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.

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.

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.

 

Tie a Red Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

In 1988 the world was so captivated by the sudden emergence and destruction brought on by an itty-bitty virus that they gave it its own international day, World AIDS Day. Every December 1 the world recognizes what has come and hopes for what will be for those living with and affected by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The World Health Organization (WHO) states that approximately 34 million people have died from HIV/AIDS and that almost 37 million people are currently living with HIV. Additionally, WHO states that there are 2 million new HIV infections each year.

To give some context, HIV is a lentivirus that attacks the immune system and reduces it to the point where an individual cannot defend themselves from other pathogens. Once an individual has reached the last stage of HIV infection, as determined by an extremely low level of white blood cells that leads to the occurrence of more than one opportunistic infection (tuberculosis, pneumonia, etc.) they are diagnosed with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV is obtained through sexual intercourse and blood-to-blood contact with an infected individual, such as sharing infected needles, blood transfusions, and during pregnancy. HIV cannot be contracted through common day-to-day activities such as hugging, kissing, and sharing objects such as food and water. This may seem silly to point out but less than 20 years ago it was still common to be confused about the transmission of HIV. It may still be confusing in certain parts of the world where people are not educated about HIV. All of the confusion that surrounded HIV/AIDS is what led to the paranoia and stigmatization of people living with HIV and in particular homosexuals, sex workers, and intravenous drug users as they were the majority populations the virus was found in early on. Thankfully, due to education and awareness initiatives the confusion and by extension the stigmatization has been decreased, at least in the minority world. In the majority world it can still be dangerous to reveal your HIV status as there is still heavy stigmatization. Fear, stigmatization, and a lack of education are the primary barriers to the treatment and prevention of HIV infection.

While the treatment of HIV has been a long and bumpy journey, the prevention methods have not changed very much. There are few prevention methods for HIV infection but they are very simple. Harm reduction techniques for intravenous drug users, such as sterilizing and not sharing needles, and proper sterilization and disposal of medical equipment will prevent HIV infection. Additionally, for sexually active individuals the best protection is the proper use of male and female condoms. However, there have been recent developments in HIV prevention. This is the use of antiretroviral medication for individuals who are not infected but may be exposed to the virus. A pre-exposure prophylactic, or PrEP, is a once-a-day pill that impedes HIV infection in those exposed to the virus. If taken properly and consistently PrEP has been found to be an effective prevention technique. PrEP works by supplying the body in advance with HIV medications that lower viral levels in the blood, in an individual who is not infected the medication will stop HIV from spreading if they are exposed to it. However, PrEP is not a replacement for condoms or other prevention techniques, it is to be used in conjunction with them as it is not 100% effective. There is only one prevention technique that can claim to be 100% effective and that is abstinence, at least in cases of sexual or drug transmission. Along with prevention techniques there is a psychological side to HIV infection and prevention and Ryerson has been playing around with it for some time.

The psychology department at Ryerson operates the HIV Prevention labs. Dr. Trevor Hart and his associates conduct research on how to prevent HIV transmission among high-risk groups and how to promote quality of life among people living with HIV. Their current research is dealing with how HIV negative men who have sex with men protect themselves from HIV and those men who use alcohol and substance abuse to calm sexual anxiety. Additionally, their research revolves around the psychological aspects of sexual interaction, such as the courage and strength it takes to say no to someone who doesn’t want to use a condom when you do. Sex can be intimidating and sometimes we go along with what the other person wants even though we feel differently. If you don’t know the HIV status of your partner you should use a condom, be selfish and use a condom.

It is not surprising that Ryerson puts so much thought into HIV prevention, it has been educating its students on prevention methods for some time. In the 1980’s and 90’s Lynn Morrison, a professor of anthropology, headed education seminars and workshops to educate students on HIV and safe sex. This included practical information and experiences such as how to properly use a condom. At one time Ryerson had an AIDS awareness week and even a mascot, Condom Man, a giant penis with a condom on walked our halls handing out contraceptives. There was also the AIDS Education Project, which was a peer service out of Pittman Hall that provided students with AIDS information and support for those living with HIV. This is something that has survived time and can still be found as part of Ryerson Health Promotion (JOR03 and JOR04). However, there is something that has not survived time here at Ryerson, at least not to my knowledge, and that is the outright promotion of safe sex. It may seem outdated and common knowledge but how many students really use condoms or think that they will contract HIV if they don’t? HIV doesn’t seem like a threat until it’s right in your face. Moreover, we wouldn’t need an HIV prevention lab if HIV were not a problem. HIV is still very much alive in Toronto and Canada; 21% of the HIV positive people don’t know they have it and everyday 7 Canadians are infected with HIV. We need to think about the implications of our sexual habits and we need to have safe sex.

I use the Ryerson Archives for my Ryerson related research and as I was sifting through the AIDS related newspaper clippings I came across an article about a man named Steven Bailey. In 1992 Bailey spoke as part of the Nursing Students Association AIDS Education Conference. Bailey related the feelings that he had when he was diagnosed with HIV and the pain that it caused him to be labeled as positive. At this time in Canada HIV was heavily stigmatized and considered a death sentence as there was no viable treatment available. In the beginning Bailey told people that he had cancer because he found that he got more respect that way, people treated him better thinking he was dying of cancer rather than AIDS. Bailey believed he would beat AIDS, at a time when there was no hope that was all he had. Everyone living with HIV or AIDS needs hope and they need support. Someone infected with HIV is not the child of a lesser God, they deserve love and they deserve life. Bailey was 31 when the article was written and all he wanted was to live to his 35 birthday. I cannot say what happened to Steven Bailey but I can say that I hope he and anyone living with HIV is able to live their life to the extent they wish. HIV is no longer a death sentence and should not be treated as such; we should not continue to stigmatize those who live with HIV.

People living with HIV or AIDS do not need pity they need support. I call on Ryerson and its health committees to be vocal on campus. We should be informing students and helping them to be confident and safe in their sexual practices. We should also be supportive of those living with HIV, why make it harder for someone to find support? Lastly, I want to know what happened to Condom Man.

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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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In Conversation with Stephen Lewis

Human immunodeficiency virus, or more commonly HIV, is a deadly and destructive infection that has plagued our world from, potentially, the late 1800s onward. Researchers believe that HIV can be traced to a type of chimpanzee in West Africa and that contact with their blood through hunting is what allowed the virus to enter the human population. HIV and AIDS came to North America in the mid 1970s and in 1981 appeared on the global medical radar when the level of infection was out of control and the pandemic and pandemonium began. As fear of this unknown killer virus spread through the Western world people began to look for answers, solutions, and wrongly, someone to blame. The scapegoat for HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and into today has been homosexual men as this was a major population the virus infected, while this was entirely false the discrimination still exists and is still stigmatizing. In reality, there are several risky behaviours that put someone at risk for infection with HIV. Also, transmission occurs because the individuals partaking in these behaviours are unaware that they are infected with the virus or that the people they are engaging with are. Unfortunately, the spread of HIV is only one of the problems in this discussion, the treatment of HIV and AIDS and the funding required are an entirely separate demon. This is merely an introduction to one of the most controversial and unsettling discussions our world has had and will continue to have as the fight against HIV and AIDS goes on.   

 

This past Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending one of the Stephen Lewis conversations, which is an ongoing series of discussions put on by the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University in collaboration with the Planetary Health Commission. The discussion, co-hosted by Dr. Alan Whiteside, was on the AIDS pandemic and where we are now in its development. Stephen Lewis is currently a professor of distinction at Ryerson and at one time was the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Commissioner on the Global Commission on HIV, Board Member of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the co-founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation which works with community-based organizations in Africa that are trying to end HIV and AIDS. Dr. Alan Whiteside is an internationally recognized academic and AIDS researcher, he is the co-author of numerous articles and books regarding AIDS, and he established and is the executive director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of Natal in South Africa. These are two very short biographies of two very remarkable men who exposed some of the truths of this horrible disease to the world and continue to do so. Both Stephen Lewis and Dr. Alan Whiteside focus their HIV and AIDS work in Southern Africa where the virus is still rampant and where their discussion on Wednesday was localized. I will try to relate what was discussed so as to provide a better understanding for those who could not attend.  

 

It is important to note that the vocabulary in health has changed; we say that people are living with HIV and yes that’s true in Canada, there are people living with HIV because they have access to medicine and can remain on that medicine. However, this vocabulary is not necessarily applicable to Southern Africa where people are dying from HIV, where it is still a threat as it once was in Canada. It is believed that HIV has killed over 30 million people since 1981, and that 2 million people are infected annually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2014. HIV is a virus that we know how to prevent and control, and yet there are at least 6 million people infected with HIV in Southern Africa and 400,000 new infections every year. What is going wrong? Why is it that we have the answers but still haven’t solved the problem?

 

Looking at prevention, there are some very easy ways to slow the spread of HIV. As mentioned above there are certain risky behaviours that put us at an increased risk for HIV infection, these are most commonly having unprotected sex and sharing infected needles. The reason men who have sex with men (MSM) are more readily infected is that HIV is taken up by the body more easily during anal intercourse rather than vaginal. With the added dangers of not using a condom it is more than likely that an untreated individual with HIV will spread the virus to their partner. Unfortunately, the homophobia that is endemic to Africa does not help. Homosexuality is illegal in some African countries. Homosexuals are driven underground and fear death if they are outed, which makes access to medication even more difficult. Another risky behaviour is sharing needles with infected drug users. When intravenous drug users (IDU) shoot up, their blood enters the needle and is then passed on to the next user thus spreading HIV. IDUs have the highest risk of infection as they have direct blood to blood contact with HIV, this makes transmission extremely easy and the virus can spread throughout the community and beyond fairly quickly. One solution to this problem is safe injection sites, such as the Insite in Vancouver, which provides a clean space as well as equipment and medical staff to ensure that IDUs are safe while they are injecting themselves. It may seem odd to help someone inject themselves with illegal drugs that harm them, but these people are suffering from an addiction and still have the right to health. After all, they are still human and if they are going to use drugs we can at least make sure they are doing so safely and negating the spread of disease and avoiding potentially deadly overdoses.

 

Other at risk groups are sex workers, if they are having unprotected sex, and most notably women. In Southern Africa women are the population with the highest infection rates of HIV. The reason women have such high infection rates is because they face sexual violence. Women are often raped and abused sexually and this is the gateway for their infection. These women then have children and pass the infection onto their offspring, who will not live a long or enjoyable life if not given medication. Within the infected female population in Southern Africa, teenage girls have the highest rates of infection; they have 8 times the level of infection compared to boys in the same age group (15-18), again due to sexual violence. This is an at risk population that does not have an easy solution. How do you stop girls from being raped? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer but I do know that if these girls are given medication and resources they can stop the spread of HIV to their children and other sexual partners and live a much better and longer life. If medication is the answer to this problem and we have the medication, then why is the disease still spreading. The answer is simply that these people are not getting the medication. They belong to stigmatized and oppressed groups that no one cares to think about and often are left to die. HIV infection is in itself a stigmatizing factor in Africa; add in the fact that you are a homosexual, a drug user, a sex worker, or a woman and people stop caring whether you live or die. Aside from the oppression that keeps people from their medication, there are rumblings that global AIDS funding given to African governments keeps disappearing after it is given out.

 

Corruption within African governments is not a new phenomena and it doesn’t seem to be going away. Both Stephen Lewis and Alan Whiteside commented on the way Southern African countries are run by their kings and while the King of Swaziland has a jet his people can’t seem to find their HIV medication. There are billions of dollars raised and donated to AIDS funds every year and for some reason the grassroots organizations in Southern Africa aren’t seeing this money. Where is it going? The United Nations (UN) stipulates that global AIDS funding needs to be distributed through HIV and AIDS committees which give the money to governments and presumably health departments to be used for medication, education, and the spread of resources so that infected individuals can live. However, people are still dying and being infected and kings are buying jets. Of course, some people in Africa are getting medication but money is still evaporating. The only way to determine where this money is going and to make sure it is going to the right places is through auditing. Neither Mr. Lewis or Dr. Whiteside knew why these governments are not being audited. What makes this reality even more terrifying is that AIDS funding is beginning to flatline globally. While the global funding is not going down very much it is not getting any higher and there is a risk of it beginning to diminish. Countries are slowly stagnating with their funding, such as the Netherlands which cut its AIDS funding by 1 billion Euros. Additionally, at the UN the funding for communicable diseases is starting to be targeted by non-communicable diseases as they begin to take a stronger chokehold on global populations. The funding pie is now being sliced for more diseases and more causes and this means that eventually HIV and AIDS will begin to lose funding. This leads into a much larger ethical discussion that is beyond my scope, but I will leave you with a question: how do you decide which diseases need more funding, how do you decide the cost of human life?

 

Dr. Whiteside did have one suggestion for the issue of AIDS funding and it was to be smarter about the way researchers and organizations go about asking for money and how it is spent. Dr. Whiteside was explicit in that governments should be responsible for the health of their constituents and that non-government organizations (NGO) should be there to pick up the pieces and to remind governments of the diseases that are being forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Africa at the moment. The grassroots organizations are the ones providing health to the people of Africa and the money is going to the government. So one solution is to get the money to the organizations on the ground and skip the corrupt kings and health ministers. How this will be done still needs to be determined.    

 

In our society we don’t always think about the threat of AIDS. However, prevention is shockingly simple and that’s probably the more devastating side of this story. A simple condom or having access to safe and clean injection sites- in essence having harm reduction policies in place will protect us. HIV and AIDS have been devastating our world for over 30 years and they are not going away unless everyone takes the responsibility to be safe. Behaviour change is difficult and it takes time but isn’t it worth it? Isn’t your life worth wearing a condom?

 

HIV and AIDS are two topics that require lengthy conversation and attention and that is why I will be writing about them again in another post on December 1, World AIDS Day. In the meantime, to learn more about HIV/AIDS visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, UNAIDS, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and the World Health Organization. One last side note, free condoms and lube are available at the Student Centre, as well as at Ryerson’s Medical Clinic (KHW 181). Outside of Ryerson but still close to campus there is the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation at Sherbourne and Gerrard and the Hassle Free Clinic at Church and Gerrard (above Starbucks) where free medical testing is also available.  

It’s a Devastating Thing to Forget

It seems September is always about mixers; a party that every student association wants you to go to and wants you to partake in. Ironically I went to my first mixer in my last year at Ryerson. RyePRIDE, an Equity Service Group, represents the voice of the Queer and Trans community at Ryerson, hosted a mixer this past week as part of the Equity Services Orientation Week. If this mixer is just a taste then I like the way RyePRIDE parties. Dirty bingo with dirty prizes, drag performances by Church St’s Divine Darling, educational trivia, and everyone’s favourite: free condoms and food. The dim lights, loud music, sounds of sex, and group swearing made for an exciting night. And buttons! So what else does a student party need? Rainbow coloured penis shaped shot glasses? They had those too! Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything but I’m hoping they will have those shot glasses at their next event because that’s what I need, and maybe the vibrator.

 
There’s more to RyePRIDE than just fun parties, they are trying to create an inclusive and open community that is safe for all its members and have been doing so since 1977. They make this well known at their events by pointing out that discrimination towards anyone is not tolerated. RyePRIDE works with the Queer and Trans community at large to provide support, advocacy, education, and a little fun for Ryerson students. In addition, RyePRIDE has an open door and ear, so if anyone wants their help they are available for assistance.

 
One support service that Ryerson offers for students is their Crisis line (416-979-5195) and Centre for Student Development and Counseling in Jorgenson 07, where any student can get immediate support if they are in a crisis. There is also a lesbian, gay, bi, and trans youth line (416-962-9688), which is a local crisis line that provides peer support to youth. In addition, the Sherbourne Health Centre (416-324-4180) provides comprehensive health care to the LGBTQ community. The services offered by Ryerson and RyePRIDE came about as a response to the rampant homophobia that plagued Ryerson’s campus in the past which still affects students today.

 

Digging in the Ryerson Library Archives (on the third floor of the library) reveals some horrifying realities. While skimming through 30 years of Ryerson newspaper clippings I found far too numerous accounts of dangerous homophobia on Ryerson’s campus. From the beginning, with the first meeting of the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Club in 1980- which received bomb threats and forced the group underground- you will see a history of hatred that tormented Ryerson. In 1982, the club received a new space in Jorgenson and this was met with vandalism and ultimately set fire to. Throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the 2000’s the queer students of Ryerson were terrorized by peers- verbal harassment, hate mail, threatening phone calls, destruction of queer rights material, and death threats were day-to-day occurrences.

vandals paint gay office in fourth attack this year, dana robbins ryer, apr 6 82In the fall of 1991 the homophobia pot began to boil over with three physical attacks of students on campus. The first, in a library washroom where a female student who was putting up posters for the new Bisexuals, Gays and Lesbians of Ryerson club (BGALOR) was cornered by three girls and assaulted verbally and physically. The second, another female student was physically assaulted by four men outside her classroom after admitting to being gay in a class discussion. Details about the third attack were lost in the files, but needless to say these three attacks were the catalyst that pushed then Ryerson president Terence Grier to initiate a study of the homophobia on Ryerson’s campus. A study led by George Bielmeier, a social work professor and head of the Advisory Committee on Homophobia, which was also created as a response to these attacks.

img002After eight years of research, the study was released and everyone knew the realities of homophobia at Ryerson. The finger was pointed in the direction of business and engineering students, however, all of the faculties shared responsibility in spreading homophobia, even the university itself. Ryerson had a hand in the homophobic attitudes that were present on campus, but this was the attitude of the time and Ryerson made strides to remove homophobia from its grounds and still does. However, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world and when a gay students’ association has to boycott its own school’s department for harassment and discrimination because they dismissed their complaints, there is a problem. When a school newspaper is allowed to publish anti-gay commentaries and quotations that attack and hurt members of its own community, there is a problem. When staff are denied health benefits for being openly gay and have to watch their partner die because they can’t afford medication, there is a problem. When students are terrified to be who they are because they are afraid of their peers and don’t feel protected by their school, there is a problem.

ryer nov 27 92Ryerson has its share of problems and thankfully they take care of them. Throughout its history, Ryerson has tried to change the attitudes on this campus. In 1986 Ryerson became the first university in Canada to offer a credit course on gay and lesbian studies as well as being one of the early institutions to offer same-sex health benefits in Ontario. Ryerson acknowledged the homophobia that had taken root and now every student and staff are established the same rights. Because of this we are fortunate enough not to experience the level of day-to-day violence that once occurred within Ryerson. That being said, homophobia is still a part of our world and with the vandalism of the RyePRIDE offices in 2008 and the hate crimes against Ryerson students in 2011, it is clearly still a problem.

img015One event in particular that shocked the Ryerson community was the violent murder of graduate Christopher Skinner in 2009. Christopher was an openly gay man and his murder was speculated as being a hate crime. Christopher was an active member of Ryerson’s community and now RyePRIDE offers a bursary in his memory – any self identified gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans student who feels they have contributed to challenging homophobia or transphobia can apply for the $500 Christopher Skinner Memorial Bursary.

img014This truncated journey through Ryerson’s history has taught me something, for which, I am very fortunate. I live and love in a place that fought and changed public opinion, a place where we can feel safe. I still look over my shoulder because it’s not over yet, but there’s hope that it will be. Going through the 30 odd years of Ryerson’s history has exposed to me and hopefully to others events that we can never forget. The work and pain that has occurred on this campus is too important to be lost in a dusty file at the bottom of a drawer. Thank you to the people of history, who rallied not only for their own opportunities but for mine and for every lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans, queer, two spirited, questioning, asexual, intersex, and any other student. To all of your stories that will not be lost or forgotten to a bottom drawer.

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