Ryerson Stands with #BlackLivesMatterTO

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http://theeyeopener.com/2016/04/ryerson-students-march-with-blm-to/

Garnering a lot of media attention lately has been Toronto’s very own Black Lives Matter movement. A very pertinent social justice issue of our time, the Black Lives Matter movement holds its roots in our neighbouring country, the United States, where the current racial climate is centred on the persecution of the members of the black community. There have been numerous injustices involving the various police officers in different states of America, wrongly persecuting black individuals, namely, young black men. Unfortunately, for the majority, the result has been death for these wrongly persecuted individuals. This has led to a revolution in the black community; the Black Lives Matter activists used their voices to speak out on such injustices and bring honor to the fallen people of their community. They have protested various streets in the United States, asking government officials and police department officials to end the racial profiling and racial discrimination. The powerful voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States has been heard all around the world – including our very own neighbourhood, Toronto.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto – Coalition was is made up of Black Torontonians working in solidarity with various communities in our local streets of Toronto to work towards a common goal: social justice. This group has acknowledged the deep racial discrimination and stigmatization that black communities in the States have been going through, and have noticed similar patterns of behaviour in our very own neighbourhood. Currently, the Black Lives Matter Toronto activists have been fighting for justice for the death of Andrew Loku.

Andrew Loku was a 45 year old man, living in an apartment building on Eglinton Ave. W and Caledonia Ave. On the evening of July 4, 2015, Andrew was disturbed in his sleep by a significantly loud noise from his upstairs neighbours. He asked them continuously to minimize the noise, so that he can be able to sleep, but the noise persisted. Overwhelmed by the loud noise, and being unable to sleep, Loku grabbed a hammer and began banging it against the apartment hallway doors and walls. The police were called to address this particular noise. Within seconds of the police officer’s arrivals, a police officer shot Andrew Loku twice, killing him in the hallway of his apartment building.

Andrew Loku was regarded by all those who knew him as a kind and friendly man. He was a husband and a father to five children, and lived alone in Toronto, while working to bring his family to Canada from where they currently live in South Sudan. He graduated from George Brown College in the construction program, and worked various jobs to make ends meet for himself and for his family back in South Sudan.

The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition has challenged the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) to release the name of the officer who shot Andrew Loku, having not been in immediate danger or threat himself. The identity of the officer has remained un-released while the SIU investigates logistics of the situation – such as whether or not officers were notified that the building in which they were responding to, the building that Andrew Loku resided in, was leased by the Canadian Mental Health Association. This apartment complex offered affordable housing services for people suffering with a mental illness. The Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition have worked tirelessly in protest, rain or shine – snow or sun, to plead to government officials, such as Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, to address this serious injustice. As such, the officer who fatally shot Andrew Loku has not yet been charged for this unjust act nearly a year after his untimely death.

I have had the privilege of visiting the hub of the protests on 40 College Street, where I met protestors from BLM-TO. It was an environment unlike any other. While one would imagine a protest to have quite a tense, aggressive, and hostile energy, the BLM-TO exuded nothing but love and hospitality to all those who observed and/or joined the protest. There was food, water, warm blankets, gloves, and hats being passed around to the protestors – not just from amongst one another, but from the on-lookers as well. There were shouts of social justice, peace, and equality. There were cries and pleads of putting an end to racial profiling and discrimination, and a plea to the SIU and the Toronto Police Department to be accountable for their actions. There was music, dancing, motivating speeches, laughter, and deep discussions to honor the valuable black lives lost to racial injustices.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Ryerson students in solidarity with BLM-TO on campus the other day. The march was organized by numerous student groups on campus, in collaboration with BLM-TO, to protest social justice in and around the Ryerson community. With Ryerson being at the very heart of Toronto, it seemed only natural that Ryerson students stand in solidarity with our community. Among the student groups during this march for social justice included the Ryerson East Africans’ Students Association (REASA); Ryerson Student Union (RSU); and the United Black Students at Ryerson (UBSR). During the march, the students in protest used their voices to urge other fellow students to show their support by donating supplies, food, water, warm clothing, etc to the BLM-TO Coalition, to encourage the progression of the protest. Students on campus were eager and receptive to what Ryerson students and BLM-TO had to say, and showed their solidarity with the movement. It was a refreshing and culturally enriching experience to have witnessed – and frankly, it made me even more proud to be a Ram and a Torontonian.

If you would like to donate and show your support and solidarity, BLM-TO can be found here:

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Facebook

Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition Twitter

blacklivesmatterTO@gmail.com

40 College Street, Toronto, ON

Resources:

http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/the-life-and-bloody-death-of-andrew-loku

http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2015/07/07/andrew-lokus-death-by-a-police-bullet-came-quickly-witness-says.html

Global Health Nursing Conference 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders

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

iamsick.ca

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

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

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

Soup and Substance: Ryerson’s Campus Climate

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On February 23rd, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’s Soup and Substance.  The event discussed campus climate in relation to events both on and off campus, centering the voices and experiences of students.

The panel consisted of 6 students with diverse identities but with the common experience of a hostile and unsafe campus climate at times.  Student groups represented on the panel included: The Trans Collective, Muslim Students’ Association, Indigenous Students’ Association, Feminist Collective and Students Supporting Israel.  There was also a student present who spoke about the experience of having a disability on campus.  Before I go any further, I would like to point out that this selection of student groups did not contribute to a safe space for all students to attend and to participate in the panel.

In my representation of the Feminist Collective, I spoke broadly about the structures of misogyny and sexism, and how those have played out for our members this year.  The events I chose to focus on were the threats against women, feminists and specific departments at the University of Toronto in the fall and the visible emergence of a Men’s Issues group at Ryerson.  I spoke about how these events impacted our collective in general terms with a few specific examples of the harassment we experienced.  While I did not use “I” statements, I’m really glad that fellow panellists did as it demonstrated the ways individual interactions contribute to an unsafe campus climate for students.

In discussions about social justice, both on and off campus, we often discuss the structural nature of individual experiences.  We discuss how addressing racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, etc. at structural and institutional levels will impact individual experiences.  Many solutions to social injustice are based in eradicating these systems of oppression at systemic levels, as they should be, but this panel reminded me that all of these systems live in individuals.  With that being said, one of the ways we can create a safer campus climate is addressing the individual actions of students and faculty.

While the eradication of oppression needs to happen at a systemic level, there are very simple things individuals can do to change students’ experiences of campus climate.  Eradicating systems of oppression are long and hard-fought battles that will continue beyond our time at Ryerson; I commend all student activists who are fighting to address the heart of the matter which is systems of oppressions entwined in institutions.  Ryerson does not have a shortage of these activists, but if we want to see an improvement of student experience, individuals need to do some reflection and change their behaviours.  During the panel, I heard students share heartbreaking stories of their experiences on campus that ultimately reflect the individual choices of students and faculty in how they will interact with students.

Students with service dogs are being told to leave because their dog is scaring people; students without disabilities are taking the accessible seating in lecture halls and when asked to move, claim they got there first; trans students are being harassed for the clothing they wear and are concerned for their safety when they wear what they want; professors are using incorrect pronouns despite being told of the pronouns individual trans students use; students are being spit on and harassed while holding an event on campus; students with disabilities are being told to use the stairs to access the Student Learning Centre; students with disabilities that impact their vision are being told their eyes are scary; women who wear the hijab are being harassed on their way to class.  This is just a few examples.

All of these experiences which impact campus climate and a sense of safety at Ryerson are the result of individual actions.  While micro and macro manifestations of oppression are inherently related, one can change their individual actions.  Everything I described above manifests from the actions of individual people in the Ryerson community and they can change their actions at any time.

While the eradication of systems of oppression at institutional levels and the liberation of peoples affected by those systems is crucial, we can’t wait for widespread change.  Current students are unsafe now and they are impacted daily by the violence I described above.  A partial solution to a safer school climate lives within the individuals who hold privilege and attend/ work at Ryerson.  Those that hold privilege based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, ability, etc., are making this school unsafe through individual actions.  This is violent, unacceptable and we need to do better as a community at Ryerson.

Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

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As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we shed light on a historic Black Canadian figure. Viola Desmond was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She initially trained to become a teacher but decided to change career paths. She was a successful businesswoman who owned a barbershop and hairdressing salon business in partnership with her husband, Jack Desmond. In the midst of her business’ expansion, Viola left for New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1946 to pursue a brighter future for her business.

It is in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia where Viola Desmond makes a name for herself as one of the most influential and remarkable people – especially as a woman – during times of segregation between Blacks and Whites. Viola Desmond innocently went to the movie theatres one night in New Glasgow and decided to take a seat in the main floor of the theatre. Unbeknownst to her, this specific theatre had specific tickets for African Canadians – who should be seated in the balcony area – and White Canadians – who may be seated in the main floor of the theatre, where the movie can be better seen. Upon being asked to leave her seat and relocate to the segregated seat she was intended to sit in, she refused. The police were called and Viola Desmond was charged without being advised of her right, ending in her spending the night in jail.

The following morning, she paid the fine of $20 for the alleged crime and was charged with defrauding the Government of Nova Scotia with the difference in tax between a ground floor ticket at the movie theatres and a balcony seat ticket. The difference amounted to approximately one cent.

Desmond courageously decided to fight the charges against her, understanding that the issue was not surrounding around the idea that it was tax evasion, but rather, inherently racist. Viola Desmond took the case to court, where she was able to gain public opinion on the matter both locally in her own community, nationally, and internationally. This issue raised significant awareness on segregation within Canada.

Viola Desmond’s arrest quickly caught the attention of the Black Canadian community. The Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NSAACP) raised money to per her fine and help her to fight against her charges. Carrie best – the founder of Nova Scotia’s first Black owned and operated newspaper, publicized her story in order to truly amplify her message and spread awareness.

As a result of the garnered attention generated by Demond’s case, the government of Nova Scotia had no choice but to eliminate segregation laws. In 1954, the government completed repealed them.

This was quite a significant turning point in the history of segregation within Canada as it revealed and exposed the fact that segregation was still real and alive within Canadian borders. At that time, there was a notion that Canada was the safest place for Black people who are being racially discriminated and segregated internationally to go to. Canada was put on a pedestal for being “free of segregation and racial discrimination,” when in reality, such practices were still very much alive and not eradicated. This event urged the Canadian community – who was expected to be an ally in the Black Civil Rights Movement – to take corrective action and implement more inclusive and culturally-aware laws and policies into legislation. It significantly sparked the wave of Canadian Black Civil Rights movement, urging Canadians to explore, expose, and correct issues surrounding racism and racial discrimination within our own borders.

This event truly catapulted Canada’s policies and legislations towards a more progressive and inclusive direction. The Canadian government began consciously implementing more diverse, multicultural, and inclusive laws in the years to follow that incorporates Black Canadians into Canadian culture as valued members of society. As a result of the corrective action that followed after this event, Canadian people adopted a more culturally aware, inclusive, and diverse ideology about race. The issue of racism was brought to the forefront of social justice issues and light was being shed on racial discrimination as being very much so present in Canadian society, contrary to popular opinion.

This event ignited a very important movement in Canadian society. It sparked the discussion and the need for action towards a society that is built on a foundation of diversity and multiculturalism. Viola Desmond remains an influential historical figure in Canadian history who, despite how little her action back then may have seemed, took an action that is not only significant but extremely powerful.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=13

http://www.digitaljournal.com/print/article/249537

http://canada.metropolis.net/EVENTS/ethnocultural/publications/historical.pdf

Tie a Red Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Touch of Sugar

sugar-heartOn the 14th day of every November of every year the threat of diabetes is acknowledged by the world. In 1991, the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization (WHO) designated November 14 as World Diabetes Day in response to rising counts of diabetes around the world. Diabetes has been mingling with the human population since as early as 1550BCE when Egyptian physicians made note of patients having excessive urine, which we now know to be a diagnostic factor in diabetes. Throughout history physicians came into contact with a disease that was described as being “the melting of flesh and limbs into urine”, showing another diagnostic factor – rapid weight loss. Some of these doctors even took to boiling the urine until it evaporated and found that what was left was a sweet granulated material that seemed to be sugar. It was discoveries like these that created the disease profile for diabetes as a condition that results in excess sugar in the blood because the body cannot absorb it. The physicians of humanities past had no idea what diabetes was but they knew it was deadly and they worked to discover more about it, as we continue to do today. From the 16th century onwards, various discoveries were made and treatments developed, but it was not until the 20th century that a very small but ingenious idea was conceived and a very important discovery made. This discovery was insulin and the fantastic work it does within the body. Along with this, diabetes was differentiated into two types, 1 and 2, type 1 being when insulin cannot be produced by the body and type 2 being when the red blood cells do not respond to the insulin being produced.

 

There is a very important Canadian connection to this story and that is Fredrick Banting. In the 20th century the idea that the pancreas was related to diabetes came about along with the idea that some kind of hormone was involved in the uptake of sugar in the blood. This discovery unfortunately came to our knowledge by way of the removal of pancreases from dogs; scientists found that these dogs developed diabetes. After insulin was found in the pancreases of these dogs, Fredrick Banting experimented with insulin he purified and tested it in humans at the University of Toronto. Banting’s experiment worked and thousands of people were able to live a much easier and longer life. Work continued on insulin and eventually synthetic human insulin was created and today millions of people can live with diabetes. However, this is part of the diabetes problem we face today, we know how the disease works and have an effective way to treat it but millions of people are living with this chronic condition that still greatly affects their quality of life. This is why every year we have World Diabetes Day, which just happens to be the same day as Fredrick Banting’s birthday, go figure.

intin7_diabetes-infographic_for-post_oct-17-2013Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death around the world today, the International Diabetes Foundation claims that every 7 seconds someone dies from diabetes. Additionally, WHO estimates that in 2012 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and that in 2030 it will be the 7th leading cause of death worldwide. These statistics and projections are startling and what is even more worrisome is that the rates of type 2 diabetes are increasing in every country. Type 2 diabetes is a strange beast, even though we found an effective treatment for it and we know how to prevent it, it still hunts us. Why does type 2 diabetes continue to be a problem for humans? There is no simple answer to that question. Increasing world food prices resulting in the lack of accessibility to fresh and nutritious foods and the removal of physical activity from day-to-day living are just two of the hot-topic answers. Also, these are two of the hardest solutions to achieve on a global scale, let alone making insulin available to all individuals living with diabetes. Living in North America, we are already at somewhat of an advantage to preventing type 2 diabetes, even though North America has some of the highest diagnosis rates. However, North America is also where the most money is spent on healthcare for diabetes. This means that more people are being treated but it also means that more is being done to raise awareness and to prevent diabetes. Additionally, North America has the money and resources to develop policies that allow for healthy lifestyle changes in effect preventing or slowing the onset of diabetes, the problem is getting governments to accomplish this task. That is why grassroots organizations are so important.

 

Organizations such as Toronto’s own FoodShare, which I have written about previously, and their Mobile Good Food Market. This initiative brings fresh and affordable food to areas of Toronto that face economic hardship and lack accessibility to fresh food. More organizations and initiatives such as this one are needed to cage diabetes and ultimately many other diseases that come about in conjunction with it. Here at Ryerson we have the Good Food Centre as well as research accomplished by professors within in our Food and Nutrition program. It is a very large task to tackle diabetes across the world, but individuals can make a difference here in their own city and in their own lives. Adding physical activity back into your daily routine can be as simple as taking the stairs or finding a part of your day that makes you use your body. Why not eat an apple if you can, they don’t bite back. I am not saying solving or preventing diabetes is as simple as biting into an apple or walking up the stairs, but we need a place to start. I also understand and acknowledge the fact that there are people that cannot afford to buy an apple and in doing so I say to everyone make the best choices you can make, an accomplishment is still an accomplishment, big or small.

 

The Ryerson chapter of the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Planetary Health Commission, and Health Out Loud Ryerson are acknowledging World Diabetes Day this Friday and from 11am to 3pm on the SLC’s main floor there will be food, games, and contests where you can learn more about diabetes.

A Halloween Wish

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Over a thousand years ago when the Celtic people roamed throughout what we call Europe, a tradition we know as Halloween was born. The Celts broke up their year into four pieces as we do to this day with the seasons. The first day of winter for the Celts lines up with November 1 on our calendar and on this day they celebrated the end of the harvest with the festival of Samhain. On Samhain the ghosts of the dead were able to wander with the living. The Celts would leave offerings of food and drink for the dead, and celebrate the festival with bonfires, games, and the carving of vegetables; sound familiar? As time rolled on, other religions began to take form and dominate the culture of Europe. Christian missionaries began to venture out into Europe trying to convert the “Barbarians” including the Celts.  The Christians made it a habit of theirs to take the festivals of the people they were converting and change the meanings to ones of more Christian values. With that the Christians took Samhain and made it All Saints Day which is still celebrated on November 1. However, as we know today the Celtic festival of Samhain was too important and ingrained into the people that it could not be entirely destroyed by the Christians. Even though the festival of Samhain has changed and become our Halloween, the idea of celebrating death and the dead is still here with us thanks to the Celts.

 

The original festival of Samhain did not have a focus of evil and the macabre, that was created by the Christians because they believed the gods and spirits of the Celts to be demons and devils. The focus of Halloween is now evil and most importantly getting scared, which I do quite easily, but I remid myself that it’s just a bunch of hocus pocus and then I check under my bed of course. On October 29 I was absolutely terrified thanks to the Ryerson chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, known as Students for Wishes, at their annual haunted house. After running and screaming blindly in the dark, damp, and dingy basement of a dilapidated house on St. George street, with monsters and ghosts creepily stalking and increasing my heart rate, I learned about the foundation. The Make-A-Wish  Foundation has been granting the wishes of terminally ill children for over 30 years beginning in Phoenix, Arizona with the granting of Christopher James Greicius’s wish to become a police officer. In 1983 the Make-A-Wish  Foundation came to Canada thanks to Nigel Brown and Robb Lucy from British Columbia who personally made the wish of a girl named Debbie come true. Since then, chapters of the Make-A-Wish  Foundation have been established all over Canada including student run chapters at Ryerson and the University of Toronto.

 

Students for Wishes is a fundraising arm for the Make-A-Wish  Foundation at  post-secondary schools. The Ryerson chapter has been in operation for the past three years and every October they put together a terrifically terrifying haunted house in partnership with the University of Toronto chapter. Students for Wishes has the same goal as the Make-A-Wish  Foundation in that they operate to fundraise money so that the wishes of more children can be granted. At Ryerson specifically, Students for Wishes wants to raise $10,000 by the end of the upcoming winter semester. The haunted house was just one of their major events, the next is their Hairaser which is another opportunity to contribute to their cause and get a haircut. On February 4 from 1:30pm to 4:30pm in Cara Commons which is on the 7th floor of the Ted Rogers building, Students for Wishes will be hosting Hairaser where for just $10 (for guys) or $15 (for girls) you can get your hair cut or for $5 have it styled or dyed blue to show your support for the association and all the good work they do. The hair will also be collected and donated to Continental Hair Toronto in support of their wigs for kids program. For all of the events Students for Wishes hosts they donate 100% of the money they collect to the Make-A-Wish  Foundation of Canada. If you are interested in volunteering or becoming a member of Students for Wishes you can contact them through their website, Students for Wishes Ryerson University.

 

I was not aware of the Student for Wishes association at Ryerson and I am very happy to know that they do exist and are working to make children’s wishes come true. It is devastating to think of children who may not have the opportunities that we have all had and knowing that they have the chance for one of their wishes to come true is warming. Halloween is my favorite time of year and Students for Wishes has made it even better, a day that is full of evil has become a little less terrifying and even more full of magic with the knowledge that life does not have to be like Halloween. Evil doesn’t run rampant in our streets, there is goodness in our streets too, you simply have to look for it sometimes.

The Campus We Walk On: Social Justice Issues at Ryerson

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During Social Justice Week, I attended the Social Justice Walk with Cathy Crowe.  Cathy Crowe is a street nurse, social activist and educator.  She has worked on issues affecting people experiencing homelessness for more than 17 years.  In 2013, Cathy Crowe joined the Ryerson Family (also known as Ramily) as a distinguished visiting practitioner.  I was very excited to see that she would be leading the Social Justice Walk on campus.

We walk on Ryerson’s campus generally 5 days a week for 4 years.  We spend countless hours in lectures, in the library, in the gym, grabbing a coffee and sitting by Lake Devo.  Ryerson campus is a place we feel at home; if you don’t believe me, check out the number people who take their shoes off and kick back in the library.  While we enjoy the comfort of our second home, we may not remember what surrounds us.  The campus we walk on is immersed in and surrounded by social justice issues.  During the Social Justice Week Walk, we visited the area around Lake Devo, the library, the Quad, the Ryerson Student Centre, and Yonge-Dundas Square.  The places we walk on everyday for education are also sites of struggles and victories in the fight for social justice.

What’s In a Name:
If you’re trying to identify a social justice issue at Ryerson, look no further than its name.  Ryerson University was named after Egerton Ryerson; the man whose ideas shaped the modern day education system.  Ryerson believed that education and religion should be separated but he held a very different view on education for Indigenous children.  Ryerson believed that education for Indigenous children should combine education, religion and physical labour.  It was these ideas that contributed to the creation of the residential school system across Canada that operated until 1996.

Cheryl Trudeau, a coordinator with the Aboriginal Education Council, joined us at the Ryerson Statue on Gould Street to discuss Ryerson’s acknowledgement of the history behind the name that is displayed across the downtown core.  Ryerson University both welcomes and respects Aboriginal peoples, committing itself to proactively working with Aboriginal peoples.  As part of the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Plan, Ryerson established the Aboriginal Education Council in 2010.  Its vision is to ensure that the next seven generations of Aboriginal people will have greater opportunities and success in education at Ryerson University. http://www.ryerson.ca/aec/index.html

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The Campus Daycare: More than Cute Kids in the Quad:
Perhaps you’ve seen the adorable children that attend the daycare located near Kerr Hall West.  They can often be seen taking a stroll around the Quad.  On a surface level, we enjoy seeing cute little kids amongst the big ones that attend Ryerson but much deeper is a social justice issue that has become a federal election issue for some parties.

The topic of childcare holds several social justice issues within itself; affordable childcare, the number of childcare spaces available, the availability of licensed and safe childcare spaces, precarious work experienced by Early Childhood Educators, ability for parents to return to work. and many more.  Providing childcare through a market system is not working for children, parents, families or those who works in the childcare sector.  We need a publicly funded system to address the many social justice issues that fall under childcare.  In Canada, only 20 percent of families have access to licensed childcare spaces, and this includes Quebec which has implemented a $7 a day childcare policy.

Ryerson Lifeline Syria:
Following the emergence of a devastating photo of Alan Kurdi, a toddler who drowned fleeing Syria with his family, refugees have become a topic of conversation in our politics, at school, on social media and at our dinner tables.  Outside Heaslip House, we learned about Ryerson Lifeline Syria and how to get involved.

Canada is unique in that citizens can sponsor refugees through their own means.  Lifeline Syria works to match people who want to sponsor refugees with people who are seeking sponsorship.  They act as a matchmaker, connecting these two groups of people.  This has emerged as a response to a complicated private system that has many twists and turns as well as long wait times.  While students may not have the financial means to sponsor a family, they are able to get involved in other ways.  Ryerson Lifeline Syria has several committees that address different issues refugees face.  Students often join committees related to their program of study and provide support as people arrive to Canada.  Interested students can get more information and sign up at: http://www.ryerson.ca/lifelinesyria/about/index.html

The part of our campus that isn’t really our campus but we consider it part of our campus so it’s pretty much ours:
Yonge-Dundas Square; while not technically part of Ryerson’s campus, any student will tell you that this is Ryerson turf.  Yonge-Dundas Square went through huge changes before our time at Ryerson; this revitalization was intended to address financial interests as well as build community.

With the goal of building community, Yonge-Dundas Square should be about people, activism, community and being one with the land we walk on.  Over time, business and private interests have overtook the area and public space.  This can be seen in the presence of private security in Yonge-Dundas Square, whose role is often to remove people experiencing homelessness that do not fit in with the gentrified idea for the space.  Removing those who do not fit in with this idea takes away from what public space is all about; building the surrounding community which includes those who are not housed.

As we stood in Yonge-Dundas Square, connections were made between these levels of security and Bill C-51; the controversial anti-terrorism bill passed by both the Federal Conservative and Liberal parties.  A bill of this nature makes is more difficult to protest and those who do are surveilled much more.  Yonge-Dundas Square has often been a site of protest for several social justice issues.  The increased surveillance of protestors, especially those who are marginalized, demeans the purpose of public space.

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In and Beyond Ryerson:
While the Social Justice Walk focused on social justice issues on campus, these issues extend to our communities outside of Ryerson.  In the past 10 years, the City of Toronto has lost over 1000 shelter beds due gentrification.  Development that has taken place has either been in the form of condos or properties have been left vacant.  The only youth shelter east of the Don Valley closed its doors last week.  Cathy Crowe has been teaching at Ryerson for two years at Ryerson; within that time there have been 3 or 4 homeless deaths on campus.  These on-campus tragedies directly relate to the city and communities that surround Ryerson.  These deaths are 3 or 4 of 700 names that are on the homeless memorial behind the Eaton Centre.  A homeless memorial is held the second Tuesday of every month at 12:00 pm as both a point of remembrance and pushing forward in advocacy on homeless issues.

Pushing Forward:
The Social Justice Week Walk was informative and emotional, but ended with a point of hope.  We need to make Ryerson less silent on both the social justice issues we walk on and those that surround our campus.  We have people at Ryerson who recognize oppression and marginalization both on and off campus; we have potential.

Our Sisters in Spirit

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Every October 4th there is a vigil for the thousands of indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or are missing in Canada. Indigenous women and girls in Canada, who due to generations of systemic racism, discrimination, and sexualization, have become vulnerable and are having their lives taken away. In Canada, indigenous women are four times as likely to go missing or be murdered in comparison to non-indigenous women. These women are also twice as likely to be murdered by strangers compared to non-indigenous women and abused by close family. The indigenous people of Canada and their allies do not feel that these murders are being taken seriously by police or the government and we need to ask why are there so many cases and why are they going unsolved? Does no one care about these women; are they the children of a lesser God? This is a harsh reality within a country that likes to give an air of acceptance and a welcoming nature but can’t seem to love their own indigenous people.

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This past Sunday was the first vigil I attended with the Centre for Women and Trans People, a Ryerson equity service centre, and while the travesties faced by Canada’s indigenous population are not new to me, this was the first time I really felt them. It is one thing to acknowledge a problem and read about it in a book, it is an entirely different thing to listen to stories and see the heartbreak in someone’s eyes as they relive the pain of losing a part of their family to a violent death. For the first time I cried for these women and girls who every year disappear from Turtle Island and for the first time I smiled with the knowledge that these deaths are not going unnoticed. Indigenous women are loved and while the majority of these deaths and disappearances are unsolved they are not forgotten or accepted.

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Sunday’s vigil, organized by Sisters in Spirit, was held at Allen Gardens, which is home to many Indigenous people in Toronto. Handmade lanterns inscribed with colourful love symbols lit a path up to the doors of the conservatory where a circle of candles brought the diverse crowd of indigenous men and women and allies together. These lanterns are the guiding lights that will lead these missing girls home. Sounds of drums and jingling bells surrounded us as men and women danced and sang for health and safety. The setting of the sun was met with a moment of silence, prayer, and the burning of cleansing sage. As we washed ourselves in smoke and the pungent smell of sage filled our lungs the vigil began.

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Carolyn Bennett, the liberal MP for the St. Paul’s riding here in Toronto, came to the centre of the circle and spoke of the Walking With Our Sisters art exhibition. This is an ongoing exhibition of moccasin vamps (the top portion of the shoe) individually designed and sewn by artists and women. These vamps are intentionally not sewn into moccasins, instead they are left unfinished just like the lives of murdered indigenous women. One vamp (pictured below) in the exhibition that pulled at Bennett’s heart strings was designed by Theresa Burrows, it represents how the perpetrators of murder are often remembered and their victims forgotten. Part of the reason for this exhibition is to restore the individuality of these murdered women. The exhibition is currently in Ottawa and will tour Toronto next November. Bennett ended with a very grim conclusion of how this is not a women’s issue or an indigenous issue but a Canadian tragedy.

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Isadore Day, the Ontario Regional Chief, spoke of the Who Is She campaign which is focused on spreading awareness and finding answers to why Canada is only safe for some people. Who Is She is a First Nations driven campaign to end violence within their communities and bring safety to people. The main goal of the Who Is She campaign is to find where the violence against indigenous women is rooted, what can be done about it, and what they think will end it. Ultimately, Who Is She wants to find a solution that will result in safety, understanding, and respect for indigenous women. Additionally, Who Is She feels that there is a link between the residual effects of the residential school system on indigenous people and this crisis.

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Until November 15 the Mackenzie House in Toronto is displaying the Walking Together 2015 Art Exhibition. This exhibition displays the reactions indigenous high school students had when touring a residential school with survivors of the system. Each student created a mixed-media art piece to illustrate how they felt after walking through the Mohawk Institute, a former residential school in Ontario, and after viewing them you can feel the cold and pain that would have infested those schools. I had a chance to see these art pieces at the Mackenzie House and they are hard to look at – they force you to remember and to acknowledge the hurt that Canadians have caused. Reading through the stories behind each work of art is even harder to do- the abuse, neglect, and hate that inhabited these schools and broke these children breaks your heart. The psychological, physical, and emotional damage caused by the residential school system may have very easily propelled the issue of discrimination against indigenous people into the horrifying crisis Canada is faced with now. The Mackenzie House is open Tuesday to Friday, is located at Bond and Dundas streets, and is free to Ryerson students with a valid OneCard.

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Even closer to home, Ryerson now offers a certificate in Aboriginal Knowledges and Experiences. This certificate is an exploration, analysis, and reflection into the experiences of indigenous people in Canada and their relationships with the government and non-indigenous people. The certificate is open to anyone and would be specifically useful for students who wish to work in occupations that address indigenous concerns. Ryerson also offers support for indigenous students by way of the Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS) department, located in Kerr Hall West 389. They offer financial planning assistance, peer support, orientation, tutor assistance, admission advocacy, as well as bursary and scholarship options.

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As the vigil came to a close there was one final rendition of a traveling song, which prays for safe travel and return. This reminded me of a woman who spoke at the beginning of the vigil, Denise Aquash, who told the story of her missing niece. As Denise spoke, a small girl ran through the crowd and into the centre of our circle. This child was distracted by the flickering candles and had no idea what was going on in the discussion above her ears. I couldn’t help but wonder if this little girl reminded Denise of her own niece. As she lost her breath and the cold air blew across our faces I could feel Denise’s story; no longer just words but an ache that resonated through my sore body and back down to the frigid earth. The innocence of this little girl running through what in her mind might be a big party was a reminder of the stolen innocence of our indigenous women and girls. Her laughter echoed generations of girls who were silenced by murder and abuse; calling the lost girls as the candles light their dim path home. We need to speak for these women who have lost their voice, they deserve to be remembered, they deserve to be loved, they deserve to live a safe life, and they deserve life.

Here are some links to learn more about this crisis:

Native Women’s Association of Canada

Who Is She

Mackenzie House

Ryerson Aboriginal Certificate

Walking with Our Sisters

Ryerson Centre for Women and Trans People