By Sarah Lysecki
Dicky Poon stands at the top of the street, gazing into a sea of new faces. The confident leader of Ryerson’s Chinese Student’s Association is a far cry from the nervous new Canadian who came to Toronto 10 years ago. He knows exactly how the students lining up at the RCSA table feel. “I’ve been through the same stages as many new immigrants and students,” says Poon. For him, the best way to adjust was to join the RCSA, the 150-member group that consists of mostly people born in Hong Kong. “If (students) don’t have any friends they can make new friends of the same culture,” says Poon as students snake their way along a crowded Gould Street.
Last Thursday marked Ryerson’s annual campus groups day, a chance for new students to hit the street and join one of the 31 clubs and cultural groups that are controlled and funded by RyeSAC. Campus groups administrator Leatrice Spevack says joining a cultural group gives students a keen sense of familiarity since other students of that particular culture share the same faith, upbringing and interests. Spevack said the fair this year boasted a high turnout and large numbers of people who signed up for the groups that were on display. “I say that every year, but this year it really was the best,” she says.
Signing up is what Poon did when he first came to Ryerson five years ago, and he says joining RCSA made all the difference in adjusting to life at university. Like many students who make up Ryerson’s ethnically and culturally diverse student body, Poon was not born in Canada. He emigrated from Hong Kong without family or friends to study aerospace engineering. I was his first experience coming to Canada coming completely alone that made him fir for his job as one of the leaders of Ryerson’s Chinese community.
“By knowing their needs, I can focus on organizing activities that can benefit those students,” says Poon. And the leadership skills he already had didn’t hurt, either. Poon was president of his students’ council in high school in Hong Kong before his journey overseas. “Making all our members feel they’re a part of a big community and letting them know that there is always someone there that can help them can definitely minimize the feeling of loneliness, he says.
Asad Ahmed, president of the Pakistani Student’s Association and a third-year mechanical engineering student, says cultural groups offer opportunities to find familiarity with members of the same race or religion that helping to eliminate growing pains for new students. Ryerson’s diverse student body lends to the polarization of the groups, a miniature version of the planet’s multicultural population.”It’s a taste of the whole world in one place,” Ahmed says, looking at the flood of students of all nationalities and cultures spilling onto Gould Street.
Dr. Diana Brecher, clinical co-ordinator of Ryerson’s Counselling Centre and psychologist, also has experience helping new students adjust to campus life. Counsellors at the centre will give students many options, ranging from one-on-one counselling to meeting with a group of people and openly discussing problems. The centre’s five full-time counsellors – all who have at least a Masters level degree – and several part-time counsellors also provide career and non-school related counselling. Brecher also says that students might find the answer to their problem by joining one of Ryerson’s cultural clubs.
“If they’re new to town or to he country we might recommend a whole range of groups on campus,” she says, adding that she works closely with Spevack to be aware of what the cultural groups can provide students, including involvement in the many social events groups organize. That’s where RCSA comes in. One of the most integral parts to the club is the social aspect – giving students an outlet for meeting people. RCSA organizes plenty events throughout the year, including dances, career seminars, and a basketball tournament.
While most of the RCSA’s members are from Hong Kong, the cultural group makes itself availalble to every student on campus – a requirement mandated by the RyeSAC policies that govern the groups, according to Spevack. “We are welcome to all people,” says Poon. RCSA offers classes in Cantonese or Mandarin as well as seminars on how to use chopsticks and calculate the Chinese calendar. Despite the inclusion policy of the cultural groups and all of the positive things they have to offer, Poon says stereotypes exist because of personal experiences of racism and exclusion. However he’s quick to point out that he has not personally experienced this at Ryerson.
Standing adjacent to the Muslim Students’ Association table on Gould Street, Rani Khan, a third-year business management student says she joined the group for the companionship. “It brings people together,” she says. “It’s a reflection of diversity.” Khan joined a cultural group to make adjusting to university life a little easier by being around people who are racially similar to her.
On the other side of the street at the African and Caribbean Association booth, third-year AIM students Tonia Ward and Petra Shakes agree that it is easier to relate to those who have has problems of being excluded.