RSU Election Debate: Student Safety at Campus Events

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On March 3rd, the Ryerson Students’ Union held its debate for the upcoming election.  Each candidate for the five executive positions was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and make an opening statement, which was followed by questions from the (very small) audience.  If you missed the debate, I encourage you to check out Keith Capstick (@KeithCapstick) and JC Vaughan (@suitnboodt) on Twitter as they both live-tweeted the debate.  It’s crucial that students familiarize themselves with each candidate’s platform as the campaign period is shorter than previous years.  I’m not going to re-cap the entire debate as Keith and JC have already eloquently done so, but I’m going to discuss a response to an audience question that I found deeply troubling.

A member of the audience, who was not affiliated with any candidate or slate, asked VP of Student Life and Events candidates about how they would ensure student safety at campus events.  They gave the example of this year’s Parade and Picnic that featured Drake; many students found the space to be unsafe, both in terms of physical safety and safe space, as well as inaccessible.  Some students were injured during the concert and others did not feel it was safe or accessible to them.  These are serious concerns that should be addressed and student safety should always be a topic in student government elections.

I was very troubled by current VP of Student Life and Events, Harman Singh’s response to this question; he is running for re-election on the Impact Ryerson slate.  His response to concerns about student safety, specific to events such as the Parade and Picnic, was that no one was shot or stabbed.

Why is this so troubling to me?  This response sets the bar so low for student safety that it’s barely off the ground.  This type of response tells students that everything that makes spaces unsafe on campus including racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, harassment, sexual assault, Islamaphobia, anti-Black racism, etc. don’t matter.  It tells students that these issues, which students experience daily, aren’t on the radar of the student union executive.  It also indicates that safe(r) space isn’t even considered when planning events.  With such a diverse student population, this means that the majority of Ryerson students are not of concern for big events.  As long as no one was stabbed or shot, it’s all good?  No, it’s not all good.

This type of response also sets the bar low for physical safety as well.  There were several concerns about the large number of people that would be squeezed into the Lake Devo area that was sectioned off for the concert.  As with most large crowds, there were fights and people were injured, but that doesn’t matter because no one was stabbed, right?  Despite these concerns, Singh said we would have fit more people into that area.

I had no intention of going to this event, but if I had wanted to, it would have been completely inaccessible to me.  As a student with a disability, that many people in such a small space would be dangerous for me.  This would have been compounded by not being able to get out of the crowd as high fences surrounded the entire area.  I have been to previous Parade and Picnics at the Mattamy Athletic Centre and Toronto Islands, and this has never been an issue.

Singh’s answer to this question completely focused on Drake and Ryerson’s reputation to the outside eye.  It doesn’t matter if students feel unsafe at events because Drake came to Ryerson, which is apparently school-transfer worthy, and no one was killed.  This indicates greater concern for what Ryerson looks like from the outside as opposed to how students feel.  Isn’t our student union’s main concern supposed to be its students?

The Ryerson Students’ Union teamed up with the Feminist Collective this past December to host an event on the state of and importance of safe spaces on campus.  If the current Ryerson Students’ Union truly cared about student safety, they would consider this in all aspects of their work, including campus-wide events.  Drake shouldn’t be the RSU’s main priority; its students should be.  What’s the point in having cool events if a majority of students at Ryerson couldn’t access it for a variety of reasons?

I really encourage students, even graduating ones, to look closely at candidates’ and slates’ platforms and vote this coming week.  I’m not non-partisan; I organize a feminist group on campus which is inherently political and I do plan on voting for RU Connected based on my own values.  A lot has happened on our campus in student politics this year but in regards to the topic of this blog. I pose this question; do we really want a student union that doesn’t care about the safety of its students?

 

#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/

I’m still in the dark but I’ve left the theatre…

I must start out by saying that I am neither a film student nor a film critic, I do enjoy films though (that counts, right?). I recently attended the premier of the film When the Ice Goes Out at Ryerson’s School of Image Arts. This is a film by Jeremy Leach and Wendy Snyder MacNeil, both accomplished artists in their fields in the United States. Leach is a freelance filmmaker and a directory of photography and has worked on several award winning television programs and documentaries. Leach is also the founder of the production company Lost City Pictures which produced this film and several other independent films and educational media. MacNeil began her career as a photographer before switching to film-making for which she has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. MacNeil’s photos and films are also currently showing until April 10 as The Light Inside exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre in association with When the Ice Goes Out. The film stars Gore Abrams as the main character Jakob and Jazimina MacNeil as his childhood friend Cedar. Now to the film itself.

The premise of the film is of a young man’s journey alone back to his childhood imaginary sanctuary. His life has fallen away, he has no apparent relationships or interests, and all that remains is a desire for what he had as a child. We know nothing of Jeremy’s world, we know that he and Cedar live in the same rooming house and that she refuses to see him so he must watch her from a far and live with the pain of a life in alienation. The film documents Jakob’s trip back to where he came from and his search for a world that never existed. Jeremy must travel through harsh nature and face his ghosts to make it back to where he, at one time, was happy. There is no dialogue so the film relies on natural sounds and imagery to tell the story and move the plot, this is also where the name comes from. The thawing of ice makes a deep rumbling and crackling sound which permeates the film. Now what did I think?

I am not a lover of independent films or much of a viewer I must admit. However, as part of an initiative to include more arts and culture into my diet I chose to go to this film screening. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this film piqued my interest in independent films, in fact it may have killed it. I enjoy the use of symbolism and imagery to tell parts of a story but it is very difficult to sit through 80 minutes of dry and slow filming with no dialogue and no idea of any story. I felt the viewer was kept out of the story, kept out of Jakob’s life. We are not allowed to enter Jakob’s journey, we are only allowed to view it from a far. We have no idea where he is going, what he is thinking, what he is doing, or why he is doing it. This leaves us not knowing what to feel because we don’t know Jakob or understand his actions, he is not relatable; I felt nothing but pity for Jakob, perhaps that’s all I was supposed to feel. The film was stripped bare so we are left with sound and imagery and no real story, merely a peak into something that cannot be made sense of until the artist explains it. Leach stated that originally there was a lot of dialogue and a story was developed but it was taken out on purpose. Leach did not give much of an explanation as to why but I feel that perhaps this was done to reinforce the loneliness and isolation of Jakob, he’s even alienated by us. This is an issue I have with the film, why I am left to explain and create the story? This film was a collection of symbols that were strung together with no connectors but a vague framework that was so flimsy it could be knocked over with a feather. This film could have been about anything, we only know it was about a journey to return to childhood because we are told so by the director. The film cannot stand on its own, it needs the support of its creators to give it life and a reason for existence, to make sense of it.

I cannot say for sure why this film was created or what it was intended to do, it is also not my place to answer those questions. Perhaps there is no reason for the film. Art doesn’t need a reason to exist. I can say that it left me confused, disappointed, and wanting. I can also say the only entertainment I derived from watching this film was trying to figure out what was happening and why, which can be pretty fun when you are trapped in the dark both actually and figuratively. If I was forced to watch this film again I would probably fall asleep like the man down the aisle did and jump out of my seat and out the door during the credits as another viewer did. However, I won’t let this film stop me from seeing the Light Inside exhibit as MacNeil’s photographic talents and prowess are put to fantastic use in this film.

A Positive Outlook for 2016

Every new year offers a wealth of new opportunities for everyone. It’s a chance for personal reinvention – a chance for self-discovery and exploration. It is during this time of the year where the saying: “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) rings loud and true for us all. While we take the time to reflect on the previous year – the highs and the lows, the successes and the failures – we begin to stipulate how we can learn from the previous year and take all that we’ve learned to better ourselves in the new year. Already being a few days in to 2016, some of us are either on the path to self-improvement or still trying to figure out what that path looks like. Whether it’s the first day of the year of the last, there is no right person to be. It’s okay to be the person just figuring things out just as much as it’s okay to be the person who has figured things out already. As long as you’re moving forward and investing in yourself, you’ll be okay.

The new year offers many opportunities to accomplish self-discovery. You can try something new like water-skiing or enrolling in a course or adopting a pet. You can continue to do things you enjoy and are passionate about, like write or take long walks early in the morning or take pictures more often. Perhaps you want to challenge yourself and do something that is completely out of your comfort zone, like learn a new sport or perform on a stage or travel to a new country. Seize the day – seize the new year. Allow yourself to do what you love and what is familiar, while also allowing yourself to try new things that challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone.

While we set these goals for self-betterment in the beginning of the new year, we have the idea in mind that by the end of the year, we’d have already achieved what we set out to do in the beginning of the year. In our heads, by December 31, 2016, we have already become who we set out to be in January 1, 2016. If this was a perfect world, this is what would happen for all of us. Unfortunately, we are all flawed and we live in a flawed world. So it’s okay to not have things completely figured out by the end of the year. It’s even okay to still be figuring things out at the end of the year. There is no set time line to develop a Bette sense of self (and if you want my opinion, 12 months is not enough time). So don’t be so hard on yourself if you didn’t manage to go to the gym 5 times a week like you promised yourself, don’t be so hard on yourself if you still manage to procrastinate a little bit throughout the year – mistakes are a crucial part of this journey to self discovery. As human beings, we are entitled to slip up from time to time and that’s okay. As long as you continue to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, and move forward, you’ll be okay. You never want to aim for perfection – you want to aim for growth.

Growth is vital when a new year starts. The only thing you don’t want to be doing for the new year is restricting your growth. You don’t want to be exactly where you were in 2015 – making the same exact mistakes and never learning from them, doing the exact same things and never learning anything or doing anything new. All these things limit your growth and as the years go by, neither you nor I get any younger. We owe it to ourselves to nurture our growth each year and make sure that this year, and the many years after, are used to develop yourself in as many ways possible.

Looking ahead into 2016, we have the world at our feet. We are free to do whatever we wish. Just make sure we use this free will and the promise of 2016 to make a positive mark on this world for you and for others.

2015 was a remarkable year for us all. Let’s make 2016 even more remarkable.

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Good bye, Fall 2015 Semester – Hello, Relaxation!

Today is the big day – the final day of exams and the official last day of the Fall 2015 semester! Congratulations to all students – and staff – who have made it this far and put in their hard work and effort throughout the semester. Hopefully all of the stress was worth it and you’re able to rest easy knowing you gave this semester your best shot. With all of the struggles we all went through this semester, I’d say that we’re more than ready for a well-deserved break. Lucky for us, this day marks the first day of this well-deserved break and we can finally put the stresses of this past semester behind us. This Holiday season is a time of rest and relaxation for a lot of students – and maybe even a little bit of fun! If you’re in the Toronto area this term break, here are a few things you and some family and friends can do to make your Holiday break a little bit more festive!

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TORONTO CHRISTMAS MARKET

Where: The Distillery Historic District; Mill Street

When: Tuesdays – Sundays; November 20th, 2015 –December 20th, 2015

What: Christmas street festival and market with Christmas related entertainment, shopping and food vendors, activities, etc.

Why: With activities from music, dance, a Caroling challenge, meeting Santa, special Christmas cocktails and food, there’s sure to be something for someone who loves Christmas or just simply enjoys having a good time! Also, the Christmas Market is free of Admission from Tuesdays to Fridays! Otherwise, admission is only $5 (including tax!) on Saturdays and Sundays.

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SKATING AT NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE, HARBOURFRONT RINK, AND EVEN RYERSON’S OWN LAKE DEVO!

Where:
Nathan Phillips Square = 100 Queen St W; Near the historic Old City Hall!
Harbourfront Centre = 235 Queens Quay W; near the beautiful Lake Ontario with a gorgeous view of the Lake and the city skyline!
Ryerson “Lake Devo” = 350 Victoria St; near the heart of the city – Yonge & Dundas Square!

When: All open 7 days a week, 10am – 10pm! (With the exception of Ryerson’s Lake Devo, which is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day!)

What: The city’s best outdoor skating spots in the most iconic parts of the city!

Why: Outdoor skating has been a typical Christmas tradition and there’s nothing better than doing it in the most iconic parts of Toronto!

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RAPTORS OR LEAFS GAME AT AIR CANADA CENTRE

Where: 40 Bay St

When: Check game schedules for Raptors (http://www.nba.com/raptors/schedule) and Leafs (http://mapleleafs.nhl.com/club/schedule.htm)

What: Toronto’s two beloved home teams in Canada’s most loved sports face off other competitors in exciting court and ice action! Catch these widely-loved sports by Canadians across the country with family and/or friends!

Why: Hockey and basketball are Canadian-invented sports – with the Raptors and Leafs having the best fans in the world, seeing these games live is sure to not only add excitement to your Holiday season, but ignite your Canadian spirit as well!

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THE CHRISTMAS WINDOW DISPLAYS AT HUDSON’S THE BAY

Where: 401 Bay St

When: Monday – Saturday, 9:00am to 9:30pm; Sundays, 10:00am to 7:00pm

What: Each year, The Hudson’s Bay in downtown Toronto (connected to CF Eaton Centre) arranges its window displays during the Holiday season to display magnificent scenes that depict a Christmas-related theme!

Why: These beautiful window displays make for stunning pictures and can even spark some Christmas decoration inspiration! These inspirational and elaborate displays make for Instagram-worthy posts!

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HOLIDAY SHOPPING (and for us students, Retail Therapy) AT CF EATON CENTRE

Where: 220 Yonge St

When: Monday – Saturday, 9:00am to 9:30pm; Sundays, 10:00am to 7:00pm

What: CF Toronto Eaton Centre is Toronto’s largest shopping centre that is located at the heart of the city!

Why: The Holiday season calls for Holiday shopping and the best place to get your entire Christmas list checked off is at Toronto’s most popular shopping centre! It’s three floors of great stores, great deals, and even better finds!

If you spend a little time in Toronto this Holiday break, feel free to go through this list and see how many you can go through. Holiday season in Toronto is sure to be a fun, festive, and lively one!

I wish all Ryerson staff and students a very Happy Holiday! Rest, relax, and enjoy yourselves – we all certainly deserve it!

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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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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Great End of Semester Reads

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Now that the semester is over and exams are almost done, you might be searching for a great book to read. If you are like me, you find it difficult to read for pleasure while reading for assignments and papers. So now it’s time to race to the library and start on a summer reading list. Here’s are some suggestions to get you started.

Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

For those of you who don’t know Kenny Werner, he is a brilliant jazz musician and this book explains his method for freeing himself from creative barriers and gaining a deeper, more spiritual understanding of jazz. While he may have written it for musicians, this book transcends art forms. It is more than a musicians manual this book expands new ways of thinking, new understandings of failure with an almost Buddhist sensibility. This is a great read for everyone.

Creation by Gore Vidal

So I should say upfront that I love Gore Vidal. I have read almost everything he has ever written. He is a brilliant story teller. I also love historical fiction. Creation is a great example of historical fiction. His novel spans the fifth century BCE. Love, philosophy, war, adventure, this novel has all of the elements of great fiction. I have read this work several times and writing about it now makes me want to pick it up and start it again.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft

You may not have heard of H.P Lovecraft. He was an early horror writer who leaves the horror up to your imagination. There is something frightening about not knowing all of the details. Unlike writers like Stephen King who spells out the horrifying details, Lovecraft sets the scene and leaves the rest up to your imagination. This novel tells the story of Charles Dexter Ward who driven to the edge and beyond by dark forces.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

This tells the story of a rare Hebrew manuscript, known as the Sarajevo Haggadah, through five centuries. The main character, Hanna Heath an Australian manuscript conservator examines the book and finds traces of the people who have worked to save the text throughout the years. Brooks, a Pulitzer prize winner flashes back through time to reveal the history of the book and the people who became part of its history. I sometimes find that I am unable to read after hours of reading articles for school and I got this book as an audiobook with the library’s overdrive app. I was really impressed with the narration done by Edwina Wren. Not all narrators can do accents which don’t sound fake but this book was expertly written and read.

Back Up, Not Down

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I’m the outspoken feminist that you were warned about.  If you follow my blog posts, you have probably already figured that out.  It may not come as a surprise that I get into arguments with mostly men about gender equity.  It’s important to challenge sexism and bring awareness but sometimes I don’t want to.  I go out with my friends to have a good time, not challenge and debate with someone who’s spewing extremely offensive nonsense about women.  This is where I back up but I don’t back down.

These debates and arguments are always hard to navigate, especially in social settings.  It may not be safe to challenge sexist ideas or maybe you would just rather have your beer in peace.  This happened over Easter when I was visiting home.  My friend finished her final clinical day for her nursing degree and we went out to celebrate.  Mid-conversation one of the young men I had just met turned to another and started talking about how women are… well I won’t repeat exactly what was said because it’s offensive, but the gist of the conversation was that all women are dumber than men.

One thing you should know about me is that I wear my feelings on my face.  My face could not have ignored this conversation even if it wanted to.  My eyes were wide and my eyebrows were up to my hairline.  While I’m not surprised people in the world feel this way about women, such blatant misogyny still catches me by surprise.  I cleared my throat in hopes he would a) realize I was still sitting there and b) stop talking.

My throat clearing certainly got this man’s attention but he wanted to debate me on the issue.  I was thinking of what I was going to respond to him with but then I stopped; I didn’t want to debate this guy. I wanted to relax, enjoy a beer and hangout with friends I don’t get to see often.  While I wanted to disrupt that conversation, I did not want to debate it.  His argument was ridiculous and would have likely lead to us talking in circles.  I didn’t want to back down and let him think he was right but I didn’t want to talk gender with this person.

I put my hand up and said that I would not be engaging in any kind of debate with him on the topic because his argument was so ridiculous.  I made it clear that my silence on the issue did not mean I agreed with him but I wouldn’t be discussing it further.  Although he apologized for all men being smarter than me on my way out, I was able to avoid a night of arguing, sexist BS and more misogyny than was already present at the table.  Back up, not down.

Photo: beaveronline.co.uk

Buffalo’s disABILITY Museum

a photograph of a red brick building which houses the disABILITY museum

I recently went to the DisABILITY museum in Buffalo on a road trip with some friends to see their exhibit on The Lives They Left Behind. As I am currently working on research and in an arts collective about institutionalization at Huronia Regional Centre, this seemed like a great way to increase my knowledge and hang out with some friends. I knew absolutely nothing about the museum before we arrived early Saturday morning and neither did either of my companions. This was perhaps a mistake.

When thinking about how to describe the museum it is hard to know where to start. Perhaps with a sigh (a sound all of us made while reading almost every panel).

A panel at the museum which is titled the "Monument for the Forgotten: Institutional Cemetery Restoration"

The panel at the museum which barely mentions those who are buried in unmarked graves

Let me describe one panel to highlight the confusing commentary and curation of this museum. In the back corner of the museum, there is a panel titled, Monument for the Forgotten: Institutional Cemetery Restoration. Sadly, this panel is hard to see as it is almost completely block by another panel and a funerary wreath. The commentary begins with “Humans have been burying their dead for over one hundred thousand years for a variety of reasons-including superstition, religious beliefs, public health concerns, a sense of closure for family or loved ones and out of reverence or respect.” The panel then rambles on about the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids. Only the last sentence mentions the unmarked graves of those who were institutionalized. Referring to those as people “with disabling conditions who died while in institutional care where candidates for anonymity; if they had little family contact or could not afford a ‘proper burial’ it was the responsibility of the institution.”

Okay, so let’s talk for a second about who got incarcerated in institutions. While the disABILITY museum would have you believe that it was only people “with disabling conditions”, there are a host of social factors which lead to institutionalization, like ethnicity, immigrant status, poverty, gender, and sexual orientation.

The use of the phrase “institutional care” is also misleading. For example, Willowbrook was mentioned at the museum. This was an institution in which abuse, rape and medical experimentation took place. Children incarcerated there were actually exposed to Hepatitis on purpose. One survivors recalled being force fed contaminated feces.  And yet, the disABILITY museum makes no mention of these horrors and uses the phrase ‘institutional care’. The idea that families could or would have paid for burial also places the burden on the families of those who were incarcerated. In Ontario and throughout institutions in North America, families were actively told not to visit their incarcerated relatives. Add to that the poverty that many of these families experienced, how could family burials be expected?

a photo of a panel at the museum which discusses Willowbrooke but does not mention any of the documented cases of abuse

Sadly, this is all the museum mentions about Willowbrook

 

None of these issues are ever addressed at the disABILITY museum. The critical thought behind the curation, or lack of, is quite frightening. For example, there is even a panel about ‘positive eugenics’.

How can this be you might ask? If you look into the founding of the disABILITY museum you will learn that it was founded by a non-profit called People Inc, which provides support to a variety of populations including those labelled with intellectual disabilities.

A quick tour through the gift shops demonstrates what it meant by ‘support’. You can purchase wine stoppers, hand made cards, and pen and ink sketches all made by people living with labels who work in sheltered workshops. When I asked if the artists received the money from the sale, I got a cagey answer and when pressed, the truth is that the majority of the money goes People Inc.

I would suggest, that the disABILITY museum consider changing their name to the People Inc museum. At least visitors would have a better idea of what bias they are going to see.