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

TDOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black on Campus Ryerson

November 2015 114

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Akua Benjamin speaking at Black on Campus Ryerson

Professor Akua Benjamin speaking at Black on Campus Ryerson

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

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

November 2015 126

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

November 2015 127

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

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

November 2015 128

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

November 2015 124

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

November 2015 125

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

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

November 2015 116

 

Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless

ocap2

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

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

ocap3

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

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

ocap4

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

 

Men’s Issues Groups: Maintaining the Status Quo

This semester, a men’s issues awareness group has been trying to organize and be recognized as a student group on Ryerson’s campus.  This has been a hot news story for Ryerson media as a similar group was denied student group status in 2013.  I’m a co-organizer of the Ryerson Feminist Collective; we are currently applying for student group status with the Ryerson Students’ Union.  My fellow co-organizers, Jackie Mlotek and Areezo Najibzadeh, and I have been doing a lot of interviews with Ryerson media about our group as well as our opposition to men’s issues awareness groups.  Each time we have talked to a reporter, I have added more each time.  As of now, these thoughts are scattered amongst a variety of Ryerson media and could possibly not be included in the articles, so I’m going to put them all together here.

Fear on Campus:
One of the reasons I do not support men’s issues awareness groups is that students are fearful of them organizing on campus.  Several sexual assault survivors have disclosed that they have not been attending their classes after seeing men’s issues presence on campus.  The specific group on campus has claimed that they are not misogynistic because 45% of their membership is women.  A few women being comfortable and feeling safe enough to join this group does not negate the fear other women, feminists and survivors feel.  Men’s issues groups have a long history of harassing and threatening women, feminists and survivors across university campuses, I don’t blame people for being fearful and suspicious of these groups.

Intersectional or Bust:
Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that people experience multiple oppressions and privileges simultaneously.  Many feminists have recognized that any discussion of gender cannot be done without an intersectional framework as race, class, sexuality, ability, etc. influences the way one experiences gender.  For example, my experience of being a white woman is very different than a Black woman’s experience.  Men’s issues groups do not seem to have taken any type of intersectional approach in their work.  Issues these groups address are often chosen by white, straight, cisgender men based on their experiences.  Discussions of other identities and issues that do not affect white, cisgender, straight men are absent from the conversation.

I’ve never seen or heard of men’s issues groups address issues that do not impact white, straight, cisgender men.  They have been absent from any discussions of men of colour experiencing police brutality.  They are very vocal about how there are more men in prisons than women, but the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous men is never mentioned.  Transgender men are not even included in discussions of men’s issues.  The group on campus wants to discuss literacy rates in schools; will the experiences of Black youth who are pushed out of school be part of this discussion?  How about the unequal practices in suspending students from school based on race?  Where does poverty and class come into these discussions?  I haven’t seen any men’s issues groups out protesting the closure of a men’s shelter.

Are you really addressing men’s issues when you only talk about those experienced by the most privileged of the group?

Ideology:
Men’s issues groups completely ignore the social structures that shape experiences.  Men’s issues groups gather angry young men and provide them with an outlet for that anger which is to blame women and feminism.  Young men are angry; pointing the blame of that anger to feminism and women adds fuel to the fire.  This does not constructively dismantle where that anger comes from.  The unattainable expectations of men today were not put in place by women and feminism, they came from a patriarchal system.  While patriarchy undoubtedly privileges men, the system also harms them.  A lot of the issues men face would be resolved with the dismantling of patriarchy.  So why blame feminism and women?  It’s a lot easier and unlike patriarchy, we are a tangible source of blame that you can see.  Plus, they may not want to dismantle a system that ultimately privileges them.

Men’s rights groups only address larger social structures when they perceive themselves as a victim of those oppressions.  In the wake of several school shootings in the United States, many have pointed out these shooting rampages are mostly committed by white men.  Men’s issues groups call this sexism and racism.  You cannot be sexist towards a man and cannot be racist towards a white person; there’s no such thing as reverse racism and sexism.  These things have historical context and are upheld by institutions; they do not apply to you when are privileged in that system.

These groups also call for equality, which implies that men do not have equal status to women.  Men have never had to fight for their rights based on their identity of being male.  Men have fought for other rights based on other aspects of their identity such as race, ability, class, sexuality, etc., but never based on being men.

A Way to Talk about Men’s Issues:
Men do have issues and they should be discussed; I don’t oppose these groups for simply wanting to talk about the issues men face.  The White Ribbon Campaign does an excellent job talking about men’s issues; it’s done within a framework that recognizes the privilege of being a man and that harmful ideas of manhood can lead to violence against women.  It frames manhood and men’s issues in the larger context, which is missing in men’s issues groups.  The White Ribbon Campaign talks about men’s issues without being disrespectful or threatening towards women, sexual assault survivors or feminists.

It is possible to talk about men’s issues in a healthy way but current men’s issues and rights groups cause both harm to the individuals who join them and those who oppose them.  Men’s issues groups simply maintain the status quo; men stay angry and unaware of their privilege while women remain marginalized and vulnerable to men’s expression of that anger.

White Ribbon Campaign: http://www.whiteribbon.ca/

 

In Conversation with Stephen Lewis

Human immunodeficiency virus, or more commonly HIV, is a deadly and destructive infection that has plagued our world from, potentially, the late 1800s onward. Researchers believe that HIV can be traced to a type of chimpanzee in West Africa and that contact with their blood through hunting is what allowed the virus to enter the human population. HIV and AIDS came to North America in the mid 1970s and in 1981 appeared on the global medical radar when the level of infection was out of control and the pandemic and pandemonium began. As fear of this unknown killer virus spread through the Western world people began to look for answers, solutions, and wrongly, someone to blame. The scapegoat for HIV and AIDS in the 1980s and into today has been homosexual men as this was a major population the virus infected, while this was entirely false the discrimination still exists and is still stigmatizing. In reality, there are several risky behaviours that put someone at risk for infection with HIV. Also, transmission occurs because the individuals partaking in these behaviours are unaware that they are infected with the virus or that the people they are engaging with are. Unfortunately, the spread of HIV is only one of the problems in this discussion, the treatment of HIV and AIDS and the funding required are an entirely separate demon. This is merely an introduction to one of the most controversial and unsettling discussions our world has had and will continue to have as the fight against HIV and AIDS goes on.   

 

This past Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of attending one of the Stephen Lewis conversations, which is an ongoing series of discussions put on by the Faculty of Community Services and Ryerson University in collaboration with the Planetary Health Commission. The discussion, co-hosted by Dr. Alan Whiteside, was on the AIDS pandemic and where we are now in its development. Stephen Lewis is currently a professor of distinction at Ryerson and at one time was the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Commissioner on the Global Commission on HIV, Board Member of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and the co-founder of the Stephen Lewis Foundation which works with community-based organizations in Africa that are trying to end HIV and AIDS. Dr. Alan Whiteside is an internationally recognized academic and AIDS researcher, he is the co-author of numerous articles and books regarding AIDS, and he established and is the executive director of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of Natal in South Africa. These are two very short biographies of two very remarkable men who exposed some of the truths of this horrible disease to the world and continue to do so. Both Stephen Lewis and Dr. Alan Whiteside focus their HIV and AIDS work in Southern Africa where the virus is still rampant and where their discussion on Wednesday was localized. I will try to relate what was discussed so as to provide a better understanding for those who could not attend.  

 

It is important to note that the vocabulary in health has changed; we say that people are living with HIV and yes that’s true in Canada, there are people living with HIV because they have access to medicine and can remain on that medicine. However, this vocabulary is not necessarily applicable to Southern Africa where people are dying from HIV, where it is still a threat as it once was in Canada. It is believed that HIV has killed over 30 million people since 1981, and that 2 million people are infected annually. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2014. HIV is a virus that we know how to prevent and control, and yet there are at least 6 million people infected with HIV in Southern Africa and 400,000 new infections every year. What is going wrong? Why is it that we have the answers but still haven’t solved the problem?

 

Looking at prevention, there are some very easy ways to slow the spread of HIV. As mentioned above there are certain risky behaviours that put us at an increased risk for HIV infection, these are most commonly having unprotected sex and sharing infected needles. The reason men who have sex with men (MSM) are more readily infected is that HIV is taken up by the body more easily during anal intercourse rather than vaginal. With the added dangers of not using a condom it is more than likely that an untreated individual with HIV will spread the virus to their partner. Unfortunately, the homophobia that is endemic to Africa does not help. Homosexuality is illegal in some African countries. Homosexuals are driven underground and fear death if they are outed, which makes access to medication even more difficult. Another risky behaviour is sharing needles with infected drug users. When intravenous drug users (IDU) shoot up, their blood enters the needle and is then passed on to the next user thus spreading HIV. IDUs have the highest risk of infection as they have direct blood to blood contact with HIV, this makes transmission extremely easy and the virus can spread throughout the community and beyond fairly quickly. One solution to this problem is safe injection sites, such as the Insite in Vancouver, which provides a clean space as well as equipment and medical staff to ensure that IDUs are safe while they are injecting themselves. It may seem odd to help someone inject themselves with illegal drugs that harm them, but these people are suffering from an addiction and still have the right to health. After all, they are still human and if they are going to use drugs we can at least make sure they are doing so safely and negating the spread of disease and avoiding potentially deadly overdoses.

 

Other at risk groups are sex workers, if they are having unprotected sex, and most notably women. In Southern Africa women are the population with the highest infection rates of HIV. The reason women have such high infection rates is because they face sexual violence. Women are often raped and abused sexually and this is the gateway for their infection. These women then have children and pass the infection onto their offspring, who will not live a long or enjoyable life if not given medication. Within the infected female population in Southern Africa, teenage girls have the highest rates of infection; they have 8 times the level of infection compared to boys in the same age group (15-18), again due to sexual violence. This is an at risk population that does not have an easy solution. How do you stop girls from being raped? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer but I do know that if these girls are given medication and resources they can stop the spread of HIV to their children and other sexual partners and live a much better and longer life. If medication is the answer to this problem and we have the medication, then why is the disease still spreading. The answer is simply that these people are not getting the medication. They belong to stigmatized and oppressed groups that no one cares to think about and often are left to die. HIV infection is in itself a stigmatizing factor in Africa; add in the fact that you are a homosexual, a drug user, a sex worker, or a woman and people stop caring whether you live or die. Aside from the oppression that keeps people from their medication, there are rumblings that global AIDS funding given to African governments keeps disappearing after it is given out.

 

Corruption within African governments is not a new phenomena and it doesn’t seem to be going away. Both Stephen Lewis and Alan Whiteside commented on the way Southern African countries are run by their kings and while the King of Swaziland has a jet his people can’t seem to find their HIV medication. There are billions of dollars raised and donated to AIDS funds every year and for some reason the grassroots organizations in Southern Africa aren’t seeing this money. Where is it going? The United Nations (UN) stipulates that global AIDS funding needs to be distributed through HIV and AIDS committees which give the money to governments and presumably health departments to be used for medication, education, and the spread of resources so that infected individuals can live. However, people are still dying and being infected and kings are buying jets. Of course, some people in Africa are getting medication but money is still evaporating. The only way to determine where this money is going and to make sure it is going to the right places is through auditing. Neither Mr. Lewis or Dr. Whiteside knew why these governments are not being audited. What makes this reality even more terrifying is that AIDS funding is beginning to flatline globally. While the global funding is not going down very much it is not getting any higher and there is a risk of it beginning to diminish. Countries are slowly stagnating with their funding, such as the Netherlands which cut its AIDS funding by 1 billion Euros. Additionally, at the UN the funding for communicable diseases is starting to be targeted by non-communicable diseases as they begin to take a stronger chokehold on global populations. The funding pie is now being sliced for more diseases and more causes and this means that eventually HIV and AIDS will begin to lose funding. This leads into a much larger ethical discussion that is beyond my scope, but I will leave you with a question: how do you decide which diseases need more funding, how do you decide the cost of human life?

 

Dr. Whiteside did have one suggestion for the issue of AIDS funding and it was to be smarter about the way researchers and organizations go about asking for money and how it is spent. Dr. Whiteside was explicit in that governments should be responsible for the health of their constituents and that non-government organizations (NGO) should be there to pick up the pieces and to remind governments of the diseases that are being forgotten. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Africa at the moment. The grassroots organizations are the ones providing health to the people of Africa and the money is going to the government. So one solution is to get the money to the organizations on the ground and skip the corrupt kings and health ministers. How this will be done still needs to be determined.    

 

In our society we don’t always think about the threat of AIDS. However, prevention is shockingly simple and that’s probably the more devastating side of this story. A simple condom or having access to safe and clean injection sites- in essence having harm reduction policies in place will protect us. HIV and AIDS have been devastating our world for over 30 years and they are not going away unless everyone takes the responsibility to be safe. Behaviour change is difficult and it takes time but isn’t it worth it? Isn’t your life worth wearing a condom?

 

HIV and AIDS are two topics that require lengthy conversation and attention and that is why I will be writing about them again in another post on December 1, World AIDS Day. In the meantime, to learn more about HIV/AIDS visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, UNAIDS, the Stephen Lewis Foundation, and the World Health Organization. One last side note, free condoms and lube are available at the Student Centre, as well as at Ryerson’s Medical Clinic (KHW 181). Outside of Ryerson but still close to campus there is the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation at Sherbourne and Gerrard and the Hassle Free Clinic at Church and Gerrard (above Starbucks) where free medical testing is also available.  

Is Anyone Else Hungry Besides Me?

Gurgle gurgle

That’s my stomach again

There’s $16 in my chequing

Gurgle gurgle

There’s $400 due on my MasterCard

Maybe I’ll just eat later

Gurgle gurgle

I wonder if there are people who forget about food. If there are people in this world that are not thinking about what they will eat next or when or where it will come from. Who are these people? I don’t know, but I know the people who are thinking about when, where, what, and how they are going to eat next. These people are food insecure– they do not have access to affordable food that is culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate, and there is not enough agency or policies in place to ensure that they do.  In Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, food insecurity is an alarming issue. Approximately 3.9 million Canadians experience food insecurity or 1 in 3 Canadians according to Food Secure Canada. In Toronto, often cited as Canada’s poverty capital, 1 in 6 children experience poverty, which includes being food insecure. These statistics are at least doubled for Canada’s indigenous population and minority communities. These questions and statistics are especially important to consider on a days like yesterday, World Food Day.

On October 16 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was formally instituted in Quebec City and so every October 16 World Food Day is celebrated. The issues of food security are so grand that for even localizing them to Canada will bring up a plethora of research that has been done and is currently underway. Along with this, there are several initiatives all over Canada and the world to end hunger. Looking specifically at Toronto, which was the first city to create a council for food policy 25 years ago due to rising rates of hunger and the need to institutionalize food banks. Toronto has taken several initiatives to combat food insecurity within its borders such as the creation of FoodShare and a poverty reduction strategy to be discussed at City Hall this coming week.

FoodShare has been working for the last 25 years to create equitable access to good healthy food, through empowerment and community development. FoodShare has developed many programs that work with other services to try and reduce hunger within Toronto. One service that FoodShare has been operating since their beginnings is the FoodLink hotline (416-392-6655) which connects callers to the food programs in their neighborhood including food banks, drop-in meal programs, and information on how to find community gardens, markets, and kitchens. FoodShare is also involved in bringing good food to schools with their Good Food Cafe, which turns school cafeterias into providers of fresh and nutritious meals that are made in-house daily. Having volunteered with the Good Food Cafe I have been able to experience what can happen when the healthy choice is the only choice. The girls at St. Joseph’s High School showed me that kids will eat good food when they are given the option, but if it is not even an option how can they take it. Along with this, FoodShare operates Student Nutrition programs which provide children with healthy snacks and breakfast everyday at school to promote learning and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. FoodShare is a Toronto initiative but it has many partners throughout the city including school boards, Toronto Public Health, and Ryerson.

Beyond the work Ryerson does with FoodShare, which includes working with Good Food Cafe, developing community garden initiatives, and working with the Good Food Box program, we have our own services to combat food insecurity on campus. The Good Food Centre, a Ryerson equity service centre, works to provide food to Ryerson community members. In 1993 Ryerson began operating the Student Feedback program which operated as a food bank on campus, eventually becoming the Good Food Centre and expanding to operate as more than just a food bank but as a service hub for community members. Along with the food bank, the Good Food Centre also facilitates the community gardens on campus which supplements the fresh produce available at the centre as well as provides students with education and skills on how to grow their own food. The Good Food Centre is also a pick up location for Good Food Boxes, which is a program run by FoodShare that provides Ontario grown fresh produce (whenever possible) for a nominal fee. Ryerson has even more initiatives beyond the Good Food Centre in the form of the Centre for Studies in Food Security.

Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security works to provide education and manages projects to fight and understand hunger. In collaboration with the School of Nutrition and the Chang School the Centre offers the Certificate in Food Security which involves courses in food policy, gender and food, indigenous food systems, and urban agriculture. The Centre’s projects include work in urban design, food studies, as well as indigenous food security and international work with scholars from Brazil, Africa, and the Caribbean.

This discussion of food security and what is being done about it could go on for pages as it has been going on for years. This crisis is of global proportions and it can be difficult to see it when you do not know what you are looking at or for, but I can assure you it is right in front of you. Your classmates, teachers, friends, family, strangers on the street, they could too easily be food insecure even in a country like Canada and we must understand what that means. Not having money for food will greatly impact not only your physical health but emotional health as well. The stress in combination with a lack of proper nutrition opens your body up to disease and it’s lethal. The food security crisis did not happen over night and it was created by humans, therefore, it will take more than a night to solve but it must be solved by humans. This issue is one that should not be thought of only one day a year, food insecurity is on the mind of its victims everyday and therefore should be on ours as well.

The Campus We Walk On: Social Justice Issues at Ryerson

SJW2

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

SJW1

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.

sjw3

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

DSCN1384

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.

DSCN1379

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.

DSCN1385

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.

DSCN1381

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.

web-vamps-gallery01nw2

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.

poster_logo

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.

DSCN1392

DSCN1389

DSCN1387

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.

DSCN1395

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

It’s a Devastating Thing to Forget

It seems September is always about mixers; a party that every student association wants you to go to and wants you to partake in. Ironically I went to my first mixer in my last year at Ryerson. RyePRIDE, an Equity Service Group, represents the voice of the Queer and Trans community at Ryerson, hosted a mixer this past week as part of the Equity Services Orientation Week. If this mixer is just a taste then I like the way RyePRIDE parties. Dirty bingo with dirty prizes, drag performances by Church St’s Divine Darling, educational trivia, and everyone’s favourite: free condoms and food. The dim lights, loud music, sounds of sex, and group swearing made for an exciting night. And buttons! So what else does a student party need? Rainbow coloured penis shaped shot glasses? They had those too! Unfortunately, I didn’t win anything but I’m hoping they will have those shot glasses at their next event because that’s what I need, and maybe the vibrator.

 
There’s more to RyePRIDE than just fun parties, they are trying to create an inclusive and open community that is safe for all its members and have been doing so since 1977. They make this well known at their events by pointing out that discrimination towards anyone is not tolerated. RyePRIDE works with the Queer and Trans community at large to provide support, advocacy, education, and a little fun for Ryerson students. In addition, RyePRIDE has an open door and ear, so if anyone wants their help they are available for assistance.

 
One support service that Ryerson offers for students is their Crisis line (416-979-5195) and Centre for Student Development and Counseling in Jorgenson 07, where any student can get immediate support if they are in a crisis. There is also a lesbian, gay, bi, and trans youth line (416-962-9688), which is a local crisis line that provides peer support to youth. In addition, the Sherbourne Health Centre (416-324-4180) provides comprehensive health care to the LGBTQ community. The services offered by Ryerson and RyePRIDE came about as a response to the rampant homophobia that plagued Ryerson’s campus in the past which still affects students today.

 

Digging in the Ryerson Library Archives (on the third floor of the library) reveals some horrifying realities. While skimming through 30 years of Ryerson newspaper clippings I found far too numerous accounts of dangerous homophobia on Ryerson’s campus. From the beginning, with the first meeting of the Lesbian and Gay Men’s Club in 1980- which received bomb threats and forced the group underground- you will see a history of hatred that tormented Ryerson. In 1982, the club received a new space in Jorgenson and this was met with vandalism and ultimately set fire to. Throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the 2000’s the queer students of Ryerson were terrorized by peers- verbal harassment, hate mail, threatening phone calls, destruction of queer rights material, and death threats were day-to-day occurrences.

vandals paint gay office in fourth attack this year, dana robbins ryer, apr 6 82In the fall of 1991 the homophobia pot began to boil over with three physical attacks of students on campus. The first, in a library washroom where a female student who was putting up posters for the new Bisexuals, Gays and Lesbians of Ryerson club (BGALOR) was cornered by three girls and assaulted verbally and physically. The second, another female student was physically assaulted by four men outside her classroom after admitting to being gay in a class discussion. Details about the third attack were lost in the files, but needless to say these three attacks were the catalyst that pushed then Ryerson president Terence Grier to initiate a study of the homophobia on Ryerson’s campus. A study led by George Bielmeier, a social work professor and head of the Advisory Committee on Homophobia, which was also created as a response to these attacks.

img002After eight years of research, the study was released and everyone knew the realities of homophobia at Ryerson. The finger was pointed in the direction of business and engineering students, however, all of the faculties shared responsibility in spreading homophobia, even the university itself. Ryerson had a hand in the homophobic attitudes that were present on campus, but this was the attitude of the time and Ryerson made strides to remove homophobia from its grounds and still does. However, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world and when a gay students’ association has to boycott its own school’s department for harassment and discrimination because they dismissed their complaints, there is a problem. When a school newspaper is allowed to publish anti-gay commentaries and quotations that attack and hurt members of its own community, there is a problem. When staff are denied health benefits for being openly gay and have to watch their partner die because they can’t afford medication, there is a problem. When students are terrified to be who they are because they are afraid of their peers and don’t feel protected by their school, there is a problem.

ryer nov 27 92Ryerson has its share of problems and thankfully they take care of them. Throughout its history, Ryerson has tried to change the attitudes on this campus. In 1986 Ryerson became the first university in Canada to offer a credit course on gay and lesbian studies as well as being one of the early institutions to offer same-sex health benefits in Ontario. Ryerson acknowledged the homophobia that had taken root and now every student and staff are established the same rights. Because of this we are fortunate enough not to experience the level of day-to-day violence that once occurred within Ryerson. That being said, homophobia is still a part of our world and with the vandalism of the RyePRIDE offices in 2008 and the hate crimes against Ryerson students in 2011, it is clearly still a problem.

img015One event in particular that shocked the Ryerson community was the violent murder of graduate Christopher Skinner in 2009. Christopher was an openly gay man and his murder was speculated as being a hate crime. Christopher was an active member of Ryerson’s community and now RyePRIDE offers a bursary in his memory – any self identified gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or trans student who feels they have contributed to challenging homophobia or transphobia can apply for the $500 Christopher Skinner Memorial Bursary.

img014This truncated journey through Ryerson’s history has taught me something, for which, I am very fortunate. I live and love in a place that fought and changed public opinion, a place where we can feel safe. I still look over my shoulder because it’s not over yet, but there’s hope that it will be. Going through the 30 odd years of Ryerson’s history has exposed to me and hopefully to others events that we can never forget. The work and pain that has occurred on this campus is too important to be lost in a dusty file at the bottom of a drawer. Thank you to the people of history, who rallied not only for their own opportunities but for mine and for every lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans, queer, two spirited, questioning, asexual, intersex, and any other student. To all of your stories that will not be lost or forgotten to a bottom drawer.

eyeopener cover

Some thoughts on graduating

a photograph of graduation caps against a blue sky

I am a little sad, a little happy and a lot groggy. I finished my degree.

In the Disability Studies program students complete a year long research project and they present it to their cohort and faculty. Our cohort’s presentations took place recently. There were really insightful moments, topics and so many heartfelt presentations demonstrating that the personal truly is political.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be finished. The build up to the presentations, the nervousness, the anticipation, then an eighteen minute presentation and it’s over.

I recently watched a documentary on the large number of graduates from university programs in Canada who are currently working in dead-end service positions. The documentary claimed there were several factors contributing to this phenomenon. One, baby boomers are not retiring and there are less positions opening up, or new grads are competing against them for the same position. Two, recent graduates are given little to no training in university to prepare them for resume writing or job interviewing and there are no co-op experiences. Three, Canada does not have an education ministry which means there are no statistics kept on what types of degrees universities are producing versus the types of skills that the labour market actually needs.

One women in the documentary who graduated with a history degree said that she felt she would be working in an office wearing heels and a power suit by now. For those of us in the Disability Studies program we have somewhat of an advantage. We are all working in our chosen field. However, I also have an earlier degree that didn’t translate into a job. I have a religious studies degree. You may well question what the hell I was thinking. How would religious studies translate into a job? Well, I wasn’t thinking about a job. I thought about what I wanted to know, what interested me, what I was passionate about. I was privileged to have been able to work my way through that degree with very little debt.

Sign reads Education is a right

Two degrees later, and about to enter my masters in the fall I think the overwhelming factor contributing to graduates working dead end jobs is not the boomers, or the lack of training or the lack of an education ministry. (Although, we do need one! I mean, seriously Ontario how many teachers can we produce?) What we need is free education. The woman in the documentary wasn’t working in a dead-end service because she liked it, rather because she was thousands of dollars in debt from her education. We are stifling the creativity of graduates because they are in hock. If we stop people from learning what they are passionate about and future generations focus on employment, what does that mean for the arts, for culture, for philosophy, for music?

Free education will not create generations of entitled citizens. Take a look at the Nordic countries. Education is free, their economies are booming and they consistently rank high in the happiest countries in which to live. Take a lesson, Canada.