We have now reached the halfway point of summer, which means that between cold drinks on the beach and late-night campfires, the thought of school might be creeping in. If you are entering your first year of university, the prospect of starting a new chapter in your life can feel daunting. From residence costs to leaving behind the familiarity of high school, the process of transitioning to postsecondary life is complicated — unless you have someone to help you.
Today, I’ll be introducing an important resource for you as you begin your journey at York: the York Federation of Students (YFS), York’s official student union. The YFS is the largest student union in the country, representing 53,000 full-time and part-time undergraduate students. Essentially, the YFS represents you! The union supports services (discounts for movie tickets, Raptors tickets and more), events (the biggest one is YorkFest — more about that later), campaigns (both on a provincial and a York-wide scale; one of these campaigns helped streamline the registration-deposit process) and clubs. Funding for all clubs at York has increased from $19,000 to $300,000 since 2007; this is a big leap, one that recognizes the amazing work clubs do to engage students. The YFS also focuses on general advocacy for students, and on community building through involvement, advancing true York Pride.
What does general advocacy mean? Basically, the YFS fights for students’ rights and aims to make their lives easier. At York, as at any university, students are juggling many things. Whether it’s two part-time jobs, a double major that requires double the readings, or managing some learning challenges, something as simple as going out to the movies might be out of reach, in terms both of time and of finances.
YorkFest, for example, a week-long event at the end of September that features everything from free breakfasts to a gratis concert, recognizes those constraints placed on students. The YFS aims to alleviate the stresses of postsecondary life by providing a variety of fun events at little to no cost, as well as essential resources like the Food Bank, which offers free food items to undergraduate and graduate students in need, whether they’re studying full-time or part-time.
I sat down with Gayle McFadden, the VP Operations of the York Federation of Students, to talk about how she started out at York and got involved in the student union.
“I came from a very small town, and I had never seen York before. I didn’t end up doing my own frosh [events] because I didn’t feel super comfortable.” As a student paying for her own education, and knowing that the purchase of a frosh kit could be costly, potentially eating up a fair portion of her weekly grocery budget, Gayle thought twice about the purchase. The situation “made me aware of the barriers students face in accessing all of the wonderful experiences university has to offer.” So when, shortly after, she saw signs for the Drop Fees campaign, a campaign aimed at lowering the cost of tuition fees, she started volunteering. “I got involved with my College [Calumet] and really saw the connection between College life and university life, and how important it is to create communities within the two. Seeing that you could be part of the dance club or the art club or the math club and still make these really great connections is what encouraged me to get involved at York. Sometimes, it’s about recognizing that there are bigger things than you in order to make a positive change.”
Gayle mentions some important ideas that incoming students should keep in mind. The first is that it’s OK to feel a little uncomfortable! When I first got to Stong College to start O-Week 2014, I was similarly nervous. It’s totally understandable, if you think about it: you’re in a new place, with new people and new adventures ahead of you whose shape you don’t quite know. But by the end of the week, I had made friends that I’m still close to, and the experience itself was fun: We went on downtown scavenger hunts, attended parties and had an amazing time on the boat cruise on Lake Ontario at the end of the week. So I strongly encourage you to attend your Frosh Week! There are both “loud” and “soft” events for every personality, and you can be sure to find something you like.
The second thing to keep in mind is that university is truly what you make it. Whether you’re a commuter or living in residence, you are about to embark on a new journey. You are in charge of your time here at York, and thankfully we have got many ways to get involved, whether it’s through clubs or your College.
If you would like to get more involved in your student union, sign up for RedPack, the student volunteer team that helps out at events and during many of the campaigns. There are both full-year and semester-only options, so you can tailor your experience to what works for you. The YFS sends out emails when it needs volunteers. Find a task that matches your interests and availability — and walk away with fresh experiences, new friends, reference letters, movie tickets and YFS swag!
With this amount of cool experiences and essential services offered by the YFS, wouldn’t you agree they are definitely the coolest student union in the country?
Are you a YFS member or volunteer or have more questions about the union? Leave a comment or tweet me @yorkuniversity!