Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis


As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, this week, we focus the spotlight on another strong Black Canadian female figure. Mayann Elizabeth Francis was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and came from parents who hailed from Cuba (her father) and Antigua (her mother). She had strong roots in the church, being brought up and raised surrounded by strong religious influences, especially due to the fact that her father was the archpriest of the African Orthodox Church.

Mayann Elizabeth grew up in a diverse neighbourhood of Nova Scotia, yet, despite the apparent diversity of her community, there were still quite prominent issues of racial discrimination and inequality occurring in various communities surrounding her. Mayann was made aware at quite a young age of the segregation and racial disparities that were occurring in her community, and in communities across the country. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the social justice movements that would work to abolish racial segregation and discrimination on Canada, and was compelled to do her part to affect change in some way. So Maryann pursued higher education at St. Mary’s University, graduating in 1972 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following her undergraduate education, she took a job for the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Shortly after her experience with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, she moved to the United States, where she lived for 16 years. In those 16 years, Maryann was able to earn her Master of Arts degree, in 1984, with a specialization in Public Administration from New York University. She used her Masters degree to build a career with a focus on personnel and labour relations issues, issues that influence the quality of people’s lives, and issues that seek to be rectified through public bodies. This was in strong part due to her upbringing in an unstable racial climate in Nova Scotia, where racial segregation and discrimination were very real realities with which she experienced.

After 16 years in the United States, returned back to Canada and settled in the province of Ontario. There, she worked as an assistant deputy minister with the Ontario Women’s Directorate. Shortly after, she became the Director of the same organization. After her experience with the Ontario Women’s Directorate, she decided to return to her roots and pursue her career with the Nova Scotia human Right Commission. There, she became to Chief Executive Officer.

Mayann’s work to bring about social justice and equality within society was widely recognized both nationally and internationally. She received the Harry Jerome Award from the Black Business and Professional Association, the Multicultural Education Council of Nova Scotia Award, and the Golden Jubilee Medla. Furthermore, she is the first woman ombudsman, black or white, of Nova Scotia. She moved on to become the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia in 2006. She is also the first Black Nova Scotian, man or woman, and the second Black Canadian to hold this position.

Her extensive experience in various senior public service positions is in large part due to her experience with racism and segregation. As a Black woman during a time where segregation was the everyday reality for all people in the United States and in Canada, Mayann Elizabeth knew first-hand what it was like to be discriminated and judged for reasons beyond control. She understood what social injustice and inequality felt like from a victim’s point of view. These horrible experiences inspired Maryann to live a life of public advocacy; live a life and build a career built on the principles of social justice and equality. To this day, she remains a largely influential and historical figure of Canadian history through her work in affecting change with regards to racial discrimination, segregation, and racial inequality.


If You’re Stressed Out and You Know it Clap Your Hands!

Stress can be difficult to define. Metabolically it causes our body to release hormones which affect our mood and cause inflammation which is damaging to our overall physical and mental health. Even that wasn’t much of a definition. Stress seems to have varying definitions as it affects individuals differently, some thrive on stress while others buckle from the pressure. Defining stress is as difficult as describing how it feels; exhausting, hungering, painful, tight, irritating, angering, and depressing give a bit of a range. I might not be able to give a good definition of stress, but it is certain that stress is not good for your body or mental wellbeing. Chronic stress is associated with most major diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Research has found that depression and anxiety rates are high among university students and it is no surprise as exams and coursework can be very stressful. What is important for any student is to find a way to manage their stress and to cope with it. There are a plethora of stress management techniques but one that has been the most beneficial in my life is yoga.

Yoga has been found to be an effective stress and anxiety reliever. Studies comparing stress levels of yoga practitioners and non-yoga practitioners have found that stress and inflammation go down with yoga practice. There have even been studies where yoga is compared to other therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is a popular form of psychotherapy that works to change the way you think and act. These studies found that while the other therapies were effective, yoga seemed to bring about more and different positive effects. This is not to say that therapies should be stopped or replaced by yoga, but perhaps yoga should be included as part of the therapy. Looking at studies that are somewhat more relevant that involved undergraduate students, found that yoga helped with perceived stress and was found to raise mood and decrease anxiety; a tool that may be very helpful in the coming weeks.

Yoga is a time when your mind can fall away from work and studying and move internally to focus on your body. It’s funny how such a big part of our lives can be forgotten so quickly when we are forced to focus on something else; exams and assignments float away and the release of built up tension in your muscles smacks you in the face. In yoga you feel every shift in every muscle in your body, it is a very active form of movement even though it seems very passive from the outside. Yoga requires strength and endurance as you work to properly and energetically contort your body. The postures allow your muscles to stretch which is where the idea of the “release of tension” comes from. Not only is yoga or even just being active good for your body due to the physical release of stress, it also good for your mind.

Mental health studies have found that being active, including yoga practice, will raise mood. In the case of yoga this could be because it allows for meditation or personal reflection. Being able to reflect is paramount for personal growth; it is a major source of learning. When one can reflect on their actions and thoughts they can find out new things about their life and how they really feel. This may seem terrifying but it is extremely useful. When you have an unfiltered opinion of yourself it allows you to see who you are and what you think of yourself; it helps you to answer big questions like: am I happy? You don’t really need yoga to partake in personal reflection, but it does provide you with the time to do so and combing reflection with physical activity may help to clear your mind and allow for deeper thought.

Reflection is something we need in life and finding a way and the time can be difficult but it will be beneficial in the end. Figuring out who we are is a hard task and it takes a lifetime; it’s not something we decide in a day. Reflecting on our life choices as we make them will help us through the process of finding ourselves and will keep us grounded in reality. There is a lot of pressure on young people today to make big life choices in a small amount of time; it’s no wonder we’re all stressed out. Having to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life in four years is difficult. However, one thing to remember is that there is no law that stipulates you must decide your life trajectory right away or that you only have one shot in life; having more than one career is becoming normalized in Canadian society. Looking at myself and my friends, we certainly did not stick to plan A, some of us are on plan E already; it takes time to find what you want. Don’t be afraid to make the wrong the choice and try to avoid letting it stress you out, there’s always a plan B. Go after what you want in life and don’t be afraid to let that change, you don’t know where it might take you.

Ryerson has a Centre for Student Development and Counselling located in JOR-07c, where any student can go to receive counselling and learn more about mental health. If you have feelings of depression or need help managing your stress it would be advantageous to contact the centre. Additionally, if you are interested in trying yoga, Ryerson Moves is putting on free yoga classes (mats available) every day in SLC for the rest of November to combat end-of-term stress. For 40 minutes at varying times of day you can journey up the fifth floor of the SLC (room 508) and hopefully destress a little. If this is your first time trying yoga be sure to inform your instructor and tell them about any injuries you may have had. Yoga can be dangerous if not done properly, so if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.

Why Freeze the Peas?


Students fighting against a tuition freeze in post-secondary education… I never thought I would see the day.  The Ryerson Student’s Union has been campaigning for a freeze in tuition for the upcoming 2015/2016 school year.  A counter-campaign has been organized that supports Ryerson raising the price of tuition for next year.  The campaign is called Freeze the Peas, a play on words of the RSU’s Freeze the Fees Campaign.  This counter-campaign argues that high tuition fees reflect the prestige of a post-secondary institution and ultimately which school’s graduates will get jobs.  I think the Freeze the Peas campaign needs to look deeper into why they are so adamant that Ryerson not freeze or lower tuition.

In Ontario, we are at the point where a post-secondary education is not accessible.  The students that are attending universities and colleges across Ontario are doing so because they can afford it.  Amongst those that have paid the high tuition fee, many struggle to pay for school, rent, food, etc.  The Good Food Room, the RSU’s student book bank, has seen an influx in students who access the service as tuition fees rise.  Drew Silverthorn, who works in the Good Food Room, discussed the issue in one of my classes before the RSU’s rally on March 30th.  He had recently seen Laverne Cox speak in Toronto and commented on her analysis of tuition fees.  She discussed who is not present in post-secondary education due to financial inaccessibility; those people are mostly racialized and LGBTQ.  The Freeze the Peas campaign needs to think about who isn’t present at Ryerson and why they wouldn’t want them here.

The core of the Freeze the Peas campaign is fear.  The majority of students that make up the Freeze the Peas campaign come from programs that are male dominated.  This campaign isn’t about ensuring the university has a prestigious reputation that will result in grads being hired, it’s about securing their privileged position as a student in post-secondary education.  Despite several students struggling, we hold a very privileged position in being students.  There are many people who should be in post-secondary education but are not because of the financial costs.

I think that making education accessible to all scares the Freeze the Peas campaign because it would mean change.  Accessible education would mean that students would be accepted to Ryerson and other post-secondary schools based on merit as opposed to just the current pool of applicants who can afford it.  The number of applicants to all programs would increase as a significant barrier to post-secondary education would be removed.  While several students who are currently attending post-secondary institutions would be accepted based on merit, the current deciding factor in whether or not one can pursue higher education is money.  I think the Freeze the Peas campaign, whether conscious of it or not, know that money means security.  There may be other people out there who are just as qualified, and perhaps more, to be at Ryerson.

Freeze the Peas needs to reflect on the real reasons for why they want tuition fees to increase. If the world took away the privileges of money, whiteness, being heterosexual, being cisgender, being able-bodied and being male, all of our classrooms, especially ones that are made up of predominantly white, male, straight, cis, able-bodied and middle-upper class students, would look very different.

You are (almost) there: Do not give up!

Every year when school starts, I feel the pressure to do well in school. First comes the reading week and we get to take a week off before writing back to back midterms. Then we have assignments, presentations and group projects due. At the same time, Ryerson Exam Schedule is released and we get busy with finding our exam date and time, finish any outstanding projects and get a head start on studying for finals. Whether you are fresh out of high school or in your final year, at some point in the semester you will feel that there is a tremendous amount of pressure on you to do well. We all have been there. I certainly have been there many times in my undergraduate career. The key is to figure out what works for you and how to make the most out of your school year early on.Stress free zone

You are not alone – according to a recent survey, over 84% students rated academic performance, saving money and time management to be their biggest worries. If you are having a hard time keeping up with your work, chances are someone else is also in the same position. Do not give up and learn from these university experiences. These experiences will help you develop skills such as working under pressure and meeting deadlines that employers find extremely valuable. If you are having a hard time managing time, stress and preparing for exams, don’t be afraid to ask for help from instructors, fellow students and Student learning groups. For example, FCS Academic Support offers writing circles to all FCS students and these can be of great help when it comes to writing papers and essays. In addition, students can visit Therapy Dogs on campus to help relieve the stress associated with being a student. Follow @RUTherapydogs for event updates and locations. Furthermore, Ryerson Health Promotion Department offers Counselling for Personal Concerns, where students can share what they are experiencing by participating in one of the group or individual counselling programs.

Maintain balance – This simple matter might be the trickiest, but also the most important factor in your success at school. Take time for sleep, meals, exercise and social activities, so you don’t burn out. Taking a break can often help. The first step is to recognize that break is as important as the concentrated work. Work with great intensity and focus, and then make taking a break an integral part of your thinking, planning, and problem solving.

A study done by Berkeley School of Public Health showed that children who have an access to tablets or Smartphone in their bedrooms get less sleep than those who do not have the device with them at night. I thought it was important to note this here because as young adults, it is getting a habit to spend more time on a Smartphone and we may not realize this but small screens (such as Smartphone, tablet etc) are responsible for insufficient rest or sleep and may lead to higher stress levels. Therefore, during the last few weeks of semester if you find yourself in stressful situations, take some time to relax and get a good night sleep to feel better. Hang in there, the semester will be over and summer will be here before you know it.

Get Outside

A man and dog walking near Humber River

Having spent my childhood running through cornfields and reading in the shade of huge oak trees, I sometimes find it hard to live in Toronto. I had always assumed that my longing to feel dirt in my fingers and the grass between my toes was because of this childhood. While, it definitely plays a role, I am becoming more conscious of just how important nature is to everyone’s well being.

In 2009 a study done by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that the closer you live to nature, the healthier you are likely to be. This was found to be true for people living in cities which had plenty of green spaces. (Luckily, we live in Toronto, a city with tons of green spaces.) So being outside makes you healthier, but why? There are several theories. One is Vitamin D intake. The more time we spend outside, the more Vitamin D we soak up, the stronger our immune system. Another theory is that being outside improves our sleep as the natural sunlight helps to set our internal clock. Rather than relying on fluorescent lights and alarm clocks, this internal clock set by nature, helps to normalize our hormones (which can have the added benefit of weight loss).

Even beyond our internal clock and Vitamin D, being out in nature has been proven to make us happy. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine has provided proof that being outside causes “happiness, or the presence of positive emotional mindsets, broadens an individual’s thought-action repertoire with positive benefits to physical and intellectual actives, and to social and psychological resources”.

Even the dirt we walk or roll on has a part to play. Scientists at the University of Bristol and University College London discovered a couple of years ago a connection between dirt and mental health. There is a microbe found in soil called Mycobacterium vaccae. This microbe stimulates the same neurons of your brain that produce serotonin. Serotonin is known to increase your level of general well being. So even if you don’t live close to a green space or you have allergies and this time of the year is difficult, chances are you can still get your hands dirty with an indoor plant.

While Toronto may not be one of the top ten park filled cities in the world, we do have a large number of parks to enjoy. From High Park, Edwards Gardens, Dufferin Grove, Allan Gardens, the Islands, Rogue Park, Guildwood, to Woodbine and Humber River, the city is full of places to get outside, enjoy nature and improve your health.

Here is a complete list of Toronto parks to enjoy.

Quelling the rising panic


blurred text with the word 'stress' in focus

I have been thinking a lot lately about what to do when everything appears overwhelming and panic seems uncontrollable. I recently presented at my first conference and speaking in front of people terrifies me. Even though I knew my mind was blowing it out of proportion I still let it get out of control. So I have created a list of things I can do the next time this happens.

1. Meditation and deep breathing

I used to meditate on a regular basis and then fell out of the habit. Buddhism tells you when you meditate to notice your thoughts, label them as thinking and then to let them go. This practice can be really helpful when you are stressed. Stressful feelings are caused by stressful thoughts. If you can let thoughts go instead of getting wrapped up and following them you have a better chance of finding equanimity.

2. Take some time for self care

Self care means different things for different people. For me, getting enough sleep, eating well, drinking plenty of water and going for walks can help me deal with stress. Sometimes, it is hard to take the time to do these things but they can be vital. Self care also means knowing what to avoid. Excess alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine can aggravate stressful situations.

3. Avoid procrastination (well, as much as you can)

I am the queen of procrastination. I have mastered the art of procrasti-cleaning, procrasti-cooking and even gone as far as procrasti-ironing. Sometimes procrastination can be helpful. Everyone needs down time to give your mind a break and let ideas percolate. The key is know when you are taking a needed break and when you are avoiding necessary work.

4. Lower your expectations

I know this sounds odd but a lot of times stress is caused by the over riding need to be perfect. But you, me, everyone, we can’t be perfect. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean that we can’t do our best, but expecting to control everything just isn’t realistic. This is much easier than it sounds, and one that I have the most difficutly with, but trying to let go of control will lessen your stress.

5. Talk about it or write it out

Clearing out your mind of stressful thoughts can help. Write them out, talk them out, just get them out. Bottling everything up, only allows stress to build and bubble until it over flows.

Dear Tracy Morgan…

Dear Tracy Morgan,

I heard about your accident back in June, I’m really sorry to hear about that.  I also heard that you sustained a traumatic brain injury, I’m even sorrier to hear about that.  Traumatic brain injury is tough, the healing process is long and symptoms can be permanent.  I write this to you and indirectly to others who have sustained traumatic brain injuries, hoping that the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 6 years of having a brain injury could be useful and helpful to you.

In an interview, your lawyer recently said that you are fighting to regain your old self, pre-injury.  I’m going to be very honest with you because I don’t think health care professionals are always the most honest about our diagnosis and I don’t blame them because it can be scary, but you may never get back to your old self.  I know that’s really hard to hear and not the optimistic words people post-injury are looking for.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very optimistic but when it comes to brain injury I am optimistic about something different.  I am optimistic that you will be someone, maybe not your old self, but someone who lives a happy life.  You survived this brain injury and you’re living.

I would like to encourage you to stop trying to get back to your old self and put your energy into creating a new self.  Putting all of your time and energy into getting back to your old self is an exhaustive and potentially impossible mission that may leave you very discouraged and disappointed.  This energy would be better spent continuing to recover and when ready, creating a new self.  I sit on panels for Brain Basics training for professionals here in Toronto, Ontario and the person who runs the training always speaks about the new self.  It’s who we become and create post-injury because we won’t be the same; brain injury changes you in a number of ways and the old self may become a distant and foggy memory.

Depending on which part of your brain is injured, your personality may change.  Other symptoms may affect your mood, how you interact with others and how your body feels.  This takes a lot of time and it can be very frustrating but part of creating the new self is accepting that these new things are part of who you are.  For example, I hate going to the gym now, I struggle with fatigue and sometimes my words don’t come out in the right order but that’s just part of who I am now.

After a brain injury there’s a lot of things you won’t be able to do anymore.  For me, this was sports.  I’m sure there are things you enjoyed that you won’t be able to do anymore.  My best advice for this is to find something else to do; this is part of creating the new self.  I miss sports sometimes but I miss them a lot less now that I’ve found something else to do with my time.  If you’re having trouble thinking of something new to do, what is something you wanted to do but never had to the time for?  For me, this was volunteering and now I do that.

After a brain injury you may think of what you’ll miss out on and things you wanted to do but now you’ll never be able to.  I was 16 when I got my brain injury so this was a big deal for me.  I realized I would never be able to go scuba diving, surfing, jump out of a plane or bungee jump.  Not that I would have done all these things, but you never know.  It was just shocking to realize that if the opportunity presented itself to do these things; I would have to say no.  Whenever I get sad about what I might miss out on, I think of everything I was fortunate enough to do before the injury and think of all of the things I am still able to do post-injury.

If you are ever unsure about if something is safe for you, ask for someone’s advice whether that be a family member, friend or professional.  Sometimes those of us with brain injuries have problems with decision making and we need the extra support and that’s okay.  It may have been embarrassing that my mother showed up at the basketball court and made me leave but I realize now that was for the best as it was not safe for me to be there.  It’s all about calculating what is risky; I still go to concerts but I choose which ones based on what’s safe.  For example, I would not go to a concert where mosh pits would likely form.

Tracy, I really hope this was helpful and may have changed your perspective on where you put your energy for recovery.  You may never get back to your old self but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a happy life.


Alyson Rogers




Keep your group on track!

As fall semester is coming to an end, most students will be busy finishing up those last set of assignments. It is often a different story when it is a group assignment. In my three years of studies, I think I have had about 5 group assignments. If one person does not do their part, whole group suffers. Today, I will be writing my post on how to keep your group on track and utilize each others skills effectively.Group Project

Some people just don’t like group work – prefer to do it all by themselves. I can understand their situation too. Yes, grades do matter but you also need to acquire skills such as working in a team setting. It is a must-have career asset. I can’t think of many jobs where you will be working completely outside of a team focus. Your university career is perhaps the best time to develop this skill and it can help you get over your differences.

I am sure you would agree that someone in the group has to take the leadership role. Whether you are a leader or a follower, you are responsible for contributing to your team’s goals. This means you have to do your part independently and it certainly matters more when the rest of the group is depending on you.

Effective communication is essential when working in a group setting. If for some reason you are having difficulty finishing up your assigned task, you should let your group know and ask for help early on rather than leaving it to the last minute. I can definitely relate to this. In the past, I have had group members contacting me at the last day before assignment is due for help. It is never good to be in this situation. If you are unable to do your part for any reason, you should let the group know as soon as possible. This way, someone else can do your part. It is also never a good idea to avoid communication with the rest of the group. You should constantly be in touch with each other and this way, the progress can be tracked easily. If you don’t agree with someone, offer constructive criticism and bring a better solution to the table.

Another strategy to get the work done is dividing the work based on unique strengths of the individual. When the group is formed/assigned, you should work together to figure out each others skills and determine how you can best contribute and have the best experience.

I can understand teamwork is not always the ideal working environment as most people like to work on their own. However, when more than one minds work together, it often results in better work. Being open to the opinions of others is a key component of team-work. Everyone should have a chance to participate.

The impossibility of balance

A couch leg is surrounded by dust bunnies.

Laying on my living room floor looking at the surprisingly large dust bunnies under the couch (I mean really, how do they get so big?) I am thinking about the precipitating factor that got me here: stress. Okay, so to be honest, a couple of physical jobs, a history of back issues and sitting are also what laid me low, but stress plays a larger part than most people think.

As a part time student, working full time at several contract positions, volunteering with several organizations, all while trying to have a life, stress is as second nature to me as breathing. The question, I guess, is how to manage my commitments and the stress that comes from them. Now I could go on about diet, exercise, natural remedies, mediation and yoga (and I have, at length in other posts) but the reality is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Today another back pain sufferer and robaxecet pusher jokingly said that if she could do yoga every day then she wouldn’t have any problems, but then who would do her laundry and pick up her daughter from school?

Maybe that’s what is so upsetting about it all. The myth pushed onto us that we can do it all, that we should, that it’s really our fault if we can’t find balance. I am tired of seeing blogs about the ‘5 things that balanced people do every day’, or ’10 ways to have it all’. Those tips will not help me accomplish all the tasks I have listed on sticky notes pasted all over my apartment, they won’t help me sleep at night when my mind races, they won’t stop the spasms in my back. It just places the blame for my lack of balance squarely on my shoulders, or more accurately on my lower back. It goes without saying, or it should, that what goes up must come down and juggling life is no different. Eventually, you (me, everyone) will drop the ball.

Reading this over, I feel like I should have some over riding moral or conclusion instead of just blathering on about the impossibility of balance. I have none. Maybe I am just tired. Maybe I am just overwhelmed. Maybe I am just in pain.

Shifting into another position (more dust bunnies, it’s like I never sweep!) and a little more comfortable, I can think again. Maybe that is the over riding message, a little shifting is necessary from time to time. Or maybe the melatonin and muscle relaxers are just kicking in.

ASMR Relaxation


Why is getting a haircut so relaxing?  When you really think about it a haircut should be a stressful experience.  A stranger is holding scissors or a razor close to your face and ears.  One wrong snip and there will be blood.  You also trust this person not to mess up your hair.  Most of us have had a bad haircut in our lifetime.  One wrong snip and there will be tears.  So why is it so relaxing?  Maybe it’s not the haircut itself but the pleasant tingles we may experience from the sounds and sensations of being touched.

I recently found out a name has been given to the sensations of tingles and the feeling of relaxation that follows; Autonomous sensory meridian response or ASMR for short.  ASMR is the tingling sensations one feels in the scalp, head and other parts of the body.  Although ASMR is difficult to prove scientifically, you can’t deny the relaxation of tingles.

Apparently a bunch of YouTubers agree based on the thousands of videos you can find if you type in ASMR.  This means you don’t need to get a haircut, go for a massage or pay for relaxation to experience tingles.  With these videos, you can experience them in your own home with no charge.  There are a variety of different ASMR videos including haircuts, massage, role play (not dirty), makeup and different sounds that trigger tingles.

I came across ASMR videos by accident.  I was looking up self massage videos that help get rid of headaches.  Now I use them for when I can’t sleep.  One or two videos and I have just enough energy to close to laptop and roll over.  Being a student can be really stressful and on a student budget, relaxation is not something we can pay for.  ASMR videos are an easy way to distress. It’s a lifesaver at 2 a.m when you have an early class the next day or when you need a break from your multiple papers, midterms and exams.

I recently found one video by YouTuber Olivia Kissper that is really helpful for those who are new to ASMR.  She explains what ASMR is and goes through 30 different triggers that cause tingles.  This will help you figure out which triggers work for you so you’ll know which types of videos to look for.  I also highly recommend her other videos.

Hopefully this will help you relax on a student budget!

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