Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO

blmto

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.

IMG_0951

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.

IMG_0952

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.

IMG_0953

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.

IMG_0954

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.

Rally and March Against Sexism, Racism and Islamophobia in the Workplace

rally

On March 1st, students, faculty and community members met in the Student Learning Centre for a rally and march against sexism, racism and Islamophobia in the workplace.  The event was put on by the Sam Gindin Chair, the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, CESAR, the Jack Layton Chair and the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  The event was in response to recent incidents within Ryerson and the Ryerson Students’ Union, including the firing of Gilary Massa, who was on maternity leave.

The event began with a rally in the Student Learning Centre, with close to one hundred people gathered in the lobby.  Anne-Marie Singh, from the Anti-Racism Coalition at Ryerson, spoke first drawing parallels between the outdoor climate of wintry weather and the climate women experience.  She commented that “it’s not just chilly outside; it’s chilly in courtrooms, our work spaces, our offices…”  Singh cited racialized women on maternity leave being restructured out of their jobs as an example of this chilly climate at Ryerson.  She also discussed Indigenous faculty being questioned about their credentials and racialized staff being harassed with impunity at Ryerson.  Singh also spoke to those who hold privilege on this campus stating that, “if fighting racism seems racist, if equity feels like oppression, check your privilege”.  She also called out the Ryerson Students’ Union for needing to check their privilege if they think the firing of Gilary Massa was fair.

Massa also spoke at the event and was joined by the lawyer representing her for the Ontario Human Rights Complaint against the Ryerson Students’ Union and its current executives.  Massa described what happened to her as putting the rights of working women back 20 or 30 years; she didn’t think it was possible to be fired while on maternity leave and neither did most people she has spoken to following her termination.  She also discussed the business decision made by the Ryerson Students’ Union as anti-woman and anti-worker, and asked what kind of message this send to students and women who are entering the workforce and want to start a family.  Massa’s lawyer, Saron Beresellasi, thanked the Massa family for their decision to obtain council and fight this as well as encouraged people to pay attention to the case in hopes it will serve as a public education example for the RSU and others.

Awo Abokor, from the Ryerson Feminist Collective spoke about being frustrated by the lack of support for women, especially women of colour, in the workplace at Ryerson.  She went on to say there is no justice in the decision made that lead to Massa being fired and that intersections of class, race and gender were at play here.  Abokor sent a clear message to the entire Ryerson community: “if you don’t know what equity is, learn it”.  She described the firing of Massa as taking multiple steps back and not something that the RSU can simply apologize and move on from.

Social Work Professor, Akua Benjamin described her pride for Ryerson but was disappointed the school had not taken a stand.  Ryerson University has been quiet on the issue, but Benjamin urged the school to take a stand as this is not just something between Massa and the RSU.  She also urged people to stand in solidarity for change beyond coming out the rally; this issue is ongoing and women are continuously suffering from racism on this campus.  Benjamin described the decision to fire Massa as not in the best interest of Ryerson and not what Ryerson stands for.  Benjamin ended by speaking about Massa’s baby, who was present for the rally, and calling them a “social justice baby”.

Pascale Diverlus, from the United Black Student’s at Ryerson and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, described seeing first hand of what it’s like to be a Black woman on Ryerson’s campus and the terrifying culture that is being created.  Diverlus expressed concern for future students and the community as the RSU is currently not a place of equity; Massa was the only Black full-time worker at the RSU.  “Black lives matter, Black women matter, Black Muslim women matter, Black families matter”.

Following the rally, we marched to the Student Campus Centre, which houses the offices of the Ryerson Students’ Union.  We gathered on the third floor of the building, outside the executive team’s offices.  Winnie Ng and Janet Rodriguez lead the crowd in a number of chants; none of the executive members came out to address the crowd.

This rally can’t be the end; we need more action beyond March 1st.  Ng encouraged the crowd to write letters to the Ryerson Students’ Union and to bring this issue to the attention of Ryerson administration.  The injustice in the decision to fire Massa is clear to anyone with a basic understanding of human rights and equity, but this is not an isolated incident.  It’s a clear and blatant action that is representative of what racialized women experience in the workplace daily.  The workplace in general is a chilly place for racialized women across this country, but we have an opportunity to start changing that at Ryerson.

Black History Month Spotlight: Mae Jemison

Mae_Jemison_in_Space

As we come to a close on Black History Month, I would like to turn the spotlight on another influential Black female figure: Mae Jemison. Mae Jemison is widely acclaimed in the sciences industry as being the first Black Female astronaut. In 1992, she made significant strides as an astronaut by flying into space on the Endeavour spacecraft, officially establishing herself as the first African-American woman in space.

Born in October 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, Mae Jemison and her family moved to Chicago, Illinois where she grew up for the majority of her youth. There in Chicago, she was able to witness and experience first-hand the peak of the Black civil rights movement in the United States. As a young girl, she lived in fear by the frequent protests and the heavy presence of the National Guard on their streets. At a mere 12 years old, although scared, Mae Jemison knew the importance of the civil rights movement and its impact on herself as an African-American girl and the Black community as a whole. Living through such an experience growing up, Mae Jemison’s African-American identity became a crucial part in her academic and career pursuits.

She spent her life in the pursuit of science – specifically, astrology. Even as a kindergartner on her first day of school, she already declared herself a “scientist” when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Taken aback by her answer as a woman, much less a Black woman, people were skeptical and doubtful. These doubts and odds against her didn’t stop her in her pursuit.

She began her pursuit for higher education in the sciences in college, where she studied physical and social sciences. Jemison developed a passion for linguistics while in college and also learned how to speak Russian and African-Swahili fluently. She progressed in her academic career by earning another degree in chemical engineering and African studies. She always stuck true to her roots as an African-American and ensured that her African identity remained an integral part of who she was in every aspect – both as a student and as a professional in the sciences. Mae Jemison continued on to study medicine in medical school, where she earned her MD and also became a medical doctor.

In June of 1987, she was admitted into NASA’s astronaut program, being the first African-American woman to be admitted into the astronaut-training program. In 1992, Mae Jemison made even more significant strides as an African-American and as a female astronaut by initiating her first launch into space. On September 12, 1992, Mae Jemison set aboard the Endeavour spacecraft among 6 other astronauts on mission STS47. On this day, she officially established herself as the first African-American woman in space.

Mae Jemison spent 8 days in space conducting various projects and experiments in collaboration with the rest of the team of astronauts. She returned back to earth on September 20, 1992 and spent a total of 190 hours in space. Upon her return, Jemison remarked of the importance of both integrating males and females, as well as various minority groups, into societal activities. She emphasized that all kinds of people are able to be productive members of society and contribute to the development of the world, so long as the equal opportunity is afforded to them.

In recognition of her astonishing repertoire of accomplishments, Jemison received numerous awards and several honorary doctorates. Some include:

  • The 1988 Essence Science and Technlogy Award
  • The 1992 Ebony Black Achievement Award
  • The 1993 Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College
  • The 1990 Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year Award

Mae Jemison was also fundamental in the progression and development of various organizations in the scientific community, including the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Mae Jemison is not only influential, she is a model of excellence for all people – especially women, African-Americans; particularly African-American women. Her significant work in the STEM fields proves her to be role model for young girls and young women, showing them that women not only can be a part of the STEM fields, but they can also excel in the STEM field. She has paved the way for women to make positive and remarkable contributions into an industry that is primarily dominated my males. As an African-American, she has proven to be a figure of strength and intelligence, proving to society that despite every odd set up against a marginalized population – despite the lack of equal opportunity – resilience, perseverance, and strength can uplift yourself and an entire community from an oppression. Moreover, it can influence society to adopt ideologies that are more inclusive, aware, and integrative, and foster a society that offers equal opportunity to all people, regardless of gender, race, sex, sexuality, etc.

Resources:

http://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/space/mae_jemison/

http://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

Soup and Substance: Ryerson’s Campus Climate

soupandsubstance

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.

Pack the Court: No Silence on Sexual Violence

Supporters, including Mandi, outside Old City Hall during the Ghomeshi trial.

On February 1st, young feminists descended on Old City Hall in various shades of pink clothing and lipstick to attend a sexual assault trial.  We weren’t there for the Ghomeshi trial; we were there for the Ururyar trial.  We were there to support our friend and fellow activist, Mandi Gray, as she testified against Mustafa Ururyar.

The first three days of the trial were filled with rape myth-based motions, blatant victim blaming and parallels being drawn between what was happening one floor below in the Ghomeshi trial and what we saw in the courtroom we sat in.  Following three days, half of which Mandi was on the stand under cross-examination, the trial as put off until April to review new evidence.  After watching Mandi testify, she is no doubt the toughest person I know; the defense lawyer in this case has attacked her character and self esteem throughout the entire cross-examination.

Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star was present and covered what has happened in the trial thus far:
http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/02/07/the-sex-assault-trial-one-floor-above-ghomeshi-porter.html

Porter wrote, “there was a line up outside this courtroom too- not of journalists though.  Most of the crowd in the small domestic violence court were young feminists, here to support their friend, Mandi Gray”.  I want to talk about who that group was, including Mandi, and why we were there.

The line up outside of the courtroom where Mandi was testifying was made up of people from across Toronto; there were students from York, University of Toronto and Ryerson.  On all three days, there were between 30 and 40 people in the court room.  We were there to support Mandi and wore pink to show our solidarity.  I’ve had a number of people ask me why we were there and do we really think it makes a difference?  My answer is yes and no.

Why yes?  Apparently supporting a sexual assault survivor is a radical thing to do, both in our criminal justice system and generally.  With the Ghomeshi trial, the amount of victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the media, online and at dinner tables has increased substantially.  The media filed a motion in court to publish a photo of a sexual assault survivor in a bikini, need I say more?  The rape myths present in the criminal justice system continue to be blatant, especially during cross-examinations.  To come out and support a survivor who is testifying sends a clear message that we believe them.

In a world where over 50 women can accuse one man of sexual assault and we don’t believe them, believing women becomes viewed as radical.  In a world where survivors are not believed and face a criminal justice system that re-victimizes them, wouldn’t it be nice to have 40 people or even just one person in your corner?  The Crown and Judge aren’t in survivors’ corners; they aren’t there to make sure the survivor isn’t re-victimized on the stand.  We were there to be in Mandi’s corner.

Why no?  Our presence isn’t going to sway a ruling.  We were there because we all know that the system is broken and has always been broken.  We are all well-versed in the issue of sexual violence and know the criminal justice system does not protect survivors or convict perpetrators.  While we hold some hope that Ghomeshi and Ururyar will be found guilty, we know this is a long shot.  There’s been a lot of media focus on Ghomeshi’s lawyer and how the survivors were not prepared to testify, but these issues are much bigger than one individual case; this is an entire system that is ineffective in addressing sexual violence as a crime.

Our presence won’t sway a ruling and these rulings won’t sway us.  We know that a “not guilty” verdict does not mean violence didn’t occur.  These verdicts have no bearing on whether or not violence occurred; they have bearing on the criminal justice system’s ability to properly apply criminal law to sexual assault.  In court rooms filled with rape myths, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and a focus on literally everything but the violence in question, the answer is no, the criminal justice system is not in a position to determine if violence has occurred.

No matter what the judges in these cases rule, the response to these verdicts is going to be loud.  We won’t be going home and accepting that the criminal justice system has done its job.  The people who have been standing outside with signs aren’t going away.  Those of us sitting in Old City Hall are all advocates in a variety of ways; we are documentary film makers, members of Silence is Violence-York, placement students at VAW organizations, members of Silence is Violence- U of T and the Ryerson Feminist Collective, and individuals who want to see a world without violence.

We made a Facebook event to support Mandi.  We have sat in the court room laughing, sighing and making side comments throughout the trial, knowing the judge could kick us out (he didn’t).  Mandi has kept her head up despite the amount of attacks on her self-esteem and character, and will return to testify in April.  She is also bringing forward a Human Rights Complaint in how York University handles sexual assault.  We are unapologetic in believing survivors and we will be back at Old City Hall in April.

“Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, we aren’t going to be silent about sexual violence.

Another Side of Domestic Violence

In discussions of violence against women, specifically domestic violence, there are themes that arise from peoples’ stories.  These themes include; domestic violence within an intimate partner relationship, domestic violence as a reason for divorce, custody battles, involvement of police and the criminal justice system, decisions about leaving, children taken into the care of child welfare agencies, ex spouses and partners, the experiences of young children, etc.  My experience sits on another side of domestic violence; one that is not part of the common narrative.  My experience and position within this issue is one that likely would have been addressed by law enforcement if it took place within an intimate partner relationship.

This is something I have avoided writing about and I have never talked about it publicly.  If I have written about violence against women or domestic violence, I have never included myself in relation to the topic as I have done with others such as disability.  This was deliberate as I did not want to share this widely and did not want to violate my mother’s right to privacy as our stories are intertwined.  Now that this blog has become involved in my experiences of domestic violence, as well as receiving my mother’s permission and blessing, it’s time to write about this topic and include my own experience.

There are currently seven Facebook accounts I have blocked; they were all created by or used by the same person with the intention to find me.  These seven accounts have been created and blocked over an 8 year period with the last one being blocked this week.  This person has shown up at my previous home numerous times, followed me to events he knew I would be attending and continues to make social media accounts to contact me.

This sounds like the definition of harassment, right?  This is the kind of harassment that would make a person a great candidate for a “no-contact” order.  I have no such order, nor have I ever had my own “no-contact” order to prevent this harassment.  When I was 15, I was included in a “no-contact” order for my mother at her request; I was tagged on to hers because I was underage.  That order has long since expired and while my mother has a new one, I do not.  With all of the laws about harassment, domestic violence, etc. it may seem shocking that I don’t.  The reason I don’t is because this person is my parent.

I am well aware of how law enforcement treats survivors of domestic violence in intimate partner relationships, but domestic violence involving an adult-child seems to be another ball game that lacks any rules.  Law enforcement viewed his harassing behaviour to be in relation to my mother but did not consider that he was also looking for me.  It was also considered to be loving gestures of a great parent.  The incident that lead to my mother getting a new no-contact order happened to take place on a day I was visiting Toronto for Discover Ryerson.  Even if I was there, I don’t think I would have been granted a no-contact order.

While I have had some good experiences with police around this issue, some woman-identified police officers have issued him a “warning”, the general response to this issue has been to make excuses for him.  Most recently, a person who takes police-related calls defended him and said maybe he thought I had changed my mind about speaking to him.  8 years, 7 blocked Facebook accounts, avoiding him and his family, reporting harassment… I send real mixed signals in this area of my life, no wonder he is confused [sarcasm].  If this had been my ex-partner, would the response have been the same?

I have done everything right in the eyes of harassment law; I have responded to relay my wishes not to have contact with him and detail that I will contact police if it continues, I have ignored further attempts to engage in conversation, I have contacted police promptly when this happens and I save copies of the messages.  I have done what I have been told to do and I’m still left with no legal assistance to deal with this harassment.

How did my job with this blog become involved in my experience of domestic violence?  I hadn’t heard from him in 2 years until I wrote a blog about disability and absenteeism.  I received a message shortly after it was published from a man saying that his daughter was experiencing similar problems at McMaster University.  It’s not unusual for people I don’t know to message me about my blog posts so I didn’t think anything of it, but I never got around to responding.  I’m really glad I didn’t engage in conversation because this was a fake account made by him to contact me.  I only found out because my birthday fell shortly after and he messaged me, outing himself as the person behind the account.  Another account that I assume is fake has contacted me since and I assume these will be the first of many.

As of now, I’m continuing to block the Facebook accounts but will not be contacting police anymore.  I’m extremely concerned by the lack of response from the law and police to deal with this issue as there’s adult-children out there whose experiences of this type of domestic violence are much worse than mine.  I’m extremely fortunate that he doesn’t know where I live in Toronto and doesn’t have my phone number.  We need to move beyond the idea that children should talk to their parents no matter what because they are family.  We also need to move beyond the idea that we may change our minds; some of us may and some of us won’t.  This should not be a reason to deny us the tools to ensure our safety.

I wanted to write this blog for two reasons:

First, I wanted to share another side of domestic violence that isn’t always talked about and hope it reaches others with the same experience- I see you.

Second, since this blog has obviously been found; again, stop trying to contact me.

Sexual Violence on Campus: Arrested and Charged

campus

*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*

The year of 2015 was one that reignited the discussion of sexual violence on post-secondary campuses across Canada and the United States.  While activists, students, feminists and scholars have been having these conversations and screaming for acknowledgement of an epidemic happening on our campuses, this topic was thrust into the spotlight this past year.  This happened in a number ways including Ryerson’s new sexual violence policy, the airing of CBC Fifth Estate’s School of Secrets and the Hunting Ground, stories of Jian Ghomeshi’s time in post-secondary education, the filing of Human Rights Complaints against post-secondary institutions including University of British Columbia and York University, Lady Gaga’s “Until it happens to you”, and the continuous hard work of activists to put a spotlight on this issue and demand a response from universities and colleges.

Despite greater public awareness of the epidemic of sexual violence on campus and new policies made by some schools, huge gaps remain in addressing sexual violence on campus.  These gaps put students at risk, re-victimize survivors, push survivors off campuses, deter reporting and are discriminatory based on gender, considering the majority of sexual assault survivors are woman-identified.

A major gap that post-secondary institutions have failed to address is perpetrators of sexual violence on campus, specifically those that are under investigation or have been arrested and charged.

On January 9th, York University Security Services released a security bulletin about an arrest made in a sexual assault case.  A York University student was arrested and charged with sexual assault following reports from two students during the Fall 2015 semester.  The security bulletin gave no information about if this student was still on campus and what actions would be taken to ensure student safety.

PhD student and activist, Mandi Gray contacted York University Security Services for more information about the student and the arrest.  Mandi is in the process of filing a human rights complaint against York University for how they handled an assault by a fellow student and colleague.  The trial beings February 1st: https://www.facebook.com/events/812545115537982/.

The security officer who took Mandi’s call was extremely rude and disrespectful to her and provided no information about whether the student who was arrested would be returning to classes on campus for the Winter 2015 semester.  Her concerns about sexual violence, student safety and a serial rapist being present on campus were dismissed and brushed off by the security guard.  This is how survivors are treated by post-secondary institutions.  Being apart of the York University community, Mandi knows who this student is and he is still on campus.

This student is charged with sexually assaulting two students yet remains on campus.  This means that the two women are starting their Winter 2016 semester knowing the man who assaulted them could be around every corner they turn on campus.  If they are in the same program, they may be in the same classes as him.  If they work for the same department or internship, they may have to share an office with him.  How is this fair to these two students?

Rapists being present on campus habe been an issue that post-secondary institutions are unwilling to address.  One of the common responses is that the perpetrator’s education will be interrupted if they are removed from campus.  Post-secondary institutions are more concerned about a perpetrators’ education than a survivor’s right to safety on campus.  Another common response is that post-secondary institutions allow perpetrators to remain on campus to avoid law suits.  Again, a survivor’s right to safety is overlooked.

If a student perpetrates sexual violence on campus, they are a threat to student safety and should be treated as such.  If a student is arrested and charged for sexual assault, or is under investigation by police or the school, they should not be allowed on campus.  While this would be ideal and the safest solution for survivors and students, post-secondary schools have not responded in this manner.  They have continued to allow perpetrators to attend classes and be present on campus.  If schools are unwilling to remove perpetrators from campus, steps need to be taken to ensure survivor and student safety.  If a student is charged with a violent crime against other students, and is going to be on campus, shouldn’t security be monitoring them?  Survivors are told to utilize security services to ensure their safety on campus following sexual assault, why not have security walk with perpetrators to ensure student safety?  This would protect all students.

If post-secondary schools are concerned about lawsuits from students who are barred from campus, there are ways to address this.  Due to the state of our criminal justice system and rape culture, convictions in sexual assault cases are extremely rare, which could open opportunities for perpetrators to sue colleges and universities for wrongfully suspending them and denying them an education.  A way to address this concern is to place students who have been arrested and charged for sexual violence on home instruction.  They would still be able to take classes but would have to do so online and would not be permitted on campus.

If post-secondary institutions are not going to take the appropriate steps to protect students on their campuses, they need to release the names of those who have been arrested and charged so students can take their own measures to be safe on campus.   Allowing serial perpetrators to freely attend classes and be on campus unnecessarily puts students at risk.  Safety is a right, post-secondary education is privilege; It’s time for post-secondary institutions to value the rights and safety of every student over the privilege of post-secondary education for one.

Sources:

http://security.news.yorku.ca/2016/01/09/security-bulletin-9-january-2016/

Photo from: http://knowyourix.org/campus-dating-violence/

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! 

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 10.19.46 PM

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.

 

Men’s Issues Groups: Maintaining the Status Quo

This semester, a men’s issues awareness group has been trying to organize and be recognized as a student group on Ryerson’s campus.  This has been a hot news story for Ryerson media as a similar group was denied student group status in 2013.  I’m a co-organizer of the Ryerson Feminist Collective; we are currently applying for student group status with the Ryerson Students’ Union.  My fellow co-organizers, Jackie Mlotek and Areezo Najibzadeh, and I have been doing a lot of interviews with Ryerson media about our group as well as our opposition to men’s issues awareness groups.  Each time we have talked to a reporter, I have added more each time.  As of now, these thoughts are scattered amongst a variety of Ryerson media and could possibly not be included in the articles, so I’m going to put them all together here.

Fear on Campus:
One of the reasons I do not support men’s issues awareness groups is that students are fearful of them organizing on campus.  Several sexual assault survivors have disclosed that they have not been attending their classes after seeing men’s issues presence on campus.  The specific group on campus has claimed that they are not misogynistic because 45% of their membership is women.  A few women being comfortable and feeling safe enough to join this group does not negate the fear other women, feminists and survivors feel.  Men’s issues groups have a long history of harassing and threatening women, feminists and survivors across university campuses, I don’t blame people for being fearful and suspicious of these groups.

Intersectional or Bust:
Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that people experience multiple oppressions and privileges simultaneously.  Many feminists have recognized that any discussion of gender cannot be done without an intersectional framework as race, class, sexuality, ability, etc. influences the way one experiences gender.  For example, my experience of being a white woman is very different than a Black woman’s experience.  Men’s issues groups do not seem to have taken any type of intersectional approach in their work.  Issues these groups address are often chosen by white, straight, cisgender men based on their experiences.  Discussions of other identities and issues that do not affect white, cisgender, straight men are absent from the conversation.

I’ve never seen or heard of men’s issues groups address issues that do not impact white, straight, cisgender men.  They have been absent from any discussions of men of colour experiencing police brutality.  They are very vocal about how there are more men in prisons than women, but the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous men is never mentioned.  Transgender men are not even included in discussions of men’s issues.  The group on campus wants to discuss literacy rates in schools; will the experiences of Black youth who are pushed out of school be part of this discussion?  How about the unequal practices in suspending students from school based on race?  Where does poverty and class come into these discussions?  I haven’t seen any men’s issues groups out protesting the closure of a men’s shelter.

Are you really addressing men’s issues when you only talk about those experienced by the most privileged of the group?

Ideology:
Men’s issues groups completely ignore the social structures that shape experiences.  Men’s issues groups gather angry young men and provide them with an outlet for that anger which is to blame women and feminism.  Young men are angry; pointing the blame of that anger to feminism and women adds fuel to the fire.  This does not constructively dismantle where that anger comes from.  The unattainable expectations of men today were not put in place by women and feminism, they came from a patriarchal system.  While patriarchy undoubtedly privileges men, the system also harms them.  A lot of the issues men face would be resolved with the dismantling of patriarchy.  So why blame feminism and women?  It’s a lot easier and unlike patriarchy, we are a tangible source of blame that you can see.  Plus, they may not want to dismantle a system that ultimately privileges them.

Men’s rights groups only address larger social structures when they perceive themselves as a victim of those oppressions.  In the wake of several school shootings in the United States, many have pointed out these shooting rampages are mostly committed by white men.  Men’s issues groups call this sexism and racism.  You cannot be sexist towards a man and cannot be racist towards a white person; there’s no such thing as reverse racism and sexism.  These things have historical context and are upheld by institutions; they do not apply to you when are privileged in that system.

These groups also call for equality, which implies that men do not have equal status to women.  Men have never had to fight for their rights based on their identity of being male.  Men have fought for other rights based on other aspects of their identity such as race, ability, class, sexuality, etc., but never based on being men.

A Way to Talk about Men’s Issues:
Men do have issues and they should be discussed; I don’t oppose these groups for simply wanting to talk about the issues men face.  The White Ribbon Campaign does an excellent job talking about men’s issues; it’s done within a framework that recognizes the privilege of being a man and that harmful ideas of manhood can lead to violence against women.  It frames manhood and men’s issues in the larger context, which is missing in men’s issues groups.  The White Ribbon Campaign talks about men’s issues without being disrespectful or threatening towards women, sexual assault survivors or feminists.

It is possible to talk about men’s issues in a healthy way but current men’s issues and rights groups cause both harm to the individuals who join them and those who oppose them.  Men’s issues groups simply maintain the status quo; men stay angry and unaware of their privilege while women remain marginalized and vulnerable to men’s expression of that anger.

White Ribbon Campaign: http://www.whiteribbon.ca/