Issue 23, March 25, 2024

Page 1


Blues win silver at nationals

A week after their overtime loss to the Waterloo Warriors in the McCaw Cup Final, the women’s ice hockey team were outmatched 3–1 in the U SPORTS Championship Final against the Concordia Stingers on March 17. Held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the Blues endured a gruelling tournament in which they played three straight back-toback games, beating the University of New Brunswick Reds 2–1 in the quarterfinals, and the Université de Montréal Carabins 2–1 in a shootout in the semis. The Blues, who were looking for their first national title since 2001, could not in the end overcome the Stingers, who won their second gold medal in the past three years.

In NEWS: U of T's deferred maintenance deficit (pg 3)

What happened?

The number-one-seeded Stingers showed their dominance early as forward Émilie Lussier buried her own rebound just a minute into the game. Momentum stayed with the Stingers throughout the period as the Blues fell back on their reliable team defence to stave off waves of shots. Despite tenacious Blues forechecking, the team struggled to establish offensive zone time, finding the puck bobbling out of the stick on multiple occasions.

Midway through the period, the Stingers added a second goal courtesy of tournament MVP Jessymaude Drapeau, who squeezed the puck past Blues goaltender Erica Fryer.

Entering the second period with a 2–0 deficit, the Blues looked for an advantage early in the period and did so by drawing a penalty just 18 seconds into the period. However,

the power play unit wasn’t finding success, and the Blues struggled on zone entries and gave away short-handed chances. The Blues and Stingers each drew a penalty soon after, subsequently earning the Blues another unsuccessful power-play opportunity midway through the period. Toronto’s stellar penalty defense — which had been perfect to this point in the tournament — was juxtaposed with lacklustre offence with the advantage. Fryer capped a perfect period with a stellar pad save as she heroically slid across the crease on a dangerous look by Concordia.

The final period saw the Blues leave everything they had on the ice. Concordia scored their third goal on the powerplay five minutes into the period, but the Blues refused to give up, peppering the Stingers’ net with shots and looking to spark a comeback. With

Fryer pulled from the game, defence Emma Potter finished a solid game by forcing a point shot through on the Stingers’ net. Yet, with only a minute left in the period, it was too late as the game finished 3–1 for Concordia.

What’s next?

The Varsity Blues end their 2023–2024 season with silver medals in both their provincial and national championships. Despite frustrating results in both finals, the Blues ended a brilliant season with their best result at the U SPORTS championship since 2003.

With a large number of Blues playing the final games of their collegiate careers, Head Coach Vicky Sunohara and the rest of the women’s hockey program have their work cut out for them in the off-season to rebuild the team.

University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880 Vol. CXLIV, No. 23 March 25, 2024
Jake Takeuchi Associate Sports Editor
removes president (pg 4) and presents election candidates (pg 5)
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The Varsity would like to acknowledge that our office is built on the traditional territory of several First Nations, including the Huron-Wendat, the Petun First Nations, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit. Journalists have historically harmed Indigenous communities by overlooking their stories, contributing to stereotypes, and telling their stories without their input. Therefore, we make this acknowledgement as a starting point for our responsibility to tell those stories more accurately, critically, and in accordance with the wishes of Indigenous Peoples.


January 11: The UTM Academic Affairs Committee approves a new co-op internship program, in which students from six departments can participate starting in fall 2024. The program will include asynchronous work preparedness modules and a 12- or 16-month paid internship for students that they take part in after having completed their third year.

January 11: The UTSC Academic Affairs Committee votes to create an expedited schedule for deferred exams, in line with what UTM offers. Instead of writing their deferred exam at the end of the following semester, students can now write it within a month of its original date. The committee package notes that the UTSG Faculty of Arts and Science is “also exploring this process.”

January 16: The federal government announces that it will stop providing funding to any research projects in key areas — such as artificial technology and quantum science — undertaken in partnership with entities from a list of dozens of Russian, Chinese, and Iranian institutions.

Denise Nmashie having vacated her role in December, the union’s Board of Directors (BOD) elects Vyshnavi Kanagarajamuthaly to the role for the remainder of the academic year.

January 22: Ottawa announced a two-year cap on the number of international undergraduate study permits the federal government will issue, halving the number of permits it allots to Ontario postsecondary institutions. The Ontario government is expected to release a plan by the end of March for how it will distribute the remaining permits to colleges and universities. U of T administrators claim this legislation is targeting “abuses in the system,” and that they’re not worried about it affecting the number of international students U of T will accept this coming year.

January 24: The UTM Campus Council votes to increase the price of residence for UTM students by 6.5 per cent and meal plan rates by three per cent for the 2024–2025 school year.

February 11: The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) approves a policy manual for the union’s senate — a step toward the senate’s long-

awaited implementation. UTSU members first approved the senate at the 2022 Annual General Meeting (AGM) to account for the BOD’s concurrent downsizing. At the 2023 AGM, members rejected the executives’ plan to replace the senate

The policy manual lays out concrete procedures for the senate, which will consist of up to 75 members from various colleges, faculties, and constituencies such as first-generation students and mature students. Those present at the group’s inaugural mass meeting, which the union plans to hold in September, will elect the inaugural senate’s members. The group will then establish procedures for future elections. The senate will advise the BOD when making decisions and conducting advocacy.

February & March student union elections: Three of the campus’ five representative student bodies — the UTSU, the SCSU, and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) — have held elections determining who will hold executive positions in the 2024–2025 school year.

For the UTSU, voters elect Shehab Mansour as president, with a 13.2 per cent voter turnout. With an election turnout of approximately 12 per cent, UTSC undergraduates elect members of the IMPACT UTSC slate to all executive positions. The EmpowerUTM slate sweeps the executive position elections, with 16.3 per cent of

Voting for the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s spring elections are scheduled to occur from March 26–29. Members of the Association of Part-time University Students can vote for BOD members — whom the BOD appoints to executive positions at its first meeting of each year — during the union’s winter general meeting, which it has not yet announced the date for. 2 THE VARSITY NEWS
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CORRECTIONS: A Comment article published in issue 22 entitled “Opinion: We must consider the RCMP’s sinister origins” originally stated that strands of rope thought to have been part of the rope used to hang Louis Riel are on display at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Heritage Centre museum. In fact, these strands have never been on display at the RCMP Heritage Centre Museum; the museum’s predecessor, however, the RCMP Centennial Museum, which closed in 2006, used to display the aforementioned rope fragment.. University updates: Winter semester governance and government decisions you should know about Expedited deferred exam schedule at UTSC, student union elections, residence and food costs Jessie Schwalb News Editor

University of Toronto’s deferred building maintenance crisis: $1.2 billion behind

The Varsity breaks down potential impacts of deferred maintenance on current, future students’ learning environments

U of T has a $1.2 billion backlog of maintenance that it has put off, according to its 2023 Facilities & Services report on the issue.

Deferred maintenance refers to building infrastructure updates that an institution has postponed because it lacks funds. This backlog can mean more deterioration for equipment that students regularly use, resulting in some areas closing down due to risk factors.

The Varsity broke down U of T’s 2023 deferred maintenance report, what it means for current students, and how deferred maintenance could affect future U of T students.

Is the university lacking funds for maintenance?

From 2022 to 2023, U of T’s deferred maintenance increased by 23 per cent, from $961 million to $1.2 billion. The report attributed this increase to high inflation rates for materials needed in non-residential construction and the many aging buildings on the St. George campus.

U of T has undertaken two massive stages of

construction in recent history: one from 1958 to 1970 — when the university built such icons as Robarts Library, the Medical Sciences Building, and New College — and one from 2000 to 2005, when the university created the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building, and Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cel lular & Biomolecular Research. The report reads that many of these structures “are approaching the end of their remaining useful life,” and that this is a trend the report “[expects] to continue.”

How does this impact students?

Engineering or medical students may encounter issues with deferred maintenance. Since March 14 this year, Facilities and Services has released six service alerts related to asbestos work and ventilation shutdown in buildings such as Ramsay Wright Laboratories, the Dentistry Building, and the Medical Sciences Building.

In 2017, environmental experts found that construction dust in two research labs contained asbestos fibres — a hazardous material commonly used in construction during the 1960s — after the university initiated a major renovation project as part of its Lab Innovation for Toronto project.

ers from doing their work. Ultimately, the university had to fire its long-time contractors hired for the project and took additional measures to prevent this from happening again.

The 2023 report states that three buildings are planned for development as part of Project Leap — a St. George campus initiative that aims to cut the campus’ emissions in half by 2027 and potentially address $30 million in deferred maintenance. This includes the redevelopments of 215 Huron Street, Site 1: The Gateway, and parts of the Medical Sciences Building, addressing $81 million worth of deferred maintenance, including demolition of parts of the buildings.

current replacement value in renewing infrastructure. The university currently only invests 0.7 per cent of the total replacement value toward deferred maintenance — below the 1.5 per cent average for Ontario universities.

The Facility Condition Index — a cross-industry benchmark created by the province’s Facility Condition Assessment program that compares the cost of fixing a building’s deficiencies with the cost of completely replacing the building — for buildings on all three campuses increased from 1.8 per cent in 2022 to 18.2 per cent in 2023. If this trend continues, it may be more cost-effective to build new buildings than replace some of the old ones.

U of T Sunlight Project: The most comprehensive Canadian database of Freedom of Information requests

U of T libraries, journalism bureau create database of more than 75,000 public information requests

The Investigative Journalism Bureau at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and U of T libraries recently released a collaborative project to make government information more accessible, particularly to Ontario students.

The Sunlight Project is a free-to-the-public database that consolidates the details of over 75,000 freedom of information (FOI) requests individuals have made to the offices of the Ontario government’s 28 legislative assembly ministers since 2014. The database provides researchers with basic summaries of whether these requests could uncover useful information and helps users figure out how to access previously uncovered data via a simple keyword search.

The site debuted in January 2024.

What exactly is freedom of information law?

FOI laws ensure that individuals can access information held by the government. In a 1946 resolution, the United Nations recognized freedom of access to information as a fundamental human right and noted its importance in protecting other fundamental freedoms. Researchers in Canada have used FOI requests to uncover patterns of systemic racism, incidents of government corruption, and human rights abuses.

However, how readily people can access this information depends on the quality of a government’s FOI system.

As part of its Secret Canada project, The Globe and Mail has documented issues with Canada’s FOI system — from exorbitant fees to inadequate resources for FOI units to delays in addressing requests. The Centre for Law and Democracy — a Canadian-based non-profit that educates the public on and researches the human rights that underpin democracy — ranks Canada 52nd globally of the 140

countries it has examined in ensuring the right to information.

To access Ontario government records, a requester must submit any requests for information from provincial ministries, agencies, or post-secondary institutions based on a process laid out in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). The organization from which they request documents must respond within 30 days.

Nicholas Worby — a U of T government information and statistics librarian — explained that he’s worked with students who need government information for their PhD dissertations or masters theses and struggled with the system. “I’ve had a few PhD students who have tried to make use of FOI data in their research and have failed, mostly because of timelines and the cost,” he said in an interview with The Varsity

Public institutions’ FIPPA units can exclude information based on “advice or recommendations” made by government officials. These units often withhold government contacts. In contrast, the United States government often proactively publishes these contracts with companies online.

According to FIPPA coordinators interviewed by The Globe and Mail, many coordinators receive little training in understanding the nuances of the Act. Although these requests always cost five dollars to file initially, because of the costs of coordinators’ labour, receiving the information can cost requesters thousands of dollars.

Shedding light on Ontario information

Enter the Sunlight Project. The database consolidates requests to help people navigate Canada and Ontario’s FOI systems, reminiscent of the “open by default” system found in the US where the government is obligated to proactively release any information that its freedom of information laws would allow.

According to Worby, the site is organized so that “people could save money and time,” which is crucial for students burdened by timelines and budgets. To find relevant information uncovered by previous FOI requests, users enter keywords related to their subject of inquiry

into the search bar. Rather than going through the 30-day plus process of making an original FOI request that might not even return helpful results, the database automatically directs users to existing inquiries and a summary of what people who made these earlier inquiries received.

The database compares a multitude of uncovered data, and by comparing summaries from different requests, users can narrow down the scope of their inquiry.

If the researcher finds an uncovered source containing the data they hope to find, they can click the “copy information” button to copy all request details to the clipboard. The “request records” button redirects them to the online FIPPA request platform, where they can resubmit the request to hopefully receive the same files as the original requester received.

These options aim to simplify the requesting process and prevent mistakes first-time users often make when filing FIPPA requests. According to Worby, a standard error first-time FIPPA requesters make is setting up requests that are too broad for their time limit and budget.

But what if the information the researcher is searching for has yet to be uncovered? Worby hopes that the Sunlight Project will educate users about the requesting process and inspire first-time users to file more requests. “From my perspective, you can get a little more insight into what it takes to make a well-crafted request, to see how to get the records that you want,” he explained.

Worby advised students not to be intimidated by the FOI system. “If you’re looking for government information or data from the government, just because it’s not on the website or you can't find it in the library catalogue doesn’t mean you should stop looking,” he said. He also encouraged students to contact a librarian if they need further research help and assured them that the library staff is more than willing to help.
new project makes government

UTGSU executives vote to proceed with removal process for suspended president

Board yet to vote on date for union members to vote to impeach Alexandrova

At a March 18 meeting, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union’s (UTGSU) Board of Directors (BOD) voted to begin the removal process for UTGSU President Lynne Alexandrova, whom the board suspended from her role in September. The union will also vote at a special April 8 meeting on further sanctions against Alexandrova, including prohibiting her from attending BOD meetings and contacting UTGSU executives, BOD members, and staff.

After the meeting, the BOD resolved to contact Alexandrova and offer her a 24-hour window after the meeting to resign before it would start the removal process; however, the UTGSU did not receive a letter of resignation from her as of March 22.

If removed, this will be Alexandrova’s third removal from office from the UTGSU: she was previously removed as the internal commissioner in 2018 and 2020.

What does removal mean?

According to the UTGSU Constitution, the BOD doesn’t have the legal ability to remove a president by itself, without the input of the union’s general membership — only the ability to suspend them. The removal process is the only mechanism for impeaching an elected representative of the UTGSU.

In February, the BOD amended the constitution to include a clause that prevents removed executive members from seeking any appointed or elected seat on the Board.

If the BOD votes in favour of the removal process, the union will call a special meeting where all U of T graduate students can vote on Alexandrova’s removal. A vote for removal would disqualify her from seeking any executive office for the union in the future.

The board also resolved to vote on additional sanctions against Alexandrova at a special meeting to be held on April 8.

February amendments to article 10.5.3 of the UTGSU’s bylaws allow the BOD to discipline a member by issuing a written reprimand, requiring them to attend further trainings, prohibiting them from “UTGSU spaces, services and programs,” or disallowing them to run for the union’s offices.

Based on these bylaws, the board proposed sanctions against Alexandrova that include prohibiting her from contacting any UTGSU staff apart

from a special designate, accessing the UTGSU building, or attending UTGSU BOD or assembly meetings. The proposal states that any attempts to contact staff could be denied under UTGSU employees’ rights to “refuse service to individuals which behave belligerently or abusively.”

Why did this happen?

The decision to remove Alexandrova stems from an internal union investigation of her that executive director Corey Scott, Interim Vice-President (VP) Internal Freidemann Krannich, and Interim VP External Jady Liang conducted after her suspension. The union has not publicized investigation findings, and The Varsity has not obtained a copy of them. Krannich told The Varsity that the union conducted an investigation based on various allegations against the suspended president. He

noted that the main allegation against Alexandrova concerned her failure to follow the union’s procedures and protocol.

Krannich said that she had demonstrated a pattern of “unilateral action,” which made up “a big part of the investigation.” He said that on a number of occasions, Alexandrova operated outside of UTGSU procedures or did not consult with the necessary personnel when making decisions for the union. He added that the investigation’s findings included broader concerns on internal human resources matters confidential to the report.

In an email to The Varsity, Alexandrova declined to comment on the board’s decision to remove her until after the union’s spring 2024 election because, she claimed, the UTGSU’s governance model has been and still is “quite precarious.” Alexandrova added that she has submitted multiple invitations to the BOD to review and reinstate previous governance structures from before 2021.

What does this mean for the union?

The UTGSU has had a tumultuous year of resignations and controversy. Since September, the UTGSU saw the resignation of two different executives, VP External Neelofar Ahmed and VP Internal Aanshi Gandhi, along with Alexandrova’s suspension.

The decision to remove Alexandrova will have little to no effect on the activities of the BOD as it stands since Alexandrova has already been suspended.

The current board term is expiring on April 30, and the election for the 2024 BOD will take place from March 26–29.

PEARS Project report estimates estimates 2.3 per cent of U of T

student respondents have experienced homelessness Report discusses need for additional housing, risk factors for gender-based violence

More than 50 per cent of U of T students face housing affordability issues, while approximately 2.3 per cent have experienced homelessness — that’s according to a survey conducted by the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) Project.

PEARS — a grassroots initiative that aims to provide support and resources for survivors of sexual violence at U of T — released the report, entitled The Need for a Housing and Homelessness Strategy in Toronto, on Instagram on February 22. The report underscores homelessness rates and trends at U of T, focusing on its impact on survivors of gender-based violence.

According to Faiz Jan — a third-year student studying commerce and one of the authors of the report — PEARS wrote the report to “help make it so that there’s more space for survivors who recently experienced gender-based violence and then might not have a place to stay for the night.” The group aims to prompt the university to build transitional housing — supportive yet temporary housing that bridges the gap from homelessness to permanent housing

— and implement other policies to address the housing crisis.

The report

PEARS wrote the report in part based on a research survey it conducted of 659 U of T student participants, who answered questions related to their experiences with homelessness, genderbased violence, and their identities. The report also used government financial reports from the past few decades and quantitative reports to assess the market forces impacting the Toronto affordability crisis.

Approximately 2.3 per cent of respondents had experienced homelessness — almost the same proportion as the rates of homelessness among Toronto as a whole reported in the 2021 Toronto Street Needs Assessment. Around 51.2 per cent of respondents to the PEARS survey described their housing as unaffordable, and 12.8 per cent reported being uncertain that they would not be kicked out of their rental units.

Controlling for self-reported demographic factors — such as whether or not students commuted to campus, their domestic or international status, and details about their gender, sexuality, and mental health experiences — the authors

found a statistically significant relationship between individuals experiencing housing precarity and experiencing gender-based violence. They also found that students who reported having experienced homelessness were 22.7 per cent more likely to have experienced gender-based violence.

A 2021 paper co-written by Alexa Yakubovich — a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health — notes that the pandemic corresponded to increased intimate partner violence against women. Intimate partner violence often leads to homelessness, with many women’s shelters underfunded, while homelessness can increase the risk of experiencing further violence.

A 2023 California State University study showed that students who experience homelessness are more likely to have lower grades and struggle academically.

U of T’s role

As part of U of T’s Student Housing policy, the university states on its website that it aims to “encourage the development of high-quality communities on and off-campus that support the academic and educational aims of the university community.”

Jan argued that, with the aforementioned policy

UTSU brews plans for student commons café

UTSU board approves banking with BMO, preliminary 2024–2025 budget

How much would you pay for a UTSU cup of coffee?

At its latest meeting on March 17, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors (BOD) allocated $600,000 to constructing a café at the Student Commons. The BOD also adopted motions to approve the UTSU’s 2024–2025 preliminary budget and select the Bank of Montreal (BMO) as the union’s new bank.

A new café

Samir Mechel — the UTSU’s Vice-President Finance and Operations — moved a motion to allocate $600,000 to the construction of a café in the Student Commons. He noted that the union expects the construction to cost approximately $400,000, but they’ve allocated extra funding in case the project becomes more expensive.

The UTSU is looking to start construction soon after the approval of two planning permits. Its earliest estimate for the completion of the project is by September.

The BOD voted to adopt the motion.

The 2024–2025 preliminary budget

The union also approved its 2024–2025 preliminary budget, which is similar to this past year’s budget.

Mechel noted that all incomes and expenses in the preliminary budget were the same as last year’s but had increased by 3.4 per cent in accordance with the Consumer Price Index — a measure of how much a standard collection of common goods’ price has increased.

Mechel wrote in an email to The Varsity that the

in mind, U of T should aim to fund more residences and ensure that students have safe and reliable offcampus housing, given the sheer number of students who face housing insecurity. He said that U of T has a role in addressing housing insecurity by supplying housing: “So, building more residences — which they’re doing, but not sufficiently at the scale that it needs to be done.”

According to a U of T press release, surveys suggest that more than 55 per cent of U of T students commute to one of the three campuses. With most of its students living off campus, Jan argued that the university should also educate students about the Residential Tenants Act to help them avoid landlords taking advantage of them. He suggests that the university could even take small steps toward this by putting up informative posters on its campuses.

The PEARS project aims to release a follow-up report focusing on specific policies that the university, the province, and the federal government can implement. Jan said readers can expect this followup report to discuss policies like social housing, creating an online platform for students to rate their landlords, and changing zoning policies.

U of T did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment in time for publication.

preliminary budget “something for the incoming board and directors to work with, but it isn’t binding.” The new board will decide the specifics of the union’s 2024–2025 budget.

BMO on campus

The BOD also passed Mechel’s motion to select BMO as the UTSU’s new private bank. He explained that BMO offered the highest interest rate at 5.6 per cent, allowing the UTSU to earn more money from its savings.

The union cut ties with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) — its old bank — last year in the wake of student protests. Activist group Climate Justice UofT has been especially involved in protests against RBC, and one member of their “Banks off Campus” campaign attended this BOD meeting. 4 THE VARSITY NEWS



Paul Douglas II — a first-year masters student studying developmental psychology and education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education — is running for UTGSU president “to make a significant difference for the graduate student experience.”

Douglas II hopes to implement anti-racism training and education programs and create designated safe spaces and support systems for different groups on campus.

To promote equity, Douglas II wants to collect data on anti-Black racism and other equity issues within the graduate student population to properly inform advocacy efforts and policy recommendations.

Douglas II also wants to improve the UTGSU’s outreach. The candidate said that many graduate students don’t know the union exists or how to get involved. To represent the graduate student community, Douglas II hopes to set up campaigns in different faculties to encourage students to voice their ideas in town hall meetings.

To tackle a lack of funding opportunities, Douglas II pledged to advocate for additional bursaries and lower tuition fees.

Mohammadamir G. Moghadam has been a part of UTGSU since his first year as a PhD candidate at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. Now in his third year, he currently serves as the UTGSU’s VP academics and funding, divisions three and four for the 2023–2024 academic year.

In an interview with The Varsity, Moghadam said that in his current role, he’s talked to PhD students from different departments to learn about their needs, which helped him inform his current campaign.

If elected, Moghadam plans to advocate for better funding for PhD students. “Graduate students in Ontario and U of T are getting paid around 11 dollars per hour. And that’s well below the poverty line,” said Moghadam.

As UTGSU’s new president, he also wants to open a food bank specifically for graduate students to tackle the issue of food security.

Lastly, Moghadam has identified some buildings in Toronto that the union could use as co-op residences to offer more affordable housing to U of T’s graduate students.

Moghadam believes his connections with students from different disciplines and departments set him apart from past UTGSU presidents. “I try to be as inclusive as possible, and answer to the needs of all students,” he said.

Jady Liang — a fourth-year PhD student in the Department of Physiology — has served as the union’s interim VP external this year and is running for the same position to finish the work she’s started.

The Board of Directors appointed Liang to the role last November after the previous VP external left the role. “We have worked very hard to get to where we are right now; we feel like we need another year to completely revamp programming,” she told The Varsity

Liang has already implemented therapy dog programs inspired by her own therapy-dog pooch, pub nights for socialization, and a campaign to highlight graduate student accomplishments on social media.

In the long term, she hopes to continue advocating to address the affordability issues graduate students face. She mentioned having lobbied MPP Jessica Bell to increase graduate student funding as part of a lobby week run by the Canadian Federation of Students — a national organization representing students from more than 60 student unions.

Her experience outside of the UTGSU includes serving as chair of St. Michael’s Hospital Research Student Association and the Toronto Chapter president of the non-profit organization Science to Business Network.



Kathy Haddadkar — a student in the second year of a doctorate of musical arts degree at the Faculty of Music — told The Varsity that as UTGSU President, she hopes to expand the UTGSU’s outreach to the UTM and UTSC campuses.

Her experience includes serving as VP academics for the University of Alberta’s Graduate Student Association in the 2021–2022 school year.

Haddadkar pledges to create a “strategic plan” to guide the union’s actions. “If we don’t have that living structure from the beginning… how can we ensure that those from the board of directors and all the way up and down the food chain [are] also well equipped to do what they need to?” she questioned.

To expand outreach to UTM and UTSC, she aims to create a task force responsible for researching the union’s past outreach actions and contacting student groups. She also wants to appoint teams at each campus to run in-person events.

Finally, Haddadkar would like to revamp the union’s website to include personal statements from the executives so that graduate students know who they’re reaching out to. She pledged to review all meeting minutes written during her term to ensure their accuracy.

Friedemann Krannich is a second-year PhD student studying mathematics and, as the current interim vice-president (VP) internal, he is running to continue the work he’s already started.

Krannich previously served on the UTGSU’s Board of Directors from September to November 2023. In November, he took on the role of interim VP internal and began reviewing the UTGSU’s bylaws and policies — a task he plans to continue.

Krannich explained that a lot of the articles were written years ago and no longer pertain to students’ current needs. He hopes to prioritize organization within the union, so the UTGSU can “actually deliver something for the students.”

Krannich said that all of the UTGSU’s current policies and bylaws require amendments. One issue he’d like to address is the power of the VP internal. According to him, the VP internal can reject any motion from being placed on a meeting agenda. He said that in the past, those in the VP internal role have misused this ability and he’d like to change this.

To ensure that the union’s internal procedures run smoothly, Krannich hopes to present a revised version of UTGSU bylaws at its annual general meeting in the fall.

Ameer Ali — a third-year masters student in human resources at the Centre for Industrial Relations and a director on the UTGSU board — is one of two candidates running for VP academics divisions 1 & 2. He wants to continue getting more people actively engaged in and informed about the union’s work.

“We do now have a functional board, a functional executive, as of January, and we’d like to continue that momentum and leave the university in a better place,” he told The Varsity

He also wants to implement programs for subsidized transportation for academic workers, housing affordability, and food availability by researching options like community fridges and working with groups like the U of T Food Coalition. Ali also wants to combat hate, work to create an inclusive environment, and review UTGSU bylaws to ensure they are equitably worded.

Ali said being a mature part-time masters’ student gives him a perspective he believes isn’t often represented in the union’s executive team.

On the academic side, he says his experience in the recruitment industry and working as a Teaching Assistant (TA) has taught him to work with students on employment and teaching opportunities. He wants to offer emergency relief funding and advocate for the university to create more summer TA opportunities. MARCH 25, 2024 5
Schwalb News Editor
Selia Sanchez Deputy News Editor Jady JADY LIANG AMEER ALI
Kronenfeld Editor-in-Chief
Maeve Ellis Assistant News Editor Artie
2024/25 Henry Ssali is also running for this position, but could not be reached for an interview with The Varsity

Julian Nickel — a current UTGSU director in the second year of his physics PhD — primarily wants to address inadequate graduate funding.

Nickel has served as a steward, member of the Bargaining Support Committee, and member mobilizer in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3902 Unit 1 — which represents U of T student educators. He told The Varsity that he became involved in the UTGSU so he could advocate for increased base funding for graduate students.

The UTGSU’s 2023 annual general meeting passed a motion that Nickel had submitted to form a committee to advocate for increasing graduate student funding. He would like to create a petition across the three campuses calling for increased dialogue between department heads, deans, administrators, and government officials.

Nickel attributed much of the union’s dysfunction to a lack of engagement, which he hopes to help address with collective organizing. He explains that “the best way to fix that problem is for people to think that the union can do something for them.”

Additionally, Nickel would like to set up a peer support system that students can turn to for help and advice if they experience issues with their supervisor, from disputes over the direction of their research to sexual harassment. “We protect each other,” he said.

is so microscopic, so being able to zoom out and have more people interaction and at least make an impact in the graduate community — I think [running for VP is] the best way I can do it,” he said in an interview with The Varsity.

He’s been interested in student government since high school. Previously, he worked in economics policy and funding advocacy with the Ontario Medical Association. In this role, he broke down budgets and pay structures, and he points to this as an experience that prepared him for the VP role.

Murtada’s campaign focuses on two pillars: financial transparency and effective spending. To increase transparency, he wants to provide more spaces for UTGSU members to learn about the budget, keep the union’s website updated, create student forums to discuss the budget, and potentially send out financial updates in the union’s newsletter.

VP finance. “I think what I do in my day-to-day

He hopes to put more of the union’s funds that aren’t funding vital programs like health insurance toward student issues like food, housing, and transportation subsidies, and wants to ensure that the events the UTGSU funds are useful to students. He wants to measure this by implementing student feedback systems, similar to the ones he used in undergrad as the VP outreach at the Western University Biology Undergraduate Society.

The UTGSU President oversees the union’s operations and campaigns, develops communication policies, liaises with university administrators, leads the executive team, and represents the union publicly.

The VP Internal’s main duties include scheduling meetings and keeping members updated on external issues that affect members.

The VP External liaises with university administrators, levy groups, and national student organizations; chairs the union’s Equity and Advocacy Committee; and represents the union on various university committees.

The VP Academic and Funding for Divisions 1 & 2 — the humanities and social sciences divisions — is in charge of working with the faculty in the associated programs and the related funding and course concerns.

The VP Academics and Funding, Divisions 3 and 4 — the physical and life sciences divisions — is in charge of liaising with departments in the third and fourth categories. They are responsible for advocating for more funding and improving working conditions for students in those programs.

The VP Finance crafts the union’s proposed budget, presents recommendations for updates to finance-related bylaws, oversees the UTGSU Conference Bursary, and oversees the union’s audits.

Farshad Murtada, a second-year PhD student in biomedical engineering, is running to be the UTGSU’s
students across
the three
campuses can vote for their preferred president, vice president, and board of director candidates between March 26 at 9:00 am and March 29 at 11:59 pm, online at

Op-Ed: The University Pension Plan still refuses to commit to fossil fuel divestment

Two members of U of T’s staff and faculty call on the UPP to divest

On February 14, Climate Justice UofT (CJ UofT) launched a campaign to push the University Pension Plan (UPP) to stop investing staff and faculty retirement savings in fossil fuels. Concerned faculty and staff have been advocating for divestment since the inception of the UPP, and we, the writers, stand in solidarity with this student UPP divestment campaign. Students should care about this issue because it’s their tuition fees that partially fund the UPP. Students should not be bankrolling the destruction of their own futures, and it is abhorrent to us that our compensation packages are complicit in the continued financing of oil and gas.

When many U of T faculty and staff voted in 2019 to transition from the old U of T pension plan into the new one, jointly sponsored UPP with Queen’s University and the University of Guelph, many of us did so with the understanding that the UPP would allow us to have a say in how our money is invested. We hoped the UPP would be more sustainable — both in terms of financial security in retirement and how our money was being used to exacerbate the climate crisis.

The University of Guelph divested its endowment from fossil fuel companies in 2020, followed by U of T in 2021 and all of its federated colleges by 2023. Many large institutions across the world have done the same, not simply because there is a moral imperative to do so but because evidence shows that fossil-free portfolios outperform those that continue to hold positions in oil and gas. A University of Waterloo study found US pension plans would be $21 billion richer if they had divested a decade ago. So why is the UPP dragging its feet?

We see the UPP as relatively more progressive than other Canadian pension plans, having


released a Climate Stewardship Plan, a Climate Transition Investment Framework, and an updated Proxy Voting Policy clarifying their “expectations for company directors on climate action” and “support for Indigenous rights and reconciliation.” We applaud the plan’s managers for these efforts and for its decision to focus on counteracting the fossil fuel finance provided by banks as part of its broader engagement strategy, to motivate companies it remains invested in to become better climate actors. But we demand better, faster.

To begin with, we call on the UPP to provide full transparency and progress reports with respect to the 27 companies it identified to focus on in its engagement strategy — in recent meetings with plan members, UPP management has explicitly refused to name these companies.

The Climate Stewardship Plan lacks details on what the UPP will do when, as we predict, its so-called engagement efforts inevitably fail to

result in credible plans that align with the UPP’s net zero commitment. And we know they will fail because there is no pathway for oil and gas companies to reach net zero emissions without entirely phasing out production of fossil fuels. This is why major academic institutions like the University of California and giant public investors like PFZW — the Netherlands’ secondlargest pension fund, with 349.86 billion dollars under management — have decided to replace fossil industry engagement with divestment. One of the ways that fossil fuel advocates push back against divestment is by promoting distract and delay technologies like carbon capture. But these initiatives are incredibly expensive and do nothing to stop the industry’s scope three emissions — the carbon dioxide released when oil and gas are eventually burned in your car’s gas tank or your home’s furnace. These emissions make up about 85 per cent of lifecycle oil and gas emissions. Even

negotiators at COP28 — the United Nations Climate Change Conference — managed to agree in December 2023 that transitioning away from fossil fuels is essential if we are to have any hope of eventually achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In its Climate Transition Investment

Framework and updated Proxy Voting Policy, the UPP lumps oil and gas together with other “high emitting sectors” and fails to acknowledge the need to phase out fossil fuel investments entirely. In fact, the framework reads like a confusing and complicated justification to continue investing in fossil fuels.

Humanity and the stable climate we depend on don’t have time for this. While the UPP does at least have a coal exclusion policy, there is growing scientific evidence that gas is just as emissions-intensive as coal. Further, new research published in Science has found that harmful emissions from Canada’s oil sands are up to 64 times higher than what’s been previously reported by the industry.

We, as members of the Faculty Association and the United Steelworkers at U of T, are calling for the UPP to divest from oil and gas. Students, faculty, and staff at Queen’s, Guelph, and Trent are also reaching out to members of the Sponsor Board and the Board of Trustees at the UPP, demanding divestment now. There is scientific consensus that a safe climate future requires a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.

Now is the time for our pension fund to stop investing in the industry that threatens our collective future. There can be no more excuses.

If you agree, join us by signing CJ UofT’s

Open Letter: Divest the UPP.

Kristy Bard is a member of the United Steelworkers Local 1998 member and Project Manager of U of T’s Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability.

Paul Downes is a professor in the Department of English at UTSG. He is also a member of the Academic Board and of the University of Toronto Faculty Association Pension Committee.

should better accommodate changing student demographics

Last summer, The Varsity hired me as an associate comment editor for the upcoming academic year. It was a small dream that came true right when I needed it: an opportunity to write, tell stories, and be good at what I know I excel at. Some seven months later, I learned the ropes, peeked behind the curtain, and came face to face with the gaggle of wizards inside the emerald office building.

Managing and maintaining a student publication of such history, scope, and scale demands an incredible team of passionate, politically conscious, and precise thinkers. To nurture a truly ‘free’ press, we need a sharp ear for the discourses within and around the student body, and a creative vision that works at generating not only engagement with the newspaper’s coverage but also productive dialogue across the university.

While we have done well over the course of this academic year, there remains room at The Varsity for a certain ‘je ne sais quoi,’ vigour, and effectiveness in the representativeness of the paper’s coverage.

For one, this newspaper needs to begin translating its most important articles and stories into other languages. 144 years ago, when The Varsity’s first issue was published, English may have been the most common first language for the majority of the

students at U of T. Today, however, our student body reflects Canada’s enormous demographic change and the “hyper diverse” student body of Toronto, as Hang-Sun Kim, a professor in U of T’s Germanic languages and literatures department, described at the university’s culture day last year.

More people than ever before in Canada report speaking a first language other than English, and the university too boasts its international student enrolment — the majority of which comes from countries such as China, India, and South Korea, which have at least one non-English language as an official language.

In this regard, The Varsity should make room for translated journalism, and the opportunity to reflect our university’s student body as much as we represent them. It is not hard to allow people to tell their own stories, but this is an edict that needs to be enforced and then reinforced.

Once upon a time, there was The Varsity’s Chinese website: a project dedicated to student journalism written and translated in simplified Chinese. It lived and died quickly, but we could restore this publication and work toward a similar exercise for French and Korean speakers too, for example. It’s easy enough when we are allowing the students to tell their own stories.

In giving students the agency to tell their own stories, I am keen on generating dialogue that is nuanced and constructive. It’s important that for

issues such as the Black History Month Issue, the Indigenous Issue, and even articles published during Pride Month, even more of our contributors should come from the communities around which these conversations are centred. This challenge partially falls to you, the students, who ought to meet your newspaper in the middle as we endeavour to extend these opportunities to you.

I think The Varsity would also benefit from once in a while actively pursuing conversations from students who talk against the status quo — the kinds that might, in the worst-case scenario, leave essay-length comments under articles with names such as @PurgeTheLeft — not with the goal of platforming hate speech but with the ethos of engaging in dialogue by writing and writing back.

The newspaper’s Equity Guide states a commitment to free speech with ‘reasonable limits’ such as defamation. As long as speech does not cross into conduct that violates our behaviourbased policies against hatred and harassment, anyone is welcome to submit their stories and opinions to be fact-checked, edited, and published. In my opinion, the best solution to poor speech is good speech and then more speech — so let’s have a regular, congenial conversation, and expand it to an audience of nearly 100,000 students and see what happens.

Journalism like this makes us uncomfortable, but the duty of journalism and the free press is to mediate between the practical, observational experience of the world, and its narrative and visual representation, and this does not promise easy answers. With a team of intelligent and sensitive editors, I don’t think this reporting will cause harm, but perhaps it may soothe readers by granting a voice to that pain.

As a newspaper, it is our role to protect our readers from material that might harm them, but where we can, The Varsity ought to work to prevent the claustrophobia that might materialize out of too much sheltering, when in an intimate engagement with the politics or ideas of another, one finds themselves unarmed and reaching for flimsy, minor tools.

Working at The Varsity has been one of the highlights of my time at U of T, and I can only hope that with this time, myself and this great team can not only continue a great legacy but enhance it also.

Divine Angubua is a third-year student at UTM studying history, political science, and creative writing. He is the editor-in-chief of With Caffeine and Careful Thought and a staff writer at The Medium. He is an associate comment editor at The Varsity.

Comment March 25, 2024
The Varsity should work to prevent the claustrophobia that may materialize out of sheltering.
There’s room for more intentional and vigorous representative reporting in the paper’s coverage
Divine Angubua Associate Comment Editor U of T students participating in the winter 2023 climate strike. COURTESY OF MIKA LOGUE

U of T, honouring Indigenous treaties means more than reconciliation

Are U of T’s actions a path forward — or a show for politics?

While U of T has evolved into a top secular global university in research and education since it started from the colonial and religious legacies of the first charter issued by King George IV in 1827, its relationship with Indigenous Peoples has far to grow. The university’s motto, “velut arbor ævo” — Latin for “may it grow as a tree through the ages” — perfectly captures this moment in the school’s history.

A tree cannot grow unless it engages in positive relationships with all of its surroundings. It must recognize the area it shares with all beings in its vicinity. However, U of T has historically failed to recognize the original caretakers of the land on which it grows until recently.

U of T has recognized the Jay Treaty of 1794, which reaffirms Indigenous sovereignty — the inherent right to self-determination established by the treaty. The Canadian federal government does not recognize this treaty.

On the other hand, the federal government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which mandates human remains of Indigenous children who died in residential schools to be returned home.

Nevertheless, U of T and other higher educational institutions are not mandated to return hundreds of Indigenous human bodies for repatriation as they are still ‘educational’ objects for research — continuing settler colonial forms of genocide.

U of T can become a leader in re-establishing Indigenous sovereignty by implementing the TRC Calls to Action in addition to the treaties.


From collections to recognition: A paradoxical relationship

U of T and other higher educational institutes wrongfully took bodies of Indigenous nations that date back to the ninth to seventeenth century for racist anthropological research, which was often conducted to ‘prove’ the white race was superior to Indigenous Peoples. This was possible due to colonialism. Ironically, the US federal government has issued a federal law to repatriate these items, but Canada has not followed with a similar law.

The number of human remains uncovered of children who died in the care of residential schools is growing in number each day. Because of the TRC, the remains of these children are allowed to be returned home. However, U of T, like other higher educational institutions, is not mandated to do the same with the bodies of 550 Ancestral remains and other items of significant cultural patrimony — historic items and materials created by a people as an expression of themselves — that they stole from graves mostly without consent from their communities.

At the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, 144 countries signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Four countries did not sign onto this international declaration: the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia — all settler colonial states.

Years later, all four signed the declaration: Australia in 2009, the US and New Zealand in 2010, and Canada in 2016. However, it seems the countries did so because this declaration is not legally binding, and I wonder if U of T will do something similar: recognition without further binding implementations.

Its most recent actions put this scenario into play.

of T needs to do better for its commuters

to campus, making commuting a more attractive option.

In the fall 2023 semester, U of T made a landmark recognition of the Jay Treaty of 1794, which recognizes the colonial border between the US and Canada and allows Indigenous people from both sides of the border to cross and live and work freely. The Canadian federal government does not recognize this treaty, but the US formally recognizes it. U of T recognizing this treaty not only recognizes Indigenous sovereignty but reiterates the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action that expand on Indigenous education, nationhood and sovereignty in accordance.

Treaties are the basis of international law and were used by Indigenous nations to establish relationships for each signatory’s inherent sovereignty. Treaties are constitutional obligations and supreme law to the US and Canada. Although the Canadian and US governments have historically failed to honour these treaties, their relevance persists to Indigenous nations across Turtle Island.

U of T could become a leader in re-establishing Indigenous sovereignty With this recognition of the Jay Treaty, U of T has demonstrated characteristics of reconciliation and honour — domestically and globally. At the domestic level, this reaffirms Indigenous sovereignty in accordance with the Canadian constitution. Globally, it affirms UNDRIP and places Indigenous sovereignty in the international realm based on treaty law.

Reconciliation consists of recognizing the past injustices that Canada carried out against

of U of T students graduated in six years — and which lag significantly behind similarly ranked public universities like the University of Michigan, which had a graduation rate of about 93 per cent for the same cohort and the same time frame. I believe the school’s policies allow for this to continue.

When taking leaves of absence, U of T requires international students to submit formal requests with clearly defined reasons. The school is much more flexible with domestic students, to a concerning degree, stating that “All Faculty of Arts & Science students in good academic standing or on academic probation may take a voluntary leave from studies without formal authorization.”

Indigenous Peoples in all contexts. It does not stop at recognizing residential schools and churches. Reconciliation includes the repatriation of the Ancestors and other items of cultural patrimony to be returned to the people who suffered racist colonial educational practices for centuries. Recognition and reconciliation are bound together in Canada.

As U of T stands at this pivotal movement in its history, it faces a choice: perpetuate the injustices of the past or charter growth in reconciliation and justice. The recognition of the Jay Treaty is historic and represents paths forward, but it is only a beginning. To move forward, I believe the university must further implement truth and reconciliation through the following:

Recognize all of the historical injustice it has inflicted on Indigenous Peoples.

Give agency to Indigenous people through their inherent sovereignty through decolonization.

Repatriate the items it has stolen and become a leader in this process domestically and globally.

Doing so truly embodies the ideals U of T’s motto encapsulates and helps the school emerge as a beacon of reconciliation, justice, research, and education.

Autry Johnson is a Master of Global Affairs candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. He is a Citizen of the Forest County Potawatomi of the Anishinaabek Nation.

outreach efforts to care for the domestic and especially commuter students that comprise the heart of the school.

Currently, there are many resources for commuters at U of T, but they vary widely between campuses, colleges, and faculties. The resources provide helpful amenities but often have sparse programming that provides occasional aid and not the day-to-day support needed for the struggles of commuters.

If I had enrolled in my local state university back in the US, I would have moved a mere 20-minute drive away. Still, the convenience of living on campus would have won me over, as the holistic and lively campus experience would have justified the price of the dorm for me.

Students of the GTA are not so lucky as to be able to choose between the two convenient and attractive options I was presented with. According to U of T’s 2022–2023 Enrolment Report, out of the 19,647 new full-time and parttime undergraduates joining U of T in fall 2022, 8,228 students were from the GTA. Should these students choose to commute, students at the edges of the GTA would be looking at an up to two-hour commute to and from campus.

Living on campus is not even a guaranteed alternative. Combining the data from residence websites, U of T can only seem to house around 16 per cent of the St. George undergraduate population on campus. The first-year residence guarantee doesn’t even secure you a spot on campus, with alternative off-campus housing like Parkside and CampusOne capturing overflow. These additional housing options come with higher prices and further distances

U of T is making some progress in addressing the issue by constructing the Oak House Residence. However, housing 508 students — currently about 1.08 per cent of UTSG’s undergraduate student population — is only a dent in the glaring issue.

Commuting, especially given the extreme distances that some students go to avoid the exorbitant downtown rent, is known to have adverse effects on student mental health. In a 2023 study about commuter students’ well-being, University of North Carolina at Pembroke researchers state that it “is clear that being a commuter student leads to increased risk of psychological distress… lowered academic success… and lower levels of belongingness to the campus.”

I believe commuters are, in essence, the original constituents of U of T: the primary beneficiaries of the school’s purpose. In its early years, U of T’s primary commitment has been to its local students, whom they currently fail to provide for. The university’s commitment to inclusion is also hampered by its lack of support for commuters, many of whom are put in that position by financial or personal constraints beyond their control.

The lack of support is clear through U of T’s graduation rates — in 2020–2021, 77.1 per cent

If a student is struggling with financial or mental health issues, or the stresses of commuting, and decides to take a period of time off from school — or a permanent withdrawal that begins as temporary — U of T seems to make no effort to follow up or look after the student as domestic students don’t require specific documentation or approval to take a voluntary leave.

Students who are struggling most and would benefit the most from the university’s resources are also those who may be least likely to reach out. Mental health conditions are highly comorbid — that is, they occur together. With the prevalence of social anxiety and the negative motivational effects of depression, struggling students, especially our commuters who also experience the extra burdens of travel, may likely have a difficult time reaching out.

I believe that a simple, auto-approved form declaring a purpose for a leave of absence would not only be valuable data for a research university like U of T but also allow for better-targeted outreach for student well-being. U of T would have information that would enable it to reach out to students who are struggling the most, those who are least likely to reach out, and those who may benefit from the university’s resources. This would be a marginal effort that may save many university careers.

Of course, many of the issues commuters face are not immediately solvable by U of T. The university cannot single-handedly fix the affordable housing crisis that downtown Toronto is facing, but it can and should do better with its policies and

In addition to the leave of absence policies, I believe U of T needs to do more for commuters who are vulnerable to mental health struggles. Many US schools have programs like the University of Southern California’s Student Well-being Index Survey. In some of these programs, students who are identified as at risk for mental health concerns are automatically connected with resources — in one case I know about personally, within 10 minutes. Universities can provide a follow-up with an appointment with a professional, making for an effective outreach program that alleviates the barriers to access that many students face.

Implementing a similar strategy would not only be valuable data for a research university that frequently seeks out data on its students but also help U of T to achieve its stated methodology of improving student mental health through research outlined in its Student Mental Health Initiative.

In terms of affordable transit to directly support commuters, the UTM Student Union has the UPass program, through which students have access to free transit to ease the burden of commuting or otherwise travelling around the city. There is no equivalent for St. George or UTSG students, a shortcoming the university should remedy.

Commuters are the lifeblood of U of T and are disproportionately at risk for poor mental health. Although many of the issues they face are systemic and out of the school’s hands, I think the university can still do more to support these students who are foundational to U of T’s essence.

Max Zhang is a first-year student at Woodsworth College, studying computer science. He is the Mental Health columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section. 8 THE VARSITY COMMENT
Max Zhang Comment Columnist U
of T can perpetuate past injustices or charter growth in reconciliation and justice.
Commuters are U of T’s lifeblood and are at risk for poor mental health.
The school must reach out first to help its students

Integrating AI into newsrooms isn’t all bad news

Despite valid


AI is helping journalists deliver quick and quality news

What comes to mind when you think of artificial intelligence (AI)? Maybe dangerous fake videos, ChatGPT essays that students submit just before midnight, or the decapitator of your postgrad employment dreams. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say that AI generally has a rather controversial reputation, and the integration of AI into newsrooms is increasingly ringing alarm bells across the world.

However, I believe the current discussion of AI is oversaturated with a misunderstanding of the potential that AI has for newsrooms. In fact, AI has assisted journalists in major new companies for years now and alleviates the tedious aspects of their jobs.

What exactly is AI in the newsroom?

Currently, AI in the newsroom is mostly used for web scraping and extracting information from large data sets. For instance, the Organised Crime and Corruption Project uses pattern recognition models to track orga nized crime globally.

There are also financial uses for AI: The Globe and Mail utilizes So phi — an AI software which uses behavioural data — to calculate the potential subscription revenue that an article would bring in when predicting whether or not to paywall it. This has allowed The Globe to in crease its subscription revenue and boost reader engagement in the pro cess.

In its guidelines, The Globe stressed that AI language tools can be a good starting point for research ing and brainstorming, but every source should be approached with skepticism. Language tools cannot be used to “condense, summarize, or produce writing for publication.” Additionally, photo illustrations and videos that were entirely produced

with AI tools should not be published without a label that explicitly credits them as an “AI-generated image” or “AI-generated illustration.”

In an interview with The Globe’s head of visual journalism, Matt Frehner, he said: “We don’t put anything into a language model that is prepublication… We keep that out of any kind of third-party tool because we don’t know where that information is going and how it can be used in the future.” Instead, its newsroom uses tools that are provided within The Globe

There are valid concerns, however

The first concern is newspapers’ growing reliance on tech companies. In light of Bill C-18, it’s reasonable to feel hesitant to put news companies further at the mercy of tech companies if they have to depend on external AI providers. These external providers can also undercut the autonomy of news companies as journalists are limited by the models that the AI software was

trained to do and the biases it may possess, which influence the stories journalists tell. News companies, therefore, have begun to develop in-house software.

But therein lies a growing discrepancy between big news companies that can afford their own AI systems versus smaller local newspapers that cannot. This is when we should put forth the question of tech providers ‘democratizing’ AI — making them open-source and easily accessible.

Of course, the democratization of AI should be treated with caution. The Columbia Journalism Review warns that tech companies of all sizes have commercial incentives to “democratize” their software to influence market competition and shape standards to improve their corporate brand.

However, local newspapers probably have less need for AI software such as web-scraping tools since they’re unlikely to conduct largescale investigative projects like national papers do. Their stories tend to spotlight human lives — something that computers can never articulate in the same way another person can.

It’s at this point where we must contend with how we want to define AI.

Furthermore, given the mass layoffs in the news industry recently, there are justified concerns about how AI may replace journalists. It’s likely that AI will be increasingly employed for more data-focused articles that simply aggregate pre-existing information.

But stories that emphasize experience, commentary, and humanity cannot, or at least should not, be replicated by machines. AI is being employed in investigative newsrooms, but the investigative team still needs to be there to give meaning to the cold data. As Frehner said in my interview, “If there’s insider trading in a company that’s showing a massive stock

movement, AI can tell you that the stock moves in a weird way. But it can’t tell you why. It can’t tell you about the email that the CEO sent to his buddy who owns stocks and told him to dump them.”

Changing our perception of AI

AI did not write this article. However, I did employ AI tools. Specifically, I used to transcribe my interview with Frehner. The transcript isn’t perfect — I had to edit the quotes to make them more comprehensible — but it saved me a whole afternoon of painstakingly transcribing each word of the audio second by second. In fact, The Varsity uses to transcribe nearly all recorded interviews.

It’s at this point where we must contend with how we want to define AI. Should we talk about transcription tools when we discuss AI regulation? What about Google Translate or Grammarly? These tools have become so ingrained in our regular lives that some of us may not even think about them when talking about AI anymore because they do not align with our futuristic perception of AI.

Ultimately, it boils down to the guidelines that newsrooms set. Journalists must recognize the limitations and biases of certain AI models, and treat these systems as an assisting tool rather than a source itself. Although the potentially negative aspects of AI can easily spiral out of hand, banning all forms of AI from the newsroom may harm journalists more than benefit them, making their jobs harder and less efficient. Perhaps this is also where we should question the role that legislation should play.

Nonetheless, it’s time we retire the sci-fiesque perception of technology when evaluating AI in the newsroom. The tools currently employed are rather mundane and anti-climatic for the fear-mongering eye, but these very tools keep the wheels turning in the newsroom.

Charmaine Yu is a third-year student studying political science and English. She is an editor-inchief of The Trinity Review and a features editor at The Strand. She is the What’s New In News columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.

The Feminist International Assistance Policy is too ambiguous

The Canadian government’s policy misses the nuances of addressing gender inequality

In 2017, Canada’s Liberal government launched its Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). The initiative aimed to reduce global poverty by empowering women and girls to gain financial freedom. Seven years later, however, it’s tough to say whether this policy has genuinely alleviated international gender inequality and whether the government’s result-based methods of assessing aid efficiency are transparent and accurate.

It’s unclear how to gauge the efficacy of Canada’s FIAP, given that the mere provision of financial aid doesn’t guarantee the recipient effectively uses those financial supports. If the goal is to enact longterm structural change, government assistance must extend beyond the financial. Although funding is a start, it is only helpful insofar as it is allocated according to the needs of aid recipients. Whether Canada is currently doing so is debatable, as the progress metrics the government has employed to measure the FIAP’s impact reveal little about how funds are used on the ground.

We’re generally aware of which programs government funding is going toward, but the general population knows little about how these services practically impact the lives of the programs’ recipients. This is because the government has historically relied on results-based assessments of aid efficiency rather than acquiring feedback directly from recipients.

A project like the FIAP — whose funding constituted 93 per cent of Canada’s international development investments in 2020–2021, according to the Government of Canada’s International

Assistance Report — warrants greater accuracy when reporting its outcomes.

The issue with a results-based approach to measuring gender equality is that its scope is inherently limited. When only factoring in quotas, such as the number of women in the workforce, it’s easy to infer progress without grasping the bigger picture. This metric’s underlying assumption is that women’s increased participation in corporate and political settings implies that they’ll benefit from this increase.

This premise shouldn’t be taken for granted. Gender inequality exists within a larger cultural context and instrumental strategies fail to address the root causes of systemic discrimination. For instance, a higher number of working women doesn’t indicate legitimate progress if they’re either not granted maternity leave or lack financial literacy. In this sense, limiting outreach to monetary support can be somewhat of a band-aid solution, especially when using result-based aid assessments.

A better means of recording aid efficiency would be the “country systems model,” in which the donor applies a recipient country’s own systems and institutions to measure the effectiveness of foreign aid — as opposed to using the donor’s own domestic standards. When paired with direct feedback from aid recipients, this framework offers a better understanding of how FIAP tangibly impacts the quality of life.

It’s worth noting that although the federal government uses a participatory method by maintaining in-depth contact with stakeholders who aid the donation process, this is restricted to meetings with only these stakeholders. Moreover, both the recipient selection process and feedback

integration method lack transparency — assuming that the feedback is integrated at all.

Interestingly, the aforementioned 2020–2021 International Assistance Report cites one of the policy’s main goals as “supporting evidence-based policymaking.” But this so-called evidence of foreign aid doesn’t appear to be coming from the women we claim to be advocating for.

My concern is that if we don’t hear from recipients, we’ll have no choice but to depend on the conclusions drawn by government officials. While not technically incorrect, this quantification of social progress is only surface-level and doesn’t account for existing power dynamics.

To add to the confusion, the federal government hasn’t offered a coherent definition of the feminism it seeks to implement. While the language of gender equality features prominently in the initial commission, the feminist label is ultimately adopted as a one-size-fits-all all. It’s difficult to deliver on the promise of feminist values without clarifying what

these values entail, especially on an international scale.

There’s no denying that Canada’s FIAP has been successful in identifying areas that require funding, but we can’t ignore the policy’s ambiguity. Efforts to report on progress in target areas are undermined by the use of inaccurate growth metrics, which are then aggravated by the absence of reliable feedback. Though I commend Canada’s commitment to mitigating global gender inequality, there remains much to be done. By centring the lived experiences of women in the nations the FIAP projects operate in, we can envision a more collaborative future for international policy.

Emma Dobrovnik is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science and criminology. She is a Director of Mentorship for the Association of Political Science Students and an International Affairs columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section. MARCH 25, 2024 9
93 per cent of Canada’s international development investments in 2020–2021 funded the FIAP. COURTESY OF SIMPLEXITY22 CC WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Organizing U of T’s collections

During the discussions that eventually led to the signing of the MoU, the actual process of preparing for rematriation began.

As Pfieffer and her students and colleagues set out to catalogue and organize bones to prepare for rematriation efforts, it became apparent that the university still needed a system to organize its collections. Pfeiffer said that “the cataloguing [of the university’s collections] was a bit askew.” They were stored across all three campuses, and some of them had been moved around between different locations several times.

Pfeiffer and her students organized and identified the collections to pull all the Huron-Wendat remains out of collections and set them aside for reburial. The university worked with the ASI to identify the remains and confirm they were HuronWendat Ancestors.

Williamson said his job was to take information from Pfieffer and her students about the remains, how many and what site they were from, and determine whether they were from a Huron-Wendat ossuary. To determine this, he would look at the age of the site, the nature of the burial, and the types of artifacts included in the burial, and then he would determine whether the remains were Huron-Wendat or if they belonged to a different nation.

They determined that 12 of the sites that U of T excavated were ancestral Wendat sites. Since there was so little organization, the working group found it difficult to make sure that they were able to identify all of the Wendat Ancestors that the university held in its collections. Many of the remains had also been labelled with Indian ink on the bones themselves, which was very difficult to remove without damaging the bone tissue.

The reburial

After the MoU was signed and the remains were organized and identified, U of T and the Huron-Wendat Nation formed a team to plan the rematriation ceremony. The Huron-Wendat Nation Council brought Vincent on in December of 2012 — after the MoU was signed — to figure out the technicalities of the ceremony, and the team began to find a permanent resting place for the Ancestors and organize a proper reburial. They chose the site of the Kleinburg Ossuary — one of the 12 sites from southern Ontario Wendat Ancestors that the university had excavated. Huron-Wendat descendants renamed the site to Thonnakona Ossuary in honour of the Grand Chief of St. Lawrence Huron in 1534.

The process of preparing for the ceremony was complex.

Throughout the process, U of T helped the Huron-Wendat Nation facilitate land use permits and ensured all of the administrative tasks and legal issues around the ceremony were dealt with properly. According to Vincent, university administrators stepped back and allowed the Huron-Wendat Nation to plan the ceremony how they wanted to plan it, and gave them

the opportunity to provide respect for their Ancestors in a way only they knew how.

Prior to this reburial, there were few instances where Huron-Wendat Ancestors being reburied had been excavated for scientific purposes and kept in boxes for so long. In most of the reburials that the Huron-Wendat Nation had worked on previously, Ancestors’ remains were uncovered during construction following the passage of the OHA, so in those cases, the remains were not as disturbed. So Vincent said the Huron-Wendat on the planning committee had to seek out the traditional knowledge to figure out how they could approach this ceremony properly.

The buried history of U of T’s anthropological excavations

To return the Ancestors to peace, Vincent and the reburial planning committee consulted with the Atiawenhrahk Long House in Wendake, who are knowledge keepers and traditionalists in the Huron-Wendat Nation community. They also worked with other Iroquoian Longhouses to piece together the Ancestors’ way of life.

Through consultation with the Longhouses, they sought not to exactly reproduce but to try to find out how to do something as identical as possible, to how the Ancestors would have buried their own Ancestors. To prepare the Ancestors for reburial, they had to prepare food for them, and they also had to find about 400 beaver pelts so the descendants could carry the Ancestors to the burial site.

Meanwhile, buses were arranged to bring descendants from Wendake to Toronto, and the day before the reburial, an event was held at Hart House with archeologists and descendants to celebrate the achievement of the reburial.

During the ceremony, only descendants and First Nation representatives were allowed in. No other outside people or recordings of any kind were allowed. This reburial marked the largest Indigenous Ancestral remains rematriation effort ever undertaken in North America.

Retained teeth samples

While negotiating the MUA, U of T approached representatives of the Huron-Wendat Nation with the proposition to retain some tissue samples to continue research. For several reasons, they proposed using tissue samples from teeth. Teeth contain several types of biological tissue and the pulp tissue in them protects DNA, so there is a good amount of tissue that is easy to use for research, especially on ancient DNA.

Pfeiffer told The Varsity, “According to the people from the Huron Wendat Nation, that idea was taken back to the community. And it took a lot of discussion before they decided that… the Ancestors probably would not mind if those teeth led to new stories, new facts about their lives.” According to Pfeiffer, they came to this decision by

Nation had been asked for consent to do scientific research on their Ancestors. Vincent told The Varsity that “it was very important to us that this process was done in collaboration with our consent for once, because how many times have we been imposed [upon] or not even aware [that] research is being done on our ancestors’ bones?”

This collaboration marked an opportunity for the HuronWendat Nation to learn more about their Ancestors in a way that the Nation did not have the resources to do internally. Pfeiffer and members of the Huron-Wendat Nation who coauthored papers with her presented some of the results of this collaboration during the ceremony the day before the reburial in 2013, and since then this collaboration has created a framework for further collaboration in research.

U of T now acknowledges that the teeth belong to the descendants of the Ancestors they came from, but U of T holds the teeth in trust for them. They are locked and stored separately from the university’s other collections. If a graduate student or faculty member was interested in using the samples for research, they would have to first ask the descendants and obtain permission to use them.

Since the university began holding the tooth samples in trust for the Huron-Wendat Nation, many researchers have conducted studies that have provided new knowledge about these Ancestors to the Huron-Wendat Nation. For example, one 2017 paper helped with obtaining a more complete story about how women breastfed their babies and how patterns of weaning differed for babies of different genders.

As technology in archeology advances, Pfieffer thinks that researchers will find many more ways to use the teeth. She has done research using the teeth: in 2016, she published her third paper using the Huron-Wendat Nation’s retained samples. It explored the dietary staples in ancestral Huron-Wendat villages and found that the people who lived there consumed foods such as maize, fish, and deer. The paper also provided insight into the seasonal patterns of ancestral Huron-Wendat food consumption.

Pfeiffer told The Varsity that there will be a research interest in the retained samples as long as there is science and new


This article was published in two parts. Read the first part in last issue, or online at this QR code.


tools to learn from tissue samples. But she also said that it all depends on the Huron-Wendat Nation. Suppose members of the Nation decide they are not interested in the research that can be learned from the samples or that they no longer want the university to hold them. In that case, they can decide to remove them from the university.

“No one at U of T has veto power [over descendants’ decisions],” Pfeiffer said.

Moving forward

In a statement from a U of T spokesperson, the university recognized the personal and cultural significance of the collections it holds and stated its commitment to working with individuals and groups with Ancestral links to those collections to return them.

When asked about collaborative rematriation work the university has undertaken since the 2013 reburial with the Huron-Wendat Nation, however, U of T highlighted the same 2013 reburial with the Huron-Wendat Nation detailed in this article, but did not provide any other examples.

“Because of their sensitive nature, detailed information about any human remains or culturally sensitive materials under U of T’s care, or about the nature or status of requests to repatriate them, is not shared publicly. Any communication at the conclusion of such processes is at the discretion of, and in collaboration with, the community involved,” a U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity

In 2024, U of T still houses four research collections and one teaching collection.

The four research collections are the Ontario Archaeological Collection, the Ontario Archaeological-Derived Human Remains, the J.C.B. Grant Collection, and the Wendat Retained Samples.

The research collections are used by graduate students and faculty for research purposes. They are made up of artifacts excavated by students and faculty in the department during the nineteenth century from sites across Ontario. These collections include remains of both early European settlers and First Nations groups’ Ancestors. The J.C.B. Grant collection specifically

comprises the skeletal remains of individuals obtained by the anatomy department in the early 1900s.

The teaching collection comprises animal material as well as equipment and objects purchased from India, including human skeletal remains purchased before the practice was outlawed in 1985. These are the remains that are used in undergraduate classrooms for teaching purposes. Groups hoping to seek repatriation from the university can make a written request to the department chair, who also chairs the repatriation committee. According to the department’s website, “the application is forwarded to a repatriation committee consisting of a minimum of two representatives from the Department of Anthropology and a representative of First Nations communities.”

“For years, UTSC anthropology professor emerita Martha Latta stored 280 boxes containing pieces of stone tools, pots, and animal remains from both First Nations and early colonial sites in Ontario dating back to 600 years ago in a basement tunnel at the university’s Scarborough campus.”

The Huron-Wendat Nation has used what they’ve learned from this rematriation project to seek to rematriate their Ancestors from other institutions and universities in Canada. Since 2013, the Huron-Wendat Nation has worked with other public institutions and private land owners across Canada in reburials, and also in consultation when ossuaries are uncovered during construction. Because of the time the Nation and the university spent on the project during the rematriation process with U of T, subsequent reburials have been smoother since they are familiar with the process and what has to be done.

In the 10 years since, First Nations working on rematriation and repatriation processes have frequently collaborated. Historically, there were no explicit fixed borders between

different First Nations, and as Ancestors were excavated and taken to different institutions for storage or study, they were moved from their original burial place. Ancestral Huron Wendat remains have been buried for a long time in treaty lands of other First Nations, and collaboration with those Nations is important to the Huron-Wendat Nation.

The Huron-Wendat Council has worked to reinforce and strengthen those relationships between First Nations, as well as to build new ones. These relationships are built with respect for each other’s differences and common knowledge, and allow First Nations to work at their own pace, bringing in outside institutions during the process when they choose to do so.

According to Vincent, in the last decade, multiple First Nations have been working with the federal Ministry of Culture to rematriate Ancestors from institutions and other storage places back to their descendants. The Huron-Wendat Nation Council is very involved in this project. Many other Nations are also involved, including some who are working to rematriate Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee Ancestors who were excavated. This project deals with Ancestors stored in museums and Ancestors currently held by various federal government ministries — which excavated many Ancestors over the years before the OHA was enacted.

Vincent told The Varsity that the rematriation process is not easy, but it is doable. “It’s not easy to discuss Ancestors. It’s never easy. It’s emotional. It’s cultural. It’s historical.”

The process takes time and is complicated, but Vincent said that’s okay because their Ancestors have been waiting for so long. “Let’s do the right thing, and make [rematriation] happen in the right way for everyone involved.”

Business & Labour

A living wage, healthcare, equal pay — here are CUPE’s wins

that averted a strike

Academic and service workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of new labour agreements

By March 16, the vast majority of members in five units in Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Locals 3261 and 3902 voted to accept the Tentative Agreement negotiated with the U of T administration. This final ratification marks the end of the months-long labour dispute that nearly caused strike action and ground university operations to a halt.

CUPE Local 3261 represents service workers, including caretaking staff and food service workers, while Local 3902 represents academic staff including sessional lecturers, postdoctoral researchers, and teaching assistants (TAs). The two unions came together to pursue negotiations and threaten strikes in solidarity, which eventually brought the university to offer acceptable terms. “All bargaining committees achieved historic wins that will improve our members’ living and working conditions and improve the quality of education students receive,” wrote CUPE 3902 President Eriks Bredovskis in an email to The Varsity

Service workers win a living wage

The list of practical benefits that members have accrued following these negotiations is long and varied: $25 per hour for all full-time and part-time service workers represented by CUPE

3261; shift premiums for members of 3261’s full-time/part-time and 89 Chestnut units doing evening and overnight work; “equal pay for equal work” for 3902’s Unit 1 course instructors; greater healthcare benefits for 3902’s unit 1 and 5 members; and across-the-board — and retrospective — pay increases for 3902’s unit 5 postdoctoral fellows.

What CUPE 3261 President Luke Daccord calls “a historic agreement” will see all 700 fulltime and part-time members of the union earn $25 per hour, or the living wage rate in Toronto. Before CUPE’s threats to strike, the university initially offered a mere nine per cent pay raise, which would have seen more than half of CUPE 3261 non-casual members paid below the living wage rate — including cashiers, building patrol workers, caretakers, and maintenance workers.

3261’s casual unit members — those who get working hours on a more freelance basis — will earn $20 per hour starting in January 2025. While this does not fully guarantee the unions’ demand for equal pay for equal work, the university has issued a letter of understanding that affirms that casual unit members should expect to receive equal wages to full-time/parttime members doing the same job, if the casual member is similarly qualified and performing the same “core duties and responsibilities” as their full-time/part-time counterparts.

All CUPE 3261 members will see an increase in shift premiums to a dollar per hour for evening and overnight shifts. In addition, benefit premium costs will be improved for the first time in over 30 years. Workers at the 89 Chestnut unit who do the same jobs as other union members will now also receive equal pay and benefits.

All workers have also seen an increase in the amount the university pays in premiums to health coverage — up to 85 per cent of premiums, from a previous 75 per cent — and dental coverage — up to 90 per cent of premiums, from a previous 80 per cent.

Better health coverage, pay for course instructors, post-docs

CUPE 3902 members won unique gains as well. Course instructors, represented by the local’s unit 1, will see “equal pay for equal work” to match sessional workers represented by unit 3. These course instructors will receive greater healthcare coverage benefits, and no longer face the threat of having those benefits eliminated. Faculty of Music workers will even be paid for rehearsal and practice time.

Unit 5 postdoctoral fellows will also see a retroactive nine per cent pay rise and a dramatic boost in minimum annual salary from $36,061 to $50,000, which will effectively increase salaries for almost half of the unit’s members. To relieve the financial pressures on researchers, members will now be eligible for up to $500 per year to reimburse costs for professional development activities, with additional coverage of travel and accommodation expenses

for supervisor-mandated activities, and greater healthcare benefits.

All this “will be tremendously beneficial for those struggling to make ends meet,” wrote unit 5 Vice-President Sarah Warren in an email to The Varsity, especially given the rising cost of living, “sky-high inflation,” and the wage setbacks that post-docs endured during the nowstricken down Bill 124’s enforcement.

What’s next?

Unit 1 and 5 members voted 87.8 per cent and 97 per cent in favour of the Tentative Agreement, respectively. Full-time, part-time, and casual workers at CUPE 3261 voted 96 per cent in favour, with 89 per cent also giving their approval from the union’s 89 Chestnut unit. Thus, the majority of gains will have either already been implemented or done so retrospectively — although improved healthcare benefits will not be implemented until March 1, 2025.

This is not to say that the entire process is finished, however. The union bargaining teams have not yet won full subsidies for workers’ transit cost — however, CUPE 3902 Unit 1’s new contract affirms that the union will create a task force composed of unit 1 members and university representatives to convene with a commitment to create a 45 per cent transit discount for unit 1 members.

According to the university’s letter of intent, the task force will pursue options including, but not limited to, requesting discounts directly from transit providers in the GTA. If the task force does not secure a 45 per cent discount of any kind by January 1, 2025, the university has to pay a million-dollar penalty to the unit’s Employee Financial Assistance Fund, and it must do so again in 2026 if the task force has still not succeeded.

Opinion: Why is Black hair seen as “unprofessional”?

Untangling the origins and impacts of defining “professionalism” regarding Black hair

Content warning: This article discusses enslavement, violations of the bodily autonomy of Black women, and sexual violence.

Since childhood, I have always cherished my hair as a symbol of my identity and culture. I have never doubted its beauty, whether it is styled in twists or braids, straightened, or left in its natural afro state.

I grew up as a first-generation Canadian in a Nigerian household, where we celebrate Nigerian and broader African beauty standards. I owe immense gratitude to my mother for instilling in me a deep sense of pride in my hair and the diverse cultural expressions it represents.

And yet, validating its “professionalism” has been incredibly challenging. I consciously ‘subdue’ my hair choices — styling my hair in an afro, and keeping the colour strictly black if my hair is in braids — in office spaces. Although no explicit standard has told me to do so, I know there are ‘safe’ hair choices that make certain spaces easier.

I also know this pressure is not one I am alone in feeling. Many of my friends who are Black men and have locs have chosen to cut them to conform to this unspoken standard. They feared what stereotypes others might apply to them, on top of already having to navigate the microaggressions that come with being Black men in the corporate sphere.

Even with these shared experiences, we could never pinpoint where it was coming from. So being a U of T undergraduate, I turned to what I know best to help find an answer: research. And as it turns out, that answer is inherently correlated with enslavement.

How enslavement made Black hair ‘unprofessional’

The vilification of Black hair began with the initial encounters between Europeans and early Africans. European observers, in their first interactions with diverse African peoples, noted disparities in Black hair textures compared to their own, subsequently

associating these differences with negative qualities in contrast to the perceived positive attributes of White hair. Black hair was stigmatized as ‘woolly’ and considered unattractive, being the opposite of the straight, long, and smooth characteristics attributed to White hair.

The idea soon emerged that the closer an individual was to whiteness, the more ‘beautiful’ they were. In turn, European-centric features, particularly in hair, could grant privileges to their possessors. This phenomenon became evident during the era of slavery, where the significance of hair took on a new meaning due to the blending of Black and white characteristics through instances of rape and selective, profit-motivated breeding practices that enslavers enforced on enslaved women. As a consequence of this, some Black individuals exhibited lighter skin and straighter hair.

These individuals received preferential treatment and privileges not extended to Black people with darker skin or tighter curled, coily, kinky hair. For instance, slave owners often assigned light-skinned slaves to work in the house rather than the fields, and some were even given opportunities to learn to read and write. Other slaveholders mandated that Black women either conceal their hair or adopt grooming practices that mirrored White beauty standards.

Consequently, a hierarchy based on skin colour and hair texture began to emerge in the early Black community, with individuals possessing lighter skin and straighter hair or looser curls disproportionately assuming roles as business leaders, clergy, and teachers because of their proximity to whiteness. Thus, this association of straight hair with beauty,

professionalism, and education became ingrained in the evolving colourism hierarchy and in society as a whole.

Black women face health risks, employment discrimination

To this day, proximity-to-whiteness still persists as a standard of determining one’s value and privilege. Black people, especially Black women, still feel this pressure to adhere to a Eurocentric beauty standard that was never intended to include them. It has driven many Black women to use wigs, hair weaves, and relaxers — making these industries highly profitable in the process.

Globally, the Black hair industry as a whole — encompassing hair, accessories, and various products — has an estimated yearly value of around nine billion dollars. However, practices in the industry are also often very harmful. Chemical and thermal relaxers, employed to straighten hair, have been shown to lead to adverse health effects, including reproductive damage, hormone disruption, and an increased risk of cancer. Weaves and hair extensions, if installed too tightly, can damage hair follicles, resulting in long-term hair loss, commonly known as traction alopecia.

Meanwhile, white women can appropriate aspects of Black culture into their appearances without facing adverse consequences. Kim Kardashian, for example, gained notoriety for wearing Fulani braids and cornrows, traditional African hairstyles that she referred to as ‘Bo Derek braids,’ drawing inspiration from the white actress. Unlike Black women, white women like Kim can easily revert back to white, mainstream hairstyle norms.

They do not have to worry about any of the repercussions that Black women do when appropriating Black culture into their appearance.

In contrast, workplace statistics reveal that Black women are 1.5 times more likely to be sent home by an employer based on their hair, 80 per cent more likely to alter their natural hair, and twice as likely as White women to straighten their hair to adhere to workplace norms.

In 27 states across the US, denying employment and educational opportunities based on hair texture or protective styles like braids, locs, twists, or Bantu knots is legally acceptable.

To put it simply, the standard of “professional” hair is racist, but regardless of this fact, there are serious consequences and loss of opportunities for not adhering to it.

Legally protecting Black women’s right to their own hair

Fortunately, there is work being done to counter the racist nature of hair policing in the corporate world. The CROWN Act — which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair — is a new piece of legislation making its way through state legislatures across the US. This act would make it illegal to discriminate against Black women and men based on their chosen hairstyles in educational institutions, workplaces, and public areas, thereby empowering Black individuals over their hair choices.

Presently, eight US states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington — have adopted variations of the CROWN Act. However, true equity remains out of reach until all 50 states enact this legislation.

Having laws in place is a starting point to help dismiss and actively counter the stigma associated with Black hair and its repercussions for Black people. Our friends to the south of the border are very clearly on the right path to make corporate spaces safe for Black hair.

My one question remains: not if, but when will Canada do the same?

March 25, 2024

Caffiends and Hard Hat Café are providing affordable food and community for students

A look behind the scenes at two U of T student-run cafés

With nearly 70,000 students on its downtown campus alone, U of T has endless food options to serve students as they run from class to class during the week. While students often frequent places like The Arbor Room, Café Reznikoff, and Ned’s Café to grab a bite to eat or sit with friends, there are also other cafés — ones run by students — that offer cheap food and communitybuilding events for students.

The Varsity spoke to the students who run Caffiends and Hard Hat Café — two on-campus cafés — about what goes on behind the scenes of running a café and what they offer to hungry people on campus.


Nestled on the first floor in the northwest corner of Old Vic at the Victoria College campus, Caffiends has been around for the last 12 years. It’s open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, during the school year. The café is run by a team of two co-managers, 15 executives, and over 150 student volunteers.

At Caffiends, students can find a coffee for just $1.50 or a medium matcha latte for only $4.50. All drinks are served in donated mugs to prevent the waste of takeout cups. Caffiends focuses on sustainability when sourcing its products. It also previously served exclusively vegan food options for years. However, it recently got a new supplier for food items and now has non-vegan food options like croissants, white cheddar chive scones, and cookies. These food options are around two dollars.

Students often ask how Caffiends can sell its products for so cheap. Elaine Lee, one of the current co-managers, gave some hints in an interview with The Varsity

Since Caffiends is volunteer-run, Lee said, it has minimal labour costs and little overhead. It’s located in Victoria College, so the café does not have to pay rent. Since Caffiends’ overhead costs are low and it does not aim to make a surplus, menu item prices have very small mark ups — which is perfect for students.

Every semester, Caffiends runs a fundraiser for a charity organization that the executive team picks. For the fundraiser, the café’s sustainability co-directors put together specialty drinks, the proceeds for which go toward the selected organization. This semester, the proceeds go toward the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Healthcare.

within the café. She also told The Varsity the café aims to keep the barrier to volunteering as low as possible so it’s accessible to students. To volunteer, students just have to follow Caffiends on Instagram and fill out the Google form it releases before the start of each semester.

Hard Hat Café

Lee thinks Caffiends is an excellent social space. People often run into acquaintances, and there is a significant internal community within the café.

Caffiends’ executives also organize different events in the space throughout the semester for volunteers and community members to enjoy. This past semester, they had a crafts night and an origami social.

Additionally, cafés are just a charming space to hang out. Caffiends has several seating options, including a cozy couch and two tables, perfect for studying or hanging out with friends while sipping a warm, affordable cup of tea.

Lee thinks Caffiends is an excellent social space: people often run into acquaintances, and there is a significant internal community

Just a little southwest of Vic, student-run Hard Hat Café sits in the basement of the Sandford Fleming building, in the ‘pit’ — a space in the basement of Sandford Fleming where engineering students often hang out. Run by two co-managers and 12–14 cashiers, Hard Hat offers a variety of drinks, snacks, and quick bites.

The two co-managers for the 2023–2024 school year — Kelvin Lo and Edlyn Li — spoke with The Varsity about what goes into running an on-campus convenience store.

They start the store’s planning process in the summer when they develop strategies for sales or select new products they want to introduce. They then hire cashiers to staff the store and form an executive team who help with finances and planning for special events. Afterwards, they ensure the store is stocked during the year and prepare student events. This year, they held a spicy noodle eating contest that Lo said was very popular.

Additionally, this year, they expanded the quick

bites they serve by introducing air-fried chicken nuggets and hash browns. They also started a Vietnamese sandwich delivery team, which Li said has been very popular. They began delivering sandwiches last semester as a pilot program. Li would pick up the sandwiches twice a week from a shop on Spadina and Dundas called 源 源 Banh Mi Nguyen Huong and deliver them to Hard Hat Café where students can then purchase them. When the managers found it was successful, they created a new team especially for delivering the sandwiches, and now offer them daily.

Lo first got involved at Hard Hat in his second year. He was a commuter student and found that most clubs and student groups operated at night when he had to commute. Hard Hat was one of the few things he could get involved in because it was open during the daytime.

By the end of his second year, he said that he “really [liked] the overall vision of it, of providing affordable and quality foods.” However, he felt he had some ideas to improve Hard Hat, prompting him to apply as a co-manager.

Li became one of the co-managers this year after a member of U of T’s Engineering Society za place she had often frequented during her first two years of university, she said that she found the whole process of running a store “really neat.”

EngSoc funds the café. At the beginning of the year, the co-managers put together a budget for Hard Hat, which EngSoc then approves. The budget includes labour costs, stock, and supplies for events they want to run throughout the year.

At the end of the academic year, Hard Hat runs a sale with progressively increasing discounts before the summer comes, so you should stop by and check it out to get some cheap drinks and snacks! MARCH 25, 2024 13
Kelvin Lo and Edlyn Li, the 2023–2024 co-managers of Hard Hat Café. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THEVARSITY Hard Hat Café is run by engineering students. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THEVARSITY A volunteer making a hot chocolate at Caffiends. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THEVARSITY A student buying a slice of pizza at Hard Hat Café. CAROLINE BELLAMY/THEVARSITY

Arts & Culture

March 25, 2024

Never Been Better : A heartfelt beach read that brings awareness to mental health

In conversation with U of T alumna Leanne Toshiko Simpson about the writing and publishing world

Leanne Toshiko Simpson is a mixed-race Yonsei writer pursuing an EdD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She teaches undergraduate courses in BIPOC and disabilities literature at U of T. Simpson credits her diagnosis of bipolar disorder at 17 years old, and her subsequent hospitalization in a psychiatric ward, with inspiring her to become an ardent advocate for mental health awareness in her academic, professional, and literary life. Never Been Better is Simpson’s debut novel, published this month with HarperCollins Canada.

Described by the publisher as My Best Friend’s Wedding meets Silver Linings Playbook Never Been Better entered the contemporary fiction scene as an offbeat, heartfelt novel about three friends who met in a psychiatric ward.

When Matt and Misa invite Dee to their seaside wedding a year after discharge, Dee must reckon with the unspoken feelings she has harboured for Matt since before she was kicked out of the hospital. However, if Dee confesses her feelings for Matt at the weddingbelled resort in Turks and Caicos, she risks jeopardizing her entire support system. Ultimately, as the book’s synopsis writes, when readers follow Dee’s whirlwind expedition to Matt and Misa’s wedding, they must ask:

“Is she falling in love or falling apart?”

The Varsity recently had the privilege of interviewing Simpson to learn about her personal experiences with mental health recovery, her Japanese-Canadian identity, and her voyage into the writing and publishing world.

The Varsity: Take me to the very start of your writing process. When did the first inklings of Never Been Better erupt in your head, what inspired you, and how did you work to further develop it?

Leanne Toshiko Simpson: During my undergrad at U of T, I dropped out and spent time in a psychiatric ward, where I wasn’t allowed to read many books about bipolar disorder because my doctor was worried they were all too sad. The one exception was The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, which was an unusual romantic comedy — it was such a beacon for me that I hoped one day I’d be able to write something similar. I wasn’t really well enough to reflect on my experiences in the hospital. It was in my creative writing MFA at the University of Guelph that I finally delved into fiction and ended up penning Never Been — which I like to call a mental health beach read!

: Your novel’s primary characters all struggle with bipolar disorder in varying ways. What was it like bringing that aspect of your personal life into your craft?

I think I always knew whatever I ended up writing would tackle bipolar disorder — but I knew I also had to do it in a way that was safe for me. Fiction, and romantic

Haleluya Hailu’s playful indiepop Toronto performance

A review of “Agave: Haleluya with Spring Colours” at Burdock Brewery

Sidney Luzi Balili Varsity Contributor

The indie pop singer-songwriter Haleluya Hailu visited Toronto for two shows as part of a promotional tour for her debut EP, eternally, yours Her lyrics touch on the simplicities of growing up in small-town British Columbia; problematic relationships from the past; fake friends; and, sometimes, suicidal thoughts.

Although described as a “sad girl” on her website, her sound is deceptively upbeat. I attended Hailu’s performance at the Burdock Brewery, where she was scheduled after Spring Colours, a Toronto-based indie rock band. Both groups gave a performance characteristic of the indie artists that survive in Toronto — it’s the kind of energy you can’t do justice to through a recording.

Burdock’s musical hall was warmly lit, lined with woody furniture, and had shelves decorated with glass bottles. Lightbulbs on a string zig-zagged across the ceiling, and a silver disco ball was in the centre. On the far end of the room, a bartender lit three candles to indicate the mini bar’s opening, where a spatter of people had already begun to order.

On the concert floor, Hailu chatted with friends with her hands in her pockets, showing off her “hardcore” Vancouverite roots in her blue Capilano

University hoodie. When the main lights dimmed, the crowd turned to the soft pink, orange, and blue lighting that melded together on the stage.

On this Monday evening, Spring Colours’ vocalist, David, remarked, “The scaries are done. Now, you just get to rock out.” He was right — soon, you’d never be able to tell it was a workday. By the time their set was over and the break hit, the venue was bubbling with conversation, as it had filled out with groups of friends.

Between Spring Colours’ last songs, Hailu squeezed through the crowd, followed by her guitarists, and made her way behind the stage. As the band signed off, Hailu made her way up. She was no longer wear ing her hoodie. Instead, she had sparkles along the highs of her cheekbones, and her silver nose piercing glinted in the lighting. She wore a flowy cropped sweater, a laced tshirt underneath, and blue jeans.

The duality between her lyricism and her appearance became even more stark as she introduced her single, “MANIC PIX IE PACIFIST.”

“This is a song about wanting to kill your self,” she said. “It’s a dancey

comedy in particular, helped make that possible. I really wanted a story with a happy ending, the kind that would have given me hope ten years ago. But at the same time, I wanted to capture the realities of living with chronic mental illness, which I knew all too well.

I am so glad that Never Been Better balances both — it refuses to fall into an easy recovery narrative but it also highlights the importance of the small but important steps forward and the big-hearted community that comes with a diagnosis.

TV: This novel deals heavily with JapaneseCanadian identity through the character of Misa. Was there an authorial intention to write this novel from the first-person perspective of a white protagonist, Dee?

LTS: When I started writing the original plot of Never Been Better seven years ago, I think I was still working through what it meant to be mixedrace Japanese Canadian. As a result, a lot of the novel’s growth comes from conversations between Dee and Misa, who tend to misunderstand each other — and I think that also reflects how I felt about the tension between my identities at the time.

It’s an unusual authorial choice, but I think it reflects who I was at the time. That being said, my next book is written quite differently, as I have become more confident writing in conversation with Japanese-Canadian history.

I think when you’re writing an often-overlooked story and feeling the weight of representation, there can be a sense that you have to get it ‘right.’ But seeing as I am writing from a community that has been deeply impacted by political violence, I’ve learned to recognize that there are layers and layers of experiences out there, and all I can do is try to write through those gaps in understanding and capture the many nuances of our lives.

TV: You have said that 2000s rom-coms heavily inspired this novel. Without giving too much of the plot away, were there any aspects of the rom-com genre that you were particularly excited to employ and other aspects that you were committed to avoid?

LTS: I love the structure of classic rom-coms — they offer us a strong sense of comfort amidst some compelling character-driven storytelling. But at the same time, I think many critics have noted that ‘happily ever afters’ aren’t always avail-

Her long sleeves swayed as she sang, “Was I just playing a role / when you were taking me home?” The audience swayed along with her. Her faster-tempoed songs like “postal code” had us almost headbanging. But when the instrumental went starkly silent at the end of a song, her voice alone filled the room.

Hailu sometimes grabbed her guitar to accompany the two guitarists and drummer. Her expressions went from blunt to dreamy as she performed. She snarkily rolled her eyes, or flashed a cheeky smile during “pinball” when she sang, “I like your stupid face.” During her more reflective pieces, she would thoughtfully gaze above the audience.

able for people living on the margins, and one thing my book tries to do is tackle why that is, and why romantic love is sometimes offered as a ‘fix’ when there are so many other competing and important factors in our overall happiness. Although the set-up is quite cinematic, I think how my characters learn to care for each other is very real in that sense.

TV: Could you give us some insight into what your publishing process was like? And, what advice would you give to any aspiring writers from U of T?

LTS: My process was very long! But I think that ended up helping me process everything. As a disabled person, I knew that I’d need to be able to support myself and afford medication throughout my writing process, so I worked in communications until my book came out this year and taught part-time too. Although it meant I moved a bit more slowly than some of my peers, I was also able to take care of my health and grow alongside my characters.

I was initially approached by my agent, who saw a video blog I did about my illness, when I was working on a memoir in 2016, but I’m very glad that I didn’t end up submitting a manuscript until this one was ready in 2020. It’s the right story for me to tell, and the longer timeline gave me time to improve my writing skills and get comfortable being an advocate for others.

TV: Give readers a teaser of the novel’s vibes! What are five things you associate with your book?

LTS: My Best Friend’s Wedding, infinity pool, Fanta, onigiri, and old-school burned CDs!

Interested readers can purchase a copy of Never Been Better at local bookstores such as Queen Books, TYPE Books, Book City, Ben McNally Books, Another Story Bookshop and more. Simpson’s novel can also be purchased through Indigo and Amazon.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hailu transitioned her sets through playful dialogue with the audience. She asked us to boo, and the crowd obliged. “It keeps me humble,” she said. She told us she’d take those ‘boos’ and “package [them] up and send it to

the west coast to [her] ex-boyfriend,” which pulled chuckles from the crowd.

Hailu searched the crowd for an audience member with small-town experience. She repeatedly checked in with the person between songs, saying, “Jordan, I’ll be talking to you.”

This playful chemistry continued: “Jeff-”

“Jordan,” they corrected.

“Close enough,” Hailu decided, causing the audience to snicker.

To introduce “walmart,” she asked Jordan what they did for fun in a small town. Hailu shared her own experiences: “I’d go to Walmart — have a joint, a gummy.” In response, an audience member behind me whispered to their friend, “So true.”

As Hailu switched from ethereal melodics to grittier dialogues between herself and the subjects of her lyrics, she elevated seemingly mundane experiences into bittersweet, charming memories.

Haleluya Hailu’s EP, eternally, yours, released on March 22.

Disclosure: Haleluya Hailu has advertised with The Varsity in Volume 144.

Comment Columnist
flowy, feminine
appearance contrasts her edgy lyricism.
Author Leanne Toshiko Simpson proudly shows off her debut novel Never Been Better, an offbeat, heartfelt novel about three friends who met in a psychiatric ward. COURTESY OF LEANNE TOSHIKO SIMPSON


A Streetcar Named Desire ’s artful worldbuilding made me swoon

A corner of campus got transformed into a steamy house in New Orleans

When I walked into Father Madden Hall at St. Michael’s College on the evening of March 16, I could hardly believe I was on campus and not at a Queen Street jazz lounge. But this was indeed the Trinity College Dramatic Society’s (TCDS) performance of Tennessee Williams’ moody American classic, A Streetcar Named Desire

Directed by Mila Frumovitz and running from March 14–17, the play tells the story of a former Southern belle, Blanche DuBois, who escapes tragedy and winds up on her sister Stella’s doorstep. There, she endures the presence of Stella’s aggressive husband, Stanley, whose violent temper and arrogance destabilize Blanche’s delusions of grandeur. The walls of their rickety house echo their toxic arguments until, by the end of the play, somebody has to lose.

Before I even entered the theatre, I knew I was in for a treat. A jazz band serenaded the audience as we took our seats, playing a set so woozy, so sensual, I felt compelled to whip out a cigarette and smoke it off a fire escape, pondering into the night. Charlie Hau on the saxophone literally made me swoon. Sophie Jesdadt on the piano and Dan Prashun on the drums, directed by Lev Tokol, were also great. The band, for the duration of the play and during its interludes, offered a moment of reprieve from the fiery arguments that characterize the iconic play.

The set was equally a stroke of genius: Father Madden Hall, not typically a theatre space, was transformed into a janky but inviting living room. The set design, achieved by Athen Go and their team, was expertly curated down to the last detail, with vintage rugs, bar carts, and old wooden pieces. Clotheslines framed the entire scene, hanging from above. Without a conventional stage, the audience felt immersed

in the house — and thus immersed in the messy lives of its residents.

Andrea Perez did an excellent job as the histrionic Blanche DuBois. Blanche’s insecurity was all painfully felt from the jump, as Perez conveyed her lines with the perfect blend of shrill confidence and desperation. The stunning Perez sauntered and twirled across the room in the character’s melodramatic style, and she had my empathy for Blanche fluctuating just as much as Blanche’s emotions themselves.

me wrong. He did an awesome job as Stella’s brutish hunk of a husband, Stanley. His violent fits reverberated throughout the hall, and he mastered his character’s nonchalant airs. I’d give props to his delivery of the iconic line,


I didn’t know men at U of T were capable of being Brando-esque, but Nolan Rush proved

Speaking of Stella: these two hot messes were brought down to earth by Stella herself (Gaby Bondoc) and Mitch (Carl Schienemann). Bondoc’s Stella grounded her sister but still delivered vulnerability and fragility as Stanley’s battered wife, while Schienemann was perfectly earnest as Mitch, a hopeless romantic

caught in Blanche and Stanley’s crossfire.

The characters’ constant arguments were anchored by a wonderful use of lighting. Vintage lamps were skillfully coordinated to change colours as Blanche retreated to her steamy bathroom, or as they framed Stella and Stanley locked in embrace. Lighting designer Cass Iacovelli and their team did not miss a beat while creating every scene’s mood.

The music was sensual, the lighting was warm, and the cast was picture-perfect, mingling in their nightgowns among smashed bottles of liquor.

There was only one crucial problem, however: none of them managed to nail their Southern accents. I’ll admit that putting on a Southern drawl for a nearly three-hour, dialogue-heavy play is not a feat I could accomplish. So, while I commend their ambition, unfortunately, a lot of the snappy lines got ‘lost in translation.’

Granted, if the film adaptation is anything to go off of, the mumbled or flustered dialogue is a given in the play. This made the hiccup a bit more excusable, as the audience still managed to glean the plot as it progressed, but I think some of the sexual tension or emotion from certain phrases sadly got muddled, especially in the third act.

The play also would have benefited from softer mic volumes. Seen as it was staged in a hall with soaring ceilings, even the subtler scenes resounded quite loudly. For a play as cacophonous as A Streetcar Named Desire, I wished we, as an audience, had a few moments of quiet relief to make the play’s signature explosive moments truly stand out.

Although the delivery of the play’s dialogue left, well, something to be desired, TCDS’ A Streetcar Named Desire was still a lush, immersive experience. The cast gave committed performances, and when it comes to artful worldbuilding and stage design, it was the most impressive example I’ve seen in U of T theatre yet.

Young Frankenstein : A monstrous hit

A review of the Victoria College Drama Society’s latest musical

immaculate talent for physical comedy made her a delight to watch. I look forward to seeing what else Davis will take on in the future.

Victoria College Dramatic Society’s brandnew musical, Young Frankenstein , debuted last week at the Isabel Bader Theatre. Director Madeleine King and her tireless crew and cast are back in full swing with this impressive reimagining of Mel Brooks’ iconic 1974 piece and Mary Shelley’s timeless cautionary tale of human ambition and desire gone haywire.

With a happier ending to the well-known and loved story, Young Frank follows the story of an ecstatic scientist as she discovers the depths of friendship, love, and sexuality. Chronicling the journey of one chaotic character after another, this show was comedic gold, filled to the brim with talented performers, and an absolute joy to watch from beginning to end.

Many are familiar with the classic story of Victor Frankenstein and his ill-fated scientific endeavours. But do most know anything about his estranged granddaughter, Dr. Freida Frankenstein? A skilled physician who becomes exasperated at the slightest mention of her grandfather, Dr. Frankenstein — or as she calls him, “Dr. Fronkensteen” — Freida is troubled by her family’s reputation, yet compelled to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

The choice of gender-swapping the main character was ingenious, as Jordan Davis’ “Dr. Freida Frankenstein” was ever-so-charming in her centre-stage role as the heart and soul of this production. Davis’ ability to quickly capture her character’s panicked and pretentious nature, her facial expressions, along with her

Additionally, Eleanor Wiens Farrelly was nothing short of hilarious and magnetic, performing her heart out as Igor — Dr. Frankenstein’s hunchbacked, bug-eyed, loyal servant. Another supremely talented actress completed their perfect comedic trio: Siobhán Gyulay played the adorable, kindhearted, and beautiful Inga, showcasing an incredible musical and vocal range. I almost fell off my chair at her rendition of “Roll in the Hay,” where she perfectly executed the subtle double-entendres and ridiculousness of this immensely funny number, assuring us that we were strapped in for a good time. Details like her taking hay out of her hair throughout the show put the biggest smile on my face.

I cannot help but mention the stunning performances of Frau Blucher (Karen Hopkins), Elizabeth Benning (Mai-Yin Johnston), and The Monster/Mr. Hilltop (Hunter Moore). Upon arriving at Transylvania, Dr. Frankenstein’s life is turned upside down by her encounter with Frau Blucher, the housekeeper of her inherited estate. Delivering perfect femme fatale energy, Hopkins had me on my toes the entire night, wondering what she would do next.

Lurking primarily in the shadows in deceptive ways, she has her moment in the spotlight with “He Vas My Boyfriend,” which ended up being my favourite musical number of the night — along with Johnston’s “Please Don’t Touch Me” at the beginning of the show. Both Hopkins and Johnston exemplified

the personas of their effortlessly powerful characters with lit-from-inside confidence and sensuality. I was most pleased with the delicious marriage of chair choreography, shakes, stomps, one-liner jokes and their impeccable charisma to display it all.

Throughout the night, the delicate usage of lighting and the swift yet poignant movement of the actors on stage created one of the most enjoyable theatre experiences I’ve had for a long time. I will remember Young Frank for its intelligent lighting usage and flawless timing in utilizing sound effects.

It is impossible to skim over the wonderful dance sequences of Moore’s Monster and Hopkins’ Blucher. Separated by a white sheet, the two added an incredibly dramatic flare to the show.

Young Frank managed to tastefully break the fourth wall — something which is, in actuality, a very difficult task. I deeply enjoyed the small bits and pieces where cast members interacted with audience members, coming close to their seats and offering camped-up drama the entire time.

It is safe to say that the show had a few drawbacks: the constant moving of set pieces, the occasional hiccups in placing tables and locking things in place hampered the overall fluidity of the show. In other instances, the overwhelming and repetitive reactions of the town villagers to Dr. Frankenstein’s loose Monster interrupted the smooth storytelling. The audience was subjected to a multitude of occasions of villager mania that I wish had been reined in.

Overall, though, Young Frank was one of the most singular experiences of drama I’ve had at U of T. From its amazing cast, musical pieces, set design, and production, one can see just how many hours of work and dedication it took to put on one hell of a show. A huge congratulations to all those involved! Your verve for comedy, drama, and art left me only more excited to see what else can be cooked up by students in our beloved community. MARCH 25, 2024 15
The playbill for A Streetcar Named Desire MILENA PAPPALARDO/THEVARSITY
Young Frankenstein ran from March 14-16 at the Isabel Bader Theatre. COURTESY

Discoveries on Mars: Water, life, and human exploration

Abigail Fraeman and Bruce Jakosky discuss the history of Mars rovers and the future of human missions

Abigail Fraeman, PhD, has operated two of NASA’s Mars rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, seeking to uncover the secrets held underneath the planet’s layers of sand. Bruce Jakosky, PhD, is currently the associate director for science in the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and has worked on several projects studying the climate of Mars.

At the U of T Astronomy & Space Exploration Association’s 20th Annual Symposium, themed Mars: The Quest for Human Habitat, Fraeman and Jakosky shared insights into the exploration of Mars.

Rovers roaming the red planets

Has there ever been life on Mars? To answer this question, Fraeman explained, three Mars rovers looked into whether the planet had three key features for habitable conditions: long-lived water, as in, water that has run or existed for a long time; the presence of key chemical elements and nutrients for life; and the availability of material that can be used for energy.

Spirit and Opportunity were sent to Mars to look into its possibility of long-lived water. Spirit, the first to land, discovered carbonate minerals in the rocks, indicating past warm water environments with a neutral acidity. Not long after, Spirit became lodged in the soil, ending its six-year journey.

Scientists studied the surface beneath Spirit, seeing that the layers of soil were of decreasing salt solubility, indicating the minerals were deposited by thin films of water. Additionally, the rover uncovered remnants of past volcanic activity, including hot water, gas and vapour vents, as well as remnants of hot springs alongside salts and silica formations, suggesting potentially habitable conditions.

Later, Opportunity landed in a crater infested with the mineral hematite, which was later discovered to be a result of sand dunes cemented by rising waters. As this rover made its way to another crater, Endeavor, evidence of clay and gypsum minerals — which are precipitated from moving water — was found. The observations and data collected by these missions allowed scientists to affirm that liquid water once existed on Mars.

The next rover sent to Mars was Curiosity, whose discoveries have reshaped our understanding of the red planet’s past habitability. Upon landing in Gale crater, the rover immediately encountered conglomerates, a type of sedimentary rock that indicates a past riverbed environment.

As Curiosity ventured further, ancient lakebed sediments complete with essential elements for life revealed evidence of water on Mars. Drilling into the surface, Curiosity received samples that were revealed to be rich in organic molecules and vital minerals, shedding light on Mars’ potential to support life.

Yet, the mystery remains regarding the factors driving modern dry conditions and climate fluctuations on the red planet.

The slow process of controlling these rovers and the lack of human accessibility to Mars are major limitations to the speed of exploration and discoveries. Fraeman hopes that these rovers will one day pave the way for human exploration of Mars. Until then, Curiosity’s ongoing mission will be closely followed for further revelations.

Living on Mars — is it still a dream?

The future of Mars exploration is marked by ambitious endeavours, including Lockheed Martin’s “Mars Base Camp” and SpaceX’s Starship, as well as a farther-reach scientific outpost. In his presentation, Jakosky elaborated on the significant

complications of heading toward human missions on Mars.

At the heart of Mars exploration lies the pursuit of scientific discovery — particularly in the search for environmental conditions that can support life, as asserted by NASA. The possibility of life existing on Mars would offer profound insights into the origins and evolution of life in the universe when compared to the course of life here on Earth.

Rovers like Perseverance allowed scientists to confirm that liquid water was once on Mars, as they found traces of the essential minerals for life — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen — in the planet’s atmosphere, and were able to predict that it was likely Mars once had a moderate temperature as it is required for such minerals to exist. With these findings, NASA’s current objectives involve understanding what led to the change of Mars’ climate, the geological processes that take place, and the relationship between the surface and inner layers of the planet — all of which could be answered faster with humans on Mars itself.

In order to institute human missions on Mars, though, we must solve several technical problems. What can ensure that humans have enough resources to live there while also avoiding radiation damage and potential fatality? What procedures would be followed when something goes wrong? Financial issues also come into play given that the estimated costs for such missions lie anywhere within the range of 100 billion up to a trillion dollars, according to Jakosky.

March is endometriosis awareness month

On the erasure of women’s experiences in reproductive medicine

Endometriosis is a reproductive disease that affects 10–15 per cent of women of reproductive age and is associated with significant prolonged psychological stress in social and sexual situations.

But it’s also much more than just a medical condition. Endometriosis is a disease with a long history of sexism and scientific disinvestment. Understanding the condition requires a historical lens into how institutional and cultural forces hinder reproductive care for women and gender minorities.

What is endometriosis?

The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus, which, during monthly menstruation, thickens and sheds as a response to hormonal changes. In endometriosis, the endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus — on the bladder, ovaries, and fallopian tubes — resulting in the formation of scar tissue and inflammation.

Endometrial tissue that grows outside of the uterus still responds to hormones that cause thickening and shedding, but due to its abnormal location, the shedding cannot be discharged by the body, and instead, accumulates in the abdomen.

Difficulties with diagnosis and treatment

Though endometriosis affects a significant portion of the female population, scientists and doctors lack effective diagnostic measures and treatments. Many patients begin experiencing symptoms of this disease in adolescence but struggle to receive adequate attention and individualized treatment from their healthcare providers — in fact, there the average delay in diagnosing endometriosis across ten countries is 6.7 years after the initial symptoms set in, according to a 2011 study by Kelechi E. Nnoaham and colleagues.

Biomarkers are measurable substances and signs in the body that may indicate someone’s predisposition to developing a disease or illness. Scientists speculate that biomarkers, genetic vulnerability, dietary patterns, and retrograde menstruation — the flowback of menstrual blood into the fallopian tubes — may predict the deposition of endometrial cells outside of uterine lining. While these may contribute to endometriosis, according to an article in Current Obstetrics and Gynecology Reports, the evidence linking them to the development of endometriosis is inconclusive or scarce.

no cure for this disease, meaning many women go through several trial-and-error treatment options that are more rooted in managing severe and excruciating pelvic pain than treating endometriosis.

Why is endometriosis a medical mystery?

We cannot understand the medical difficulties with endometriosis in a vacuum. Gynecology has historically erased and trivialized women’s experiences with pain, leading to misdiagnosis or improper treatment plans. This historical erasure also allows for stigma and misinformation to proliferate about women’s and female reproductive health.

The neglect of endometriosis originates from a strong gender bias in medicine where cisgender men are used as the standard model for health and disease. Conversely, women are treated as the ‘other,’ and infantilized in the knowledge and experience of their own body. This reality is changing, but progress is slow.

With the evidence pointing at Mars being habitable, the big question is: how would we terraform Mars? In other words, would it be possible to alter Mars’ environment and atmosphere to resemble that of the Earth? Through the MAVEN spacecraft, for which Jakosky is the principal investigator, scientists have been studying how Mars’ atmospheric gas has been lost to space. Astro-scientists believe that this is a major mechanism responsible for the change in Mars’ climate.

Astrophysicists have also crucially hypothesized that mobilizing enough Martian carbon dioxide — found in Martian polar ice caps and attached to individual dirt grains in a process known as adsorption — into the atmosphere could warm the planet and allow liquid water to be present.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has labelled Mars as a plan-B planet, in the case that the Earth’s conditions were no longer liveable. However, Earth will always be much easier to terraform back into a living condition than it would be to terraform Mars, given the latter’s complex environment and many mysteries. Therefore, Musk’s stirring anticipation of living on Mars may only have negative effects, as people will start taking less and less care of the Earth.

Still, Jakosky sees significant potential in the initiation of human missions on Mars. Combined with the information presented by Fraeman about the geobiology of Mars, the mysteries of the Martian surface are slowly being uncovered for human exploration. The future of Mars exploration holds immense scientific promise.

the precise workings of endometriosis is often colloquially discussed as an inherent property of the disease rather than resulting from the systemic neglect of research into women’s health.

Ignoring pelvic pain is a common way misogyny manifests in healthcare and continues to hinder scientific and social progress. Gendered expectations to be sacrificial or submissive discourage women to be vocal about the physical and psychological pain of endometriosis. Even if women express their pain, they are frequently branded as overtly emotional by their doctors, constituting a form of erasure and preventing women from accessing the right care.

This ignorance also halts progress in the field: doctors and researchers not taking into account women’s experiences of pain can seriously reduce the accuracy of classification systems and formal definitions used for diagnosis.

Self-silencing in endometriosis

For patients with endometriosis, the misunderstanding, neglect, and systemic failures they endure to properly diagnose and treat endometriosis can strain their mental health, ability to cope, and relationships with themselves and others.

When endometrial tissue grows in inappropriate places, it develops into cysts and scar tissue that weakencompromise the overall function of affected pelvic organs. Consequently, endometriosis results in different challenges including hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction, severe pelvic pain, infertility, and psychosocial issues.

The struggle to understand the causes of endometriosis manifests through its invasive, faulty, and painful diagnostic procedures and treatments. For example, to be diagnosed with endometriosis, patients must endure tests that rule out other causes of pelvic pain and subsequently undergo biopsies and surgical procedures to confirm to treat endometrial tissue abnormalities.

Even when individuals are diagnosed, the lack of knowledge about endometriosis shrouds the path to treatment in mystery. As of yet, there is

Endometriosis’ ambiguous status, lending to a lack of cure or sufficient knowledge about its pathophysiology, has generated misinformation and deepened oppressive stereotypes that harm many women’s self-image and resiliency.

For example, a common myth since the ’70s was that endometriosis only affected women who bore children later in life, leading many to associate endometriosis as a ‘career woman’s’ disease.

An article published in The New York Times describes medical gaslighting as “the experience of having one’s concerns dismissed by a medical provider.” It also contextualizes the reality of endometriosis. Despite growing interest, the lack of medical knowledge about

Unsurprisingly, the culture of diminishing womens’ pain and self-silencing is connected to a fragmented sense of self: a 2020 Feminism & Psychology study about how experiences with endometriosis affects self-perception found that when women silence themselves or belittle their pain to maintain amicable relationships, they often experience a loss of their sense of self.

Endometriosis is a public health concern with a history of misogyny and oppression that backlogs scientific progress and endangers womens’ health. When doctors, scientists, and even loved ones ignore or misunderstand women’s pain, it goes toward not only erasing the pain, but also the well-being of women who endure it.

Science March 25, 2024
Abigail Fraeman (left) and Bruce Jakosky (right) discussed various Martian discoveries at ASX’s 20th Annual Symposium. COURTESY OF AKBAR HALIM AND ASX ASSOCIATION

Conflicting conceptions of life

The duality of science and philosophy in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, emerged in a period of intense scientific speculation and discovery. Reflective of many scientists in this age, the titular character Victor Frankenstein rejects neutrality in his practice and instead pursues science that embraces danger and vulnerability. Borne from his reckless curiosity is a monster whose creation is symbolic of the abundance of debates, ideas, and anxieties in science at the time.

Shelley brings attention to the intersection of science and philosophy by accentuating the different perspectives of life and the body that were present before her novel’s conception. In doing so, Shelley unlocks the beast that is interpretation. How does the mind’s will transmit to the rest of the body? What is life?

Animalists versus metalists

Numerous scientific phenomena are contained within the pages of Shelley’s work, the most prolific likely being that of electricity in connection to biology.

In the 1790s, this topic was widely debated by Luigi Galvani — a professor of anatomy at Bologna University in Italy — and Alessandro Volta — a professor of physics at the neighbouring University of Pavia. Together, they disputed over the idea of “bioelectricity” that seemed to link electricity and neuromuscular action.

In 1781, Galvani began a series of experiments connecting the nerves of frogs’ legs to a Leyden jar — a device that could store and release static charge at the user’s touch — and observed the contraction of the leg muscles in response to the current Galvani stimulated with the device.

He also found that the frogs’ legs often twitched


when they were attached to the iron railings in his garden. These spontaneous movements suggested that electricity emanated from the muscle itself and that in circuit with the nerves, the muscles acted much like the Leyden jars, storing and releasing electrical current to cause movement.

But, in 1792, Volta’s experiments found that he could also induce contractions when he put two different metals in contact with the nerves of the frogs’ legs simultaneously. He undermined Galvani’s experiments with his proposition that the muscle responded to an external electrical potential and did not store it.

Volta’s experiments suggested the source of this electrical current to be contact potential: an electrostatic potential between two different conductive materials that have been brought into thermal equilibrium — the same closed system — with each other.

Together, the work of Galvani and Volta sparked a continuous debate about electric current generation between animalists — those who believed that electricity had a biological origin to induce muscle contraction, as displayed by Galvani — and metalists — those who believed in Volta’s ideas about contact potential.

Ultimately, both sides were right. The source of electricity in Galvani’s experiment was indeed the contact potential between two metals, supporting Volta’s theory. But, Galvani was also correct in his conclusion that electricity can be emitted from living tissues and that electricity transmitted through the nerve induces muscle contraction.

Galvanism, the application of electricity to the body, formed a link between electricity and life and sparked interest about reanimation. The landscape of Galvani’s laboratory — littered with dismembered corpses, mysterious instruments, and reconfigured muscles and nerves — was

symbolic of his work on the intersection of life and death. It’s plausible that Shelley was influenced by his work, given that Frankenstein’s own scientific endeavours largely mirrored those of Galvani.

Vitalism versus mechanism

What is life and what is death? The ambiguity of this question cannot be answered by simply a reaction of muscles to a stimulus.

According to Joel Levy’s book, Gothic Science: The Era of Ingenuity & the Making of Frankenstein, Shelley’s circle of acquaintances debated multiple philosophical ideologies during the conception of her novel. The most dominant battle was between vitalism — the idea that life’s processes cannot be reduced to solely physical or chemical terms — and mechanism — opposite to vitalism, the belief that life can be explained entirely by physical and chemical phenomena.

Discoveries of the structural aspects of life — genetics, DNA, cellular signaling — have helped to elucidate the organization of the human body, but our consciousness remains to be fully and properly explained by science.

teeth and why we have them

Our teeth aren’t the problem — it’s our shrinking jaws

In December 2023, I underwent surgery to extract my bottom right wisdom tooth. Two years before that, I had to get my upper two wisdom teeth pulled out because they grew in slanted. Despite enduring swollen cheeks and the inability to eat solid foods for at least a week twice already, I still have to face one more surgery to extract the bottom left tooth.

According to a 2013 article published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, more than seven million Canadians may have wisdom teeth that didn’t erupt — grow out of the gums — properly. Whether surgery is necessary depends on a person’s individual case. When there is no room for these teeth to grow out properly, they can impact, or clash with, other teeth. This leads to pain and dental damage. Additionally, impactions create awkward

crevices that our toothbrushes can’t reach, which can result in infection, gum disease, and tooth decay.

To those who share my frustration, wisdom teeth seem to cause us more harm than good.

Surprisingly, according to a 2015 literature review in the Dental Research Journal, it appears that between five to 37 per cent of people worldwide are born without one or more of their last molars. So, why do some people not grow wisdom teeth? And why do some people have to endure the pain and price of surgery to remove teeth that now seem obsolete?

Why do we have wisdom teeth?

Wisdom teeth are also known as humans’ third set of molars, located at the very back of the mouth. Unlike our adult teeth, wisdom teeth don’t emerge after our baby teeth fall out. Rather, they only start to grow in between the ages of 17 and 25. The later age in which we

grow these teeth is the anticlimactic reason why they’re called ‘wisdom’ teeth.

While I needed surgery to remove my wisdom teeth, our early human ancestors needed them. An article published in the Smithsonian Magazine describes that, before humans discovered cooking, our ancestors’ diet consisted of raw meat and plants. These foods were more difficult to chew, which resulted in larger jaws paired with powerful chewing muscles. Our primate relatives, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, all have wisdom teeth that allow them to chew fibery foods.

However, the shift from hunter-gatherers to farmers changed the human diet to softer foods that don’t require as much jaw strength. As a result, our jaws have evolved to be smaller and wisdom teeth became vestigial — functionless in the course of evolution. Still, if our jaws have adapted to our modern diet, why haven’t our teeth?

In Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein achieves reanimation by purely physical means, but the mental development of the monster speaks to both material and immaterial experiences. Learning, memory, and emotion stem from physical interactions in the monster’s nervous system. Thus, Shelley walks a blurred line of philosophical interpretation.

Infusing definition

The monster’s creation is a brief moment in the novel that lacks detail during a time in history thick with want for answers to life’s unknowns. By purposefully excluding all textual evidence of the methods used to create the monster, Shelley has allowed all these philosophies to exist simultaneously and the reader can freely interpret the mechanisms of life.

Victor Frankenstein says, “I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.”

Perhaps, we are our own sort of experiment: as we progress through life, imprinting experience on ourselves and those around us, we evolve.

We don’t chew enough

Our teeth are actually not at fault for our dental misalignments and wisdom teeth surgeries. Instead, it’s our jaws.

The size of our teeth and jaws are not determined the same way. The shape and size of our teeth are genetically preprogrammed. This means that they cannot immediately adapt to the conditions of our respective mouths.

On the other hand, diets and genetics shape the size of our jaws until the end of puberty. As Julia Boughner, a developmental anthropologist, explained in an interview with CBC, whether your jaw is big enough for an extra set of molars depends on how much you chewed as a child. The tough diets of our ancestors shaped their protruding jaws that provided their teeth with spacious real estate. Thus, our teeth evolved to match the longer jaw. It took 200,000 years of human evolution to reach the jaw size-to-teeth ratio found in modern homo sapiens.

Today, our jaws can typically fit 28 teeth. There’s no telling when our wisdom teeth will completely vanish from our jawline — but until then, at least you have ice cream to look forward to after your surgery. MARCH 25, 2024 17
estimated seven million Canadians have problems with their wisdom teeth. MEDHA SURAJPAL/THEVARSITY

Walking the Clouds : Indigenous voices reimagining futuristic fiction

Highlights from Grace L. Dillon’s anthology renew sci-fi beyond Western technoculture

Content warning: This article mentions gun violence.

American academic and author Grace L. Dillon, of Anishinaabe and European descent, coined the term “Indigenous futurism” to platform Indigenous science fiction, which has been overlooked in the face of Western technoculturalism. Indigenous futurism describes art and literature that is centred around Indigenous scientific literacy and intellectualism, and Dillon advocates for this literature to reclaim its place in the sci-fi genre.

Walking the Clouds is a 2012 anthology of Indigenous science fiction that Dillon edited. It contains short story excerpts and prose from writers that confront postmodern, postcolonial Indigenous experiences in a struggle for survival against colonization across terrains — “whether geopolitical, psychological, sexual, [or] otherwise,” as Dillon says in the introduction.

The book is divided into five themed bundles of stories: “Native Slipstream,” “Contact,” “Indigenous Science and Sustainability,” “Native Apocalypse,” and “Biskaabiiyang: Returning to Ourselves.” Each section offers a handful of excerpts from various writers, and I’ve picked three of these excerpts to spotlight below.

Flight by Sherman Alexie — from “Native Slipstream”

The section “Native Slipstream” looks at the fluidity of time, memory, and presence and the possibility of multiverses and time travel. The section’s main message is about bringing attention to the present and building a better future. Dillon describes the tone of the stories of this chapter as full of “sardonic humour” and “bittersweet hope.”

A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene poet and novelist, Sherman Alexie’s Flight takes off in the first-person narrative frame of Zits, an angsty teenager the author describes as being of Irish and Native American descent, who contemplates — and eventually rejects — participating in a killing spree at a bank in Seattle.

or lack thereof — in brief, seamless transitions of flashes from his childhood. Stepping into Zits’ body and having his childhood trauma flash before his eyes adds a hyperreal touch to the moments he spent contemplating at the bank. He does not actively assert or initiate a memory — rather, he seems to live it and become the person he was growing up at various stages of his orphaned childhood through foster homes.

Men on the Moon

by Simon Ortiz — from “Contact”

Whether physical contact through discovery and exploration across new worlds and terrains or verbal contact by sharing a language, through “Contact,”

Ortiz, who is from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, engages in an experience that I believe many immigrants and non-English speakers would find relatable. His juxtaposition of Western space conquest with Faustin’s dream of an invading machine monster reflects the narratives of colonialism and contact — as it relates to the larger theme of the section — through discovery and annihilation.

“Native Slipstream” looks at the fluidity of time, memory, and presence and the possibility of multiverses and time travel.

Dillon wishes to address that Indigenous writers’ science fiction might be curated, ironically, to challenge and “taunt” their readers’ positions regarding the condition of the Indigenous diaspora.

Dillon says that Simon Ortiz’s Men on the Moon subtly challenges the notion of “technoprimitivism” that is associated with a disregard for Indigenous intellectualism.

In this excerpt, Faustin, an Indigenous Elder, dreams of a machine monster on the moon in the wake of watching the 1969 moon landing on a newly set-up television. Through Faustin’s experiences, Ortiz weaves an ironic, metaphorical story by juxtaposing the image of the

He is genuinely surprised at the fact that the astronauts would go to such lengths in search of answers about the beginning of creation and the search for “the tiniest bit of life” on other planets.

In an introduction to the excerpt of Flight, Dillon suggests that Zits’ character has been put together as a “typifie[d] reservation youth today” to help him move beyond the “self-loathing of internal colonization” that “reservation youth” may experience.

Zits is an orphaned teenager who has run away from foster homes several times since his childhood. When his narrative frame shifts from the present — the bank — to glimpses from his childhood, we relive his abuse, trauma, and struggles with forming his identity.

Eventually, he is taken in by a police officer to whom he confesses about guns he had kept for the killing spree, followed by an interrogation which gives him a chance at reflection. When he is taken in by two police sergeants, Dillon highlights the shift of the narrative frame in reflecting Zits’ own struggles with his identity.

This excerpt masterfully displays an intimate understanding of Zit’s character, and motive —

Dillon explains that Ortiz’s story explores catastrophic change from an Indigenous perspective, rather than through wonder and the glorification of exploration and annihilation that are typical in mainstream science fiction.

The Moons of Palmares by Zainab Amadahy — from “Native Apocalypse” “Native Apocalypse” refers to “the ruptures, the scares, and the trauma” as part of the larger collective healing process depicted in this anthology. In this section, we see themes of apocalypse, either as the build-up or in the aftermath, and the steps to revolution and recovery. Activist and writer Zainab Amadahy — who is of mixed-race background, including African American, Cherokee, Seminole, Portuguese, Amish, and Pacific Islander — wrote a futuristic adventure story in a distant world. It touches on the politics and reality of a technologically

superior colonizer culture exploiting the Palmerans — an Indigenous population in the world of Palmares — for their rich natural resources.

The excerpt begins after an earthquake, which results from heavy volcanic activity from the excess mining on Palmeres’ moons. This story has themes of neocolonialism and political independence as well as resistance, morality, and corruption in an intergalactic setting. I found this story quite powerful, as it jumps right into the characters leading up to a revolution in an apocalyptic setting.

The many faces of colonialism

In my experience, most science fiction pertains to some kind of futuristic world with advanced biomedical technologies, infrastructures, and vehicles, all topped with a beautiful message of equality and accessibility for all. Sometimes, these media texts also come with complex, sometimes dark, or disturbing underlying themes of a dystopia looming behind the superficial clouds of silver lining.

In the cases of all three excerpts, we are presented with the themes of space, time, and technology seen in typical mainstream science fiction through the perspective of Indigenous characters. Occasionally we also see themes of the many explicit and implicit faces of colonizing powers in futuristic settings — whether as huge corporations and political entities, technologically powerful space travellers, or in the deliberate mediation of contact and understanding through language.

Colonization, whether through advanced technology or cultural and linguistic dominance, has many faces — and remains the same in spirit. 18 THE VARSITY SCIENCE
Walking the Clouds offers a glimpse into the world of Indigenous science fiction.

Football can connect us all — but the sport is losing some of the spirit

Reflections from a homesick international student and football fan

Winter in Toronto can be a rather bleak place for newcomers, as the unforgiving winter only compounds feelings of rootlessness and homesickness. Individuals will all have their own means of alleviating these emotions, be it calls with family or keeping up with media from ‘back home.’

As for me, this involves waking up at an ungodly hour every weekend to scream at 22 men kicking a ball on the other side of the Atlantic with one or many accompanying pints.

Toronto likes to pride itself on being cosmopolitan — more than half of its inhabitants were born in another country, to say nothing of the second and third-generation diaspora communities and recent arrivals from other provinces. But that does give rise to a certain degree of alienation, with so many people left feeling neither here nor there.

When I first arrived in Toronto, my first point of call after sorting out rent was to find somewhere to watch my team, the Tottenham Hotspur. With FuboTV, the Canadian media rights holders for the Premier League, charging a ridiculous amount for a subscription that I would use at most once a week, that option was never financially viable. But more than for frugality, I was searching for a place that would provide me with a community of like-minded sufferers, where I could interact with those of the same focus and have that joint escape from the realities of life.

I found that place at Scotland Yard Pub near Union Station, the official home base of the Spurs Supporters Club. When I’m back home, watching the game offers me a chance to be distracted by “the most important of unimportant things”; to forget whatever academic and personal troubles may be on my mind at any given time; to channel my emotions into bemoaning the cheating of opponents or our inability to score goals, and cheering on my lot with as much rigour and willpower as humanly possible.

At the pub, there are periodic chants, constant interjections about the tactics and performances of the game, and many of the idiosyncrasies that

would be present at the stadium itself. There is something bleakly humorous in hearing more than 100 people react in unison with the same winced, pained noises while watching a replay of our centre-half Radu Drăgușin being hit from point-blank range square in the man spuds in our recent game against Aston Villa.

All of these experiences are topped off by the pandemonium after goals, particularly those late in the day to win the match, as has happened fairly often this season. The place goes wild — the noise reaches another level, and there are spilled drinks, knocked-over chairs, and the lot.

Uninitiated North Americans might decry football’s lack of scoring as a means to belittle the product, but I would argue the opposite. When I attended a Raptors game earlier this season, it was difficult to properly cheer on and celebrate the Raptors’ scoring, so frequent they were. It is, in fact, the relative scarcity of goals in football that elicits such powerful emotions.

I know that, as a UK immigrant, my experience has been far easier than the experience of some from other countries, particularly where English is not the first language. Still, this whole experience — watching with fellow fans, singing the same songs, cheering the players on as if I were back home — goes a long way to alleviating feelings of homesickness.

However, I know that watching from the pub can never replicate the true matchday experience. The time difference and Canadian sensitivities mean less time and opportunity for those typical pre-match routines: the no-hope bets at some exploitative bookmaker, the E-coli ridden burgers, the beers on the train and in the pubs before entry, and even the post-match Bovril on a cold day. And as for the match itself — on a good day, with 60,000-odd fans singing and celebrating in unison, it is an experience that cannot be rivalled.

Yet even this longing brings up contradictory emotions. For the longest time, the beautiful game has been growing increasingly sullied by commercialization and greed in the upper echelons. The consistently rising ticket prices, while certainly no worse than tickets for the Leafs, are

Rating the ridiculous unwritten rules of baseball

These rules are technically legal…

but also not? Why?

Several weeks ago, Ottawa Senators centre Ridly Greig capped off his team’s win against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an extravagant slapshot into the Leafs’ empty net as the clock wound down. The Leafs’ defencemen Morgan Rielly then decided to show his displeasure in a completely reasonable way — by trying to take Greig’s head off with a crosscheck to the neck. A debate then ensued: did Greig break the unwritten rules of hockey with his slapshot? Was Rielly really in the right to take exception in the way he did?

All sports have unwritten rules. Most are sensible — in soccer, you kick the ball out of play when someone goes down injured. In hockey, you expect to have to answer the bell when you lay a dirty hit. In basketball, you don’t shoot as the clock is winding down on the last possession in a blowout game.

However, one sport is a stickler for unwritten rules — baseball. America’s favourite pastime has so many unwritten rules, most of which are quite ridiculous. So, as we build up toward the start of another MLB season and spring

pricing out the working-class communities that built the game. With that comes a more gentrified, middle-class experience that, with each passing year, resembles less and less the atmospheres and experiences I grew up with and became enamoured with.

Some fans don’t seem to see the root of the problem. Spurs manager Ange Postecoglou recently replied to a question from a journalist who asked whether it was foreign fans causing an increase in ticket prices, saying: “That’s really harsh. I’m probably ‘plastic’ and ‘tourist,’ because I was coming from the other side of the world, really passionate about football, and if I could get access to see a Premier League game, that was the world to me.” Foreign fans and ‘bandwagoners’ are often lampooned with the blame, but my days at Scotland Yard pub revealed a group of dedicated, passionate, long-suffering fans that would not be out of place on Tottenham High Road.

Foreign fans are not the root of the problem, but rather the problem is increasing greed at the upper echelons by owners, broadcasters, and administrators seeking to exploit the game’s immense popularity and people’s strong desire to participate in it.

As with all things nostalgic, there is a tendency to accentuate the positives and airbrush out the negatives. I am often left wondering whether my longing for the matchday experience and usage of this overseas supporters club as a proxy is chasing a feeling that no longer exists.

Matches still have the power to make or break my weekend, the atmospheres are sometimes

unrivalled, and the play can be scintillating. But I increasingly find elite English football resembling a more North American product. There is nothing inherently wrong with such an experience, and I have grown increasingly fond of Toronto’s teams in the NBA and NHL. But that is not the game I grew up with.

Toronto prides itself on its cosmopolitanism. This does have many positive aspects, and individuals can sometimes rely on technology and communities to bridge cultural gaps and help them with homesickness. I have done that by attempting to replicate my weekly football experience, and for the most part, it works.

But at a time when I find myself becoming increasingly detached from my club and from the game itself — if not from the majority of players and the club’s manager — it raises questions of belonging. In becoming so commercial and global, the game risks losing the local attachments that made it so unique in the first place.

I take some blame for that. As one of those aforementioned middle-class fans, I have been willing to tolerate excessive price rises and participate in the supply-and-demand model, which means there will always be a captive and paying audience, no matter the cost. I sing my heart out, but I watch on from overseas.

The elite game has changed, even in my short lifetime, and I have to accept that it is not changing back. It is an ongoing situation that I have to endure. Not even the luxury of distance can isolate me from that.

Ridiculousness Rating: 8/10. It depends on how many runs the fielding team is down by, but by and large, if you don’t want to get taken deep, don’t throw meatballs.

training kicks off, I want to take a look at some ridiculous unwritten rules in baseball and rate precisely how ridicu lous they are.

1. Don’t bunt to break up a nohitter.

Admittedly, this one is a little nuanced and my opinion on it is a bit of a hot take. It’s my personal opinion that pitchers looking to achieve a no-hitter should account for all types of swings from batters, including bunts — a baseball technique where the batter doesn’t swing and instead lightly taps the ball. Although the general idea makes sense — where bunts go is less in the pitcher’s control — there are pitches that the pitcher could throw that make it generally harder for batters to bunt. Besides, if the game is still close, why shouldn’t batters try every trick in the book?

Ridiculousness Rating: 6/10. Sincerely, I do understand why we have this rule, but it’s a personal peeve of mine.

2. Never swing at a 3–0 pitch when your team is comfortably ahead. Pitchers are sensitive souls. So much so that there’s a subset of unwritten rules specifically dedicated to protecting their feelings. This is one of them — a rule that specifically tells batters: “Hey, maybe don’t try to play baseball.” It’s the equivalent of asking a boxer to pull their punches when they’ve got their opponents on the ropes.

Famously, San Diego Padres outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr. had to publicly apologize after swinging on a 3–0 pitch — meaning he was one pitch away from earning a walk to first base — while up seven runs in the eighth inning against the LA Dodgers. Given that it’s possible to give up nine runs in a single inning — sorry, Boston fans — it makes sense that Tatis and other players should try to consolidate their lead.

3. Don’t take time to admire home runs. This one kind of builds off the last one. Some pitchers get really, really mad if a batter just takes a second to flip their bat or watch their homer fly into the stands — looking at you, Madison Bumgarner!

This one has gotten so ridiculous that MLB had to get involved with a whole marketing campaign to prevent this.

There’s a reason the league wants this unwritten rule gone: if we take a look at any other sport, fun celebrations — or ‘cellys’ — are a great way to market the sport. From Tyreek Hill and the Miami Dolphins’ rollercoaster celly, Cristiano Ronaldo’s iconic ‘siu’ celly, to Detroit Red Wing defencemen Jake Walman’s griddy celebrations, cellies are a great way to market sports as fun to young fans and to allow players to showcase their fun personalities. Yet, it’s good to see that players are becoming more tolerant toward fun celebrations as more sensitive older fans are phased out of the league.

Ridiculousness Rating: 10/10. Let the kids play!

Those are some unwritten rules that I think are unreasonable. Of course, tons of these unwritten rules do make sense as they protect and police the sportsmanship of the game and enforce respect toward the opponent — but here are my two cents on the matter!
Sports March 25, 2024
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