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Message from OCAD U President: Welcome to a new academic year

Message from the President: Welcome to a new academic year

To our new and returning students,

Welcome to the start of a new academic year, a year unlike any other we will have. All of us share this bond of choosing to forge ahead and co-create the 2020-21 academic year, undoubtedly an experience we will remember for a very long time.

As faculty and staff, we started down this path intent on getting core principles right: we needed to design an experience that, first of all, keeps everyone healthy and safe. That is why we are not seeing each other in person, why access to campus is limited at first, and why you can’t meet each other by the yellow staircase.

Of course,we will be considering how to increase access to our campus as the year unfolds: our gradual opening strategy provides a way for all of us to monitor and understand the situation, and to implement strategies continuously that will help keep all of us and the broader community safe.

With this context in mind, our faculty members and staff took the approach of designing a fall term experience that reflects our current reality. They are creating engaging and innovative learning experiences, designing co-curricular activities that promote a feeling of community and ensuring that all of you have a sense of belonging across distance.

But this is just the start. You also play a key role in how 2020-21 will unfold for all of us. How we move through this next year is something we are collectively creating in real time, as each individual makes decisions about how they choose to show up for each moment.

I joined the University in July as President, and spent my first two months getting to know people, learning more about what we do and how we work – mostly through virtual meetings.

I know from first-hand experience what it means to start something new online – as we are all doing this year. And I also know that it is possible to connect with people and create deep and long-lasting relationships through these types of interactions.

As we all kick-off the academic year in this new environment, I would like to share five insights I’ve learned from my own experience that I hope will help us collectively create a community to which we can all proudly belong:

  1. We are all more than what we see online: as you interact with each other, remember that everyone inhabits multiple lives. We are students, professors and staff, but also mothers, sons, caregivers, neighbours, workers, and citizens, as well as members of various communities. The intersectionality of our lives is seemingly easier yet also harder to discern when you meet each other through a screen. We’ve all seen the video of the consultant whose kids Zoom-bombed him on a BBC interview, but there is much more we likely don’t see reflected in online interactions. Everyone’s context is filled with complexity we can only guess at. As we enter into these spaces, let us do so with generosity and kindness, and without assumptions about how people are living their lives and adapting to remote learning or teaching. Let us be open, flexible, patient, respectful and, yes, forgiving of ourselves and others.
  2. Give yourself (and others) a break: after spending my entire career in digital media, one thing I know for certain: technology always fails us at some point. When this occurs, give yourself and others a break. Know that we are here for you to help find solutions to problems. Sometimes, it just takes time. Also, remember that often the best thing to do when things aren’t working is to step away from your desktop, laptop or mobile. Take a break. Go screen-free for a few hours.
  3. Look and/or ask for help: we know that this year is different, and finding ways to provide you with the services you need has been top of mind for the University. I want to reassure you that we are here to support you. We’ve created an online hub to make it easier for you to find the information you need, when you need it. This includes a one-stop email form for all University services plus the online hub Technology Support for Students where you can find out about the support available to you. If you do need to reach a live person, please remember that counselling and support services are available from the Student Wellness Centre. You can email or call (416) 977-6000, ext. 284 to book a same day appointment with a counsellor.
  4. Figure out how to ground yourself: many of your courses will be asynchronous, so you will also be setting your own pace for learning. While I’m lucky to have space to do my work – my dining room table – I also recognize that it’s important to set a regular time-based routine. Frame your days with specific things you have chosen to do – to begin and end them. This will help with creating purpose-filled weeks, and help you more easily create a schedule for yourself, get your work done, and meet your deadlines.
  5. Relish a joyful connection to community: I know this will be easier for some than others. To make things easier, we are launching two initiatives to support you in feeling more connected to OCAD U. Our Learning Communities Program will connect first-year students in groups, facilitated by upper-year students, offering opportunities to develop relationships with each other, learn more about our services and programs, build and share skills, and support overall wellness. We are also launching OCAD U Live – an online platform that will showcase content (from artworks to performances, from mini-interviews to DJ’ing and more) developed by students for students – 24/7-ish — connecting through making and sharing their work. Stay tuned for more information on both of these exciting initiatives.

Fall 2020 will indeed be different – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The pandemic has shown us that we have limitless capacity to support each other, to use art and design as a way to bring comfort and hope, and to reimagine a future that’s just and equitable for all. And while we have faced a lot of uncertainty these past few months – one thing is certain: you are here at OCAD U, now.

Make the most of this opportunity to create meaningful connections with your peers, professors and staff. Let us prioritize not just our practices but also the creation of our community because it is only through mindfully nurturing our human connections in all their diversity that we can find opportunities to grow, to be even more creative, and to be ready to tackle whatever other new challenges come our way.


Ana Serrano
President and Vice-Chancellor