#OscarsSoWhite – Black History Month

OscarstooWhite

In honour of February being Black History Month – a time where we celebrate Black culture, shed light on and stand in solidarity with the Black community on Black issues, and recognize the strength and resilience of the Black community and its history – I thought it would be prudent to talk about a recent issue on hand that is affecting the Black community.

#OscarsSoWhite

For those of you out of the loop with Hollywood-related issues, or simply for those of you who don’t know, there has been significant controversy surrounding the annual Academy Awards Ceremony. The Academy Awards (“Oscars”) has been a night of celebration and recognition of actors, actresses, directors, producers, and motion pictures. It has been an opportunity to acknowledge the success of such people and such projects and has been a way to encourage the film industry to continue producing quality creative content for its viewers.

I would like to say that this issue is recent but if we’re being quite honest, this has been an issue for several years. That issue being: There is a significant lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially, the Academy Awards. #OscarsSoWhite is a campaign initiated to urge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be more inclusive in their acknowledgements and recognitions. It is a movement for diversification and equity – it is a movement to urge a very influential platform to facilitate an industry that accurately represents its target audience. This year – quite similar to last year – all 20 actors who have been nominated for lead and supporting acting categories are white. Significantly “Black” films are only recognized for a white actor within that film.

For example: Creed, whereby Michael B. Jordan (a black actor) was the lead role throughout the whole movie as he played Apollo Creed’s son, is only being recognized for Sylvestor Stallone (a white actor) and its screenwriters who also happen to be white, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. It seems quite ludicrous that a movie where a black actor is the clear lead throughout the entire movie is not being acknowledged, but his white co-star is being recognized, as well as the movie’s white screenwriters.

To give you even more context, in the last 88 years that the Academy Awards have been an established industry, only 14 black actors have actually won an Oscar, one of them being Lupita Nyong’o for her role in 12 Years a Slave. Only 5 Latina actors have one in the last 88 years as well and quite disappointingly, only one Indigenous acting winner (Ben Johnson for his role in The Last Picture Show in 1972). Furthermore, the Academu Awards Industry is made up of 94% white voters and 77% males.

It has always been clear that movies have misrepresented minorities for so many years. You have white actors playing black/Asian/Latino/Indigenous people. You have a predominantly white industry who is seemingly in charge of whether or not you get recognized for the hard work that you do, and will no doubt have a bias for their own kind. You have a completely un-diverse industry who is only willing to shed light on “white excellence” while Black excellence takes a back seat. It’s backwards, it’s completely un-progressive, and it’s disheartening to be misrepresented and unrecognized on such a public and popular platform.

Change has to start. This is such an influential platform and the more we emphasize visibility and diversification, the more society will mimic such ways and adopt such ideologies. We have to challenge white dominance and privilege, which seems such a strange thing to say in 2016, but don’t think for a second that we’ve overcome racism just because it’s not as apparent and “in your face” as it was in the 50s. We have come a long way but there is so much more work to do. I encourage you to look into the #OscarsSoWhite issue; get educated and be aware. Stand in solidarity with one another and fight for what’s right. This is so much more than movies at this point; this is about equity and unification as a global society.

Will you be boycotting the Oscars this year? #OscarsSoWhite

Resource: http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2016/02/02/oscars-academy-award-nominations-diversity/79645542/

Sexual Violence on Campus: Arrested and Charged

campus

*trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

Sushi & Beer

Every week I ride the Bloor Street Subway out to Scarborough and back into the city. If you have been on the subway before you know what it’s like; people talking, sitting, reading, and minding their own business as the train rumbles beneath the city streets. The subway is a kind of strange place because it’s full of people who we do not know and who we do not always notice or even pay any attention to, we are generally concerned with who is in our immediate surrounding and when our stop is coming. While on my most recent trip home from Scarborough I noticed a man getting on the train at Coxwell Avenue. I was sitting on one of those old stained red and silver seats nearest to the sliding doors with my head leaned up against the glass. I was half asleep, as I often am on the subway, the rocking and warmth having lulled me into a semi-conscious state where the Queen could walk on by and I would still be trying to hold my eye lids open (this is also why I often miss my stop). As I sat there with my head half-tucked into the top of my wool winter coat, my collar popped up around my neck, and my toque low on my face I saw the man enter the train and sit down on the floor. I thought that in my sleepy stupor I was seeing things; why would someone sit on the floor when the train was half empty? This man caught my attention and pulled me back into consciousness as I continued to observe him.

 
He sat on the floor with his back leaned up against the red doors opposite me, these doors wouldn’t open again till Yonge Street So he had time to make himself comfortable. As the train pulled us farther into town I saw more and more of this man; his grey hair sticking out from under his tattered blue and white Maple Leafs toque and the dark creases and dry pale skin that enveloped his hands and face. His acid wash baggy blue jeans were torn up at the bottom showing off his beat down formerly white sneakers and he wore an old Maple Leafs jersey which matched his hat. The man was carrying a reusable shopping bag with him that looked like it only had one tug left in it before it feel completely apart. I found out later that in this bag he was carrying his dinner, a small take-out box with a few maki rolls in it and a pitcher of light beer wearing its own toque to minimize spillage. After the man removed the contents of his bag with extreme care so as to protect them from the unstable and unpredictable movements of the train he did something that in the moment surprised me. He put his hands together in prayer, closed his eyes, and began whispering something I was too far to hear. He then took a single maki roll and a sip of beer and cautiously returned his meal to his dilapidated sack. As I watched him eat I thought about how I never thank anyone for my food other than the waiter who brings it to me. This man was thanking his Lord for the pitiable amount of food he had and yet I take a full cupboard and fridge for granted.

 
Our journey continued across the Bloor Street Viaduct and I noted the darkened sky lit up with the luminous glow of downtown business towers and condos reflecting off the clouds. Our train stopped on the bridge and I could feel the wind brushing against the sides of the train, the doors rattling in and out, and the screech of the wheels as we slowed to a halt. Looking out the train window I felt the whole city get cold even though this is an unusually warm December. I wondered to myself where this man would go, what would he do when he reached his stop and was faced with a still harsh December? In the time that I was distracted by the city skyline and my thoughts I hadn’t noticed that my traveling companion had slipped into his own state of half-consciousness. He stretched his legs out along the doorway and his head and back were upheld by the glass separating the seats from the doors. His left hand and arm were hugging his shopping bag and in his right hand he had a lighter. It was at this point that I saw the cigarette sticking out from under his toque amongst his scraggly hair. He was playing with the lighter, rubbing it with his fingers and tapping it on the train floor. At one point he threw his arms up into the air and as they crashed back down to the floor I could see his face drop into sadness, as though he were giving up and submitting to the thoughts that were running around in his mind. Maybe he was expressing frustration, depression, despair, desolation, or hopelessness, I don’t know what he was thinking but he did not seem happy, he looked tired; exhausted in a way that I hope I will never have to feel.

 
Our train picked up and we started into the tunnel, eventually reaching Sherbourne Street where the man rose to his feet and switched over to the opposite doors now lying directly beside me. As the doors slid open at Yonge Street I watched the changing faces of the new passengers. Men and women went from smiling and laughing to disturbed and disgusted. People scoffed and turned up their lips in a grimace, passing judgment over someone they didn’t know and had no contact with. Some people didn’t even notice him as he lay at their feet. Every person with the exception of one man parted at the doorway moving further into the train and filling it. The man who remained bent down and pinched the arm of my now sleeping traveling companion waking him up. The new man dressed in a dark woolen coat and boots asked the laying man to get up as he was in the way, even though he was not bothering anyone. It’s not as though people were stepping over him to get to closed doors that would not open again until Spadina Avenue which I later learned was this man’s stop. A heated conversation ensued with yelling and swearing resulting in a now irate and fatigued man being forced up and out of his resting position and off the train. This entire exchange was pointless and unnecessary and only resulted in anger and the perpetuation of stereotypes. After the altercation the atmosphere on the train changed, for a moment there was a noticeable dip in the collective mood. The woman across from me said “what can you do?” and shrugged off the whole event, the man next to me said to his friend “they’re all the same” and continued their conversation as though nothing had occurred.

 
Why was this happening? Why did this whole show come about? Why did this man feel it was his right to upset and force someone off the train who was doing nothing wrong? Was he assuming that because of the way this man looked or was acting he shouldn’t be on the train with us? Or perhaps he went into the situation with good intentions, but we all know where that road leads. I don’t know why this happened but all I can say is that my traveling companion deserved the same peace and respect that I receive. I am often asleep on the train and while I may not be lying on the floor no one bothers to wake me. Being in a seat puts me in no one’s way but this man was in no one’s way either. He knew the door schedule and would have gotten up the same way he did the last time. This man never even said anything to anyone, he was minding his own business the same as everyone else and yet society decided it was their right to intervene and not to help but to make things worse. It’s been my experience that assumptions do not lead to good solutions and going into a situation with stereotypes in the back of your mind will not help but hinder. People experiencing homelessness aren’t stupid or worth less than anyone else. This man simply wanted a warm place to eat his sushi and beer and to take a nap, he was not impeding the travel of or bothering anyone else and yet he was interrupted and attacked. Why?

The Story Behind The Storyteller

The Storyteller Logo

The Storyteller Logo

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

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

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

Banner with 'The STORYTELLER' written on it

Banner with ‘The STORYTELLER’ written on it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Santa Needs Sensitivity Training

santa

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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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Honouring with Silence, Shouting for Survivors: Discussing the Trans Day of Remembrance

TDOR

Last week, the RSU Trans Collective hosted the event, Honouring with Silence, Shouting for Survivors:  Discussing the Trans Day of Remembrance.  The Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) takes place yearly on November, 20th.  These days are often marked with vigils to honour those taken by transphobic and transmisogynistic violence.  More recently, these events have moved towards honouring those lost by celebrating their lives.

The event was an opportunity to come together for a meal, panel and discussion about what the Trans Day of Remembrance, what it means, what does it do, what does it fail to do.  The panellists included: ki, Rosalyn Forrester and Jasbinda (Jassie) Sekhon.  All of the panellists spoke eloquently and honestly about their experiences with the Trans Day of Remembrance.  While the panellists come from different places and backgrounds, all expressed complex relationships with the Trans Day of Remembrance, and how this event impacts their communities.

A big contention about Trans Day of Remembrance can be brought forward in a single question; what about the other 364 days of the year?  The City of Toronto held a flag raising this year with councillors speaking to the issue of violence against trans people.  Toronto needs to be talking about this violence more than one day a year and make efforts to prevent these deaths.  Toronto being in allyship is more than raising a flag and gathering once a year, it’s actively dismantling and challenging the systems and culture that allow transphobic and transmisogynistic violence to occur and continue.

With that being said, many losses in the trans community are not from blatant transphobic and transmisogynistic physical violence at the hands of another person.  Many of these losses are at the hands of systemic issues those outside the trans community may fail to see on a daily basis.  Transphobia runs in more than just individuals, it runs in the very systems that dictate peoples’ lives.  Transphobia in systems results in unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, mental health issues, suicide, isolation, etc., all of which kill people.  All of the panellists reiterated the need to honour those who are murdered by systemic issues, not just by individuals.  While these losses to the community occur in different forms, they are lives taken too soon and losses to the community.

Several Trans Day of Remembrance events have moved towards a more celebratory space that focuses on healing.  One of the panellists described Trans Day of Remembrance as a “slit your wrist” type of event, one that is depressing and leaves little hope or healing in a world full of transphobia.  The event also brought up many questions I would encourage my fellow cisgender people to consider when they attend, post or tweet about Trans Day of Remembrance: why do we only talk about trans people when they’re gone?  Why aren’t we celebrating all of the amazing things trans people are doing in the present?  Why are we only centering trans experiences once a year?  Why are we not making changes to prevent these deaths?

It’s time to celebrate, honour, and ally with trans folks for all 365 days of the year, not just one.

Black on Campus Ryerson

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On November 18th, Ryerson students, faculty and staff gathered at Victoria and Gould Streets to express solidarity with students organizing at Mizzou and #BlackonCampus events across the globe, and share experiences of being Black on campus.  These experiences were shared at the event and on social media using #BlackonCampusRye.  Black on Campus Ryerson: Solidarity Action with Mizzou and Yale was organized by the United Black Students at Ryerson.  I was fortunate enough to attend in solidarity as a student, a co-organizer with the Ryerson Feminist Collective and an ally.

The event began with a banner drop from above the Ryerson Book Store.  The banner read, “We Rise with Mizzou #BlackonCampusRye”.  From there, students, faculty and staff went on to share their experiences of being Black on Ryerson’s campus.  As an ally, my job is not to tell you my experiences of being at the event; it’s to center the voices of those who experience anti-Black racism on campus.  For the rest of this blog post, I will attempt to do just that.

"We Rise with Mizzou" banner that was dropped above the Ryerson book store.

“We Rise with Mizzou” banner that was dropped above the Ryerson book store.

The first speaker at Black on Campus Ryerson was Social Work Professor, Akua Benjamin.  Benjamin has been a professor with Ryerson for 30 years and has worked and been an activist in many capacities including issues of anti-racism, feminism, immigration, criminal justice, healthy and many more.  Benjamin discussed the need for Black students to see themselves reflected in faculty and curriculum.  The curriculum in Ryerson classrooms come from a very Eurocentric and Western model, lacking Black voices, scholars and experiences.  This is amplified by the overwhelming white faculty seen across all post-secondary institutions.  Benjamin wants to see classrooms where Black Lives Matter, where students and faculty don’t have to be afraid to talk about race and anti-Black racism.

Professor Akua Benjamin speaking at Black on Campus Ryerson

Professor Akua Benjamin speaking at Black on Campus Ryerson

From there, the microphone was open for students to share their experiences of being Black on Campus at Ryerson.  These experiences came from different students, different faculties, different programs and different classrooms but they all had one thing in common: anti-Black racism is prevalent at Ryerson.

What does anti-Black racism look like at Ryerson? Microaggressions being present in every classroom and acting as barriers to education.   A white professor stating they experience racism because they have a mixed daughter.  Professors being more concerned about white students’ feelings in discussions of racism.  Discussions of racism being dominated and run by white students, despite Black students being present in class. White professors acting as experts on race and racism, completely ignoring the voices and experiences of Black students, even when they have their hands raised to speak.

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Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is the environment of hostility in classrooms when political discussions arise.  Racialized students are not safe to speak in these classrooms dominated by white students, white professors and a white curriculum.  Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is the token diversity on this campus; we need more.  It’s not enough to have one Black faculty member or one Black student in a classroom.  Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is Black students experiencing harassment and discrimination with no statement from our student union.  Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is not discussing these issues in a critical way because Black students don’t make it to campus and Black faculty don’t make it to the discussion table, due to systemic racism.  Black faculty are not involved in decision making decisions, as they are often kept in precarious work such as contract positions.

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Anti-Black racism is Black students’ hair being grabbed every day.  It’s asking Black students where they are really from and claiming a “right” to use the N-word. It’s a white student asking a Black student if they could wear cotton around her or would it be offensive because of the history of slavery.  It’s increased security and pat-down searches for pub nights held by racialized student groups.  It’s decentralizing Blackness when talking about anti-Black racism.

Racism in classrooms is affecting students’ mental health.  Even in an anti-oppressive program such as social work, Black students huddle together and hope to be in the same classes each semester due to prevalent racism.  One student shared that in classes where group work is required, no one looks to partner with her despite doing well in that class.  Many students experience depression and debate leaving their programs due to rampant anti-Black racism.

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Each program and faculty has racism in its classrooms; it may look different, but it is anti-Black racism.  One student discussed never hearing her experiences of being Black in school.  A student from fashion shared that she is the only Black woman in her class and the constant discussion of diversity in fashion yet there is no diversity in the classroom.  Anti-Black racism is when white students in her class find only having one Black student in the class to be humorous.  These discussions of diversity in fashion are limited to Black women on the runway where Black women’s bodies are eroticized.  There’s never a discussion of diversity in management, designers, etc.  Anti-Black racism is journalism students being told to choose between activism and being a journalist.  It is professors using racial slurs in classes and defending their “right” to do so as it is a language studies class.

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Anti-Black racism at Ryerson is students being here for 4 years and still not feeling comfortable or welcome on campus.  Black students need to feel safe and welcome on campus.  Where are the academic accommodations for students who don’t feel safe on campus?

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Black bodies are not safe on this campus; we need to name anti-Black racism.  We also need to recognize that it’s not always safe for Black folks to speak up in the face of racism; this is where allies need to step up beyond re-tweeting.

Black lives, students, faculty and staff matter.  It’s time that Ryerson as an institution, Ryerson administration, Ryerson faculty, Ryerson staff and Ryerson students started acting like it.

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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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Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless

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On November 3rd, hundreds of people gathered at City Hall as part of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless.  The rally was timely as councillors were debating the George Street Redevelopment Plan, which was approved.  George Street is home to Seaton House, which is at the centre of the George Street Redevelopment Plan.  Seaton House is the largest shelter in Toronto that provides a number of services to single men experiencing homelessness.  This “revitalization” plan is a fancy way of saying pushing those who experience homelessness out of the neighbourhood.  It is a piece of a larger plan to push the homeless and poor to the city’s outskirts as gentrification continues to sweep the downtown core.  Its underlying goal is to clean up the downtown area of shelter and support services.

While the George Street Redevelopment Plan is to keep some emergency and long-term care beds, it does not take into account the 200 shelter beds that will be lost in this renovation.  The loss of these beds is part of a bigger shelter crisis in the city of Toronto.  Despite a 2013 promise by the city to keep shelters at 90 percent capacity, several shelters operate beyond capacity and turn folks away due to a lack of beds.  The night before the rally, shelters were operating at 98-99 percent capacity.  This is extremely alarming considering we have not yet reached the winter months.  The crisis is amplified by the closing of shelters and rooming houses across the city including Hope Shelter at College and McCaul.

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The George Street Redevelopment lacks a clear and appropriate plan for those it will be displacing.  The current plan is vague and does not take into account for the complex needs of these men.  The plan follows the current trend of relocating shelters to wards on the outskirts of the city.  This trend includes programs such as Streets to Homes.  The problem with moving shelters to wards on the outskirts of the city is that services and supports that have expertise in homelessness are all located in the downtown core.  Having shelters located downtown allowed people to access the services they need without having to worry about the cost of transportation.  Without these services being readily available, people will fall through the cracks resulting in an increase in police involvement, jail, emergency services, hospitalizations and deaths.

The City of Toronto has said that the beds Seaton House held will go into other wards.  These wards have not been named.  OCAP wrote councillors, inviting them to come to their rally or publicly state that they would have a shelter in their ward.  Not one came forward saying they would support a shelter being built in their ward and none came to the rally, despite it being held during the lunch break.  Even as OCAP and allies took over the second floor rotunda, making lots of voice, no one came out to address the concerns.  Councillors won’t take a shelter in their ward yet voted “yes” to the George Street Redevelopment.  Being unwilling to have a shelter in a ward is discrimination and prejudice.  While this rally was to keep existing services and shelters in the downtown core, OCAP emphasized the need for shelters and services in all wards.

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OCAP’s demands are to keep shelter beds in the neighbourhood.  The Sherbourne and Dundas area has the infrastructure for shelters and services.  Meanwhile, the city is struggling almost 3 years after the Hope Shelter’s properly was sold to find a replacement.  It’s time to stop selling infrastructure for support services to condo developers, especially if the city is unable to find a suitable replacement.  It’s time for the city to step up and make shelter a priority as opposed to giving into neighbours mobilizing against shelters.  Last winter was a deadly one for the City of Toronto’s most vulnerable; with even less shelter beds for this coming winter, even more people will die on our streets.  The decisions made at City Hall have deadly consequences outside its walls; it’s time for councillors to take that reality seriously.