Black History Month Spotlight: Maryann Elizabeth Francis

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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.

Resources:

http://www.blackhistorycanada.ca/profiles.php?themeid=20&id=17

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/mayann-elizabeth-francis/

http://www.cbc.ca/informationmorningcb/2009/10/mayann-francis.html

Pack the Court: No Silence on Sexual Violence

Supporters, including Mandi, outside Old City Hall during the Ghomeshi trial.

On February 1st, young feminists descended on Old City Hall in various shades of pink clothing and lipstick to attend a sexual assault trial.  We weren’t there for the Ghomeshi trial; we were there for the Ururyar trial.  We were there to support our friend and fellow activist, Mandi Gray, as she testified against Mustafa Ururyar.

The first three days of the trial were filled with rape myth-based motions, blatant victim blaming and parallels being drawn between what was happening one floor below in the Ghomeshi trial and what we saw in the courtroom we sat in.  Following three days, half of which Mandi was on the stand under cross-examination, the trial as put off until April to review new evidence.  After watching Mandi testify, she is no doubt the toughest person I know; the defense lawyer in this case has attacked her character and self esteem throughout the entire cross-examination.

Catherine Porter of the Toronto Star was present and covered what has happened in the trial thus far:
http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/02/07/the-sex-assault-trial-one-floor-above-ghomeshi-porter.html

Porter wrote, “there was a line up outside this courtroom too- not of journalists though.  Most of the crowd in the small domestic violence court were young feminists, here to support their friend, Mandi Gray”.  I want to talk about who that group was, including Mandi, and why we were there.

The line up outside of the courtroom where Mandi was testifying was made up of people from across Toronto; there were students from York, University of Toronto and Ryerson.  On all three days, there were between 30 and 40 people in the court room.  We were there to support Mandi and wore pink to show our solidarity.  I’ve had a number of people ask me why we were there and do we really think it makes a difference?  My answer is yes and no.

Why yes?  Apparently supporting a sexual assault survivor is a radical thing to do, both in our criminal justice system and generally.  With the Ghomeshi trial, the amount of victim-blaming and slut-shaming in the media, online and at dinner tables has increased substantially.  The media filed a motion in court to publish a photo of a sexual assault survivor in a bikini, need I say more?  The rape myths present in the criminal justice system continue to be blatant, especially during cross-examinations.  To come out and support a survivor who is testifying sends a clear message that we believe them.

In a world where over 50 women can accuse one man of sexual assault and we don’t believe them, believing women becomes viewed as radical.  In a world where survivors are not believed and face a criminal justice system that re-victimizes them, wouldn’t it be nice to have 40 people or even just one person in your corner?  The Crown and Judge aren’t in survivors’ corners; they aren’t there to make sure the survivor isn’t re-victimized on the stand.  We were there to be in Mandi’s corner.

Why no?  Our presence isn’t going to sway a ruling.  We were there because we all know that the system is broken and has always been broken.  We are all well-versed in the issue of sexual violence and know the criminal justice system does not protect survivors or convict perpetrators.  While we hold some hope that Ghomeshi and Ururyar will be found guilty, we know this is a long shot.  There’s been a lot of media focus on Ghomeshi’s lawyer and how the survivors were not prepared to testify, but these issues are much bigger than one individual case; this is an entire system that is ineffective in addressing sexual violence as a crime.

Our presence won’t sway a ruling and these rulings won’t sway us.  We know that a “not guilty” verdict does not mean violence didn’t occur.  These verdicts have no bearing on whether or not violence occurred; they have bearing on the criminal justice system’s ability to properly apply criminal law to sexual assault.  In court rooms filled with rape myths, victim-blaming, slut-shaming and a focus on literally everything but the violence in question, the answer is no, the criminal justice system is not in a position to determine if violence has occurred.

No matter what the judges in these cases rule, the response to these verdicts is going to be loud.  We won’t be going home and accepting that the criminal justice system has done its job.  The people who have been standing outside with signs aren’t going away.  Those of us sitting in Old City Hall are all advocates in a variety of ways; we are documentary film makers, members of Silence is Violence-York, placement students at VAW organizations, members of Silence is Violence- U of T and the Ryerson Feminist Collective, and individuals who want to see a world without violence.

We made a Facebook event to support Mandi.  We have sat in the court room laughing, sighing and making side comments throughout the trial, knowing the judge could kick us out (he didn’t).  Mandi has kept her head up despite the amount of attacks on her self-esteem and character, and will return to testify in April.  She is also bringing forward a Human Rights Complaint in how York University handles sexual assault.  We are unapologetic in believing survivors and we will be back at Old City Hall in April.

“Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, we aren’t going to be silent about sexual violence.

Black History Month Spotlight: Viola Desmond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

The Power of Student Journalism

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Ryerson University has one of the best journalism programs, with many graduates going on to work for large publications such as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail.  With such an incredible program, it comes as no surprise that our campus has two school newspapers: The Eyeopener and The Ryersonian.  Student newspapers offer journalism students an amazing opportunity to write features, conduct interviews, and be an editor, practice photography, report on events and everything that goes with the operations of a newspaper.

While student newspapers are an excellent source of learning, this learning cannot come at the expense of the subjects of their stories.  There have been a few incidents lately that have raised some red flags as they have gone beyond students simply learning how to be journalists and waded into the territory of having serious and negative impacts on peoples’ lives.  As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

I’m all for student learning; as a social work student, I complete two placements where I’m able to learn social work skills necessary for my career.  I appreciate having a space to try things out, make mistakes and be able to try again.  I have and will continue to make mistakes throughout my placement and career.  This is why I can appreciate the position students working and writing for student newspapers are in; we are all students and everyone is learning.  I become less understanding of this when mistakes are made that are based in pure insensitivity and carelessness.

This type of mistake occurred during the coverage of the Ghomeshi trial this week.  When I arrived on campus the afternoon the trial began, I learned that one of the school newspapers had tweeted the names of the victims whose names are under a publication ban.  While this is a mistake by a student who is learning, this could have serious and negative consequences for those women.  There’s a publication ban in place for a reason and tweeting their names is an invasion of their right to privacy and anonymity in the public’s eye during a sexual assault trial.  I don’t know the legalities of breaking a publication ban but I’m assuming there are consequences.  While these students may say “oops”, delete the tweet, take it as a lesson learned and carry on, that tweet could impact those women in negative ways.  Our student media may have just disclosed the sexual violence someone has experienced to a family member, friend, colleague, boss, neighbour, etc.  This is further complicated in that Ghomeshi yields a lot of power due to his celebrity which means a high profile trial.  Consequences from that tweet could reach far and wide in that persons’ life; this cannot simply be treated as a beginners’ mistake.

This semester, I experienced a student error that could potentially have serious and negative impacts.  I was recently interviewed for a story on unpaid internships by one of the student newspapers.  I discussed my experiences of having a disability and completing a lot of unpaid placement hours; when asked what my disability was, I disclosed I have a brain injury as I did not want it to be misconstrued or misrepresented.  I’m not sure what happened between my interview and the publication of the article but the newspaper printed that I have mental health issues.  How would I disclose this in an interview if that is not a lived experience I have?  Fortunately, the newspaper edited the online version and printed a correction but that’s a pretty big mistake.  Considering the stigma attached to mental health issues and that my experiences were presented as representative of students with lived experience, I’m extremely lucky I have not had any negative consequences thus far.  I was extremely concerned considering I have been very vocal about men’s rights and issues groups which often discredit feminist and women’s voices by claiming they are “mentally ill”.  These types of mistakes cannot be brushed off as expected errors in learning; they need to be addressed and there needs to be some accountability.  While the Editor of the newspaper apologized several times, I still have not heard from the reporter who interviewed me and wrote the article.

This year, I’ve had a lot more interactions with campus media as I began co-organizing the Ryerson Feminist Collective.  We have been interviewed on a number of topics including our initial solidarity with U of T event, the men’s issues group at Ryerson, meninists, body hair, self-love for racialized and immigrant women, our Take Back the Campus event, masculinity, the RSU, etc.  I’ve had some really great experiences with student journalists at Ryerson; great interviews, great questions and discussion, well-written articles and no one has spelt my name wrong yet.  Student journalists have been very respectful about my safety concerns regarding some of the issues I have been interviewed about and have waited after events to interview me when I would be most comfortable.  I’m still friends with Dylan Freeman-Grist, who wrote the amazing first article about the Ryerson Feminist Collective when we formed in September.  A student journalist I recently met even helped me with this blog, which I really appreciate.

Student newspapers have made errors that could have negative impacts and this needs to be addressed but I also want to talk about the student journalists who are doing amazing work.  This is who should be recognized for their work and contributions to campus life.  The students working at both campus newspapers work very hard at their jobs (I hear they are on campus until 2:30 am some days) while taking full course loads, working outside jobs and still managing to have a social life.  The stories are always interesting and they are always reporting on current student news.  The work of these journalists should be recognized and highlighted for other students to learn from to avoid mistakes that could potentially be harmful.

While mistakes in student learning are inevitable, errors that can be extremely harmful need to be addressed.  This can be done by having those who make mistakes take accountability for them and also having a good understanding of the power student journalists hold.  What you write could change someone’s life and I think this is an important lesson to take into any field, including journalism.

Rally to Stop the Social Cleansing of Toronto’s Homeless

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Think Vote: The Politics of Hunger

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On September 23rd, The Good Food Centre and Rye’s Homegrown put on Eat Think Vote:  The Politics of Hunger as part of DisOrientation 2015.  The topic of the event was food security and framing it as an issue for the upcoming federal election.  Despite being one of the wealthiest countries, food insecurity has remained high and stagnant over the past decade.

Michael Kushnir, the Vice President of Services with CESAR, described food as “central to every community on earth” yet 4 million Canadians lack access to sufficient and healthy food.  This includes 1.5 million children who are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  This works out to 1/10 Canadians and 1/6 children being food insecure.  Post secondary students are also disproportionately affected by food insecurity.  In the 2013/2014 school year, 2500 Ryerson students accessed food banks, which have become a staple on university campuses.  With food insecurity being such a prevalent issue in Canada, why has the issue been absent since an election was called?  Eat Think Vote set out to make food insecurity an election issue… as it should be.

The upcoming federal election is being called one of the most important elections, and will greatly affect the path Canada takes and its future.  Eat Think Vote included discussions by two of the candidates running in the Toronto Centre riding on the issue of food insecurity.  While the Conservative and Liberal parties were not in attendance, Linda McQuaig of the NDP party and Colin Biggin of the Green Party shared their personal and party views on food insecurity.  As this is such an important issue to take into consideration when casting your vote in October, here are the platforms on food insecurity presented at Eat Think Vote:

Colin Biggin- Green Party:

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Biggin described how the food many Canadians eat comes from places like California as opposed to the surrounding areas.  While this works for economists, it’s not working for us.  Canada is not as self sustainable as we should be and should strive to be considering the cost of oil and the droughts in areas we get our food from.  Biggin discussed the current situation of farmers in Canada; many are unable to sustain themselves on farming alone, are being pushed out by industrial farms and have no one to carry on their work once they retire.  Biggin’s discussed the Green Party wanting to support younger farmers, small farms as opposed to industrial size and support helping people onto the land such as immigrants.  He noted the Green Party opposes the temporary worker program and would like to see participants in that program be able to immigrate here fully and paid good wages.

Biggin also connected the issues of food insecurity and with other issues in the Green Party’s platform.  He discussed the need for families to be able to afford food.  The Green Party plans to respond to this issue through a number of policies including a guaranteed income which would allow people to afford food.  This would be done through an amalgamation of several social programs and a top up program.

A question from the audience lead to a discussion of Northern, remote and Indigenous communities.  Biggin would like to see food in those communities made more affordable by encouraging more businesses to go into that area (there is currently one) and by subsidizing transportation costs.  Biggin also mentioned that a national school nutrition program is included in the Green Party’s platform.

Linda McQuaig- NDP Party:

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McQuaig began her presentation on food security by describing how striking it is that one of the essential basics to our well-being is invisible as an election issue.  She described her career as an author and journalist, focusing on income inequality, and drew many connections between inequality and food insecurity.

McQuaig showed concern about the increasing inequality in Canada and how food insecurity is a big part of this inequality.  She went on to say that a reliance on food banks is not a secure way to access food and that the quality of food in food banks is not healthy.  She also endorsed a school nutrition program policy as food is key to children’s health and ability to learn.  She went on to discuss how seniors are greatly affected by food insecurity.

McQuaig presented a variety of NDP platform policies that would decrease food insecurity in Canada by addressing inequality.  These policies include putting $400 million dollars towards the Guaranteed Income Supplement which would lift 200 000 seniors out of poverty.  Second, the NDP plans to implement a $15 federal minimum wage which would lift 100 000 people out of poverty.  She claimed this would set a national standard and put pressure on the provinces to raise their minimum wages.  Third, the NDP plans to introduce a national childcare program at a maximum of $15 per day.  This would alleviate poverty in allowing women to work and earn an income as opposed to staying home due to not being able to afford childcare.  The NDP would also create a universal drug program, invest in affordable housing and restore the 36 billion dollars that has been cut from public health care.  The NDP plan to pay for these programs by raising corporate taxes which would result in an extra 7 billion dollars per year.

McQuaig went on to discuss her concerns about the environment.  She believes Canada has been an obstructionist in world talks on climate change and thinks we should be a key player in these talks.  She has concerns about preserving water ways, farmer’s land, fisheries, and feels we need to address the issue of climate change for any type of a sustainable future.

A question from the audience raised the concern of post-secondary students and growing food insecurity in the face of rising tuition fees.  McQuaig and the NDP recognize the problem and would consider earmark funding to provinces specifically for reducing tuition and reducing the student debt burden.  In this discussion, she raised the point of post secondary institutions resorting to private philanthropy in the face of reduced funds resulting in the rich having influence in shaping post-secondary education.

To my fellow post-secondary students, we have a voice and a vote.  Two out of four parties in Toronto came out to a student-led and mostly student-attended event to say that food security should be an election issue and provided policy ideas to decrease food insecurity.  On October 19th, go out and vote!

A Letter to My First-Year Self

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I’ve always enjoyed this kind of writing style; the kind where an older and wiser person tells the younger and dumber version of themselves what they wish they knew in hopes that other younger and dumber folks will use their advice to become older and wiser faster.  They also serve as a good laugh for the current older and wiser.  They are all similar in some ways but I still enjoy them and see their merit.  I’ve never been in a position to write one of these writing pieces until now.  As I begin my fourth year of university, I can write a letter to my first-year self.  There’s tons of “do and don’t” articles for university, first year, residence, etc. out there and I don’t want this to be one of those pieces.  I won’t be standing up on a soapbox telling you what to do if you’re in first year.  I’m not an expert on the university experience; I didn’t live in residence, I’ve never been to Brunswick House and I’ve never pulled an all-nighter, but I  think I’ve grown during my time at Ryerson.

I just started my fourth year of the Bachelor of Social Work program; it’s going to take some time to get used to hearing that I’m a fourth year.  Beyond course work, I think I’ve learned some valuable lessons about life, people, surviving university etc. during my  experience thus far.  I like to think I’ve come a long way from the hot mess first year walking around downtown Toronto in a blazer with spikes on the shoulders, red lipstick, heeled boots and earrings that should strictly be reserved for the nightclubs.  While that girl makes appearances at times, I think I’ve learned some things since that awkward and fashionably questionable time in my life.  So here is a letter to my first year self:

It’s first semester and you have found your people; your friends, your soul mates, your rocks, your supports, whatever you want to call them.  That’s all going to come crashing down when you don’t have classes together next semester.  Your close friends will greatly depend on who you have classes with each semester.  Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to have close friends you see regularly, even when you don’t have classes together, but you’ll see the people you have classes with much more often.  These will be the people you sit with, go for coffee breaks with, grab lunch after class with, complain with and who will know how you are on a day-to-day basis.  These people may change every semester and that’s okay.

So, how do you deal?  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  You don’t need a clique, this is not high school.  There seems to be a pattern amongst the cliques in university.  First, no one will know your name.  The people in your program who are not in cliques will simply refer to your group with an identifying phrase.  For example, the short girls that sit together.  Second, you will not make any friends outside of your group because that’s how cliques work which will ultimately lead to my third noticed pattern, when you have a class without your clique, you will likely be sitting alone.  Don’t be too concerned about finding “your group”; you’re much better off meeting plenty of people.

I had an idealized version of what my new life would be like when I moved to Toronto and that included a boyfriend.  I knew most of the guys in my hometown and they were not for me (no offence Niagara boys but we have met and we are not each other’s types).  That fantasy never panned out and I will admit, first year me was quite disappointed.  Listen up first-year me, it doesn’t matter.  There are so many cooler things you can do in university than having a boyfriend.  You also may not have time to have a significant other.  Think of how busy your life is going to be with classes, placement, new friends, volunteering, part time jobs, and all the things you can do in Toronto.  Where would you fit him in?  Save the boyfriend for a better time.

Your apartment, your room in your parents’ house, your residence room, or wherever you reside, is going to be messy.  Even the tidiest of people will succumb to the big choices in university; doing readings or cleaning, writing a paper or cleaning, going out with your friends or cleaning.  Cleaning never wins.  Keep in mind that we are at the epicentre of cockroaches and bed bugs so a certain amount of cleanliness is still a good idea.

A class may not be your cup of tea; don’t be afraid to drop those classes.  There have been several classes where during the second week I’ve had a gut feeling that I would not enjoy this class.  I stayed in those courses because I was worried about having to catch up in a new course.  I wish I had dropped all of those courses because catching up in a new course would have been better than staying in a course I did not like.  The bottom line is you’re paying for this and should enjoy it.

It’s okay to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night.  University is tiring to the point where most of my classmates reserved Friday nights to stay home and rest, especially when placement started in third year.  There is nothing nerdy about doing readings or an assignment on a Friday or Saturday night.  On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with dropping all of your responsibilities for a night and going out or having a Netflix night.

Work hard; go to class, get good grades, get involved, volunteer.
Play hard; explore Toronto, meet new people, make new friends, try new things.

The jacket with spikes on the shoulders from first year.

The jacket with spikes on the shoulders from first year.

Top image from: dating.lovetoknow.com

Welcome Back!

 

Welcome_Back_021It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Well, maybe not.  Whether you gleefully ran through Staples buying your school supplies or hit the snooze button several times last week, we would like to welcome you back for the 2015/2016 school year!  We would also like to extend a warm welcome to all of the first year students joining us!  We are thrilled you chose to join the Faculty of Community Services here at Ryerson, and wish you the best of luck over the next four years.  We would also like to welcome back staff, faculty and administration in the Faculty of Community Services, as well as across Ryerson.

After a long summer, the Faculty of Community Services Blog team is happy to be back!  With new and returning bloggers, we know this is going to be an exciting year of writing, creativity and keeping you up to date with what’s happening at Ryerson and outside of Ryerson.  All of our writers are students in one of the nine Faculty of Community Services programs: Child and Youth Care, Disability Studies, Early Childhood Studies, Midwifery, Nursing, Nutrition, Occupational and Public Health, Social Work and, Urban and Regional Planning.  We write about a wide range of topics including activities, events, and issues at Ryerson and in the community.  We post multiple times a week about topics that are current and useful for all Ryerson community members.

We are looking forward to getting started and invite you to join us for another year of student blogging.  Stay tuned!  For Faculty of Community Services updates, follow the Ryerson Faculty Community Services on Twitter: @RyersonFCS.

-The Faculty of Community Services Blog Team