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An unofficial guide to UFV, from textbooks to broken websites

Five years ago, UFV’s Student Union Society held the last “Dis-orientation” at UFV to date. While we can never be sure in what exact meeting or office conversation or how the name was dreamed up, one thing is clear: the idea behind the name was not really followed through on. The Dis-orientations that lasted through 2010 were big concerts, food, and drink events on the Abbotsford campus’s green (and, for one year, a five-part $100,000 extravagant display at the Abbotsford Sports & Entertainment Centre). “In short,” Paul Falardeau wrote in these pages in October of 2010, “Dis-O is an opportunity for students of UFV to have fun.” Following low attendance, “Dis-O” was re-configured into the Weeks of Welcome events that begin this upcoming week.

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By Michael Scoular (The Cascade) – Email

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Five years ago, UFV’s Student Union Society held the last “Dis-orientation” at UFV to date. While we can never be sure in what exact meeting or office conversation or how the name was dreamed up, one thing is clear: the idea behind the name was not really followed through on. The Dis-orientations that lasted through 2010 were big concerts, food, and drink events on the Abbotsford campus’s green (and, for one year, a five-part $100,000 extravagant display at the Abbotsford Sports & Entertainment Centre). “In short,” Paul Falardeau wrote in these pages in October of 2010, “Dis-O is an opportunity for students of UFV to have fun.” Following low attendance, “Dis-O” was re-configured into the Weeks of Welcome events that begin this upcoming week.

But back to the name: Disorientation is a term that links to a history of student activism on university campuses in North America. The New Inquiry, compiling a list of the guides in 2014, described their purpose as a collective response to the privilege, laziness, and uncritical attitudes that are often intrinsic to the higher-education experience: “They are designed to communicate a threefold message: 1) Everything is not alright, despite what they’re telling you; 2) If you think everything is not alright, you’re not alone; 3) This is where you can find those of us who refuse to accept the status quo and will work to change it.”

This is “Disorientation” as an alternative to the “orientation” universities offer (which SUS’s party-like events can be said to be basically a part of), which introduce students to an idea of belonging to programs, school colours, career paths, and various services. It says: there’s more than just this. Some students may be okay with the status quo, but for many, the status quo, and doing something about that, is exactly what brought you to a university in the first place. Now, there is a value to being educated on the resources available to students, and for most, just learning the layout of their first post-secondary campus is the greatest help they can get for their first day: you can’t do much if you get lost getting to class. And UFV is not a campus with a history of student activism; just getting a handful of students together to form a club or party can require a lot of legwork, so sending out a call for radicalization and transformation now is skipping a few steps.

The guide that follows then, is middle-ground, a collection of stuff they probably didn’t tell you during orientation, some because there wasn’t enough time, some because it isn’t part of the university’s official message.

Basically, just to get through university requires a lot of time catching up on terms and traditions you might still be vague on even if you’re a third year; and to change anything in any environment you enter requires a solid understanding of a place, an historical knowledge of how things work. This guide won’t give you everything, but it might help you in both areas during your time at UFV.


Study spaces and peer mentors 

There’s an idea circulating in many magazines, journals, and op-ed columns that this is the helpless generation. We need more “fun” activities, loosened standards, and dozens of services just to get us through assignments. Of course, there’s a difference between services that exist to lead us through an undergrad and groups that give us a chance to bond with other people — people that aren’t just the means to the end of an assignment or a course. UFV has several resources; the large bank-sponsored space in the Student Union Building (SUB) in Abbotsford behind Student Life’s tables, the “Peer Resource Centre,” which was opened with a ceremony last semester, was intended to make guides like this irrelevant. It would point you, in a friendly way, toward where you need to go. As of press time, it is “open,” but so far without the staff and volunteers that were part of its original plan.

This is the story of most of UFV’s resources: they are linked to the university’s administration, but poorly linked together when it comes to student access, especially online. Setting up a counselling appointment on UFV’s website is currently a dead link. The Academic Success Centre has several peer tutors, but at scattered times, with some subjects unrepresented. The online list of Supported Learning Groups appears to have not been updated in a year.

What this means is, as in “the real world,” you need to know people. When people cite the small class sizes and familiarity of UFV as some of its best attributes, what this also means is that if you talk to a professor you connect with through a course, or someone at Student Life, or a student in their fourth year (or, knowing UFV, someone who’s been around longer than that), you’ll very likely learn about the entire network of people, resources, and places to go on campus, or at least who else might know this. UFV, people say, is not an easy place to make friends. Students are often only on campus for their courses, then back to work, home, a long commute. But think of it this way: students are always the only reason a university exists. If you want to find something, and you want to talk to somebody, and it’s an honest question, and as long as you aren’t unknowingly asking a person refilling the vending machines, people here are obligated to listen to you.

Between that and the spaces that exist for students to congregate (there aren’t many, but a few notable ones: the Math Centre near the Abbotsford library, the Psychology Resource Room on the first floor of D building, the business floor at the top of C building, the geography floor at the top of A building), it is possible to form a network of people you actually want to study with and talk to on campus.


How to change things (if anybody wants to) 

That’s also the reason some people form clubs and associations; combined, there’s over 60 groups on campus, most of them representing study majors, cultural groups, and interests that lend themselves well to events or parties. For people fresh out of high school, it’s the type of thing that makes sense, but there are other ways of creating new, better things on campus (and not in the sense of “getting involved,” which often comes with the idea that it will be good in relation to your transcript or your moral duty or both).

By this I mean: familiarizing yourself with the governmental structures on campus. This is a tall order for many; it’s hard enough to keep track of the federal, provincial, and municipal governments. But, again, because UFV is small, and has only been around for 40 years, if you’ve already chosen to study here, it doesn’t take much to find out where to focus if you’ve noticed something that could use changing. There’s the Student Union Society, which is run mainly by three executives, who tend to run, each year, unopposed, in an election that’s decided by about 500 votes. There are about 10,000 students paying fees each semester at UFV, which gives SUS an operating budget of over $600,000 a year. A large portion of that goes to services for students, such as the commuter bus between campuses and the food options in the SUB, but as each year has gone by, it is clear that each year, it is part of SUS’s mandate and plans to add or subtract features of student life according to the executives’ goals — this shapes student life, but is decided by relatively few students, in the end.

On the academic side, UFV’s Senate is the major body through which degrees, program changes, academic requirements, course offerings, and many conversations about the future of the university first pass before going to the Board of Governors for final approval. There are four seats for students on Senate, and an election for those seats, but it is possible to have an impact without being a voting member, and without being part of a student group — like SUS, most meetings go by without a single student in attendance (to be fair, they are long meetings) and without a single external student report, presentation, or request, but both are open to submissions.

Not everyone will have an idea that’s actually well-developed enough to make it through Senate on their first day, of course. But there’s no question that: students see things differently than administrators, they notice things that are important that go unaddressed, or are delayed because they are not always at the same level of priorities for admin, staff, or faculty.

Of course, there isn’t much in the way of a history of student activism at UFV. In the past 20 years, students have held marches to support the institution changing from Fraser Valley College to University College of the Fraser Valley, to protest the provincial government’s funding of UFV, and to protest the lack of a Pride parade in Abbotsford. Most recently, a small protest against the unexpected closing of a student service (the Writing Centre) coincided with the matter going through a lengthy Senate review. So there isn’t much, and maybe that attitude will just never be a part of this place’s identity. But students, online, in conversations, and on the erasable banners briefly put up as part of the “UFV 2025” planning campaign, clearly want changes, on both a minuscule and large scale — this is arguably the most direct way to do it, less ignorable than a pile of petitions or loudspeaker chants, and it remains mostly unexplored by students.

At the very least, for what might be its last semester (the final season!) of activity (unless its anonymous user decides to pass the account on to another worthy student), you should follow

@ufvprobs; for whatever reason, where other universities have flourishing “Confessions” pages, UFV students use Twitter to deflate the university’s brand image with stories of comically empty landscapes, unfilled potholes, and decade out-of-date technology. UFV is not, on most days, a cohesive university; the sentiments of students collected by that page (for awhile its description was a perfect deadpan: “Don’t worry, I ended up here too”) and the sight of the Purdue University OWL citation page might be the most significant tangible connections shared among the majority of students.


Foraging for food

UFV is, as the long lineup stretching outside what isn’t even a full Tim Hortons might tell you, a bit of a food desert. Few students live on campus, and few food options, whether at the Tim Hortons, Sodexo-runcafeteria, Press Cafe in the bookstore, or Canoe restaurant in the SUB, are both affordable and contain the kind of nutrients you might need to keep you awake and thinking through a day and night of writing or studying. The SUS’s opening of a free-trade coffee shop in the SUB in Abbotsford, scheduled to be open for most of the day, is the exception to the rule at UFV, which is: convenient, higher prices as a result of that convenience, and lacking in variety. The news, revealed in an interview last year, that UFV is considering the additions of a Booster Juice and Subway in 2017 would not change this. The closest grocery store, the small section at the back of the Abbotsford bookstore aside, is a bus ride away, which means, yes, one more responsibility if you don’t want to feel tired and depleted as you shuffle through your full-time student schedule: bring your own food. The one thing UFV does not lack is microwaves. And in the SUB, next to Student Life and the Aboriginal Resource Centre, is a kitchen, with fridge, stove, utensils, cleaning supplies, etc. Any student can use it (one exception: if the food is for a large-scale event, you need a permit), though it appears very few people know, possibly because the lights are always out and it is separated from the rest of the space by a metal screen.


Textbook tyranny

Though the world of book publishing is, depending on where you step, not exactly stable, the niche of textbooks is a fortress, a relatively sustainable source of profit. New editions, high publisher-set retail prices, and digital add-ons that set an expiry date for the full use of a textbook — you’re probably familiar with all of these tricks, and pray you don’t end up with the professor who doesn’t seem to factor any of this in, the market conditions and how they contribute to them, when composing a required text list.

The go-to answer here is not a secret: Books2Go, which turns textbook selling into a kind of large communal sharing project, the same book handed down, year-to-year, surviving if students, once it becomes an older edition, are okay working with out-of-date page references and missing chapters. There was talk, but only talk, of the possibility of a used bookstore in the SUB, but, except for the possibility of failed exchanges and never-replied-to requests, Books2Go is arguably superior to that model. And there’s also the library. For brand-new science texts, aside from buying from online retail, with its shipping wait-times and disturbing labour practices, you’ll be out of luck, but for texts used as resources, secondary readings, or, really, most assigned texts in the humanities, there’s this thing called the library. If everyone used it, of course the two or three copies at most of books would soon disappear, but between the FVRL system and UFV’s collections, there are a decent number of options before you, if you’re willing to break down an anthology into multiple borrowed items to keep track of.


Escaping the fees

One thing to consider is that UFV does depend, to some extent, on students buying from the bookstore and paying for parking as part of its budget planning — both are part of the university’s ancillary fund, a small but not entirely insignificant amount. Profiting from students’ required presence on campus and in courses is something that requires zero imagination. There really isn’t any way around parking at UFV for most students, but there are a few alternate options. While the timing isn’t rapid enough for many students’ schedules, the campus connector shuttle between Chilliwack and Abbotsford has basically negated the need to use ride-sharing or car-pool planning apps. The free park-and-ride lots a short walk from the Abbotsford campus (as well as the free parking on the King Road hill) tend to have at least a few spots empty throughout the day. And, if you are can afford to be disappointed by the occasional late ride, the city buses in Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack are free to students through the U-Pass. It isn’t perfect, but it’s the sort of minor disappointment (with options) that is part of the UFV experience.

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