Lakehead Orillia students voice concerns about their campus
Laura Henry & Emma Clements, Contributors
Lakehead University’s original campus was established in Thunder Bay, Ontario in 1965. More than forty years later, Lakehead opened up their second campus in Orillia in 2006. Despite experiencing an impressive and rapid expansion, Lakehead Orillia still seems to be falling through the cracks, particularly with regard to public representation, course selection, and perceived legitimacy. These issues have troubled many Orillia students and have led to an inequality between campuses. Consequently, the Orillia satellite campus has received the derogatory nickname, “Fakehead,” by many at the Thunder Bay campus.
Boasting nearly 8,000 students, the Thunder Bay campus is much larger and is deeply connected to the image of Lakehead University, portrayed through its website, social media platforms, and advertising brochures. Lakehead’s Orillia campus is significantly smaller with approximately 1,400 students and has a far less prominent public image.
The Lakehead website and social media pages rarely promote the Orillia campus, and instead favour photographs and videos of Thunder Bay. This focus on information from the Thunder Bay campus has led many Lakehead Orillia students to a point of great confusion, realizing the school they thought they signed up for is in reality, hours away and in the middle of a small town’s cornfield.
One solution might be to create two separate Lakehead websites, one for the Orillia campus and one for Thunder Bay. Although Lakehead Orillia is featured on the current website, Thunder Bay’s campus is still predominantly shown in most of the photos and has more widespread attributes such as sports, programs, students, faculty, and course selection. In addition, it can be difficult to select or access important Orillia-specific information, as the website’s claim that you can “save your preference for later” rarely works. By having two separate websites, prospective students will know exactly which campus is pictured and will know which courses and extracurricular programs are offered at each campus.
The Thunder Bay campus holds a great amount of control over Lakehead Orillia in a multitude of ways, granting special information or permissions for distant Orillia students, and housing many of the program heads and online course professors. This forces Lakehead Orillia students to use e-mail or telephone communication to discuss important academic details that are not accessible on their own campus. The Thunder Bay campus sometimes even dictates weather-related campus closures for Orillia, despite being over a thousand kilometres away.
Though the innovative telepresence in classrooms on both campuses has been a point of pride for many students and has allowed the two campuses to remain somewhat connected, it appears that nearly all Lakehead Orillia students have at least one or two horror stories from participation in these classrooms. Students on the Orillia campus have faced issues such as: Thunder Bay professors favouring their own campus or paying an insufficient amount of attention to Orillia students, audio or video lags interrupting class communication and participation, and professors selecting assignment formats that do not suit this digital, dual-campus class setting.
An Orillia student, who prefers to remain anonymous, told The Argus she had an extremely negative experience in one of these classes. The difficulties started early in the semester when the professor, who was on the Thunder Bay side, frequently paid more attention to the Thunder Bay students. This behaviour continued, with the Orillia students feeling regularly ignored. During one class, the professor completely muted the audio for Orillia without the students’ knowledge or consent, claiming that the “typing sound” was too irritating. Later in the semester, severe winter weather caused the Orillia campus to be closed, but the professor still held class in Thunder Bay and failed to provide the Orillia students with a sufficient “catch-up” lesson. At the end of the semester, the professor and the Thunder Bay students collectively decided to meet for dinner instead of holding their final class. Obviously unable to attend, the Orillia students were assured they would still receive attendance marks for that day of class; however, they were ultimately outcast from the social experience.
The professor’s behaviour during this telepresence class further punctuated the frustrations felt by students of the Orillia campus, and this is only one story of many. Professors teaching telepresence classes have excellent opportunities to foster positive relationships between campuses, but they cannot do so if their class structures and teaching styles are exclusionary.
Many Orillia students told The Argus they wish the campus’ faculty and administration could have more freedom and control when it comes to determining academic opportunities. Many of these students expressed frustration about the fact that when they have program or course questions, they are almost always told they need to speak to someone unknown and distant in Thunder Bay. More training and resources might help the Orillia staff and students. Students on this campus should not have to constantly wait weeks, sometimes even months, for emails or confirmation from faculty in Thunder Bay who are not familiar with our educational path.
Many students expressed feeling forgotten about on this campus, and this should never be an issue. Read on for more from Orillia students, in their own words.
On the nickname “Fakehead”:
“I feel this name is detrimental to the campus…and creates animosity between the two campuses…I think the Orillia campus needs to grow to establish that we are a serious campus too.” – 4th year Interdisciplinary Studies student, Orillia
“I can see how the nickname is intended to be a joke, but it undermines the legitimacy of the campus, the programs, and the students in Orillia…we are all made very aware of the power that the Thunder Bay students, staff, and faculty have over our campus’ reputation. I think that by offering more program options, Lakehead Orillia [can] build up its reputation and reinforce its legitimacy.” – Anonymous student, Orillia
“When I heard it, my first reaction was to laugh. There isn’t much you can do about this sort of thing aside from putting your best foot forward…[the] Administration, the student union, The Argus, and the various clubs in Orillia play an integral role to the close-knit feel of their campus…By comparison, I actually think it is easier to slip through the cracks and have a relatively unengaged experience on the Thunder Bay campus”. – Lakehead Orillia Alumnus; Masters student, Thunder Bay
“I think coming here has changed my life, and this campus deserves more recognition and funding so the programs can continue to expand and the wonderful professors who changed my life can receive all of the benefits that they deserve.” – 4th year Criminology student, Orillia
“I had to email a Thunder Bay student, and [they] said ‘Whoa, the Orillia campus actually has students willing to go there? And laughed…” -3rd year Business student, Orillia
On discrepancies between the two campuses:
“Orillia is good, but I would really love to see a couple more buildings…a bigger library would make a huge difference.” – Anonymous student, Orillia
“Their course selection is the only thing I’ve ever been jealous of…our library is definitely lacking (though the staff are tremendous!). I’d say the major difference between both [campuses] is student identity.” – 3rd year Arts student, Orillia
“The Thunder Bay campus is without a doubt the thriving hub of Lakehead University, due in large part to the substantially higher student population, infrastructure, and access to services and amenities. Because Orillia is considerably smaller, there is less representation—and, accordingly, less agency—for it across these structures. If Orillia is looking to change this relationship, I would simply argue that it has to clearly express its voices and concerns, perhaps loudly at times” – Lakehead Orillia Alumnus; Masters student, Thunder Bay
“As the number of students at Lakehead Orillia grows, the common areas are getting busier and busier so it is becoming increasingly difficult to find quiet workspaces. Having more access to less busy areas would make it easier to get work done on campus.” – 4th year Business student, Orillia
“I had no clue Lakehead Orillia even existed until one day I saw it on a pamphlet…we need better promotional pictures and descriptions of Orillia’s campus.” -1st year Anthropology student, Orillia
“We’re all getting the same degree, I just wish we could [have] what they [have], and when they brag about it or it’s shown online, it kind of sucks. We should be represented better and have more opportunities” -1st year History student, Orillia
“Students at the Orillia campus need more course selection…we have a great amount of academic support but students are not always able to take courses they are passionate about or even enjoy remotely…Ask the students what they want to learn about.” – Anonymous student, Orillia
“There are unquestionably more services offered to the students on the Thunder Bay campus, which is mostly due to a lack of infrastructure at Lakehead Orillia, but I will say that one of Orillia’s major benefits is its proximity to southern Ontario. Thunder Bay is a very isolated city, surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of wilderness, which creates a unique set of challenges.” – Lakehead Orillia Alumnus; Masters student, Thunder Bay
On what makes Lakehead Orillia unique:
“We have great professors who are incredibly well recognized in their respective fields, we have small classes which help the student learning experience, and we have great campus programs that bring students together.” – 4th year Interdisciplinary Studies student, Orillia
“I truly love the tight-knit and close quarters Orillia’s campus offers. I don’t love the huge, sports obsessed, and easy to be lost in schools. I like to be a face and a name, rather than a number” – Anonymous student, Orillia campus
“I feel valued and a part of a community in my classes, in my program, and just on campus in general.” – Anonymous student, Orillia campus
“My favourite thing about attending Lakehead [Orillia] has always been it’s small size. Small class sizes is always a bonus…Getting to know professors is helpful to students, for a number of reasons, as well.” – 4th year Business student, Orillia
“There is less competition for the usual student roles than there are at larger university campuses, which means that people have greater potential for growth and change…Lakehead Orillia is a place where anyone can accomplish good things, get involved, and learn a lot if they are simply willing to try.” – Lakehead Orillia Alumnus; Masters student, Thunder Bay
“It is a very tight knit campus with lots of small class sizes and it has professors that are very approachable and helpful.” – 4th year Social Work student, Orillia
“Because of the small class sizes, I was able to form bonds with these professors. They noticed when I missed class, asked me if I was okay, pushed me to do my absolute best and told me when they were proud of me…Lakehead Orillia is a place to grow.” – 4th year Criminology student, Orillia
Lakehead Orillia is a fantastic campus, and we truly do love it. However, change is required to provide a more equitable education for current students and to enhance the understanding and exposure for prospective students of the satellite campus.
The Argus contacted several Lakehead faculty and staff members for comment, however, these individuals either denied or failed to fulfill our request within the allotted time frame.