#OscarsSoWhite – Black History Month

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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

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*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/

Do I Have to Wake Up?

I have always felt that the worst part of a holiday is when it ends. The beginning is so relaxing, you don’t know what to do with all your time and you feel like everything is so much better; everything tastes better, feels better, and looks better or maybe you’re still dreaming. But slowly time passes and then it passes quickly and before you know it you’re back. At the end of a holiday I never know what I have accomplished, generally because I don’t accomplish much on vacation. Growing up as a child the only part of back-to-school that I enjoyed was the back-to-school shopping. I would run around Staples picking out pens, pencil crayons, sticky notes, erases, calculators, binders, and whatever I felt I needed for school, even though I had a lot leftover from the previous years. Suffice it to say I didn’t enjoy going back to school as a child and my parents knew it. They would tease me at the end of summer or in the New Year counting down the days to when I would return to school and in effect lose my imaginary freedom. It is interesting to note however, that I no longer have that attitude and my parents don’t tease me about it anymore either. This past winter holiday from Ryerson was my longest at five weeks, but also my potential last.

I accomplished a great deal over the past five weeks and I know exactly what it was for a change. It doesn’t feel as though I have had much of a holiday since I was doing school related work most of the time, but it was more relaxing than my last semester so I might have to take that back. However, I am ready to go back to school; at least I think so anyway. Schooling provides many things to many people. School gives me not only something to do but too it gives me a purpose. I feel that everyone needs a purpose, regardless of what it is so that we feel useful and as though we are accomplishing something. Grownup me loves holidays for their laziness but I think if I was on an extended holiday I might get antsy and uncomfortable.  I don’t like to feel useless and as though I am not contributing to something. It is nice for a short period of time to do nothing but then it starts to get boring. You can only binge-watch so much Netflix or click so many links on Wikipedia before you end up in that weird area of “I Googled Sailor Moon and now I’m looking at Ted Bundy”. I need to say that I did not get to that point on this vacation, I didn’t have the time. Perhaps that is why I am ready to go back to those old Ryerson hallways, I never really left them. Or perhaps because I know I am leaving them soon enough.

The idea of graduation brings with it excitement and fear; you don’t always know what will become of you once school is over, you don’t even know if you’ll leave. I know a few people in a few different positions in life and looking at them I try to predict what will happen to me; of course it doesn’t work but my imagination is stronger than I. Will I come back for another semester, will I leave and find a job, will I go on to grad school, or will I simply run away to sunny Mexico? I don’t know yet and that is why it is both exciting and scary to know that in 3 or so months I will have a different life, potentially anyway (don’t want to say anything concrete till I have that piece of paper or plane ticket). I hope that I will graduate this spring and I think having that hope has made the end of this holiday not so terrible. I want to go back to Ryerson so that I can finish my degree and move into the next stage of my life and this coming semester is the only thing standing in my way. I can’t really say I am excited for exams and coursework, but I am excited for learning. I said that school gives me a purpose and that purpose right now is to learn as much as possible and I plan to.

Everyone has their reasons for why they hate or love school, but it is an important thing to consider. By reading this you can see that I do it all the time, along with planning run away trips to Central America. I ask myself these silly questions all the time, imagining my future world, and I think it does some good. We should all look at our lives and analyze whether or not they bring us joy or any other emotions, you never know what you’ll find when you open your heart and mind. By thinking about my past, present, and future it allows me to see how I am really feeling and it tells me when I have had enough. Right now I have had enough with rambling and with that I say welcome home Ryerson students. If this is your last semester, enjoy it, time passes so quickly before you know it you’ll have forgotten what school feels like and hopefully be realizing what a sunny beach feels like, or am I still dreaming?

Disability and Absenteeism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from: www.angelabrook.com

RU Sustainable?

If you’re anything like me and you spend most of your time looking out windows and wandering around then perhaps you’ve seen the boards up along Church Street just south of the interior design building. Those boards are sealing off the old parking lot that once occupied that land to allow for the new inhabitant to materialize. Who is this new dweller? It is the newest addition to Ryerson’s building family, the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences building, which is set to break ground this month. Towering 27 storeys above Church Street, this will be the new home and learning commons for some of Ryerson’s existing health science related programs, such as public health, midwifery, nursing, and nutrition (just my luck). The new building will also mean new housing for students, more parking, and new administration offices. Also, keeping with Ryerson’s thirst for innovation the building will be full of sustainability features and be the first building with comprehensive sustainability goals.

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Given that this new health sciences building was an  opportunity for Ryerson to further promote their sustainability efforts they didn’t hold back. The new building is targeting a minimum LEED silver certification, will have a green roof, and the parking won’t just be for traditional cars, there will also be electric car charging stations and over 180 bicycle parking spots. Additionally, a roundtable with Capital Projects & Real Estate (the developers) and the Ryerson community was held in 2013 to share ideas on what long term sustainability goals this building should have. A range of topics, such as waste, lighting, design, energy, and food were discussed and in time we will see what Ryerson has in store for its future students. Don’t get too excited yet though, the opening is not set until Fall 2018. So again if you’re anything like me this building won’t be ready for learning until you’ve graduated (just my luck all over again).

The Campus Facilities and Sustainability department oversees the environmental stewardship efforts that the university employs to ensure that future generations are not hindered by our decisions but aided. Their vision  is that Ryerson will intelligently and continuously pursue opportunities to improve the sustainability on campus, leveraging the contributions of the entire community and serving as a catalyst for broader transformation. The sustainability program that Ryerson promotes was developed by Sustainability Matters which is part of the Campus Facilities and Sustainability department. Sustainability Matters works with the Ryerson community to make it a more environmentally friendly place to work and study. They offer resources, hold events, collaborate, and spread awareness throughout Ryerson to accomplish their goal of helping faculty, administration, and students become more sustainable. Sustainability matters even offers a certificate to campus organizations that want to change their operations. The RU Sustainable Certificate Program provides a framework for planning a group’s sustainability efforts and offers access to the Sustainability Matters support team to aid with goal development and implementation. Overall, Sustainability Matters wants to provide the Ryerson community with resources that help make simple and big sustainability problems resolvable.

With all the work that is being put into this building and all the future thought, has anyone wondered who Daphne Cockwell is? I do. Not only is her name going to be forever installed on a landmark building but her name also graces the School of Nursing. She even has a gallery named after her at the Royal Ontario Museum. Who is Daphne Cockwell? You might think that she was the principle donator to Ryerson for this building, she wasn’t. You may think she was a former student who went on to promote Ryerson, she wasn’t. As it turns out she is a 93 year old woman living in South Africa. Daphne Cockwell worked as a nurse and devoted her life to helping others. She also happens to be the mother of a very powerful Canadian businessman named Jack Cockwell. With 28 million dollars in donations to Ryerson, we certainly have a lot to thank the Cockwell family for, not just a new building. Especially considering the fact that the Cockwell’s never even attended Ryerson, they simply enjoy and agree with how the university is run and what it stands for.

With all the environmental work that is being done by Ryerson and the attention they garner from powerful benefactors, it sometimes makes me wonder how thoughtful I am of the environment. Mother nature is someone who is consistently forgotten in some circles and as a result we are having to fix and restore what was destroyed by our predecessors. I am thankful that Ryerson is taking the initiative to advance the protection of our environment, even if the changes are small and few, they are doing something. We all play a role in the protection of mother nature and we should all want to, after all doesn’t sustainability matter?

4 Tips To Tackle Stress This Exam Season

Happy end of the term classes to all Ryerson students! Today marks the final day of classes for all students across campus, which unfortunately also marks the beginning of finals week for this semester. Stress levels are high and the campus is filled with scrambling student, all attempting to gather all necessary notes for all of their exams. Professors are finalizing exams and answering a million emails a minute, answering questions from stressed and nervous students. It is that time of the year when everyone is eager to delve into the holiday festivities, but also trying to find the best way to cope with and manage all the stress that comes with finals week and being a university student in general. It’s a happy but tough time of the year. Lucky for you, I have some tips that can maybe help you get through the stress, have you motivated for your exams, and ready for the holiday season!

TIP #1: COFFEE IN MODERATION

We all need our daily fix of Tim Hortons or Starbucks and when you’re a university student, it’s almost necessary. Coffee contains the magic C (CAFFEINE) that helps keep us alert for the day and focused for the lectures/labs/tutorials ahead. It’s especially helpful after an all-nighter spent studying, working on a project, or doing a paper (or perhaps simply getting lost in the world of Netflix…). Coffee is great – in moderation. Students tend to turn this “daily fix” during exam season to a “multiple times a day fix.” This can get dangerous and really impact your health negatively – it’ll send your heart rate through the roof, your blood pressure can be through the roof, your diet will be compromised – a lot can go wrong. Don’t over-do it with the coffee. It’s not something that you need to depend on to do well on your exams – your hard work and effort determines that for you. Limit yourself whenever possible and find other ways to stay away (i.e a cold shower in the morning, exercise, breakfast, etc).

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TIP #2: FIND A DESIGNATED STUDY SPOT

Finding a place to study and actually be productive is difficult. This is especially difficult in the middle of the busiest city in Canada – Toronto – where Ryerson is so centrally located. Luckily, we have the Student Learning Centre (SLC) to cater to our Study Spot Needs. First, it’s important that your study spot include a desk or a table of some sort to support whatever your study materials are. Avoid anything too small – the more space, the more room to support laptop, textbooks, notebooks, phone, etc. Second, try to find a bright space, perhaps anything with a big window or light coloured walls. Studying in a bright space with lots of light does a lot for your visual senses and makes it easier for you to sit somewhere for a prolonged period of time, staring at a bunch of words and/or numbers. It definitely lessens the load. Lastly, make sure your study spot is not confining. This means to make sure that the spot you choose allows you to get up once in awhile and move around. Not only does this gives you a break from sitting in a chair in front of your computer for hours, it also prevents any sores or muscle aches from happening, which comes with sitting still for hours. If you’re looking for the perfect study spot on campus, I definitely suggest the SLC (specifically floor 5! Not too eerie and quiet, but also quiet enough to give you some peace).

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TIP #3: DON’T FORGET YOUR DIET

Stress-eating can manifest in two ways: over-eating or under-eating. Some people can binge on junk food and resort to comfort food during such a stressful time. Some people can be so pre-occupied and busy that they may forget to eat and incorporate proper nutrition into their diet. It is important to find some sort of balance in your diet during exam season. Take comfort in moderation – have a donut here and there, get a Frappucino instead of your regular cup of coffee, get some ice cream. Also, it’s not the end of the world if you miss breakfast or have a late dinner. It is expected that your diet will not be at its healthiest during exam season, but it is important to keep in mind that proper nutrition is the best way to keep the mind and body focused and ready to face the day. An improper diet can actually lead to increased levels of fatigue and stress – which is something none of us need any more of during finals weeks. What we do need is increased brain power, which is something fruits and vegetables offer ample amounts of.

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TIP #4: SLEEP – TRY IT

Sleep deprivation – we all have it. Many students have grown accustomed to functioning on a lack of sleep but this tends to get worse during exam season, when we stay up and spend the night cramming and/or getting last minute things done. As a result, the lack of sleep can lead to even more fatigue, an increased dependence on caffeine, and even worse – the chance of sleeping in and maybe even sleeping through an exam. Yikes! The best way to avoid this is simple, but hard at the same time – get as much sleep as you can. Whether that means sleeping earlier and waking up earlier or taking short naps throughout the day, do what you need to do to get some rest and relax your brain. An overworked brain will only lead to more stress and sleep revives the mind, making it easier to study and tackle exams. Sleep is important and most importantly, it’s so relaxing!

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I wish all fellow students at Ryerson and all other schools all the best of luck during this semester’s finals week! Study hard, study well, and do your best! Surround yourself with positive vibes and do what you need to do to stay focused and motivated. We are so close to a well-deserved holiday break so we’re almost there! Hang in there. I’m rooting for you!

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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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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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TedX Ryerson U 2015: Iconoclast

On Saturday, November 14th, TedX RyersonU held its annual conference. This year’s theme was “ICONOCLAST,” focusing on topics and ideas to change and enhance the future. There were numerous speakers – from current students at Ryerson, graduates of Ryerson, and established professionals – all who spoke of concepts surrounding creative and innovative ways of thinking, and the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. There were three sessions held throughout the day, each with the intention of inspiring Ryerson University students to make significant impacts for the future through their work, and how to go about making a change. It was a successful event, with approximately 400 students and community members in attendance, all eager to learn about what it means to be iconoclasts of today and tomorrow.

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Just as in other TED conferences, TedX Ryerson held three sessions throughout the day: one session for technology, one session for entertainment, and one session for design. Each session is meant to showcase a set of speakers involved in technology, entertainment, or design, as they speak about the given theme of the conference. With the theme being iconoclast, each speaker delivered powerful speeches about what it means to be innovators of the future, and how to challenge the status quo, in order to break barriers and create change. Each message delivered was captivating, inspiring, and challenged students to think critically about what it means to be iconoclastic.

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A session that resonated with me the most was the first session – the session of technology. The focus of this session was about the future and how to become innovators of the future. The speakers during this session spoke about how to think outside of the box and push boundaries to develop creative ways of thinking. They emphasized thinking through alternative perspectives apart from your own, and challenging traditional ways of thinking. The importance of interdisciplinary collaboration was also emphasized, as the speakers forced students to find ways to incorporate other disciplines in their work. Interdisciplinary collaboration has been found to offer new perspectives and alternative approaches that may not have been considered prior. It offers new opportunities of growth and maximizes learning.

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This session resonated with me the most as it exposed me to new methods of achieving personal and career goals. It allowed me to think about how to affect change and develop the future through creative and innovative approaches. It pushed me to think outside of the box and to step out of my comfort zone to learn something new and offer new perspectives. It also allowed me to see that interdisciplinary collaboration is essential for iconoclastic work. Working with people from a multitude of different disciplines means having a team with a variety of different sets of knowledge and skills. These different sets of knowledge and skills each offer something unique towards the development of a certain goal, and offer more opportunities for achieving this goal in unique and innovative ways. This session pushed me to embrace change and explore the unknown in order to find new ways, better ways, to create a better future. The discussion from this session really drove home what it means to be an iconoclast of today and tomorrow.
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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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