For the 2019/2020 New College Student Council, the closure of campus before the end of the winter term meant the cancellation of many highly anticipated plans and events. While this was obviously a disappointing ending for council members to their terms as student representatives, it does not diminish the impressive work done during the rest of the year. We asked outgoing president Manuela Zapata to reflect on the council’s work as their term comes to an end.
What were some of the priorities identified by this year’s council at the beginning of its term?
The 2019-2020 New College Student Council (NCSC) focused a lot of their decisions on providing the most resources and events to the students given the tight budget. The needs of the constituents were always the number one priority for everything we did. As we started this term, we were faced with the new changes made by the Provincial Government that had a strict guideline for what was considered an essential fee for a student. Many of the non-essential fees encompassed a large portion of the initiatives the council undertakes. We were certain that although the budget was lower the quality and quantity of events were not going to reflect that. As a team we prioritized funding events that would provide to a larger community in order to reach as many constituents as possible. It was also important to ensure every expenditure was justified and our funds were being allocated in the best way possible for our stakeholders.
What are some of the achievements that this council is most proud of? What do you feel will be the legacy of this council?
This year’s council has many things to be proud of. Not only did we experience the Student Choice Initiative, but we also navigated a pandemic. Even though this year had many setbacks due to these very large challenges the team was able to work together to put out a variety of events. I think our greatest achievement this year was the unity we had within council; every member was able to execute multiple events on a limited budget. Some examples of these events are the NCSC Clothing Swap, our Skyzone trip, the silent disco in Ivey and our multiple socials hosted in Wilson lounge. These events are what allow for students to create friendships and permit a safe space to disconnect from the stress of school. The biggest achievement, however, was that the 2019-2020 Student Council was able to reconstruct the constitution. This has been a document which needed to be amended to allow for future councils to have more guidance and clarity to how things are done within council. This was a large task that hasn’t been properly executed in many years and this year’s council put in countless hours to present the constituents with the best possible document. The 2019-2020 New College Student Council will be remembered as the team that reformed the foundation of NCSC to allow for the future councils to execute their roles better.
Can you speak to some of the ongoing challenges that the NCSC faces? Do you feel there are some issues that are specific to the New College student community?
NCSC is an organization that has been around for many years and every year they are faced with a new challenge. NCSC is constantly focused on targeting our commuter student body, having about 80% of our stakeholders that are commuters it is a constant challenge to find the appropriate time to run events that allow for a large group of students to attend. This also poses a challenge for when it comes to forming a community within New College. Although we have a large community of New College students that see New as a home, there are many New College students that don’t feel that way since they aren’t at New as often as other students might be. NCSC is faced with these challenges and more every year and each council tries a variety of creative ideas in order to overcome them.
Conversations surrounding student mental health have been a priority for the U of T community this year. How has this NCSC participated in these important discussions?
The 2019-2020 council was the first council to have a Mental Health Commissioner. This role was created to shine light on mental health issues within New College and showcase what New College and the University are doing towards improving it on campus. This year I was able to sit on the Mental Health Task force established by the University to implement new and innovative resources to improve student’s mental health on campus. NCSC was able to voice their concerns at the table and were pleased to see the university taking steps to move forward with this sensitive topic on campus. Mental health was something NCSC focused on throughout the year by providing de-stressor events and displaying the resources on campus during very stressful times of the year. We also continuously advocated for more accessible resources on campus because of the evident high demand for on-site councillors.
How the closure of campus due to the COVID-19 impacted council and students? What was the role of council during this period of uncertainty for students?
COVID-19 was an unforeseen curve ball for everyone and council had to work quickly to continue to provide our service to students even with the strict guidelines in place. COVID-19 resulted in a cancelation of many of our end of year events such as grad formal and the annual athletic banquet. It resulted in students having to adapt quickly to a new mode of learning and for some it meant packing everything up and heading home early. Our team was certain that even with this turn of events we would continue to advocate for students and their new needs. This entailed meetings with ORSL staff to address concerns of students that were both living on residence and those who were using the services they provided. We were in constant communication with all aspects of student life to ensure that students would not lose any of their resources even if they are not on campus. NCSC never stopped advocating for students and ensuring that their everyday resources were still accessible to them even during these trying times.
Do you have any advice for the incoming council who will be dealing with the ongoing repercussions of this closure for new and returning students in the fall?
My biggest advice is to stay connected with every division of the college. During these times everyone should have one common goal; to allow for the smoothest transition for all students. This can be achieved by working as a united team within the council but also the college as a whole. It will be important for the new council to be active throughout the next few months to remind students that they are a resource to ensure their voice is heard. Posting updates and providing students with a platform to voice their concerns about the next few months will allow for NCSC to continue to accurately advocate for students as well as ensure students are well informed. This is a time of uncertainty and NCSC should continue to ensure students that their concerns are being heard and they are being answered to their best ability.
As president, what are you most proud of as your time on council comes to an end?
Being president of NCSC was a dream come true for me. Looking back at my term as president, I am proud of the resilient team that I had the pleasure to work with. We were constantly faced with new challenges and obstacles, but we always managed to find a way to overcome them. I was able to learn and grow from each council member and I truly feel like I have become a better individual because of them. I am very proud of the events we were able to put out for the students and how successful each event was. For many of our council members this was their first time on council and being able to navigate through this year speaks volumes for what this team is capable of. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and having the chance to meet all the wonderful people I did throughout this journey. There is not a moment I can remember this year that I did not feel proud to be a part of this team.