Transitions, Intersections, and Thresholds
Last Sunday morning, I volunteered to help with Ryerson’s Housing & Residence Move-In Day. My assigned task was “Pit Unload”. Amidst a team of student volunteers and staff, I did just that: unloaded boxes, bags, and last-minute-strewn miscellany from the cars of verklempt parents, stacking them, often teetering, on dollies. From there, belongings were shuttled across the quad by another set of Orientation volunteers where athletes, swapping the gym for literal stair-climbing with a real-world purpose, took over and hauled first year gear up seven flights of stairs. What a sight: every helping hand had a direction and purpose, and every incoming family was met by a welcoming smile, cheer, and impeccably organized step-by-step move-in process.
I admit, having woken before 6am, followed by a cycle across town in already dripping humidity, and facing four hours of heavy schlepping, left me a little bit self-pitying about what I’d walked into, on a weekend no less. But it took fewer than two new students tentatively stepping out of their parents’ trucks, visibly touched by the warm reception and eagerness of the volunteer crew lining Church Street, to inspire me nothing short of All-in.
Why was I hesitant on the bike ride over? Why second thoughts given that I had willingly signed myself up? I think it had something to do with my never having lived in residence.
Going to the University of Toronto was, for me, assumed. I never went on any campus tours, never had a single conversation with my mother or father about any other options. We lived in Toronto, I carried several family responsibilities, and ultimately there was no budget, theirs or mine, to move out, so I was to commute to St. George campus. I did so for three years, moving out part way through my fourth year into a partitioned loft with two roommates. So, in short, I simply had no understanding about the momentousness of Move-In Day, the emptying-of-the-parents’-house, the bittersweetness for accompanying family. Sure, I understood it was important, and am friends and colleagues with a number of folks involved in Housing, all of whom I respect greatly. But, I just didn’t know.
(Caveat: I volunteered for, at most, five hours. Not only were most other staff and student volunteers going to spend twice as long as I was that day unloading cars, they would be going on to Orientation activities day after day after day. The effort, extroversion, and energy required have me humbled.)
I came home in the early afternoon that Sunday beaming. Since then, I’ve been reflecting upon why. Yes, there was a tremendous sense of Ryerson community. The pride of being part of SA in particular. The two students with whom I connected about Academic Accommodation Support, and the several more whose interest is now piqued about Student Learning Support offerings. The awe-inspiring intensity of care, precision, and planning that goes into not just Move-In Day but the whole of Orientation. But above all, I not only bore witness but shared in a moment of crossing a threshold, in a palpable experience of transition.
In those few hours last Sunday morn, I had the privilege of participating in, as Arthur and Hiebert describe, “others’ direct and personal experience of change.” Now, in many ways, this is something I get to do often: I run SHIFT, our AAS transition program for students with disabilities that impact learning, and an iteration of Portage, the outdoor ed component that takes this same cohort camping to deepen readiness, confidence, and community. (I was also lucky to participate, early post-mat leave, on the periphery of Jumpstart, a flourishing-based skill-building orientation of sorts.)
It is this encounter with the residence transition, however, that has me feeling acutely impacted and deeply curious. In my readings about transition, I was reminded, “transition into higher education is embedded in other transitions happening…”. First year, especially for those students embarking on a change in location and living context, is a time of intersecting changes. It’s not just one.
And no doubt, these layers of changes are different but no less present for commuting, part-time, new parents, and mature students. To put my grad schooling in Sociology of Education hat on, I am then urged to inquire: what about the added potential pressures from the already complex and pre-existing intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic contexts? And, what might be the transitional experiences for aboriginal students? Trans students? Too, what of other significant post-secondary transitions, like transferring institutions, coming from college, entering the work world, or returning to train for a second career?
Which is all really to ask how can we do better, in SA, to acknowledge, understand, participate meaningfully in, and research the complex weave that is student transition? How can we go further in helping students with what they’re transitioning from and to? With the histories, identities, and complexities they’re transitioning with? And, how to bolster students’ skills to cope and persevere, flourish and thrive, as they move through threshold moments?
I have taken this volunteering for Move-In Day as an invitation to explore, how can we reach further in supporting Ryerson students, no matter what transitions they’re facing, to transition well?
Read Part II: Transitions, Intersections, and Thresholds—Thriving Through, in which Deena & family experience a myriad of personal transitions and she suggests ways in which to scaffold liminal, in-between, messy, threshold spaces.