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.

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

team2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: espn.go.com

Global Health Nursing Conference 2016

10996024_10156727906325457_8941945273435914074_n

On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, I attended the Global Health Nursing Conference held at the University of Toronto, hosted by the Nursing Undergraduate Society at UofT. The purpose and the theme of the conference this year was to shed light on Refugee and Immigrant Health.

This year’s conference is particularly poignant due to the current social climate regarding the war conflicts that have started occurring in 2011 (and are still ongoing) within Syria, and the large influx of Syrian refugees within Canadian borders. Throughout this night, we explored topics related to refugee and immigrant health, and ways in which nurses play a significant role in facilitating access to safe and appropriate for a vulnerable population. The wide variety of panelists, speakers, and session facilitators encompassed a diverse group of registered nurses [RNs] and nurse practitioners [NPs] from a variety of different global health backgrounds. They offered their experiences and perspectives on global health, the impact that nurses can create in health care on a global scale, and the types of work in which nurses can play a part in on an international health care level.

This event garnered significant attention from a variety of different undergraduate nursing students. The evening was comprised of attendees from UofT’s second-entry BScN program, Ryerson’s BScN program, Nippissing, York, etc. It was refreshing to see variety in different nursing backgrounds, making it an optimal night for opportunities to network, meet new people, and make new nursing friends!

The first part of the evening began with a panel of four RN speakers with diverse careers within global health. Some of them worked in various acute care and community health settings in different parts of the world (i.e Sudan, Ethiopa, Sierra Leone), implementing global health initiatives such as surgical programs, vaccination clinics, maternal health education, etc. Some of them worked within the local community (i.e Women’s College Hospital), addressing refugee and immigrant health needs and concerns in the Greater Toronto Area. Having these varied experiences and backgrounds in nursing come to light truly widened perspectives and opened many minds. The nursing students in attendance, a majority of whom have yet to have any solid exposure to global health nursing, were able to think of adequate health care outside of a framework that is well-resourced, highly affluent, and well-supported by a competent government structure. We were forced to think critically about what health care and health care delivery looks like in various populations and cultures, and how we – as Canadian nurses – can use our influence to affect change, in order to improve global health outcomes. Moreover, we also had the opportunity to think critically about how to address global health issues within our own local community. Various speakers spoke about what immigrants – specifically refugees – experience, in terms of health services, once on Canadian soil. We discussed barriers they often face to receiving appropriate care, such as a lack of adequate health care insurance coverage and a lack of unfamiliarity in terms of navigating a new system. The panelists did a fantastic job in articulating that our roles as nurses are to ensure that immigrants and refugees receive a care that is reflective of our health care system’s values and beliefs – that is, a care that is individualized, patient and family-centred, and comprehensive.

 A highlighted global health organization that was brought to attention during this period of the evening was Medicins Sans Frontieres [MSF]/Doctors Without Borders. A number of the RN panelists discussed their own experience in working with this organization and how MSF carries out various global health initiatives in a number of resource deficient countries. The purpose of MSF is to provide medical support and services where it is most needed on a global scale, and to ensure that health care systems and organizations are well-supported and have sufficient resources to deliver adequate care across boarders. More information on MSF and their work, as well as how to get involved, can be found on:

Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.57.56 PM

The next portion of the evening was a dinner and Social, where we got to engage with the founders of the company iamsick.ca. iamsick.ca is a company that has created a technology platform in the form of an app and a website, to help facilitate access and equity to adequate health services in your own area. They have developed a system whereby one is able to access the most appropriate health care provider, for their specific needs, online. Furthermore, through this system, they are able to minimize things such as emergency visits, wait times, etc., as it specifically matches the individual’s health need with the specific health service and provider that addresses that need. iamsick.ca is a company that began at UofT and has grown over the last four years, with a large number of consumers that have been helped through its services. They work directly with healthcare providers and organizations to ensure that the link between patient and provider is more effectively established. iamsick.ca ensures that health needs do not go unaddressed and are addressed appropriately. For more information on iamsick.ca, please visit:

iamsick.ca

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 11.19.13 PM

The last portion of the evening involved Breakout Sessions, from which students were to choose whichever session they would like to partake in, to develop more knowledge in more specific niches of global health nursing. I chose to take part in the Sick Kids International Paediatric Global Health session, due to my interests in maternal and paediatric health. In this last hour of the evening, the Nursing Manager and the Advanced Nursing Practice Educator from Sick Kids International and Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health spoke about paediatric health and nursing care on a global scale. They spoke about their past, present, and future projects and global health initiatives to address gaps in international paediatric care. A significant gap that they have found in terms of global child health is that nurses internationally lack the advanced competencies of paediatric nursing care, making it difficult for them to deliver the care that their country’s paediatric population requires. Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health has taken steps towards developing a project that educates nurses abroad about paediatric nursing and paediatric care, in order to empower that country’s health care providers. This project has been a focus for a large part of their work and they hope to continue educating various nurses in various parts of the world, to ensure they receive adequate paediatric nursing education and training. For more information on Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health, and to learn more about their work, please visit:

IMG_0935

The Hospital for Sick Children – The Centre for Global Child Health

Needless to say, the night was successful and the nursing students in attendance learned a lot about global health and how nursing plays a pivotal role in global health. With Canadian nursing school curriculums having a strong focus on nursing in the local and national community, there is a significant lack in education about the work nurses do on an international and global scale. This conference has definitely enabled nursing students across GTA to develop their knowledge and awareness in global health nursing, and has inspired us to build careers built on the foundation of community health development alongside with acute care development.

PedNIG Paediatric Nursing Skills Workshop: March 2016

On Saturday, March 05, 2016, I had the privilege of attending the Paediatric Skills Workshop hosted by the Paediatric Nursing Interest Group (PedNIG) of RNAO. The event was held at McMaster Medical Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. A large group of nursing students from nursing schools across Ontario eagerly attended the event, hoping to learn something new about the field of paediatrics. The room was filled with excited and anxious nursing students, waiting to hear from respectable and established paediatric registered nurses, hoping to pick their brains and learn some skills of the trade.

IMG_0907 (1)

The day began with open remarks from PedNIG RNAO representatives and executives, outlining the agenda for the day. The line up of speakers and presenters proved to be very exciting for the students, with a wide variety of speakers – from professionals who have been in practice for 20+ years, to new graduates who are all to familiar with the feelings of the students in the room. It was interesting to see the wide rang of experiences come together and speak about Paediatric nursing through different yet similar lenses. Each speaker and presented provided different perspectives and illustrated different ways of approaching this practice through their individualized experiences.

FullSizeRender (2)

The morning progressed with starting by learning how to complete a head-to-toe assessment of the paediatric population. We analyzed the process of how to conduct various health assessments in children ages 0-18 years of age, and how to act on complications found during certain assessments. It was a comprehensive review of the anatomy and physiology of the paediatric population that touched on key concepts and skills in paediatric nursing.

FullSizeRender (3)

The next session that followed was an overview of medication administration and dosage calculation for the paediatric population. Through this session, nursing students learned about different forms of administrating certain medications with various paediatric patients. We learned about how to assess for any signs and symptoms, how to assess for any adverse effects/toxic effects, etc. We also learned how to calculate the appropriate dosage of medication for paediatric patients depending on their weight and their condition. Students were attentive, actively participating, and collaborative with their peers throughout the entire session.

IMG_0910

The morning concluded by learning about paediatric mental health. This was a very new topic introduced to the practice of paediatric nursing, as mental health – up until recently – was not a standard assessment practiced in medicine. With increasing demands of putting more of a focus on mental health within health care, the paediatric population has proven to be one of the most vulnerable populations for instability in mental health. Through this particular session, we learned why exactly that is and certain influencing factors that affect the mental health of children. We learned what kinds of plans of action and intervention that paediatric nurses can take, in order to ensure that our patient population has a cohesive mental health. We learned about the importance of providing family-centred care and patient-centred care, and how we – as nurses – can play an important role as a source of support for our patients and their families.

IMG_0912

Following the morning’s workshop sessions, a lunch break ensued and afterwards, the afternoon’s session began. The afternoon’s session covered important topics in the field of paediatric nursing such as “Hot Topics in Paediatrics,” covering key illnesses and complications amongst the paediatric population (i.e Asthma, Type I Diabetes, pain). Following the Hot Topics session, a panel of esteemed professionals in the field conducted a Questions and Answers session with the students. This proved to be the highlight of the entire event, as students eagerly asked questions about the field and how to pursue a career in paediatrics as nurse to experienced professionals. Students asked questions such as:

“How do I gain experience in paediatrics as a student?”

“What makes a resume outstanding?”

“How can we maximize our experience in our clinical placements?”

FullSizeRender (4)

The panel of esteemed professionals were all too welcoming and eager to answer any inquiries and concerns that the students had. They answered with a high level of efficiency and conviction. The students were very receptive to the replies and very eager to participate in the discussions that were facilitated through the Q&A panel. This last session proved to be the most exciting aspect of the entire event and was a good way to end the day.

IMG_0914

Needless to say, the entire event proved to be very useful and very interactive for both the student attendees and the event hosts. The workshop was able to enhance the professional development of nursing students eager to build a career in paediatrics in a very significant way. The response to the various sessions held throughout the day were quite positive and enabled PedNIG – RNAO to be hopeful for future sessions. The event overall proved to be a huge success and attendees – myself included – left learning something new and feeling one step closer to their goals of becoming paediatrics nurses.

RSU Election Debate: Student Safety at Campus Events

RSU

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

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.

The Power of Student Journalism

RSJ

Ryerson University has one of the best journalism programs, with many graduates going on to work for large publications such as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.  With such an incredible program, it comes as no surprise that our campus has two school newspapers: The Eyeopener and The Ryersonian.  Student newspapers offer journalism students an amazing opportunity to write features, conduct interviews, and be an editor, practice photography, report on events and everything that goes with the operations of a newspaper.

While student newspapers are an excellent source of learning, this learning cannot come at the expense of the subjects of their stories.  There have been a few incidents lately that have raised some red flags as they have gone beyond students simply learning how to be journalists and waded into the territory of having serious and negative impacts on peoples’ lives.  As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

I’m all for student learning; as a social work student, I complete two placements where I’m able to learn social work skills necessary for my career.  I appreciate having a space to try things out, make mistakes and be able to try again.  I have and will continue to make mistakes throughout my placement and career.  This is why I can appreciate the position students working and writing for student newspapers are in; we are all students and everyone is learning.  I become less understanding of this when mistakes are made that are based in pure insensitivity and carelessness.

This type of mistake occurred during the coverage of the Ghomeshi trial this week.  When I arrived on campus the afternoon the trial began, I learned that one of the school newspapers had tweeted the names of the victims whose names are under a publication ban.  While this is a mistake by a student who is learning, this could have serious and negative consequences for those women.  There’s a publication ban in place for a reason and tweeting their names is an invasion of their right to privacy and anonymity in the public’s eye during a sexual assault trial.  I don’t know the legalities of breaking a publication ban but I’m assuming there are consequences.  While these students may say “oops”, delete the tweet, take it as a lesson learned and carry on, that tweet could impact those women in negative ways.  Our student media may have just disclosed the sexual violence someone has experienced to a family member, friend, colleague, boss, neighbour, etc.  This is further complicated in that Ghomeshi yields a lot of power due to his celebrity which means a high profile trial.  Consequences from that tweet could reach far and wide in that persons’ life; this cannot simply be treated as a beginners’ mistake.

This semester, I experienced a student error that could potentially have serious and negative impacts.  I was recently interviewed for a story on unpaid internships by one of the student newspapers.  I discussed my experiences of having a disability and completing a lot of unpaid placement hours; when asked what my disability was, I disclosed I have a brain injury as I did not want it to be misconstrued or misrepresented.  I’m not sure what happened between my interview and the publication of the article but the newspaper printed that I have mental health issues.  How would I disclose this in an interview if that is not a lived experience I have?  Fortunately, the newspaper edited the online version and printed a correction but that’s a pretty big mistake.  Considering the stigma attached to mental health issues and that my experiences were presented as representative of students with lived experience, I’m extremely lucky I have not had any negative consequences thus far.  I was extremely concerned considering I have been very vocal about men’s rights and issues groups which often discredit feminist and women’s voices by claiming they are “mentally ill”.  These types of mistakes cannot be brushed off as expected errors in learning; they need to be addressed and there needs to be some accountability.  While the Editor of the newspaper apologized several times, I still have not heard from the reporter who interviewed me and wrote the article.

This year, I’ve had a lot more interactions with campus media as I began co-organizing the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  We have been interviewed on a number of topics including our initial solidarity with U of T event, the men’s issues group at Ryerson, meninists, body hair, self-love for racialized and immigrant women, our Take Back the Campus event, masculinity, the RSU, etc.  I’ve had some really great experiences with student journalists at Ryerson; great interviews, great questions and discussion, well-written articles and no one has spelt my name wrong yet.  Student journalists have been very respectful about my safety concerns regarding some of the issues I have been interviewed about and have waited after events to interview me when I would be most comfortable.  I’m still friends with Dylan Freeman-Grist, who wrote the amazing first article about the Ryerson Feminist Collective when we formed in September.  A student journalist I recently met even helped me with this blog, which I really appreciate.

Student newspapers have made errors that could have negative impacts and this needs to be addressed but I also want to talk about the student journalists who are doing amazing work.  This is who should be recognized for their work and contributions to campus life.  The students working at both campus newspapers work very hard at their jobs (I hear they are on campus until 2:30 am some days) while taking full course loads, working outside jobs and still managing to have a social life.  The stories are always interesting and they are always reporting on current student news.  The work of these journalists should be recognized and highlighted for other students to learn from to avoid mistakes that could potentially be harmful.

While mistakes in student learning are inevitable, errors that can be extremely harmful need to be addressed.  This can be done by having those who make mistakes take accountability for them and also having a good understanding of the power student journalists hold.  What you write could change someone’s life and I think this is an important lesson to take into any field, including journalism.

Disability and Absenteeism

absent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from: www.angelabrook.com

The Story Behind The Storyteller

The Storyteller Logo

The Storyteller Logo

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

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

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

Banner with 'The STORYTELLER' written on it

Banner with ‘The STORYTELLER’ written on it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.