Some thoughts on graduating

a photograph of graduation caps against a blue sky

I am a little sad, a little happy and a lot groggy. I finished my degree.

In the Disability Studies program students complete a year long research project and they present it to their cohort and faculty. Our cohort’s presentations took place recently. There were really insightful moments, topics and so many heartfelt presentations demonstrating that the personal truly is political.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be finished. The build up to the presentations, the nervousness, the anticipation, then an eighteen minute presentation and it’s over.

I recently watched a documentary on the large number of graduates from university programs in Canada who are currently working in dead-end service positions. The documentary claimed there were several factors contributing to this phenomenon. One, baby boomers are not retiring and there are less positions opening up, or new grads are competing against them for the same position. Two, recent graduates are given little to no training in university to prepare them for resume writing or job interviewing and there are no co-op experiences. Three, Canada does not have an education ministry which means there are no statistics kept on what types of degrees universities are producing versus the types of skills that the labour market actually needs.

One women in the documentary who graduated with a history degree said that she felt she would be working in an office wearing heels and a power suit by now. For those of us in the Disability Studies program we have somewhat of an advantage. We are all working in our chosen field. However, I also have an earlier degree that didn’t translate into a job. I have a religious studies degree. You may well question what the hell I was thinking. How would religious studies translate into a job? Well, I wasn’t thinking about a job. I thought about what I wanted to know, what interested me, what I was passionate about. I was privileged to have been able to work my way through that degree with very little debt.

Sign reads Education is a right

Two degrees later, and about to enter my masters in the fall I think the overwhelming factor contributing to graduates working dead end jobs is not the boomers, or the lack of training or the lack of an education ministry. (Although, we do need one! I mean, seriously Ontario how many teachers can we produce?) What we need is free education. The woman in the documentary wasn’t working in a dead-end service because she liked it, rather because she was thousands of dollars in debt from her education. We are stifling the creativity of graduates because they are in hock. If we stop people from learning what they are passionate about and future generations focus on employment, what does that mean for the arts, for culture, for philosophy, for music?

Free education will not create generations of entitled citizens. Take a look at the Nordic countries. Education is free, their economies are booming and they consistently rank high in the happiest countries in which to live. Take a lesson, Canada.

Job Hunting Tips

Photograph of a woman looking at the career section of a news paper

Looking for a job can sometimes be as much work as having a full time job. There are a few tips and suggestions which can make this process a little less painful.

First, apply for everything. Even if the position is one in which you aren’t completely sure that you qualify for. It’s great practice to tailor your resume and cover letter which will make it easier to do in the future. Also, you never know who else is applying and perhaps you are more skilled than you think. I have noticed that sometimes organizations create a wish list for a job description and will accept other skills if they feel the person is a fit with their organization.

Try not to get discouraged if you don’t receive feedback from your resumes. There are many other people who are also looking for work and you never know how many people have applied for the same position. I recently had an interview, months after sending in my resume, it was a small organization and had received hundreds of resumes. This can make it time consuming for the organization to sort through and get back to applicants. If it is a job that you are particularly interested in, you could always follow up with an email.

Once you have heard back and are scheduled for an interview, PREPARE. Don’t get too stressed about the preparation, but ensure that you know about the organization. Spend time going over their website and get to know their history and mission. See if you can find any other information about the company online.

Think about questions that could be asked of you in the interview. While it seems easy to talk about yourself, it isn’t always that easy if you are feeling nervous. There are many sites online which can offer you sample interview questions and suggested answers. It can be helpful to review the questions, but instead really think about how you would answer those question and practice if necessary.Here are a few of questions which I have noticed in many of my recent interviews.

  1. What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
  2. What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  3. How do you react to stress/conflict?
  4. Why are you interested in working for this organization/leaving where you work now?

It is also a good idea to think of questions that you would like the answer too. Remember that interviews are a two way street and you need to learn if you are interested in the job. Here are a couple of questions worth asking.

  1. What would the day to day responsibilities of the position look like?
  2. What is the organizational structure?

Don’t be afraid to ask the more difficult questions as they may impact your decision.

  1. How flexible is the pay range?
  2. How much room is their in the organization for upward mobility?

Try to view the process as a learning experience and even if you say something you regret in an interview don’t judge yourself too harshly. The worst that can happen is you won’t hear back.

Great End of Semester Reads

A photograph of a woman sitting under a tree reading a book

 

Now that the semester is over and exams are almost done, you might be searching for a great book to read. If you are like me, you find it difficult to read for pleasure while reading for assignments and papers. So now it’s time to race to the library and start on a summer reading list. Here’s are some suggestions to get you started.

Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

For those of you who don’t know Kenny Werner, he is a brilliant jazz musician and this book explains his method for freeing himself from creative barriers and gaining a deeper, more spiritual understanding of jazz. While he may have written it for musicians, this book transcends art forms. It is more than a musicians manual this book expands new ways of thinking, new understandings of failure with an almost Buddhist sensibility. This is a great read for everyone.

Creation by Gore Vidal

So I should say upfront that I love Gore Vidal. I have read almost everything he has ever written. He is a brilliant story teller. I also love historical fiction. Creation is a great example of historical fiction. His novel spans the fifth century BCE. Love, philosophy, war, adventure, this novel has all of the elements of great fiction. I have read this work several times and writing about it now makes me want to pick it up and start it again.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft

You may not have heard of H.P Lovecraft. He was an early horror writer who leaves the horror up to your imagination. There is something frightening about not knowing all of the details. Unlike writers like Stephen King who spells out the horrifying details, Lovecraft sets the scene and leaves the rest up to your imagination. This novel tells the story of Charles Dexter Ward who driven to the edge and beyond by dark forces.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

This tells the story of a rare Hebrew manuscript, known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, through five centuries. The main character, Hanna Heath an Australian manuscript conservator examines the book and finds traces of the people who have worked to save the text throughout the years. Brooks, a Pulitzer prize winner flashes back through time to reveal the history of the book and the people who became part of its history. I sometimes find that I am unable to read after hours of reading articles for school and I got this book as an audiobook with the library’s overdrive app. I was really impressed with the narration done by Edwina Wren. Not all narrators can do accents which don’t sound fake but this book was expertly written and read.

Buffalo’s disABILITY Museum

a photograph of a red brick building which houses the disABILITY museum

I recently went to the DisABILITY museum in Buffalo on a road trip with some friends to see their exhibit on The Lives They Left Behind. As I am currently working on research and in an arts collective about institutionalization at Huronia Regional Centre, this seemed like a great way to increase my knowledge and hang out with some friends. I knew absolutely nothing about the museum before we arrived early Saturday morning and neither did either of my companions. This was perhaps a mistake.

When thinking about how to describe the museum it is hard to know where to start. Perhaps with a sigh (a sound all of us made while reading almost every panel).

A panel at the museum which is titled the "Monument for the Forgotten: Institutional Cemetery Restoration"

The panel at the museum which barely mentions those who are buried in unmarked graves

Let me describe one panel to highlight the confusing commentary and curation of this museum. In the back corner of the museum, there is a panel titled, Monument for the Forgotten: Institutional Cemetery Restoration. Sadly, this panel is hard to see as it is almost completely block by another panel and a funerary wreath. The commentary begins with “Humans have been burying their dead for over one hundred thousand years for a variety of reasons-including superstition, religious beliefs, public health concerns, a sense of closure for family or loved ones and out of reverence or respect.” The panel then rambles on about the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids. Only the last sentence mentions the unmarked graves of those who were institutionalized. Referring to those as people “with disabling conditions who died while in institutional care where candidates for anonymity; if they had little family contact or could not afford a ‘proper burial’ it was the responsibility of the institution.”

Okay, so let’s talk for a second about who got incarcerated in institutions. While the disABILITY museum would have you believe that it was only people “with disabling conditions”, there are a host of social factors which lead to institutionalization, like ethnicity, immigrant status, poverty, gender, and sexual orientation.

The use of the phrase “institutional care” is also misleading. For example, Willowbrook was mentioned at the museum. This was an institution in which abuse, rape and medical experimentation took place. Children incarcerated there were actually exposed to Hepatitis on purpose. One survivors recalled being force fed contaminated feces.  And yet, the disABILITY museum makes no mention of these horrors and uses the phrase ‘institutional care’. The idea that families could or would have paid for burial also places the burden on the families of those who were incarcerated. In Ontario and throughout institutions in North America, families were actively told not to visit their incarcerated relatives. Add to that the poverty that many of these families experienced, how could family burials be expected?

a photo of a panel at the museum which discusses Willowbrooke but does not mention any of the documented cases of abuse

Sadly, this is all the museum mentions about Willowbrook

 

None of these issues are ever addressed at the disABILITY museum. The critical thought behind the curation, or lack of, is quite frightening. For example, there is even a panel about ‘positive eugenics’.

How can this be you might ask? If you look into the founding of the disABILITY museum you will learn that it was founded by a non-profit called People Inc, which provides support to a variety of populations including those labelled with intellectual disabilities.

A quick tour through the gift shops demonstrates what it meant by ‘support’. You can purchase wine stoppers, hand made cards, and pen and ink sketches all made by people living with labels who work in sheltered workshops. When I asked if the artists received the money from the sale, I got a cagey answer and when pressed, the truth is that the majority of the money goes People Inc.

I would suggest, that the disABILITY museum consider changing their name to the People Inc museum. At least visitors would have a better idea of what bias they are going to see.

Mircoaggression

a black background on which is written "what's your real name?" "You don't even have an accent" with the word Microagression is bold white letters

I was recently asked to be interviewed about microaggression and inclusive language. Before I agreed, I had to look up the term microaggression. According to the Psychology Today blog microaggressions are “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”.

The first things that sprang to mind were the obvious; that’s so gay, this is lame or the ‘r’ word. The more I started to think about it, the more I thought of the subtle ways in which my position as an attendant for people with multiple impairments acts as conduit of microaggressions. Often people will come up to me when I am working for someone, ignore them completely and tell me I “have a place in heaven,’ that I ‘must be a saint’ or that ‘isn’t it nice that I take them out.’ Or I am often asked if the person I am with is my son or brother. The implications of this language, the microaggressions, are that those with disabilities are not worth even talking to, that only family members would want to spend time with them, that disabled people require non disabled people to ‘take them out’ and that people who work for disabled people must be exceptional people.

These comments would not have been happened (I am sure they would have still be unconscious thoughts) if not for my position as non disabled attendant. I have talked to the men I work for to understand how they would like to me to respond as they have communication impairments. However, there never really seems to be a good way to deal with these comments. At least, not one that makes the situation worse.

I also wonder if using the term microaggression, is in itself a microaggression. Isn’t it jargon? Shouldn’t we try to avoid jargon? Don’t we want to write in plain language? If we want to talk about inclusive language shouldn’t we then talk in a plain language format?

Sadly, my initial delight that someone not only read my blog but wanted to interview me about language was crushed by a lack of fact checking and misquotations. But at least it got me thinking about microaggressions. I wonder if perhaps we aren’t creating a new and varied jargon to further obscure concepts like ableism, racism, sexism, ageism, etc.

Discrimination is one thing, but microaggression leaves too much up for interpretation.

Spring in all it’s Splendor… trashed.

A pile of black melting snow reveals garbage and a broken shopping cart

With the beautiful spring weather and the melting snow comes the trash. The piles of cigarettes butts, cups, scraps of paper, even shopping carts. Sadly, we have come to expect this as a rite of passage into warmer weather. But why? It is really so hard not to litter?

All of this trash makes me wonder how much money the city is spending to clean up for people who litter and pollute. So here are some of the facts that might surprise you. They did me. Did you know that in 2003 the city of Toronto collected 14 tonnes (this equals about 2,800 garbage bags) of street waste daily. 8,000 tonnes are of cigarette butts are littered by Canadians every year.

Most litter occurs within 5 metres of a trash bin. The average distance that someone will carry trash for is 12 paces. The majority of the litter collected is composed of cigarettes packages and cigarette butts, fast food packaging, newspapers, beverage containers and chip and candy wrapping.The city employs 145 litter pickers, 38 by-law officers, and 55 litter vacuums. We spend $16 million dollars annually to clean up the street waste that people unthinkingly litter.

And what do litterers have to say for themselves? The city did a survey of people who have littered at least once in the past month. 54% say they are lazy, 46% of people didn’t care, 32% said that the item was small and therefore it didn’t matter. 60% of people didn’t even realize that it is illegal to litter and only 28% of people under the age of 18 are aware littering is a crime. The survey showed that young people who are new to the city are more likely to litter.

The sad thing is that almost half of all people who see litter are more likely to litter. So what does this tell us. Well, the majority of litter comes from smokers, younger adults and people who are new to the city, despite the availability of trash bins people will drop their garbage rather than walk 13 paces to the bin and ultimately all of us pay to clean up after people who litter.

The big question is what do we do about this? The city’s survey suggested TV ads or billboard campaigns. Or we could always hire more by-law enforcement officers and actually fine people when they litter. Or we could have anti-littering campaigns in high schools. I don’t know if any of these would help to solve the problem of litter, but we have to start somewhere.

Get Outside

A man and dog walking near Humber River

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss).

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources”.

Even the dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy. From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

Here is a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy.

6 Tips to Remember When Applying for Awards

A blackboard with "helpful tips' written in chalk

There are tons of awards available to help cover the cost of pursuing your education and to highlight your hard work. While applying for awards might initially seem like more work then they are worth, everyone should apply. When I first started at Ryerson, I didn’t apply for any awards, partly because I thought they were too much work and because I thought there would be so many people applying I wouldn’t have a chance of winning. Neither of which are true. Here are some tips when applying for awards.

1. Let your personality shine through. The people on the awards committee probably do not know you. Let them get to know you through your application. Applications don’t need to be as stuffy and formal as you might think. In fact, the more the awards committee can see your personality the more likely they are to remember you.

2. Throughly read and respond to the award outline. All awards applications will tell you the criteria for how they are distributed. Read this very carefully. Read it several times. And speak to those points. If the award criteria asks for examples of commitment to Ryerson, don’t just mention how long you have been a student, write out your volunteer work, what committees you are on, or if you have done a work study program. Once you start writing it out, you will realize that you have done a lot more than you thought.

3. Get started early. It’s a good idea to search out awards and start thinking about them long before they are due. Here’s the list of awards available from the Faculty of Community and Social Services. http://www.ryerson.ca/fcs/students/awards/index.html You should also see if your school offers awards specific to your field of study. Check if the awards require letters of recommendations and ask for them early. Don’t wait until the week before.

4. Proof-read. I can’t stress this enough. Read over your application. Have someone else do it. Your application is representing you in that awards committee meeting so put your best foot or paragraph forward.

5. If you don’t succeed, try, try again. It’s a statistical impossibility for you to win every award that you apply for. That doesn’t mean that you should throw in the towel. It could mean that there were other more qualified people who applied, or perhaps you need to reevaluate your application. Use the experience to help you succeed next time.

6. Be thankful. If (and when) you do receive an award. Be thankful. Write a letter of thank you to the person, organization or family who donated the money for the award. The award donors want to get to know you and see where their donations are going.

A blackboard with "helpful tips' written in chalkGood Luck everyone!

Reviving Spirits with Blithe Spirit

a photograph of Angela Lansbury playing the role of Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit

It’s been a long winter. A long, cold winter. A long, cold, dark winter. The kind of winter which makes you want to stock up on supplies, have a collection of hot water bottles and never leave the house again till spring. With that being said, I needed a little pick me up. Blithe Spirit was just the thing.

My mother and I have had a standing late winter weekend date. This year we were lucky enough to have it coincide with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. I knew very little about this play. I only knew that Angela Lansbury was playing the role of medium, Madame Arcati. That alone was enough to get us out in the snow and heading to the Princess of Wales Theatre. Despite being almost ninety, Ms. Lansbury was energetic and spry on stage. You could see how much she loved the role.

I can’t recommend this play enough. It was fabulously hilariously, so engrossing that an hour and a half passed without even noticing it. There was an audible sigh of sadness when the play ended. You could feel the collective wish for it to continue. The play had every element you could want; brilliant acting, stellar comedic timing, great set and costume design, witty writing, and the tiny details which make you feel like you are actually in Kent on a chilly summer night.

The play, written in the 1940s, features Mr. and Mrs. Condomine who invite a medium (a hilariously eccentric character), Madame Arcati to dinner to provide Mr. Condomine with material for his next novel. Madame Arcati, falls into a trance and accidentally summons Mr. Condomine’s dead first wife, Elvira. Mr. Condomine is the only one able to see or hear her. You can imagine how having two wives, one being a rather petulant invisible spirit, can lead to farcical situations and interactions. I won’t give away the ending, suffice to say that it was not what I had expected to happen.

Even if you don’t manage to catch this play with Angela Lansbury, the next time it comes to town, it is absolutely worth going to see.

Fifty Shades of Rape Culture

Cover of the book, Fifty Shades of Grey

Let me start by saying I have never read Fifty Shades of Grey and I have no intention of reading it. I am not condemning those who have and those who enjoyed it. But I would like to rant a little about some of those coming out in condemnation of the book and movie. Some analysis of the movie and book has been quite thoughtful, quite well written, but the vast majority that has been snaking its way through my news feed is perpetuating rape culture and the repression of female sexuality.

One post that I have sadly seen more than once is entitled, A Psychiatrist’s Letter to Young People about Fifty Shades of Grey. Some of the points are valid; abuse is never good, women do not need to be meek to attract a mate and so forth. However, near the end the author commenting on sexual experimentation states “Maybe for adults in a healthy, long term, committed, monogamous relationship, AKA “marriage”. Otherwise, you’re at high risk for STDs, pregnancy, and sexual assault.”

No, no, no! Women experimenting and expressing their sexuality does not lead to sexual assault. Rapists are the cause of sexual assault. By all means, let’s encourage both men and women (as if pregnancy should only be a female concern) to practice safe sex, but let’s NOT encourage repression or suggest that if a female is sexually adventurous then she is the cause of an assault.

Yet another response that I have seen more than once is, Don’t Let ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Lead Your Daughter Astray: A Concerned Mother’s Response. The author states, “Pornography is not healthy for any relationship: Approximately forty million men currently watch pornography on a regular basis. Men who need to watch porn become addicted to it in order to achieve arousal. Soon your relationship won’t satisfy.”

It’s only men who watch porn or who want visual stimulation? I find it hard to believe that there are 40 million men who can no longer engage in relationships because only porn will get them off. Why is it so hard for us to accept that humans like sex and that is okay. And why is it so hard to believe that women want to express their sexuality, their desire. I mean, if women were as against porn and erotica as this author believes than Fifty Shades of Grey wouldn’t have been so popular.

Read Fifty Shades of Grey if you want, see the movie if you want, but please don’t tell women that we shouldn’t express our sexuality or that if we do, it will mean we were asking for it.