Campus events failed to involve almost half of surveyed first-years in 2016

Almost one-half of first-year students who were surveyed in 2016 said they were uninvolved in campus social activities, according to a survey published by Ryerson’s Board of Governors in June.

Ryersonian archive photo.

The poll, which surveyed 205 students, found 45 per cent of them said their actual experiences of getting involved in campus activities fell short of their expectations, with about 13 per cent saying they were engaged “much less than expected.”

Kelsey Bowles, second-year RTA School of Media student recalled her time at frosh week in 2016.

“It was a lot of yelling and being really excited and extravagant, which isn’t totally my thing,” she said, laughing.

“I think that there are a lot of events that are for very extroverted people … but I think [there should be] more events for … people who are not quite as comfortable with that,” said Bowles.

But Bowles isn’t the only one who felt uninvolved last year.

John Austin, the interim vice-provost, student, said this number isn’t surprising.

“When you’re coming in, you’re naive about what your first-year is going to be like,” he said. “You think you’re going to join every club and you think it’s going to be like high school, but then you get here and your realities are different.”

Sadia Mehmood, a fourth-year biomedical student and a lead mentor of the Tri-Mentoring Program, said disengagement may be a matter of having too much work.

“[Students] may feel like … they’re in such challenging programs that it’s really difficult for them to do anything else except [schoolwork],” Mehmood said.

However, the biggest factor contributing to student disengagement is commuting, according to Mehmood. For the many Ryerson students who are commuters like Mehmood, who spends four hours a day getting to and from school, getting involved on campus is essential.

“On a campus like ours… you don’t have that same family feel [another university] might have. To generate that, what we can do is get involved on campus,” Mehmood said. “Where else are you going to socialize? Lectures? You’re not supposed to talk.”

For Austin, getting commuters engaged is easier said than done.

“If a student has a two-hour GO train commute home, it’s harder for that person to think about being involved in a club or doing something extracurricular because they have to get home,” he said.

But Austin said he sees an interesting opportunity in the challenge. The key, he said, is redefining student involvement.  

“It’s easy to create a program that engages students who are already engaged,” he said. “I tell [my student affairs staff] to … think about [commuter engagement] as an opportunity to think about how we can engage a different kind of student in a different kind of way.”

So far, Austin said his staff has been able to think about engagement in non-traditional ways, citing successful programs such as the commuter hostel, which provides a space in residence for commuters needing to spend a night on campus. Ryerson to the Core, a new resource that launched this year during orientation week, allowed first-year commuters to receive tips from upper-year students on how to get to school smoothly.

“I always try to look at ways to provide more equitable opportunities of engagement and involvement to all students, and not just the ones who live on campus,” he said.

Jen Gonzales, director of RU Student Life, said she sees awareness as a crucial first step for increasing student engagement. (Photo by Angela McLean)

However, for Jen Gonzales, the director of RU Student Life, awareness of campus events is a crucial first step for engagement.

“There’s tons going on … that very caring staff and faculty are putting on … which is why I think RU Student Life online platforms are so important,” she said. “Students [can] follow us and [see] that there is tons for them to do,” she said.

According to Mehmood, students who aren’t getting involved are missing out.

“There’s such a vibrant student life here if you know where to look and if you make the conscious effort to get involved,” Mehmood said. “The payoff is absolutely worth it.”

The margin of error for the survey is estimated to be accurate within 6.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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