sales were forecast to fall about $17,000 short of expenses, with a modest profit to be made after $20,000 in projected sponsorships.