Life of a Don

Edited by Tasmiyah Randeree

From the moment I arrived at the University of Toronto, there has been a group of people that have always been there for me and have helped me in every way possible. From explaining how the washer works (Yes, I have to admit I didn't know where to put the coins the first time around) to getting me out of trouble, my Dons have been my saviours! I am a part of St. Michaels College and I live at Loretto College (the only all-girls residence on campus). Since the first day I interacted with my dons, I knew I would like to be one of them at some point in my university career. They have always been there, taking care of us, helping us in any way possible, cheering us up and simply just trying to make things easier, which is super important in university where things can get quite tough.

Having this huge admiration and respect for my Dons, I decided to interview one of them. Meet Danielle, a second-year graduate student. She graduated from the University of Toronto and has lived on residence all throughout her university career. 


Caro: Why did you decide to become a Don?

Danielle: “I decided to become a Don because I wanted others to enjoy university as much as I did. In my first years at UofT, my Deans, Dons and House Council team worked hard to transform residence into a home. I learned about a multitude of resources and events on campus that helped me cope with stress as well as introduced me to great people from a variety of programs. I didn’t feel completely alone in my university journey.

I know that students face a lot of hardships – family pressures, financial strain and poor mental health (to name a few) – that make it hard for them to remember why they decided to pursue post-secondary education. I wanted to be someone who could open them to all the fun experiences university has to offer as well as a voice that assured them that they have purpose.” 


C: What’s your craziest Don story?

D: “One moment that stands out was the first of many floods. In my first week as a first-year Don, the water was shut off in our residence for the day. I was in my room on a Friday night and I thought, “Why does it sound like there’s a waterfall in the hallway?” I walked outside to investigate and as I approached the common room, the noise got louder and louder. The common room washroom was just a wreck. Someone forgot to turn the tap off when the water turned back on and the water was overflowing, covering the tile floor and common room carpet. It wasn’t only that room either – all the single room side washrooms flooded as well. I remember yelling and running down the hallway with my Co-Don while lugging mops and other cleaning equipment. To this day I am still stunned that no one heard us!”


C: What’s something that most students don’t know about being a Don?

D: “I don’t think that students fully understand the emotional toll Donship takes. When I address a problem, it does not just take time out of my studying schedule, it also has an emotional impact. I’ve seen and heard a lot of sad stories that make me question if I’ve been helpful or make me feel like I’m carrying a lot of weight. The hardest part is putting on a brave face in order to keep an incident discrete or to inspire students to persevere through their struggles. I’m lucky though – I’ve got a fantastic support system. My Deans, Co-Dons and family help keep me laughing and grounded.”


C: How much of a responsibility is it?

D: “Like any job, Donship is all about balance. I take student safety and privacy extremely seriously but I try to not take myself too seriously. Not everything is an emergency and not every event has to cater towards a serious issue. I see my role as not making decisions for residents but teaching them strategies so that they can problem solve on their own. By the end of October, I notice a lot of growth.” 


C: How did you manage your duties as a Don and your academic life?

D: “My top two priorities are: 1. keeping residents safe and 2. completing my schoolwork. School has to come before other issues because without school, I wouldn’t be living in residence and therefore wouldn’t be a Don.

I have adapted my everyday living routine to support residents. Mealtimes are a good time to do daily check-ins with residents, exercising (i.e. skating) and attending events (i.e. dances) with residents are great methods of ensuring healthy behaviors and studying in common spaces says, “I’m here with you in the struggle.” When I take the elevator, I chat. When I watch Netflix, I invite people to join me. For the special in-house events that I plan, I try to create an escape for individual residents and at the same time, use the event as a tool for connecting many residents to people they might not regularly hang out with.”


C: Did anyone in particular inspire you to be a Don? If so, who?

D: “Initially, I was frightened about applying for Donship because I felt that I was unprepared for the problems that I was going to face – I knew that I was privileged to live in a very stable household. At the end of the day though, my parents inspired so much confidence in me. My dad is the “Go try new things!” and my mom is the, “You can do it!” As for my brothers, they taught me how to build a tough outer skin and resilience. When faced with problems, I don’t see them give up and I’ve definitely developed that determined attitude in my work. One final shout out – I cannot forget the Don teams in my first and second years either!”


My Dons, Danielle in particular, have always been there for me and have taken really good care of me. Being a Don is a job that is both demanding as well as satisfactory. If you ever get the chance to be friends with one, I am sure you will see how caring they are. And if you are considering applying to be one, but you have doubts, don't. Go for it! Just do it. You could help clueless freshmen find their place and help them shape their early years of their university career. I'd like to end off with a huge thank you to all the UofT Dons! 


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Disclaimer: Names were changed to protect privacy from participants in the interview.