Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO

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http://theeyeopener.com/2016/04/ryerson-students-march-with-blm-to/

Garnering a lot of media attention lately has been Toronto’s very own Black Lives Matter movement. A very pertinent social justice issue of our time, the Black Lives Matter movement holds its roots in our neighbouring country, the United States, where the current racial climate is centred on the persecution of the members of the black community. There have been numerous injustices involving the various police officers in different states of America, wrongly persecuting black individuals, namely, young black men. Unfortunately, for the majority, the result has been death for these wrongly persecuted individuals. This has led to a revolution in the black community; the Black Lives Matter activists used their voices to speak out on such injustices and bring honor to the fallen people of their community. They have protested various streets in the United States, asking government officials and police department officials to end the racial profiling and racial discrimination. The powerful voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States has been heard all around the world – including our very own neighbourhood, Toronto.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto – Coalition was is made up of Black Torontonians working in solidarity with various communities in our local streets of Toronto to work towards a common goal: social justice. This group has acknowledged the deep racial discrimination and stigmatization that black communities in the States have been going through, and have noticed similar patterns of behaviour in our very own neighbourhood. Currently, the Black Lives Matter Toronto activists have been fighting for justice for the death of Andrew Loku.

Andrew Loku was a 45 year old man, living in an apartment building on Eglinton Ave. W and Caledonia Ave. On the evening of July 4, 2015, Andrew was disturbed in his sleep by a significantly loud noise from his upstairs neighbours. He asked them continuously to minimize the noise, so that he can be able to sleep, but the noise persisted. Overwhelmed by the loud noise, and being unable to sleep, Loku grabbed a hammer and began banging it against the apartment hallway doors and walls. The police were called to address this particular noise. Within seconds of the police officer’s arrivals, a police officer shot Andrew Loku twice, killing him in the hallway of his apartment building.

Andrew Loku was regarded by all those who knew him as a kind and friendly man. He was a husband and a father to five children, and lived alone in Toronto, while working to bring his family to Canada from where they currently live in South Sudan. He graduated from George Brown College in the construction program, and worked various jobs to make ends meet for himself and for his family back in South Sudan.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition has challenged the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to release the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku, having not been in immediate danger or threat himself. The identity of the officer has remained un-released while the SIU investigates logistics of the situation – such as whether or not officers were notified that the building in which they were responding to, the building that Andrew Loku resided in, was leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This apartment complex offered affordable housing services for people suffering with a mental illness. The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition have worked tirelessly in protest, rain or shine – snow or sun, to plead to government officials, such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to address this serious injustice. As such, the officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku has not yet been charged for this unjust act nearly a year after his untimely death.

I have had the privilege of visiting the hub of the protests on 40 College Street, where I met protestors from BLM-TO. It was an environment unlike any other. While one would imagine a protest to have quite a tense, aggressive, and hostile energy, the BLM-TO exuded nothing but love and hospitality to all those who observed and/or joined the protest. There was food, water, warm blankets, gloves, and hats being passed around to the protestors – not just from amongst one another, but from the on-lookers as well. There were shouts of social justice, peace, and equality. There were cries and pleads of putting an end to racial profiling and discrimination, and a plea to the SIU and the Toronto Police Department to be accountable for their actions. There was music, dancing, motivating speeches, laughter, and deep discussions to honor the valuable black lives lost to racial injustices.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Ryerson students in solidarity with BLM-TO on campus the other day. The march was organized by numerous student groups on campus, in collaboration with BLM-TO, to protest social justice in and around the Ryerson community. With Ryerson being at the very heart of Toronto, it seemed only natural that Ryerson students stand in solidarity with our community. Among the student groups during this march for social justice included the Ryerson East Africans’ Students Association (REASA); Ryerson Student Union (RSU); and the United Black Students at Ryerson (UBSR). During the march, the students in protest used their voices to urge other fellow students to show their support by donating supplies, food, water, warm clothing, etc to the BLM-TO Coalition, to encourage the progression of the protest. Students on campus were eager and receptive to what Ryerson students and BLM-TO had to say, and showed their solidarity with the movement. It was a refreshing and culturally enriching experience to have witnessed – and frankly, it made me even more proud to be a Ram and a Torontonian.

If you would like to donate and show your support and solidarity, BLM-TO can be found here:

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Facebook

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Twitter

blacklivesmatterTO@gmail.com

40 College Street, Toronto, ON

Resources:

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/07/07/andrew-lokus-death-by-a-police-bullet-came-quickly-witness-says.html

RNAO Region 7 Mental Health Workshop

On Monday, March 21, I attended the last event for the academic school year hosted by the RNAO: The Region 7 Mental Health Workshop. The aim of this workshop was to educate Ryerson’s nursing students about the importance of Mental Health in health care and the application of medicine. There was also an emphasis about actions nurses in the field can take to prioritize and maximize optimal outcomes for the mental health of the patient population. The evening consisted of a dynamic panel of speakers – all of whom are professionals in the field of mental health – that provided a unique and comprehensive perspective on the role of nurses play in mental health. Some of the speakers who spoke out on the issue of mental health include: Alumni of Ryerson’s Nursing degree program, representatives from the Toronto Police Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), and a new graduate registered nurse working in Psychiatric Emergency.

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Each speaker shared their personal experience in dealing with mental health throughout their clinical practice. The first speaker of the night – a Ryerson Nursing alumni who now worked at Ryerson to guide current nursing students as they navigate through this program – spoke about her experience with mental illness and working with nursing students. She spoke about nursing students being one of the most notorious group of students who experience the highest level of stress. This is all credited to a demanding, highly difficult, and competitive program; having to balance academic work with clinical placements; balancing extracurricular activities; balancing personal life; etc. All of these aspects can create quite a toll on the student’s mental health, as they begin to feel overwhelmed and over-stressed. Without a strong social support network, and without adequate coping mechanisms, the nursing student’s mental health may be compromised. They may feel isolated and depressed, their grades may suffer, their personal life and self-care may be neglected, etc. This speaker spoke about the importance for nursing students to seek help for whatever they may need; whether that’s academic or otherwise. She emphasized the importance of building a strong social support network, whomever that may include, and to take advantage of on-campus resources at Ryerson. Attendees were attentive and receptive to this speaker’s insights, as often times, nursing students neglect to take care of their self as they are too focused on taking care of others. Personally, I found it refreshing to be reminded that my own mental health is important as well, and that while the mental health of my patients is an important prioritization, it is important to take care of my own mental health. Providing care for others begins there.

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The next speakers for the evening were representatives from Toronto Police’s MCIT program. One of the representatives included a Toronto Police Officer who is specially trained to handle cases with individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The other representative from Toronto Police’s MCIT program was a mental health nurse, who is specially trained by Toronto Police to respond to cases with individuals who are compromising their conduct in society, due to their mental illness. This was a significant topic for the night, as the involvement of nurses in the industry of forensics is a relatively novel concept. Nurses typically work in the traditional health care environment – acute or community – whereas police officers work in their separate jurisdiction. Although there has been significant co-operation between both industries in several cases, the concept of merging both industries to address issues of mental health has only just been introduced. The speakers spoke about their individual experience with mental health as a police officer and as a mental health nurse. The police officer drew on different strategies he would employ to de-escalade situations where individuals who suffered from mental health were at jeopardy of experiencing trouble with the law. For example, as a police officer, he would often exert force and assertive actions in order to de-escalade situations and calm the individual down. If the situation escalated any further, he would be forced to apprehend the individual and take them to hospital to treat their mental illness. The mental health nurse described her role as the individual who would be typically more successful in de-escalating the situation and calming the individual down. She noted that most individuals tend to avoid police officers when in this state, for fear of repercussion, so they would prefer to talk to someone else. In this scenario, the mental health nurse is particularly useful in communicating with the individual, negotiating with them, and working with them to ensure they receive the most adequate care for their mental health illness. With both roles working together in the community, they prove to be a very successful service for the municipality of Toronto. They promote health and safety within communities in Toronto but addressing mental health crises experienced all over the city.

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The final speaker of the evening was a new graduate RN, working as a psychiatric emergency nurse at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton. This final speaker was especially significant as not only was she working in the mental health field, she also experienced mental illness herself early on in her life. This was a highlight of the evening as not only did we get to hear the insights and perspective of someone working in mental health, but she was also able to enlighten us with her experience as a mental health patient. She spoke about the struggles she faced making sense of her illness as a young child, how it progressed when she entered university, how difficult it was for her to find the help that she needed, and what resources she used when she was finally able to find the help that she needed. She talked about ending the stigma related to mental illness, and emphasizing how important it is to understand that mental illness is a biological and chemical imbalance in your physiology, not an “attitude you just need to fix.” She spoke about not being ashamed about having to take medication for your illness, and how taking medication can be life-saving measures to take. It was refreshing to hear a perspective that was beyond nursing and professionals. Hearing this perspective from someone having experienced both sides of the spectrum – both the patient and the health care provider – renewed my personal way of thinking, and my own clinical practice. She talked about how her personal experience has catapulted her career and how she uses it to affect positive change in the mental health of her own patients today, and how her personal experience today not only shaped her as an individual, but has shaped her personal clinical practice.

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Needless to say, this workshop provided quite a dynamic and varied range of perspectives and insights on mental health. Nurses are often used to hearing quite similar and repetitive talks about mental health issues and what we can do to address such issues with the patient population. During this night, new perspectives and thoughts word brought to the table. It gave eager nursing students something to really think about in terms of new ways to tackle mental health issues. It opened eyes and doors to different opportunities that will enable you to affect positive change in mental health on a larger scale. At the end of the night, attendees were able to leave with a renewed understanding of what mental health means to them, their patients, and to their clinical practice.

There’s No “I” in Team but there is in Injury

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Over the past few weeks, there’s been a re-emergence of sports-related articles written by former athletes who can no longer play due to injury or they grew out of the youth athletics they thrived in.  These articles usually have a similar tone; they miss sports, wish they hadn’t taken the time for granted and encourage athletes who are still able to play to cherish every moment.  A topic and theme that runs across all of these articles is the experience of having a team.  In sports, no matter what level of competition, your team is a big deal.  These are the people who have your back both on and off the court/field/rink; your team mates become your second family and become a significant part of your life.  These articles don’t speak to my experience of team in youth sports; based on my experience of being a youth athlete who can no longer play sports due to an injury, I would like to offer a different perspective of team being a romanticized notion.

Growing up, I played basketball, soccer, volleyball and ran track/cross country at both school and competitive levels.  I was on a lot of teams over the years and can understand the bond one feels when they are apart of one.  The final team I played on was the Niagara Falls Red Raiders travel basketball team.  The team was made up of girls I had played with for years, including on school teams and other sports teams, under someone who had coached us for 4 years.  We spent a lot of time together; we travelled all over the province together, stayed in hotels for tournaments, became close with each others’ families and we were friends off the court.  It may then come as a surprise that I do not miss my team and wouldn’t want to be a part of one again.

I fall under the category of former athletes who stopped playing sports due to an injury.  For those that have followed the Faculty of Community Services Student Life Blog over the years, you may know about my injury but for those who haven’t, my injury is a traumatic brain injury.  During a tournament in Michigan when I was 16, another player cross checked me which tore brain tissue and ultimately ended my ability to play sports.  As I sat on the bench following the hit, I was still part of the team; my team mates tripped the girl who hit me.  When I didn’t show up for a tournament two weeks later, I was no longer a part of the team.

It’s been almost 8 years since I acquired my brain injury and I can count the people on my team, including players, coaches and parents, who have asked how I am, on one hand.  Those who have met in the past 5 years know my brain injury as something that gives me a headache every now and then, makes me tired and is represented in the ribbon I have tattooed on my back.  Despite having a brain injury, I don’t miss any classes at school and participate fully in student groups and social life.  For the first few years after my injury this was not the case; I was noticeably not well, I dropped down to one class a day, rarely participated in school life and didn’t return to sports.  Despite being present for when I was injured and the clear indications that something was wrong, only two parents ever asked if I was okay.  From what I remember, only one of my teammates asked how I was doing and I never heard from my coach.

This popular notion of a team being a second family that is there for you unconditionally both during and after the game is much romanticized.  Membership to such a group and the benefits that come from having a team are dependent on one’s athletic ability and ability to perform.  As soon as you’re not useful in terms of performing athletically, you are no longer a part of the team.

This is compounded by popular ideas that true athletes are tough and can play through any injury, and that anything less is an insult to the team and sport.  Athletes face a lot of pressure when they acquire injuries that temporarily remove them from the game; imagine acquiring an injury that permanently removed you.  It was never explained to my team why I would not be returning, my coach simply told them that I was not coming.  The assumption became that I was leaving basketball by choice and was letting my team down.  My nickname on the team was Mighty Mouse (I’m 5’3), I should have been able to play through anything, right?

Despite my injury and reactions from the Niagara Falls basketball community, I still wanted to be on the team.  Five months after my injury, school basketball was starting up again; I went to the first try-out and asked if I could still practice and travel with the team.  During that practice, my coach made several comments about getting me back in the game and my return to basketball being the overall goal.  As great as it felt to be with my team and practice, it as clear I didn’t belong here anymore.

I had clear instructions that I was not to play and that playing sports would not be in my future.  On the traumatic brain injury scale, my injury fell at the beginning of a moderate injury; I’ve recovered more than expected considering the severity and location of the tears.  This type of injury is extremely rare in sports and is generally seen in high speed vehicular accidents.  Playing sports is an extremely dangerous activity for me that could result in further injury that would have negative impacts on my life.  Despite the risk and danger, my coach and teammates were only concerned about my ability to provide athletic contributions to the team.

To my fellow former athletes whose careers were ended by injuries, where does that leave us?  There is nothing wrong with looking back at the fond memories you’ve had with sports teams but I think we shouldn’t romanticize the concept of a team.  First, we put teams on undeserving pedestals based on false notions of friendship and security.  Second, we’re never going to get that back so why frame teams as the ‘be all and end all’ of support?

Eight years post-injury, the best advice I can offer is to find a new form of a team.  It’s time to find people, whether that be friends or family, whose friendship and support isn’t conditional on your athletic abilities.  Find people that see you for more than your athletic talents who won’t base an entire friendship around such criteria.  The girlfriends I have made in the Social Work program at Ryerson don’t care that I can’t play sports;  two of my friends signed up for kickboxing this semester, which is something I cannot do, but I wasn’t shunned from the group for it.  There are better friends out there than teams, we just need to find new passions and look for them.

There may be no “I” in team but there is certainly is in injury.

Photo: espn.go.com

RSU Election Debate: Student Safety at Campus Events

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On March 3rd, the Ryerson Students’ Union held its debate for the upcoming election.  Each candidate for the five executive positions was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and make an opening statement, which was followed by questions from the (very small) audience.  If you missed the debate, I encourage you to check out Keith Capstick (@KeithCapstick) and JC Vaughan (@suitnboodt) on Twitter as they both live-tweeted the debate.  It’s crucial that students familiarize themselves with each candidate’s platform as the campaign period is shorter than previous years.  I’m not going to re-cap the entire debate as Keith and JC have already eloquently done so, but I’m going to discuss a response to an audience question that I found deeply troubling.

A member of the audience, who was not affiliated with any candidate or slate, asked VP of Student Life and Events candidates about how they would ensure student safety at campus events.  They gave the example of this year’s Parade and Picnic that featured Drake; many students found the space to be unsafe, both in terms of physical safety and safe space, as well as inaccessible.  Some students were injured during the concert and others did not feel it was safe or accessible to them.  These are serious concerns that should be addressed and student safety should always be a topic in student government elections.

I was very troubled by current VP of Student Life and Events, Harman Singh’s response to this question; he is running for re-election on the Impact Ryerson slate.  His response to concerns about student safety, specific to events such as the Parade and Picnic, was that no one was shot or stabbed.

Why is this so troubling to me?  This response sets the bar so low for student safety that it’s barely off the ground.  This type of response tells students that everything that makes spaces unsafe on campus including racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, harassment, sexual assault, Islamaphobia, anti-Black racism, etc. don’t matter.  It tells students that these issues, which students experience daily, aren’t on the radar of the student union executive.  It also indicates that safe(r) space isn’t even considered when planning events.  With such a diverse student population, this means that the majority of Ryerson students are not of concern for big events.  As long as no one was stabbed or shot, it’s all good?  No, it’s not all good.

This type of response also sets the bar low for physical safety as well.  There were several concerns about the large number of people that would be squeezed into the Lake Devo area that was sectioned off for the concert.  As with most large crowds, there were fights and people were injured, but that doesn’t matter because no one was stabbed, right?  Despite these concerns, Singh said we would have fit more people into that area.

I had no intention of going to this event, but if I had wanted to, it would have been completely inaccessible to me.  As a student with a disability, that many people in such a small space would be dangerous for me.  This would have been compounded by not being able to get out of the crowd as high fences surrounded the entire area.  I have been to previous Parade and Picnics at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Toronto Islands, and this has never been an issue.

Singh’s answer to this question completely focused on Drake and Ryerson’s reputation to the outside eye.  It doesn’t matter if students feel unsafe at events because Drake came to Ryerson, which is apparently school-transfer worthy, and no one was killed.  This indicates greater concern for what Ryerson looks like from the outside as opposed to how students feel.  Isn’t our student union’s main concern supposed to be its students?

The Ryerson Students’ Union teamed up with the Feminist Collective this past December to host an event on the state of and importance of safe spaces on campus.  If the current Ryerson Students’ Union truly cared about student safety, they would consider this in all aspects of their work, including campus-wide events.  Drake shouldn’t be the RSU’s main priority; its students should be.  What’s the point in having cool events if a majority of students at Ryerson couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons?

I really encourage students, even graduating ones, to look closely at candidates’ and slates’ platforms and vote this coming week.  I’m not non-partisan; I organize a feminist group on campus which is inherently political and I do plan on voting for RU Connected based on my own values.  A lot has happened on our campus in student politics this year but in regards to the topic of this blog. I pose this question; do we really want a student union that doesn’t care about the safety of its students?

 

Soup and Substance: Ryerson’s Campus Climate

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On February 23rd, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s Soup and Substance.  The event discussed campus climate in relation to events both on and off campus, centering the voices and experiences of students.

The panel consisted of 6 students with diverse identities but with the common experience of a hostile and unsafe campus climate at times.  Student groups represented on the panel included: The Trans Collective, Muslim Students’ Association, Indigenous Students’ Association, Feminist Collective and Students Supporting Israel.  There was also a student present who spoke about the experience of having a disability on campus.  Before I go any further, I would like to point out that this selection of student groups did not contribute to a safe space for all students to attend and to participate in the panel.

In my representation of the Feminist Collective, I spoke broadly about the structures of misogyny and sexism, and how those have played out for our members this year.  The events I chose to focus on were the threats against women, feminists and specific departments at the University of Toronto in the fall and the visible emergence of a Men’s Issues group at Ryerson.  I spoke about how these events impacted our collective in general terms with a few specific examples of the harassment we experienced.  While I did not use “I” statements, I’m really glad that fellow panellists did as it demonstrated the ways individual interactions contribute to an unsafe campus climate for students.

In discussions about social justice, both on and off campus, we often discuss the structural nature of individual experiences.  We discuss how addressing racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, etc. at structural and institutional levels will impact individual experiences.  Many solutions to social injustice are based in eradicating these systems of oppression at systemic levels, as they should be, but this panel reminded me that all of these systems live in individuals.  With that being said, one of the ways we can create a safer campus climate is addressing the individual actions of students and faculty.

While the eradication of oppression needs to happen at a systemic level, there are very simple things individuals can do to change students’ experiences of campus climate.  Eradicating systems of oppression are long and hard-fought battles that will continue beyond our time at Ryerson; I commend all student activists who are fighting to address the heart of the matter which is systems of oppressions entwined in institutions.  Ryerson does not have a shortage of these activists, but if we want to see an improvement of student experience, individuals need to do some reflection and change their behaviours.  During the panel, I heard students share heartbreaking stories of their experiences on campus that ultimately reflect the individual choices of students and faculty in how they will interact with students.

Students with service dogs are being told to leave because their dog is scaring people; students without disabilities are taking the accessible seating in lecture halls and when asked to move, claim they got there first; trans students are being harassed for the clothing they wear and are concerned for their safety when they wear what they want; professors are using incorrect pronouns despite being told of the pronouns individual trans students use; students are being spit on and harassed while holding an event on campus; students with disabilities are being told to use the stairs to access the Student Learning Centre; students with disabilities that impact their vision are being told their eyes are scary; women who wear the hijab are being harassed on their way to class.  This is just a few examples.

All of these experiences which impact campus climate and a sense of safety at Ryerson are the result of individual actions.  While micro and macro manifestations of oppression are inherently related, one can change their individual actions.  Everything I described above manifests from the actions of individual people in the Ryerson community and they can change their actions at any time.

While the eradication of systems of oppression at institutional levels and the liberation of peoples affected by those systems is crucial, we can’t wait for widespread change.  Current students are unsafe now and they are impacted daily by the violence I described above.  A partial solution to a safer school climate lives within the individuals who hold privilege and attend/ work at Ryerson.  Those that hold privilege based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, ability, etc., are making this school unsafe through individual actions.  This is violent, unacceptable and we need to do better as a community at Ryerson.

A Word About Mental Health

In honour of today being #BellLetsTalk day, a national campaign to end the stigma surrounding Mental Health and Illness, I have a word or two to say about mental health.

It’s not always obvious.

As a student nurse who has seen different forms of illnesses and diseases in front of her face, I can tell you that a fracture or wheezing in the lungs tends to be one of our easier cases. There are routine assessments for that sort of thing that have been used and developed by medical professionals and clinical specialists for many years. There are actual diagnoses that these medical professionals and clinical specialists can validate and the rest of the medical team can get behind by. There are treatments and medications for these diseases/illnesses, like insulin or morphine, which have been commonly used and prescribed for these illnesses. So when someone comes in for having an unusually high blood pressure or for spraining a joint, the medical team is prepped and ready to treat it. It’s taken with a high degree of seriousness.

When someone comes up to another person and says they’re feeling depressed, the most common responses are:

“What for? You have a great life – you have nothing to be depressed about!”

“Just try smiling and going out with your friends more!”

“You’ll be fine, just make more of an effort.”

They are quite rarely treated seriously. It is only when very serious things occur due to depression when people begin to realize the magnitude of their words or actions. Why do we have to get to that point?

It is important to be conscious about the effects our words and actions have to other people. It is vital to be understanding, empathetic, and a source of comfort for other people, and not a place of judgement. I believe this to be an “everyday rule” but this significantly applies to mental health. Your mental health is incredibly important. It’s the source of your ability for self-care, the source for your ability to function productively on a day-to-day basis, the source for your ability to interact with others, etc. It’s important to ensure that that part of you is well taken care of.

Mental illness is therefore a physiological, clinical illness that affects that part of the person. Mental illness is a product of neurological and psychological defects. Social construct refuses to see it in that way. Society would have us to believe that mental illness “isn’t real” and that it is just a way for people to “be lazy” and “complain.” I cannot stress this enough but that ideology is 100%, completely and utterly false.

If we buy in to this way of thinking, if we adopt this ideology about mental illness that society would like us to believe, we are facilitating the stigma that surrounds this issue. We are silencing voices that need to be heard. We are condemning the people who have these illnesses to fight a difficult battle alone and to suffer this silently. We are not allowing people the right to access safe, efficient health care that can possibly save their life.

What’s funny is that we wait for when someone takes their own life due to depression to be sorry for our actions.

Mental illness is still so heavily stigmatized. People still don’t take it seriously. People are ignorant about how debilitating it is emotionally and physiologically. You can provide someone with as much clinical proof as possible – that depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, etc. are all physiological illnesses – and they’ll still tell you to just “get over it.” Get real. Your mental health is equally as important as i.e your cardiovascular health. Be educated. Be kind and understanding. Think before you speak. Reach out. You can be saving a life just by being an open-minded and kind person.12651241_10156543597845457_5977017614954725656_n

Disability and Absenteeism

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I hate missing class; it stresses me out and I feel like I’ve missed out when I’m not sitting in a lecture when I’m supposed to be.  Being the nerdy go-getter than I am, I rarely miss class and think long and hard before I do so.  Unfortunately, absenteeism comes with the territory of having a disability.  Those who have followed my blog over the past few years would know this but for those who haven’t, I have a traumatic brain injury.  Since the age of 16, I have experienced all of the lovely perks that come with a brain injury including headaches, nausea, feeling off balance, blurred vision, floaters in my eyes, shaky hands, fatigue, etc.  My symptoms have improved over the years but I still experience some daily.  While I try my best to go to class/stay in class, sometimes it’s not possible.

Fortunately, I have accommodations through the university to be able to miss class and not be penalized.  This was the first semester that I have been questioned and shamed for missing classes, despite having these accommodations.  I have missed two classes this semester and left early once.  I don’t miss any more school than the average student does but my absence becomes visible because I have to ask to use my accommodations.

I was really upset for being shamed for missing class but not for the reasons one might think.  Sure, I get really annoyed having to constantly explain that I have a brain injury and accommodations multiple times throughout a semester but what really upset me was how much I wish I could have been in those classes.

I didn’t miss those classes or leave early because I wanted to.  I would love to be able to wake up, attend all of my classes and do all the things I want to do without my brain injury getting in the way.  I don’t really like the words “high functioning” but I know that I’m extremely fortunate;  I’m doing way better than my testing and type of brain injury would suggest and post-secondary education is out of reach for many people with brain injuries similar to mine.  It looked like it was going to be out of reach for me as well at during high school. Even compared to the average student without a brain injury, I do a lot; I do well in school, participate in extra-curricular activities, hold a job in the summer, co-organize a student group, volunteer outside of school and have a busy social life.  Even though I am able to do all of these things, I’m not able to do everything that I want to because of my brain injury.

I missed a lot of school right after I acquired my brain injury.  My high school graduation was delayed a year because I had missed so much school.  For a few years, I only went to school for one class and took one through the home instruction program.  Sometimes I was only able to stay in that one class for half an hour.  I didn’t write any tests or exams, did no homework and had extensions for my assignments.  It wasn’t until my fifth year of high school that I went back full time and completed all of the course work (except data management but come on, the side of my brain that controls math skills is damaged so cut me some slack).  People have told me that I am lucky to have been able to miss so much school but it’s actually really sad to think about how much I missed out on when I look back.  I wasn’t allowed to sit in the cafeteria, I wasn’t allowed to go to the library, I wasn’t allowed to walk myself to and from class and I had to fight to go to things like football games, school dances, etc.  These things don’t make me lucky; the only thing about my brain injury that I would consider lucky is that one of the tears wasn’t closer to my brain stem.  This is what drives me attend school as much as I can now that I’m able to.

With that being said, I have missed too much school.  School is something that I love and I get very upset and annoyed when I’m unable to attend classes.  Being able to be a full time university student is a really big accomplishment for a person with a brain injury and I’m very fortunate to be here.  I want to be here and I want to be in class, especially since I’ve missed so much school in the past.  I already feel awful when I’m unable to go to class or do other things that I love; it’s a reminder that I’m not a “normal” student.  I don’t need to be shamed for this, I feel bad enough not being able to do the things I want to.

I try really hard to go to all of my classes, even when I’m not well, which means I leave at break sometimes.  There are some days that I don’t ask to use my accommodations.  I would rather lose the 1 or 2 percent participation grade if it means avoiding another awkward conversation where I have to disclose my disability yet again, explain what symptoms I’m having while my classmates stand a little too close for my comfort level to be having this conversation.  People with brain injuries struggle with social interactions at times, to keep having to repeat this social situation doesn’t get any easier.  While I’m quite open about having a brain injury, I still deserve privacy.  No one in my class needs to know that I’m leaving because my vision is blurred.

I’m not leaving because I want to, I’m leaving because I have to.  I have learned to listen to my body because if I don’t, I will be on the floor…literally.

Shaming me for not being present and drawing the entire class’ attention to my absence isn’t going to get me into a classroom.  Students with disabilities become hyper visible in a large class where most students maintain their anonymity since we have to ask for accommodations.  I can’t speak for all students with disabilities but as someone who has had to miss a lot of school, if I’m not present, it’s not by choice.

If you’re a professor or instructor, please know who your students with accommodations are and respect when they are unable to be in class.  We are given the accommodation of being absent for a reason, not because we want to miss school.  If you’re a student, please stop telling students with disabilities that they are lucky to be able to miss class.

If you are a student with a disability currently going through post-secondary education, it’s a rough ride but hang in there.  We are defying the odds by being here.

Photo from: www.angelabrook.com

The Story Behind The Storyteller

The Storyteller Logo

The Storyteller Logo

I think the Internet is full of trolls and it’s not necessarily the safest place to share things, that’s why I love the idea behind The Storyteller.

In a nutshell, The Storyteller is an online platform that gives people the opportunity to speak about things they might not be open about sharing with other people. It is not affiliated to Ryerson or the RSU. The only relation The Storyteller has to Ryerson is that it was started by Ryerson students.

I had the honour of meeting up with the creators of The Storyteller and learning about the inspiration behind it all.

Banner with 'The STORYTELLER' written on it

Banner with ‘The STORYTELLER’ written on it

Trisha Rolfe is a fourth year Child and Youth Care (CYC) student here at Ryerson. She told me that she learned a lot from other people’s stories and that’s why she wanted to start the blog. She’s found that she tends to be a person people come to when they need someone to talk to and it’s made her realize how much she’s learned from being an open ear. She wants to give people an opportunity to learn about aspects of peoples’ lives that they may not necessarily share openly with others. The original plan was to start a blog with her friend however that kept getting pushed back so she just ended up spearheading The Storyteller alone. Now there is a team of four working together to maintain the blog and various other social media sites.

The team! <Jamie Lupie, Kiri Witmer, Trisha Rolfe, Deanna Aguiar>

The team! Jamie Lupia, Kiri Witmer, Trisha Rolfe, Deanna Aguiar

Trisha first recruited her friend Jamie Lupia, a 3rd year student double majoring in creative writing and labour studies at Brock University. Initially, Jamie was just to help with the blog’s illustrations but she eventually started contributing posts based on some of her own experiences as well. She is the one responsible for the beautiful illustrations found throughout the blog. Afterwards, two more CYC students, Kiri Witmer and Deanna Aguiar, joined them.

Around the same time the blog was started Kiri had posted a video talking about her experiences with suicide. Kiri expressed how important it is for people to talk about issues however she felt that she keeps a lot to herself. Trisha saw this video and approached Kiri because she thought that she embodied ideals that would fit well with The Storyteller. Similarly, Trisha approached Deanna as well because she also thought that she would also be a good fit as she is extremely supportive. Each of the four members contribute to the blog in their own way.

Trisha started The Storyteller blog back in April 2015 and it is amazing how much it has grown since then. They have had several events one at Brock University and an open mic night in Niagara as both Trisha and Jamie are originally from there. They also showcased The Storyteller here at Ryerson during the FCS Student Achievement event. Trisha told me that this was her favourite event as there were a lot of people interested in reading stories. Also, it was a great way to bring awareness to our faculty to inspire people to do things outside of the classroom.

The Storyteller booth at the FCS Student Achievement Event at Ryerson University

The Storyteller booth at the FCS Student Achievement Event at Ryerson University

However, the classroom has helped fuel some of the ideas behind The Storyteller as Kiri has told me that they use concepts they’ve learned throughout the CYC program. One extremely important concept being self-care which is something that we can all relate to and should practice. It’s meant to be an outlet for not only sharing experiences but also to educate as well as to be a sort of therapy. The Storyteller also incorporates a strength-based approach because they want to focus on one’s strengths as well as celebrate the challenges or barriers one was able to overcome.

The Storyteller stresses the idea that “You are not alone” and that all of us are The Storytellers. That’s why submissions are strongly encouraged as sharing may find the solution or sharing might very well be the solution. It’s a way for people to get things off their chest so they want your rants! Submissions can be about any topic and in any form of media: stories, poetry, art, songs, etc. You can choose if you want your posts to be anonymous. They will be accepted and shared as long as posts aren’t racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ablist, sanist, or discriminatory in any way. If you’re interested in making a submission click here! 

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OR if you would like to know more or if you would like to contribute in other ways you can email thestorytellerweb@gmail.com or visit any of their social media platforms: the blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Santa Needs Sensitivity Training

santa

Over the past year, I’ve been visiting a 10 year old boy with a disability at his group home.  I met him three years ago at a hospital I volunteered with; when he was leaving, group home staff invited me to come see him because they saw he had bonded with me.  I now visit him weekly and we are best friends.  This has been a year of “firsts” for my friend as he spent his life in a hospital.  The group home has provided him with so many childhood experiences that I realize we take for granted.  With that being said, this was his first time travelling to the mall to get his picture taken with Santa.

My friend was dressed in a red sweater and khakis, all ready for his Christmas picture.  His worker and I helped him practice telling Santa that he wanted Dora and Barney for Christmas.  As we waited in line, we asked him if he was excited and talked up Santa.  It was finally my friend’s turn to see Santa; we took him out of his wheelchair, put him on Santa’s lap and that is where Santa let us down.

Santa seemed awkward and uncomfortable with my friend on his lap.  He didn’t ask my friend’s name or what he wanted for Christmas, he wouldn’t even really look at him or speak to him.  This wasn’t how Santa treated the kids before and after my friend; smiling, asking their name, talking to them about what they wanted for Christmas, everything a mall Santa is supposed to do.  Although my friend is smaller than the average 10 year old, he is verbal and talks a lot.  He sat on Santa’s lap singing and talking, looking so happy yet Santa couldn’t even respond or look at him.

I’m extremely disappointed in Santa; I could understand if he was concerned about how to hold my friend or that he may hurt him due to his physical disabilities but that wasn’t the case.  If he was concerned about hurting him, he would have asked us.  He couldn’t be bothered to talk to a little boy with a disability, a little boy who has never in his life been to see Santa outside of a hospital.  I don’t know if my friend noticed this and I really hope he didn’t.  I kept trying to prompt Santa by telling my friend to tell Santa what he wants for Christmas; Santa didn’t get it.

The holidays are for all children who celebrate, not just those that are able-bodied.  My friend is just as special, spirited, unique and worthy of Santa’s time and attention as any kid standing in that line.  He has interests which he bases his Christmas wishes off of, just like every kid who has grown up celebrating Christmas.  This goes for all children with disabilities who celebrate Christmas.  They look forward to opening presents, putting out milk and cookies, decorating the tree, writing letters to Santa, and visiting him at the mall.

This specific experience relates to the systemic issues of ablelism, and the discrimination against and marginalization of folks with disabilities.  This involves our entire world learning and unlearning what we have been told and assume about people with disabilities.  This issue reaches far beyond my friend visiting Santa but regardless, there’s a little boy whose first visit to Santa may have been spoiled by the person he was most excited to see, and I’m sure there are many more kids experiencing this.  If you are a parent, family member, friend, worker, etc. to a child with a disability, I suggest avoiding the Dufferin Mall for your Christmas pictures this year.

 

 

Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week

November 15th– 21st is Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.  Ontario has designated this week to help promote safe schools and a positive learning environment.  During this week, Ontario students and school staff are encouraged to learn more about bullying and how it affects a student’s learning and well-being.  The Ministry of Education defines bullying as “a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation”.  It goes on to describe the different forms bullying can take and more information about what this week will look like in Ontario’s schools.  What is missing from these types of conversations about bullying is the true motivations behind the actions we have associate with bullying.

The word “bullying” is often used as a softer alternative to describe what is really going on when these actions occur- racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, sanism, etc.  Think back to your own elementary and secondary school experiences; these are the places where the language of bullying is most often used.  Think of the kids who were bullied because they wore the same clothes everyday or didn’t wear the popular brands- that is classism.  Think of the girls whose bras were cut, snapped and undone in the school yard- that’s sexism.  Think of the children of colour who were questioned and tormented following 9/11- that’s racism.  Think of all the kids who came out as LGBTQ in your high school that were harassed relentlessly by students and staff- that’s homophobia and transphobia.  Think of the students with disabilities who were harassed for the accommodations they received at school- that’s ableism and sanism.

Even after our primary and secondary school experiences, the language of bullying is still being used to soften and leave what is happening unnamed.  This past week, Black students at the University of Missouri were threatened following protests and action regarding the university’s unwillingness to address racism on campus.  Howard University and several others saw threats and/or white supremacist presence on campus.  Despite the threats against Black students, the University of Missouri did not cancel its classes, prompting many students to e-mail their professors requesting to be exempt from class the following day as they did not feel safe on campus.  One professor, who is white, responded to his students with a challenge to attend class to defeat the “bullies”.  Bullies? You mean white supremacists and racists who are threatening Black students’ lives?  Using the term “bully” attempts to make these threats less serious and leave the racism that is occurring on campus unnamed.

The language of bullying has also been commonly used in describing the Rehteah Parsons case.  This was a sexual assault rooted in misogyny and rape culture, and what took place after could be described as nothing less than harassment rooted in sexism.  When this story hit mainstream media, the term “cyber-bullying” was used to describe what Rehtaeh endured after photos of the assault were posted online.  “Cyber-bullying” is a softer term for harassment using technology and social media.

I think there should be conversations in schools around bullying prevention and awareness but this conversation is meaningless if we do not address the motivations behind the behaviour we determine to be bullying.  The Ministry of Education website states, “bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance”.  Let’s talk about what this power imbalance is; it’s race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, and ability.  The racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, classist, transphobic world we live in does not only begin when we graduate high school.  It trickles down into our elementary and high schools where we name these children’s experiences as “bullying”.

Sources:
https://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/safeschools/prevention.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/11/11/as-threats-spread-fear-at-mizzou-a-professor-asks-students-to-defeat-bullies-and-attend-class/

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