Impactful, life-changing experiences at Hart House in clubs and classes paved the way for student Jenna Gu to gain confidence, change majors and embrace new challenges. She encourages other students to be bold and take advantage of the remarkable opportunities at the House and, more broadly, the University of Toronto.

Jenna Gu first heard about Hart House from a friend in the Faculty of Arts and Science who described it as “a place where I can relax and have fun.” She soon became very active in the Hart House Debating Club. “I started with this club because I wanted to practise public speaking and I was also very interested in social issues,” she explains, adding, “This club seemed to be a perfect fit.”

Jenna Gu

From her experiences in the Debating Club, she gained a new faith in her abilities and learned how to be assertive. “Usually, we don't want to have strong opinions because we don’t want to hurt our relationships with people who don't agree with us. But in the Hart House Debating Club, you really need to pick a side! I learned how to defend myself under pressure because other people, also with strong opinions, are going against you. But at the end of the day, you will realize that they are all very friendly.”

Jenna’s interest in and newfound passion for social issues raised in the Hart House Debating Club had a profound influence on her thinking and contributed to her changing her major from Engineering to Psychology. “The club got me started with social science, history and politics. It had a profound impact on my academic development.”

She was also active in Hart House’s English pronunciation class and the “Improvisation Games & Skills” class offered through Hart House's Creative LifeSchool. “I moved to Canada when I was in Grade 6, so I wasn't a native English speaker. As I have always been very introverted, I also didn't have much chance to practise English. But I made it a goal to improve my English and that's why I joined the English pronunciation class and improv program.”

Jenna was very impressed that both of these classes were run by professionals; she felt that she was getting top-notch guidance and appreciated the fact that, in the pronunciation class, the teacher would tailor the work to each student’s needs. “Having a professional teacher to guide me through all the nuances really helped me to make the pronunciation more precise. It was very helpful.”

In the improv class, participants took turns contributing to an ongoing story, made up on the spot. This collaboration posed an additional language challenge that Jenna embraced and overcame with flying colours. “It helped me to be more comfortable with talking in front of everyone. And I learned a lot about English culture through this as well.”

LGBTQ+ Project “Because we know how important representation is”

Last February, Jenna took on a compelling new job at U of T. She began working as a research assistant for the International Partnership for Queer Youth Resilience (INQYR), a seven-year partnership focused on sexual and gender minority youth and their use of information and communication technologies.

Jenna attributes Hart House with helping her gain confidence in the application and interview processes for INQYR. Jenna aids with participant recruitment and knowledge mobilization for a project called LEVEL UP!. "LEVELUP! focuses on queer populations’ experiences in the gaming communities and in games because we know how important representation is,” Jenna explains.

She notes that members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are often portrayed in games as villains, and that, naturally, has a negative impact for queer or questioning youth.

“We know that many in the queer population feel isolated in the offline world—the real world—as their identity may not be recognized or may be discriminated against. Sometimes going online can be a good way for them to find their community with more people around the world. It's very important to foster a very inclusive community in the gaming world.”

Advice for Students: Be Bold, Seek Out New Opportunities

With her many successes, Jenna strongly encourages students to “be bold by reaching out to opportunities.” Having changed majors inspired by her Hart House experience, she encourages students to similarly keep an open mind, join Hart House Clubs or Committees and get to know the larger university community.

Initially, Jenna had some trepidation about embarking on the formidable transformation from Engineering to Psychology. “I was very worried that I might not be accepted into [social science] research positions because I hadn't taken any related courses at U of T… but, apparently, I was able to—my efforts were recognized. So, I would encourage other students that want to, to do the same.

“U of T is such a diverse and vibrant place where there's so much going on. I encourage students to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities here.”