Featured Newsletter - July

Stay Connected!

Embrace Your Identity 

Written by Grace Wang

“Where are you from?”

When I meet someone new, it’s often one of the first things they ask. It’s not supposed to be a hard question. People hear it all the time. It’s automatic. But even now, going into my fourth year at UTM, I have trouble deciding what to say.

The answer is, I was born in Ottawa, so technically that’s where I’m from. But I moved to Vancouver when I was seven, where half my family lives. The other half lives in San Francisco, so I moved there halfway through my teenage years. My family is from Shanghai.

I know I’m not the only one that has struggled with belonging. The University of Toronto Mississauga has an entire 20% of students that are international, with an even higher number that have lived abroad, or are new to Canada, or so on. These students represent over 65 countries. Like myself, I’m sure some other incoming students might worry about fitting in. They might worry about making friends, or keeping up in their program of study, or finding a club or society that fits their interests.

But what I truly hope to emphasize here is that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. It has taken me years, but I have learned that I can be different and still feel like part of a community. Regardless of ethnicity or race, sex or sexual orientation, age, ability, family status, or just about anything else you can think of, UTM has a place for you and I encourage you to let it become a home.

The campus strives to not only welcome diversity, but to celebrate it. Sometimes this happens through campus resources like the Equity & Diversity Office and Indigenous Centre, the International Education Centre, or the Positive Space Campaign. There are clubs and societies that are as different and diverse as the student population. There’s almost definitely something for you—and if there isn’t, gather a few friends and start your own! Sometimes the reminders are simple, but so important and so effective. Positive Space posters and stickers all over the hallways, on professors’ doors, on students’ laptop and phone cases. Event collaborations by different campus departments that touch on masculinity, gender identity, race and ethnicity. Our new Indigenous menu. The Academic Culture & English (ACE) program for students who need to fulfill English language requirements. Accessible and all-gender bathrooms in nearly every single building on campus. The emphasis on inclusive and respectful language.

I am going into my fourth year now, and it is the active and passive support from the UTM community that has allowed me to thrive. For myself, taking on roles as a Residence Don, a LAUNCH leader (and later, a LAUNCH Team Leader), a Health & Counselling Centre lead, and a Teaching Assistant all starts with a feeling of belonging. It all starts with the diversity that makes our campus so special. As somebody who often finds myself in various leadership roles, I can tell you a bit about the impact this has had.

It’s a student living in residence who’s so fascinated with their roommates’ culture that they take a trip with them over reading week. It’s someone who got so excited about seeing an all-gender bathroom because their high school never had them. It’s a student working with the Accessibility program and seeing this reflected in their grades.

Even though these are considered small things by some, to me they’re amazing. The little differences are what ultimately drives change. The little things serve as a cue and a reminder to students, staff, and faculty that UTM is a place for them. UTM is a place they can call home.