March 23, 2020
THE VARSITY The University of Torontoâ€™s Student Newspaper Since 1880
Vol. CXL, No. 22
Letter from the Editor: The Varsity’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic Vol. CXL, No. 22 21 Sussex Avenue, Suite 306 Toronto, ON M5S 1J6 (416) 946-7600 thevarsity.ca
MASTHEAD Josie Kao Editor-in-Chief
Julie Shi Creative Director Ibnul Chowdhury Managing Editor Ilya Bañares Managing Online Editor
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Ori Gilboa Senior Copy Editor
Andy Takagi News Editor
Angela Feng Comment Editor Stephanie Bai Features Editor Kashi Syal Arts & Culture Editor Adam A. Lam Science Editor
Srivindhya Kolluru Business Editor Megan Brearley Deputy Senior Copy Editor Kathryn Mannie Deputy News Editor
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Aditi Putcha Design Editor
Dina Dong Photo Editor
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Kevin Lu Front End Web Developer
Stephanie Zhang Back End Web Developer
Osobe Waberi Public Editor
Jacob Harron, Nicola Lawford Associate Senior Copy Editors
Josie Kao Editor-In-Chief
When I first picked up the proverbial pen at the beginning of the year to write to you, our readers, I never would have guessed that the next time I would address you would be under such circumstances. A pandemic has made it so that our U of T community has been thrown into chaos, and many of us are dealing with stressors that we never could have imagined. During this time of great uncertainty, The Varsity will persevere in bringing you the most accurate and up-to-date news. We have decided to cancel the print run of our last two issues of the year, but we will nonetheless continue posting PDF versions online for all to read. While we never thought that we would cancel issues because of a pandemic — we were placing our bets on the Student Choice Initiative instead — there is no reason to keep printing when our campuses are nearly deserted and,
moreover, when we want to encourage them to stay that way. However, we are continuing to produce our paper online for the purposes of documenting the times we live in. In this issue, you’ll find print-exclusive roundups of all our COVID-19 coverage in news, as well as movie reviews to keep you company while social distancing, pieces on why you should even be social distancing, and how to be kind to yourself and practice compassion during this difficult period. At this time, I want to give my thanks to our dozens of writers, editors, illustrators, designers, and more who have gone to great lengths to keep the U of T community informed. The Varsity is entirely student-run, which means that none of us are exempt from the confusion that all U of T students are experiencing right now.
Even though many of our masthead and contributors have had to hastily leave campus and scatter across the world, and many more are scrambling to complete assignments in the midst of upheaval, they have nonetheless managed to continue producing high-quality and valuable content because they care about keeping you informed. I am forever in awe of the brilliant people who work at The Varsity and I want them to know that their contributions do not go unnoticed. As such, please enjoy our last two issues of the year, made entirely by our editors while working from home. I hope you are taking care of yourselves and those around you at this time. We can all get through this together by doing our part not only for ourselves, but for our community.
Silas Le Blanc Sports Editor
Reliable news and social distance journalism
Laura Ashwood Sara Fredo Associate Sports Editor
Lauren Alexander, Hannah Carty, Mikaela Toone Nicole Shi Associate News Editors Associate Business Editor Hafsa Ahmed, Nadine Waiganjo Associate Comment Editor
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Javiera Gutierrez Duran, Tahmeed Shafiq Associate Science Editors
Haley Sheh Associate Video Editor
Lead Copy Editors Valeria Khudiakova, Khyrsten Mieras, Maya Morriswala Copy Editors Marta Anielska, Toryanse Blanchard, Angela Bosenius, Amanda Cheung, Joy Fan, Amira Higazy, Teresa Wang, Eva Wissting Cover Iris Deng
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The Varsity is the University of Toronto’s largest student newspaper, publishing since 1880. It is printed by Master Web Inc. on recycled newsprint stock. Content © 2020 by The Varsity. All rights reserved. Any editorial inquiries and/or letters should be directed to the sections associated with them; emails listed above. The Varsity reserves the right to edit all submissions. Inquiries regarding ad sales can be made to ads@thevarsity. ca. ISSN: 0042-2789
Closures rampant as U of T, Canada respond to COVID-19
Robarts to remain open while residences, labs, borders close Lauren Alexander, Hannah Carty, Kathryn Mannie, Mikaela Toone Varsity News Team
In a torrent of closures over the past week, UTSG is shutting down all libraries except for Robarts Library, asking students to leave residences, and closing its labs. This comes as the federal government announced Monday that non-citizens would not be allowed into the country, with the public safety and emergency preparedness minister confirming days later that international students, as well as workers on visas, will still be able to enter the country. Library closures As of March 18, Robarts is the sole library open on the St. George campus, and it has closed access to stacks, course reserves, and all in-person services. Floors one through five remain open for computer services, and access to the building is restricted to U of T students, faculty, and staff. Previously, the university had intended to keep the Gerstein Science Information Centre open as well, as written in an email that was circulated on March 14. Robarts and the libraries at UTM and UTSC will be the only three libraries open across all three campuses. As of March 22, the closures are expected to be in place until April 6. The UTM library is also only open for computer and wi-fi services, and is restricting its hours to 8:30 am to 2:00 pm on weekdays. The UTSC library is open as a study and wi-fi space from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday through Friday. U of T’s library system will extend all loans and waive fees, though it is unclear how long the loans will be extended, or when late fees will begin to apply again. The library system simply notes that “there is no need to return your books at this time.” The due date for inter-library loans has been extended to June 15, 2020. Students can still return books to the libraries that will remain open. All libraries are undertaking social distancing measures by turning off every other computer. Lab closures In an email sent on March 17 to U of T employees, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives Vivek Goel revealed their plan for operations going forward. This in-
cludes urging all employees to work from home if possible, as well as shutting down all lab-based research operations by 5:00 pm on March 20. Administration acknowledged that some employees will still be required to come to campus, though they are changing practices to allow more employees to work remotely. “At the core of our actions is our commitment to enable students to complete their term and start the summer session,” Regehr and Goel wrote. Employees may also be given different responsibilities going forward. These updates follow Premier Doug Ford’s declaration of a state of emergency in Ontario, which is part of the ongoing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Lab-based research operations were advised to close down by March 20, though exceptions have been made for research on COVID-19 and some time-sensitive projects. These projects had to apply through their departments by 1:00 pm on March 19 in order to continue operation. Research that can be conducted off-campus is also allowed to continue. These changes are part of larger university efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and provide accommodations, which include moving all courses for the remainder of the semester online and moving the drop deadline for all courses to April 25. Student residences Victoria College required students leave by March 19, while New College, Innis College, Trinity College, University College (UC), Woodsworth College, St. Michael’s College (SMC), UTSC, and UTM required students leave by March 21. Graduate House is requiring students leave by March 25. Dean of Students at Victoria College Kelly Castle wrote in an email that exceptional circumstances would allow a student to extend their stay. This includes students with travel restrictions; international students,;out-of-province students who need extra time to organize their move; students who are self-isolating; and “students with other complex personal circumstances.” These circumstances were echoed in the email sent to UC students. Students of several colleges, including Victoria and UC, who leave by their respective deadlines will be provided with a partial refund of their residence and meal plan fees. In addition, Victoria College students are not permitted to dine in Burwash Hall, where meals
are now “pick-up-and go.” Common spaces are closed, and outside visitors are barred save for short-term guests assisting students with their move. Similarly, the Howard Ferguson Dining Hall at UC will only offer take-out options for students, Reznikoff ’s Café and common spaces will be closed, and outside visitors must be approved unless they are helping move a student out of residence. The Varsity has also confirmed with students at UTSC residences that students were asked to return home if they are able. Melinda Scott, the dean of students at UC, emailed residents urging them to update their emergency contact information on ACORN. She further noted that while the university remains open, student services, including the Health & Wellness Centre may face “disruptions to services or changes to operating times” and recommended students check directly with each service. Maintenance requests, the porter’s desk, and emergency dons on call will all continue to operate as normal at UC. Border closures In a press conference on March 16, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that, starting on March 18, Canada would be closing its borders to non-citizens and those without permanent resident status. At that time, exceptions to the border closure were made for American citizens, immediate family members of Canadian citizens, air crews, and diplomats. A number of international students at U of T would have been affected by these new measures. In the wake of in-person exam cancellations and the transition to online course completion, many were considering travelling abroad to return home. In doing so, international students without permanent residency would not have been able to return to Canada for an indefinite period of time. However, on March 18, federal Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair confirmed that international students, as well as workers on visas, will be able to enter Canada amidst the travel restrictions. On the other hand, that same day, Trudeau went back on his earlier message by announcing that the Canada-US border would be closed to non-essential travel. These new restrictions to the Canada-US border took effect on March 20.
MARCH 23, 2020
U of T, federal government provide financial assistance, support for students amid COVID-19 outbreak
Travel restrictions won’t prevent international students from returning to Canada Lauren Alexander, Hannah Carty, Kathryn Mannie, Mikaela Toone Varsity News Team
As Canada grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, U of T and the federal government have recently announced a number of measures to provide greater support for students. U of T’s recent measures On March 17, U of T announced that it will be offering an emergency grant for all domestic and international undergraduate students who have been affected by COVID-19. The grant is meant to provide short-term financial support for students who have found themselves in unexpected need due to the virus outbreak. Students will be asked to provide a statement detailing why they are requesting the grant, of which there is no stated minimum or maximum amount. Instead, students total their financial need as part of their application.
L E BIE
Applications must be submitted directly to a student’s faculty, college, or registrar. Anyone who submits an application will receive a response within two business days. The university has not released any information regarding what kinds of requests will warrant the allocation of funds under this emergency grant. However, the personal statement section of the application asks students to “explain how you planned to finance your studies at the beginning of this school year, what happened to change or affect your budget and why you now require assistance.” Academic accommodations made by U of T That same day, news broke that U of T’s library system will extend all loans and waive fees. However, it is unclear for how long the loans will be extended or when late fees will begin to apply again. The library system simply noted that “there is no need to return your books at this time.” The due date for inter-library loans from other institutions has been extended to June 15, 2020. On March 14, Faculty of Arts & Sciences Dean Melanie Woodin announced that, among other recent changes to Credit/No Credit (CR/NCR) restrictions, students in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences will now be able to apply CR/NCR to courses that are part of program requirements for the rest of the semester.
This policy change came after a formal letter was issued by the Arts and Sciences Students’ Union (ASSU) that advocated for the easing of academic policies in the midst of this outbreak. The new policy also allows students to apply CR/ NCR to an unlimited number of courses, in addition to seeing their grades before choosing the option. Not long after, on March 18, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Christopher Yip announced that Engineering students will also be able to CR/NCR any course, including core courses. There will be no limit to the number of courses a student can CR/NCR, and the option to CR/NCR will continue to be available after students see their final grades. In addition, the course drop deadline will be extended to one week after students see their final grades. Federal government’s response On March 16, the federal government announced it would be closing its borders to all non-citizens and those without permanent resident status. This posed great concerns for international students at U of T as many were considering travelling abroad to return home in the wake of in-person exam cancellations and the transition to online courses. With the announcement of border closures, making the decision to leave may have left them without a way to re-enter the country. In a press conference on March 18, the day these new restrictions were set to be implemented, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair confirmed that international
students, as well as workers on valid visas, will be able to enter Canada. Despite the previous announcement, however, the US-Canada border is currently closed to nonessential travel. Blair stressed that these individuals should still self-isolate for two weeks upon their return. That same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced an $82 billion COVID-19 emergency response package that includes a six-month interest-free respite on student loan repayments. This means that payments will not begin again until September 2020. The emergency response package also includes an up to $900 bi-weekly benefit for workers who must stay home and don’t qualify for employment insurance or paid sick leave, for up to 15 weeks. In addition, an Indigenous support fund will be set up, and child care benefits will temporarily increase. Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) National Chairperson Sofia Descalzi wrote that students welcome this announcement. However, she added that more support is needed, especially for international students. “Students, and especially international students, are going to suffer as they are scrambling to finish their semester and find a summer job or full-time position amid a pandemic,” Descalzi wrote. The CFS called for governments and universities to relax study permits, include international students under provincial health plans, and keep university residences open for international students and those who cannot return home, among other measures.
Residences shut down, take safety measures amid COVID-19 pandemic
Students with exceptional circumstances permitted to remain in residence Mikaela Toone Associate News Editor
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most U of T residences have required students to vacate by this past weekend, unless they are undergoing exceptional circumstances: namely, if they have nowhere else to go. Victoria College required that students leave by March 19, while New College, Innis College, Trinity College, University College, Woodsworth College, St. Michael’s College, UTSC, and UTM required students to leave by March 21. The Graduate House is requiring students leave by March 25. Student Family Housing and Knox College have opted to keep its residences open. Second-year New College student Lucy Zuo told The Varsity that the environment in residence was “bittersweet.” “There [were] friends supporting friends, friends helping friends move out, but that also means there are friends saying
Connect UTM sweeps UTMSU 2020 elections 11 Directors at Large also elected Hannah Carty Associate News Editor
The Connect UTM slate has won all five executive positions in the 2020 University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) elections — although there was only one contested executive position. Students elected Mitra Yakubi for president
goodbye to friends, saying goodbye to memories that they thought they still had time to make,” Zuo said. Common spaces have been closed off at a number of residences. At Trinity, Victoria, and St. Michael’s Colleges, the dining halls have been shut down, and students are required to take food out to their rooms. Many residences have promised refunds to students who move out by the required date, but have yet to release details on the reimbursement. At Woodsworth College, students who move out by March 21 will receive a refund of $1,100.65. Though Student Family Housing will remain open, it is putting extra precautionary measures in place. The residence is undertaking an enhanced disinfecting schedule. Common spaces, including the daycare, will be closed, and maintenance staff
will be performing emergency repairs only. A U of T spokesperson explained to The Varsity that requiring students to leave residence is in line with the university’s social distancing measures, so as to avoid putting too much of a burden on the health care system. However, students with nowhere else to go will not be forced to leave. “We know how important our residences are to those students who call them home. U of T wants those students who need to stay here to be with us during this challenging time,” the spokesperson said. The shutting down of residences is one of many measures the university has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. U of T has also moved all classes to an online format. Most labs and libraries have been closed, and student groups have been asked to refrain from holding events at this time.
by a margin of 1,720 votes — 1,927 for and 207 against. Yakubi’s election, which garnered the most overall votes out of all the races, at 2,134 ballots cast, had a voter turnout of roughly 14.7 per cent. The only independent candidate was Med Kane, who ran for vice-president internal against Fahad Dayala from Connect UTM. Dayala won with 1,741 votes, while Kane received 334 votes. Noha Farawi and Anushka Sokhi were elected vice-president equity and vice-president university affairs, respectively, both receiving over 1,700 votes. Lily Pan, who was elected vice-president external, won with the second highest number of votes cast in her favour — she trailed Yakubi by 16 ballots. The election saw a slightly higher turnout overall than last year. Students also selected 11 Directors at Large
out of 18 running, and all elected directors received 839 votes or more. The Connect UTM platform President-elect Yakubi promises to prioritize establishing a self-assigned sick notes program so that students will not have to visit a doctor every time they fall ill. She will also work to increase mental health support on campus by developing a peer support system. For mental health advocacy, incoming VicePresident University Affairs Sokhi also hopes to implement mandatory mental health training for frontline university workers. Vice-President Internal Dayala will seek to move the clubs funding and organization infrastructure online, as many records are currently required to be kept on paper. He also plans to work toward mitigating the risk of campus groups being defunded by potential budget cuts.
Residences are emptying as students made an effort to vacate this week. VICTORIA MCCUTCHEON/THE VARSITY
Both incoming Vice-President External Pan and Vice-President Equity Farwari want to do more regarding food available on campus. Farwari wants to improve the UTMSU’s food bank and work on the campus food garden, while Pan hopes to improve easy access to food on and around campus. Additionally, Pan will seek to reduce parking fees and expand parking spaces for commuter students. She also plans to negotiate with university administration and the government to cap international student tuition. During her term, Farawi will work toward relaunching the United for Equity campaign — a program created by the Canadian Federation of Students that seeks to “challenge all forms of discrimination and oppression on our campuses, in our communities, and in our student organizing spaces.” She also plans to draft a sustainability and climate justice action plan that takes UTM’s particular needs and circumstances into account.
The Breakdown: UTSU Elections 2020, student aid, health and dental referenda
Two vice-presidential positions have candidates running unopposed, another with zero candidates Kathryn Mannie Deputy News Editor
Content warning: mentions of suicide. With its nomination period having begun on March 2, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) election period is now in full swing. The voting period began on March 21 at 12:00 am, and will run until March 23 at 5:00 pm. Votes can be cast on the UTSU’s online voting portal. For the UTSU’s most senior position of president, students will have a choice between Muntaka Ahmed, the union’s current executive assistant clubs; Arjun Kaul, the current vice-president operations; and Bryan Liceralde, a candidate who ran for the position last year. The vice-president professional faculties race has no candidates, and two positions — vicepresident operations and vice-president public and university affairs — are uncontested. This election also features two referenda: one to establish a levy for UTSU’s student aid program and the other to increase the fee for the UTSU’s health and dental plan. The UTSU announced that this year it has “disbursed more than double the amount of student aid that was disbursed in the last 2 years combined.” In order to expand and guarantee the continuation of this program, the UTSU is asking for a $1 levy per semester devoted to student aid. UTSU who? The UTSU has been U of T’s official student union since 1901, and represents nearly 40,000
full-time undergraduate students at the St. George campus. The UTSU previously represented undergraduate students from UTM as well, until late 2018 when the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union agreed to separate. The executive team is currently led by the president and six vice-presidents whose portfolios include operations, external affairs, equity, student life, professional faculties, and university affairs. The UTSU merged the portfolios of vice-president external and vice-president university affairs at the UTSU’s Special General Meeting on February 12, reducing the number of vice-presidential positions to five for the current election. The UTSU is governed by its Board of Directors, which is made up of 16 college directors, 13 professional faculty directors, six directors from academic communities, one director elected by the Transitional Year Programme, and the executives. According to its website, the UTSU’s two key functions are advocacy — such as lobbying the government and university in the interests of students — and providing students with services such as grants, clubs funding, and the health and dental plan. UTSG undergraduate students are required to pay $49.80 in fees to the UTSU each semester, which are broken down into a variety of categories. These levies include support for the Downtown Legal Services and a fee for student buildings. Due to the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative, $23.73 of these fees per semester were previously deemed “non-essential” and students were able to opt out of them in the fall. Following the Divisional Court of Ontario’s rul-
ing in November, which struck down the initiative, the UTSU’s operating budget was restored. Students must additionally pay $187.43 per semester to the UTSU in order to access its health and dental insurance plans, unless they have an equivalent health plan. The UTSU has continually struggled with engaging with students, an issue that is not always shared by student unions at other universities. Last year’s election saw three executive positions and 18 directorships go unfilled. The voter turnout was recorded at 4.2 per cent, and the subsequent by-election to fill the remaining positions had a voter turnout of 2.9 per cent. Referenda vote Recently, the UTSU has reported a large increase in health insurance claims. As such, the UTSU is asking to raise the fee for its health and dental insurance plan by an additional 10 per cent, on top of the 10 per cent increase already mandated by the UTSU’s bylaws. The referenda is motivated by the claim that the “current fee will not be able to sustain the increasing costs of the Plan, let alone increase coverage levels to cope with student mental health difficulties,” according to a post made by the UTSU. The student mental health crisis has been a major focus for the UTSU this year, as students have called on the university for greater support and more streamlined services. Since June 2018, there have been four publicized student deaths by suicide on campus. This has prompted major protests and student advocacy, resulting in the creation of the
Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health. While the task force’s work has led to a redesign of the university’s mental health services, other incidents, such as the controversy surrounding the university ombudsperson’s comments on the university-mandated leave of absence policy, show that many students are still dissatisfied with the status quo. If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call: Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566 Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454 Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-5312600 Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200 U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030. Warning signs of suicide include: Talking about wanting to die Looking for a way to kill oneself Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain Talking about being a burden to others Increasing use of alcohol or drugs Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly Sleeping too little or too much Withdrawing or feeling isolated Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge Displaying extreme mood swings The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
UTSU executive candidates debate focuses on accessibility and equity Debate moved online to encourage social distancing
Lauren Alexander Associate News Editor
This past Wednesday, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) held its executive candidates debate. In accordance with university recommendations against large gatherings, the debate was held over video conference. Candidates discussed topics ranging from the long-delayed opening of the Student Commons to how to decide which clubs receive funding. The debate was moderated by Jacob Lorinc, who formerly served as editor-in-chief of The Varsity, and is currently a reporter at the Toronto Star. A full debate, however, was not possible for the vice-president operations and vice-president public and university affairs positions, as they are uncontested. President There are three candidates for the presidential race: Arjun Kaul, Bryan Liceralde, and Muntaka Ahmed. They discussed different topics, including the opening of the Student Commons and how to mitigate the negative effects that the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) had on clubs’ funding. The SCI was a provincial mandate that was struck down in November, which allowed students to opt out of incidental fees that were deemed “non-essential.” All candidates agreed that opening the Student Commons — a project that was approved in 2007 — is crucial, though it may be delayed even more due to the COVID-19 precautions in place. Ahmed focused on the student-facing side of the commons, and, if elected, said she would create a Student Commons management committee to collect student input. Her goal is to establish the Student Commons as a community hub that students can use to meet a variety of their needs — for instance, refilling one’s Presto card or withdrawing money from an ATM. Kaul would seek to increase student engagement with the commons by publishing a guide
of student services that would be available in the building, and also proposed creating a management committee that would include representatives from across campus. Kaul suggested the incorporation of for-profit operations within the Student Commons. He would prioritize student jobs in its operations while working with surrounding businesses to create new sources of income for the UTSU. Liceralde pledged to include a rooftop restaurant, space for drama groups to rehearse, and a computer lab. On the topic of the SCI, the candidates agreed that in the case of similar policy returning, the president should work with campus organizations and clubs to ensure that they are able to continue operating using the UTSU’s more sizable resources. Kaul suggested working on a case-by-case basis and meeting with club leaders. Liceralde would set aside 10–20 per cent of the UTSU budget to ensure clubs continue operations. Vice-president operations Current Vice-President Professional Faculties Dermot O’Halloran is running uncontested for the vice-president operations position. On the topic of transparency in the UTSU budget, O’Halloran stressed that more transparency in finances is important for accountability; he suggested that this could mean increased engagement with the UTSU from U of T students — which has been a lasting concern in the union. When asked if there is any part of the UTSU budget that he would cut, O’Halloran responded that he did not see anything worth cutting. To ensure accountability and improve attendance within the Board of Directors — the governing body that oversees the Executive Committee’s functioning — O’Halloran said that executives and directors should maintain a less adversarial relationship. To achieve this, he would increase director involvement in UTSU projects.
Vice-president public and university affairs Tyler Riches is running uncontested for the vicepresident public and university affairs position. He currently sits on the UTSU’s Board of Directors as a University College representative. This is the first year that the vice-president public and university affairs position has been offered, as it is a combination of two former roles: vicepresident external and vice-president university affairs. When asked how he views the role, Riches responded that the role should be mostly about advocacy and making sure that student priorities are the focus of every platform. In his opinion, the biggest concern for current students is feeling unsupported by the university. Riches further said that there should be more room for student voices in Simcoe Hall. Riches also discussed what advocacy initiatives he would undertake as vice-president public and university affairs. He hopes to advocate for more student grants from the federal government, and he would provincially lobby to get back the interest-free grace period for student loans and the free tuition program under the Ontario Student Assistance Program. In addition, he would lobby for rent control and support for sexual assault centres that have recently lost funding. Vice-president equity There are two candidates for the vice-president equity position: Vibhuti Kacholia and Alexandra McLean. The two candidates discussed rebuilding trust and engagement in the UTSU within the U of T community. On rebuilding trust, Kacholia would prioritize collaborations with other campus groups, such as the Black Students’ Association. McLean agreed, saying that the UTSU lacks engagement because they employ a “one-size-fits-all approach,” instead of tailoring outreach to specific communities. The candidates proposed different strategies to improve equity at the UTSU. While Kacholia would increase transparency and presence by
improving communication, and having a UTSU presence at all club carnivals, including collegebased ones, McLean would create a diversity and equity first-year council to increase the focus on equity within the first-year community. Vice-president student life The two candidates running for the position of vice-president student life are Tasnim Choudhury and Neeharika Hemrajani. Orientation was discussed at length, as it is a large part of the responsibilities of the position. Both candidates agreed that making it as accessible as possible is a priority. Choudhury noted that it is an accessibility issue that the yearly clubs carnival and street fest are often congested. She emphasized that there should be a concrete backup plan for heat and rain, and that orientation should cater not just to first-years, but to returning students as well. Hemrajani would focus on collaborating with student groups and colleges to create a more campus-wide orientation. The vice-president student life is also in charge of recognizing and distributing funding to clubs. Candidates were asked about how they would handle funding controversial groups, such as University of Toronto Students For Life, an anti-abortion group, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), which has been accused of having contentious relationships with students from Hong Kong. Both candidates agreed that they would likely not recognize these groups if they were to request recognition and funding from the UTSU. They both said that they would look at it on a case-bycase basis and lean on precedence. Choudhury stressed the importance of free speech on campus and Hemrajani agreed that students’ opinions of clubs’ political stances should not factor into their recognition. However, they argued that some clubs do not add to a positive environment on campus, in which case they may not be recognized.
March 23, 2020 var.st/business email@example.com
Pitch to the beat: entrepreneurs sell their ideas through live performance
Siblings Sylvia and Matthew Gehring take home $1,000 cash prize Angela Feng Comment Editor
U of T Entrepreneurship Week kicked off on March 10 with a pitch competition — but with a twist. Entrepreneurs had to pitch their ideas through a performance, whether it be live painting, dance, or music at the inaugural Startup Slam. Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education alumni Noureddin Chahrour and Leila Keshavjee judged the competition. Chahrour is the founder and president of Adrenalease Inc., and Keshavjee is founder and CEO of Happy Pops Inc. This event was part of U of T’s Impact Centre’s larger efforts to engage students from underrepresented groups, including Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC), women, and people from non-business backgrounds. Many entrepreneurs fall through the cracks, unable to form meaningful relationships with investors because they often simply lack access. Startup Slam aimed to remedy this gap by teaching young entrepreneurs how to pitch, and potentially providing first-time entrepreneurs with some funding for their startup ideas. “We really focus on trying to find many different types of ways to engage students to think about entrepreneurship,” event host Leo Mui explained, adding that “[pitching] is something that seems intimidating when everyone’s in their best suits in a room talking about financial jargon. So we want to tune that down as something creative that everyone can understand.” Mui’s background in chemistry has informed his understanding of the need to find diverse voices in entrepreneurship, and the Impact Centre has played a huge part in his own transition from chemist to business owner. During the event, the Impact Centre awarded
a $1,000 grand prize to the winning pitch, True Seer Grill, a grilling accessory invented by siblings, Sylvia Gehring, a fourth-year business student at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Business, and Matthew Gehring, a fourth-year Rotman Commerce student. Matthew played harmonica, setting the rhythm for the duo’s metrical pitch. According to the pair, they have been pitching True Seer Grill for some time, and Matthew previously won top prize at the Impact Centre’s Techno entrepreneurship training program and Rotman Commerce’s Pitch Competition in 2019. Their technology is built to eliminate flareups on a barbeque grill. Other participants’ ideas largely centred on expanding options for commercially available health care products. Stephanie Tien, a Pharmacology and toxicology student, and Kristina Knox, a neuroscience graduate, pitched their idea for Arbre, a sunscreen for those with sensitive scalps, through a narrative sketch performance. First-time pitchers Tien and Knox found Startup Slam’s creative emphasis welcoming. According to Knox, “just being [in] a really relaxed environment really helps.” Tien also added that the event was accessible for people, even those without the entrepreneurial background. Maame E. De-Heer, a second-year master’s student at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health pitched her idea for The 3 C’s, an environmentally friendly disposable underwear-sanitary pad hybrid. The Startup Slam was De-Heer’s first time formally pitching her idea. De-Heer hopes that her product will help provide women with convenient, environmentallyfriendly menstrual products, something that she believes is lacking in the current market.
Minority and women-owned businesses often struggle to find capital, despite often playing significant roles in their communities. A number of factors contribute to the inability of BIPOC and women to access formal and informal training networks, secure startup capital, business loans, and ultimately, to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit. Haman Mondouhi pitched his idea, Roots, which aims to create an app-based inventory for lullabies, nursery rhymes, and other culturally specific oral traditions that are becoming endangered as assimilation into North American culture grows. Though he is experienced in the world of pitch competitions, Mondouhi expressed an appreciation for Startup Slam’s focus on creativity. “Honestly, I don’t think I would have expressed [this idea] in any other platform.” “One of the most important things about the startup scene in Toronto is engaging audiences and people who wouldn’t think to get engaged in these dialogues.” Mondouhi continued, “despite the pressures you have for your family… and the career that you’ve been pursuing this whole time, think outside the box and feel free to reach out to new resources… because that changed my whole career path.” Other ideas included Bo Sun’s Woodbio, an alcohol-free hand-sanitizer, and Jason Piao’s Sencha, a credit card that will help non-American users build credit while working in the US. Of the event, Mui remarked, “I really feel that [the centre] must truly have a passion for what they’re doing, or else they wouldn’t be here today.” Mui encouraged any students who might be interested in developing their startup ideas to get involved with the Impact Centre. “We hope to target students who are interested in doing something good for the world. And we help them find the right aids.”
Mechanical and industrial engineering PhD student Bo Sun pitched Woodbio at the Startup Slam. ANGELA FENG/THE VARSITY
U of T is updating its digital assets protection policy — what does that mean? Changes to wording meant to clarify administrative responsibility
“Digital assets can be just about anything that has data or is connected to a network. That could include research information and institutional information,” explained Straley. Digital assets can also include student laptops, as well as the infrastructure that supports their e-learning platforms such as Quercus. It is important for U of T students to keep in mind that their personal behaviour online is not mutually exclusive from the protection of U of T’s institutional assets. “Personal exposure impacts professional lives,” Straley wrote. “We want students to have a safe online experience.”
Sarah Folk Varsity Contributor
The Planning and Budget Committee (PBC) meeting on February 25 discussed updates to U of T’s Policy on Information Security and the Protection of Digital Assets. This policy — which was approved by the Governing Council in 2016 — protects and upholds the confidentiality of U of T’s digital assets, as well as the systems that aid in transmitting, storing, and administering this data. All three campuses are required to utilize and implement the information technology systems that best protect their digital assets. What updates have been made? The most prominent update in the policy is a change in wording — any use of the term “President or Delegate” is to be rewritten as “President or Designate (normally, the Chief Information Security Officer).” According to Chief Information Security Officer Isaac Straley, the reasoning behind this change was the creation of his position: a senior leader responsible for managing the portfolio. The term ‘policy’ in the definitions section was also further clarified to refer to the Information Security Council co-chairs: a senior faculty member, and the director of the Information Technology Services Information Security Department. These changes still need to be approved by two governing bodies before the updates take effect. The Governing Council is expected to review and amend the policy on April 2, and new guidelines are expected to be put in place in the fall, according to Straley.
JOY FAN/THE VARSITY
Why are these updates important? In an email to The Varsity, Straley also noted that these updates shouldn’t impact U of T students and faculty directly. He also explained that the main objective of the edits was to clearly define the responsibilities of each role. The reasoning behind this clarification was to improve security and strengthen the council’s ability to “make more informed decisions as a
result of the new role and council, reflecting the needs of the community.” What is the relevance of this policy to the U of T community? The policy defines terms such as ‘digital assets’ and ‘guidelines,’ but what do these terms imply for someone accessing information or using online systems on a U of T campus?
How can you protect your digital assets? Members of the U of T community can access Security Matters, a U of T website dedicated to cyber security education. Users can read blogs about protecting themselves from phishing attacks, relevant cyber threat trends, and social media best practices. Individuals can also submit reports of fraudulent incidents and receive guidance about steps that they can take if they are a victim of a phishing attack. Straley urged members of the U of T community to use multi-factor authentication for accounts that require a login. This authentication entails the use of two different log-in methods — for example, one using a token that is texted, and another using a password. He also stressed the importance of regularly updating any information systems that you may be using. Vulnerable systems are exposed to threats of being broken into. “Everyone is at risk of that,” Straley noted. “Protect your logins and protect your systems.”
March 23, 2020 var.st/comment firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay away from others — it’s the ultimate form of community care
The necessity of social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic Hadiyyah Kuma Varsity Contributor
Introverts like me have been preparing for social distancing since we were shy bleacher-type kids, so the break from face-to-face socializing during the COVID-19 pandemic might be a relief for many of us. It was for me as well, at first. I’ve been staying home for the past few days, and plan to do so for at least another week. Though I haven’t previously been in contact with symptomatic people or travellers, I have commuted frequently and attended social gatherings prior to the widespread adoption of social distancing measures. I’m thankful to have the privilege of freelancing from home and participating in online classes. I will probably go out to buy groceries, but I will only be seeing friends through my digital screens. I’ve started to catch up on some reading — not the academic kind — and I’ve been watching those weird made-for-TV movies that air on Global TV and the W Network. In the past
few days and nights, I have also been going through bouts of anxiety and serious basketball withdrawal. And yet, it is hard to stay away from other humans. Not everyone may be able to stay home and do classes online like I do, but, if you can, staying home could save someone’s life. For the sake of our communities, it is important that we recognize this outbreak as what it has now been declared: an emergency. The number of confirmed cases in Canada is rising dramatically on a day-today basis, making it even more likely for you to be in contact with someone who has the virus. That’s why people who attended a recent conference held by the Prospectors and Developers Association in Toronto must
self-isolate and self-monitor for two weeks, as an attendee tested positive for COVID-19. Similarly, 20 per cent of NBA players, along with staff and officials, were asked to self-quarantine for two weeks after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with the virus. It has been proven that infected people without symptoms can still spread the virus, but not as much as people who have symptoms such as coughs, fevers, and difficulty breathing. This means that if you have no symptoms, you don’t have to self-isolate, but social distancing is still important. Even if you are not experiencing severe symptoms, there is a chance that you may pass the virus on to someone with a suppressed or vulnerable immune system who might have a higher chance of
For the sake of our communities, it is important that we recognize this outbreak as what it has now been declared: an emergency.
Hadiyyah Kuma is a third-year Sociology student at Victoria College.
Student support systems suffer under the cancellation of student group activities
Necessary COVID-19 measures continue to complicate access to mental health help JULIE SHI/THE VARSITY
complications, including death. Hospitals also have limited capacities, and having a large influx of patients will put great strain on our health care system. With 424 cases — and rising — in Ontario, staying away from others is the ultimate form of care that we can provide our communities with in this rapidly evolving crisis. In the individualistic North American culture, it’s easy to get carried away with our own personal fears and start panicbuying all the toilet paper in sight. But this isn’t necessary as there will be enough supply in the coming weeks. If you have bulk-bought things, consider sharing them with others. If you are healthy and able, consider buying groceries for disadvantaged neighbours. These are trying times for everyone, and we may not even trust our leaders to protect us. That is why we must trust each other. So remember, keeping two metres apart from others, avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people, and staying home when you can are all acts of love. Your community is counting on you, and in this difficult time we should all keep each other’s wellness in mind.
Ateeqa Arain Varsity Contributor
I am a graduate student currently working on research for my master’s thesis. I don’t have regular contact with any of my fellow colleagues, so I decided to join a new wellness group at the University of Toronto: Community Wellness Dialogue (CWD). However, due to the university’s decision to cancel any non-essential gathering, the group’s first meeting had to be called off. CWD organizer Stephanie Pflugfelder wrote, “I think that the university has an obligation to make tough decisions to protect its students, especially the most vulnerable amongst us. When it comes to CWD, we were disappointed to have to cancel the first group meeting because we feel that especially in trying times like this, it’s important to have a support system you can rely on.” She also highlighted the importance of groups like CWD in helping to create connections to help “overcome some of life’s big challenges.” I am currently struggling with anxiety and the pressures of graduate life. I had hoped that by attending the group’s meetings, I would be able to get support from fellow
students. But at this time we don’t know when we might be able to have a meeting. I understand the need to take precautions and prevent students’ exposure to COVID-19. However, that must be weighed against the need for student mental health support. It is especially important when graduate students seek out safe spaces and groups to help them get through the emotional challenges of solitary graduate life. Considering the university’s aim to promote students’ physical and mental well-being, it needs to carefully think about the impact that these closures can have on struggling students. Many students are far from home and may not have close contact with their local support system, be that classes, group get-togethers, or in-person counselling. In the future, the university should inform students about potential closures at least a week in advance, to give students more time to plan. I also hope that the university makes an effort to contact students who have sought help in the past, especially those who receive consistent care through the Health & Wellness Centres across campuses. Ateeqa Arain is a second-year master’s student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.
MARCH 23, 2020
A grace period would have helped us adjust to online learning platforms amid COVID-19 pandemic Some faculty members lacked compassion for students during transition Haleigh Andrew Varsity Contributor
TH IRIS E D VA EN RS G/ IT Y
On March 13, U of T made the decision to cancel all in-person classes and move to online learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of uncertainty and panic, many professors resumed coursework as scheduled. However, one of my professors did not even postpone a midterm that was scheduled for the first Tuesday after the online switch.
A better alternative would have been cancelling a week of classes so that students could have been able to travel home, faculty members could have adjusted to the online teaching platforms, and everyone could have had a chance to acclimate to this new development. This seems to be the logical next step in these kinds of circumstances. However, U of T did not cancel classes, and many students are now having to deal with not only the stress of COVID-19, but looming deadlines and new work environments as well. For many, the transition from campus to computer is not as smooth as the university claimed that it would be. As someone who is in self-quarantine with four family members, finding a quiet distraction-free zone has proven to be immensely difficult — especially when considering the constant stress of news alerts and endless emails from teaching assistants and professors. As a result, my productivity has taken a dramatic hit — and it seems as though I’m not the only one. How can we be expected to return to business as usual given the situation at hand? After receiving the email that in-person classes were cancelled, I immediately made arrangements to return home. During that time, I was so wrapped up with moving out of residence and making sure that my family members were safe that academics were the last thing on my mind. When I logged into my U of T email account the following Sunday morning, I was stunned to find that my economics midterm would likely
continue as scheduled. I couldn’t help but think of the international students who had to return home, or the students who were either ill themselves or had a sick family member. In the days that followed, these concerns were met with messages from the professor stipulating that students in those situations would be eligible to write a make-up test. However, for the rest of the class, the March 17 date remained, with very little information as to how the format would change with the switch to an online platform. The university should have at the very least pushed test dates and deadlines to the following week. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that U of T made the right — albeit late — decision to move to online classes. However, they have failed to realize the full effect this has on students. Not everyone has an ideal environment to work from home. Whether it be distractions, an inadequate internet connection, or a mere lack of motivation that comes with the absence of structure, it is unfair to expect students to perform at their usual level. Even with the implementation of unlimited Credit/No Credit options for some faculties, the next few weeks could dramatically affect an individual’s academic performance. As a result, students will continue to worry about how their GPA will be impacted while they don’t even know what the state of the world will be two weeks from now. Haleigh Andrew is a first-year Social Sciences student at St. Michael’s College.
Bryan Liceralde’s dramatic campaign promises stand out in a sea of convention
Reviewing the candidate’s second go at the UTSU presidency Jacob Harron Associate Senior Copy Editor
If you want to know why most students do not pay attention to student elections, read The Varsity’s presidential candidate profiles for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). The cliché of students not caring is by now a chicken-and-egg situation: students don’t vote because the unions don’t engage with them; unions don’t bother engaging because students don’t vote. Yes, we should try to be informed — but the current election offers little reason to. While the candidates have had the opportunity to explain their ideas with more specificity during the executive candidates’ debate, their Varsity profiles and candidate statements should be sufficient to at least present the foundations of their campaigns. The fact that these profiles are barely distinguishable from one another is worrying. Both Muntaka Ahmed and Arjun Kaul speak grandly of improving student experiences and equity concerns, which are important. But they fail to explain exactly how their presidencies will tackle these issues in ways that distinguish them from previous executives’ efforts. The only person to stand out is Bryan Liceralde, a second-time candidate who notes that he lacks experience in student politics. Liceralde’s plans include making residence free for students whose families make less than $90,000 a year; enforcing that the UTSU take a neutral stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict and refuse to fund clubs that promote “violence” against civilians from either side; and using the UTSU as a platform for his personal “rants on music.” Last year, he announced his campaign was partly an effort to win the Rhodes Scholarship. Absurd? Yes. Impossible? Likely. Not worth voting for? There’s the problem.
Liceralde stands out not only for the quixotic nature of his own promises, but also for the other candidates’ inability to articulate concrete proposals. Unlike Liceralde, the more experienced candidates didn’t bother addressing anyone who is not already involved in student government. I would like to know what you actually plan to do in office, and what you have to say to the thousands of students who aren’t sure you do anything at all. With two out of three candidates already part of the current government, a picture emerges of an insular world that speaks only for itself, and to itself. This may not be a problem for students who are happy with business as usual, but it says nothing for those of us who struggle to understand why we should care. Liceralde has no such problem. Not only did he cite the issues of grade deflation, breadth requirements, and Credit/No Credit — about which many students are opinionated — but he also expressed a desire to challenge Doug Ford’s postsecondary policies as a cornerstone of both this and last year’s campaign. Being an outsider candidate, he does not limit himself to topics students only care about if they are already familiar with the UTSU’s operations. Who else takes a stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict in their statement, let alone a simultaneously authoritarian and neutral one? Who else sees the presidency as an opportunity to promote their music taste? While Liceralde’s dismissal of Billie Eilish and The Weeknd as “overrated” is incorrect, it makes for a unique campaign issue. This candidate does not merely want to be the
UTSU president; he sets out to challenge what the very office of president entails. For the first time, I feel I have some understanding of that vocal group of Americans in 2016 who declared they would vote for Donald Trump just for the hell of it — just to see what would happen. Liceralde’s policies may not make sense, but at least they sound nothing like the status quo. This is the jaded, nihilistic approach one takes when convinced the system, at best, doesn’t care about the people it represents, and at worst, shouldn’t exist. If the UTSU is not such a system, I look forward to a candidate who will change my mind. Jacob Harron is a fourth-year English student at Victoria College. He is an Associate Senior Copy Editor. Liceralde’s unconventional campaign platform inspires a myriad of responses from the U of T community. COURTESY OF BRYAN LICERALDE
Letter from the Editors: Introducing The Varsity Equity Guide Inviting your feedback!
Ibnul Chowdhury and Ori Gilboa Managing Editor and Senior Copy Editor
Grappling with how to do equitable journalism is no easy task. That is what we both discovered throughout the process of writing The Varsity’s new equity guide this year. Every time we answered one question, we would later find that three more, which required complex and nuanced answers, popped up. Countless conversations and debates in the newsroom about how to best affirm human dignity reminded us that exercising patience with such a sensitive product is crucial. That might be the reason why this guide, which started as a five-page endeavour in June 2019, is almost six-fold in length at the time of its release in March 2020. You can now find the guide for your viewing on our webpage. There, you will find guidelines on recognizing the intersection of prejudice, power, and identity; ethically reporting on trauma and stigma; and covering the pressing global issues of our time. We hope that this will prove useful not only to journalists at The Varsity, but also to any curious journalists who are looking to improve their reporting. We believe that this guide has enormous value for the future of The Varsity. Language is power — as journalists, we recognize that the way we go about our work has real impact on the world around us. In consciously guiding the direction of the paper’s editorial practices to include, empower, and fairly represent marginalized communities at U of T, we hope to do right by them. In recent years, we acknowledge that we, in some cases, have not done enough. We want to make clear that this guide is not, and will never be, perfect. Nor is it intended to be. But we hope for it to be a living document that will improve on a regular basis — it will be shaped and reshaped by future editors through consultation and collaboration with members of our community. We could not have written this guide without the help and support of The Varsity’s masthead: their comments, questions, and feedback has been invaluable to the development of this document. Josie, our editor-in-chief, provided us with continuous encouragement. We especially want to highlight the guidance that we received from various community members, including John Croutch, an Indigenous cultural competency training officer at U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives; the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office; the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office; and Students for Reproductive Justice. We have also consulted with countless online resources, which have been invaluable to us in constructing this guide. Feedback — both positive and negative — is more than welcome. As noted before, the guide is not perfect, and neither are we. We are looking to continuously improve on both the guide and our subsequent reporting. We invite you to tell us what you think in this feedback form. Let’s keep the conversation on equity going. Onward to a future where The Varsity can truly belong to everyone. — Ibnul Chowdhury, Managing Editor & Ori Gilboa, Senior Copy Editor The Varsity Volume 140
Writer: Tamara Saadi Illustrator: Iris Deng
With every buzz and notification from my phone, a little part of my soul dies. If I check my Twitter, I’ll see that The New York Times just posted about how a doctor is warning people that the pandemic of COVID-19 means that “the sky is falling.” If I look at my Whatsapp, I’ll see a message about how the
economy is crashing and burning. If I look at BBC News, I’ll see that the reported worldwide death toll of COVID-19 is now over 13,000. I wish I could throw my phone into the ocean and never look back, but that wouldn’t really solve the problem. It’s not as if I signed up for these notifications against my will. I choose to live my life cowering in fear of the alerts that constantly flood my phone screen, instead of in blissful — yet futile and dangerous — igno-
rance. With every headline that I read, with every panicked tweet and outraged Facebook post, my feelings of compassion and empathy slowly but surely decline from an overwhelming crescendo to a flatline of indifference. I must confess that I experience apathy. Does that make me an evil, unfeeling monster, unaffected by the trauma and turmoil experienced by others around me? Am I losing sight of my own humanity and ability to fight back in the face of injustice, or am I simply exhausted, defeated by the unstoppable torrents tragedy? After all, I’m powerless to stop any of it. And as much as I hate to admit it, I find it difficult to invest in any of these horrific stories on a long-term basis. Once the news stops paying attention to one thing and moves on to the next, I find that I often do too. Cynicism and hopelessness are now inherent in the way that I approach current events. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that no matter how much I care about a certain issue — no matter how much I try to remain up-todate and informed — it will never truly be enough. Just trying to fathom the sheer scale of human suffering associated with any world disaster is enough to send me into a deep, spiraling hole of existential dread. Do you, dear reader, happen to feel the same? Don’t worry, it’s not just us. Psychologists call this “compassion fatigue.” The American Institute of Stress characterizes it as a state of physical and mental exhaustion that stems from prolonged secondary exposure to trauma. The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that
certain professions such as health care providers and social workers must maintain a degree of emotional distance between themselves and those they are caring for, because experiencing too much compassion risks their mental health and ability to provide effective treatment. The condition was once found mostly among caregivers, but is now a growing affliction as the rest of us seem to have become front-and-centre to tragedies that multiply a millionfold, unable to gauge where our feelings of empathy end and our ability to act begins. As our hands are often tied, we end up feeling paralyzed yet culpable due to our complacency. The toll of empathy in the information age The diagnosis of compassion fatigue is accompanied by a list of symptoms that may be all too familiar to those who regularly check the news — feelings of apathy, depression, denial, or hopelessness, perhaps topped off by difficulty sleeping and mental or physical fatigue. With the recent COVID-19 outbreak, the
What do you do when the 24-hour news
up with the compassion news has almost become another appendage — an extension of our own brains. The virus has effectively brought the whole world to its knees, sequestering millions at home and tethering us to our television and phone screens. With every news update, every statistic, every social media post, the daunting feelings of panic and fear grow stronger and stronger in our minds. It seems as though all anyone can talk about is the pandemic — indeed, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to focus on much else. Unfortunately, the crisis poses a looming threat to both the physical and mental health of almost the entire human population. As a generation, overexposure to stories of extreme proportions like these — stories of war, death, and destruction — has led to mass desensitization and an inability to process the true ramifications of such events on our mental well-being. The magnitude of human suffering is too much for us to comprehend; our brains are unable to imagine the scale of it. This leads us to another issue: information
overflow. There are so many tragedies begging for our attention every single waking moment that we have lost the ability to judge which issues demand our active attention and compassion. Often, the physical distance between ourselves and any given crisis diminishes our ability to understand it. At a certain point, it all becomes arbitrary. Tragedies accumulate and meld into one another like grains of sand, losing all meaning and magnitude as mass attention shifts from one horror to the next in a matter of seconds. I spoke with Razan Mahmoud, a second-year Rotman student at U of T, to better understand compassion fatigue in the social media age. Mahmoud explained to me that she regularly tries to keep up with the news, although it often leads to her experiencing frustration and hopelessness. “I’m going about my day, and I decide to open Twitter. And that depresses me so much because I see what’s trending and usually it’s some sort of crisis somewhere in the world,” she said. Not only is keeping oneself informed difficult, it is overwhelming; it becomes too difficult to appreciate the magnitude of so many afflictions all at once and decide what takes higher priority. After all, how do we evaluate the importance of one form of suffering over another? It’s impossible, and an inevitable hierarchy emerges. On Twitter, people tend to try and fight back against coverage of issues with high visibility by highlighting all the other tragedies going on around the world. The question then becomes: if we can fight for and care about this tragedy, why can’t we provide the same visibility and passion for all the others? Herein emerges a new question: how can news corporations, activist groups, and non-governmental organizations capture the
attention of a public so desensitized by constant exposure to disaster? How can more obscure causes gain traction and visibility on a wider scale when so many people are overwhelmed and fatigued by the news? Well, that’s how we end up with ‘trauma porn’ — the media has to capitalize upon tragedies and horror in order to garner attention and empathy from their viewers. This is for the purpose of garnering more clicks and higher audience engagement for financial profit or to push a political agenda. As a result, the threshold for what shocks and horrifies us has become unreasonably high. The ethics of diffusing extreme and often graphic images of trauma are somewhat ambiguous. On one hand, it may be seen as exploitative of those who are suffering. While on the other, such drastic tactics have almost become necessary in order for an issue to gain any visibility or coverage at all. Trauma porn begs for our empathy, time, and attention, lest we admit to being uncaring, apathetic monsters. However, empathy does not guarantee morality, nor does it demand real action. It may simply lead us further away from any solutions; compassion fatigue cripples rather than empowers the masses. To Zein Idris, a second-year psychology and health sciences student, the inescapable reality of news is taxing. “For me, coming from Lebanon, where there’s a huge political and economic crisis at the moment, I even feel desensitized to the news about my own country. I can’t even stay up to date about the news there because I’m constantly being bombarded by Facebook notifications, text messages, and videos.” Information can be empowering. Social media increases the accessibility of knowledge, making it an invaluable resource for educating the masses and shedding light upon issues that would otherwise remain unseen or ignored. Social media can undoubtedly be seen as the pinnacle of modern democracy; it provides a platform for the masses, amplifies the voices of the oppressed, and enables us to engage in productive debate and to find solutions. Furthermore, its role in actively controlling and quelling the spread of COVID-19 continues to
cycle is burning you out?
be indispensable and paramount. The difficulty is determining how we may achieve a balance between awareness and information overload. How to address compassion fatigue Forgive yourself. The truth is that feeling guilty because of your apathy, your inability to solve all the world’s problems, or to do ‘enough’ is not productive, and may actually do more harm than good. Compassion on its own is one of the virtues of humankind, but too much of it, or focusing it in the wrong direction, can quickly cause one’s mental state to devolve. Remind yourself that it’s okay to not be able to fix things that are out of your hands. Confronting reality can be helpful, and furthermore, we must accept that, as individuals constrained by time, space, and socioeconomic reality, we only have the capacity to do so much. It is not selfishness, but merely realism, that compels us to accept what we can and cannot fix. What we can do is recognize the areas in which we can contribute, and channel our efforts there. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, for example, each of us can do our part in minimizing harm by remaining indoors, self-isolating, social distancing, and being compassionate to those around us. Likewise, it’s important to know when to switch off. I am not dismissing the importance of being informed, nor am I telling anyone to ignore the news — that would simply be promoting ignorance. However, it’s okay to implement healthy boundaries. There’s no need to read every single Twitter update about a crisis, nor are you obligated to be connected to the news every hour of the day. Finally, express gratitude. There is an insurmountable amount of suffering that is inherent to the human condition. It’s easy to get caught up in all the worst sides of human existence. But it’s not all doom and gloom — for every story of a wildfire or impending anarchy, there’s also a story of hope and resilience. Find something that reminds you there is good in the world, whatever that may be, and focus on it. You’d be surprised what a difference it makes.
Arts & Culture
March 23, 2020 var.st/arts email@example.com
Black liberation looks like a garden Desmond Cole presents The Skin We’re In at New College
MIA CARNEVALE/THE VARSITY
Nadine Waiganjo Associate Comment Editor
Indignation always seems to be the driving force behind Black activism, and rightfully so. It’s practically impossible to read Toni Morrison, learn about Black history, or keep up to date with activism and not feel angry. There’s a lot of that in Desmond Cole’s The Skin We’re In, a book that timelines 2017 through the lens of Black activism in Toronto.
Most notable, as Cole reiterated at his recent appearance at the DG Ivey Library at New College, was his criticism of Canadian ignorance. It was certainly a breath of fresh air to have him explain this problematically Canadian constant state of surprise in regard to Black struggles. Whether it’s the news of the disproportionate discrimination against Black TTC riders or
the stark police violence targeted against us, it’s consistently shocking. The non-Black populace in Canada is perplexed to discover such disturbing truths and responds by dedicating itself to learning more. They are always surprised, learning, figuring it out, and consequently removing themselves from any responsibility to actually do something. How are they supposed to act on anything when they’re still trying to understand what’s going on? We have to give them some time! Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? But as Cole pointedly explained, how could they not know about the very harm they were committing? It’s an act — a performance that never ends and at times feels like it never will. That was the uneasy feeling that settled at the pit of my stomach as I listened to his discussion with Huda Hussein, a journalist and U of T PhD candidate. I had seen Cole speak before, in 2015, and it feels like there are still just as many things he is working against now as there were then, if not more. The cases that he spoke of in his book and mentioned briefly in the discussion were alluded to be deserving of their own novels. He is just one activist, and before him lies an infinite amount of work. An audience member, who spoke about a friend from Nova Scotia who passed away at the age of 103, asked Cole when the struggle for Black liberation would end. The silence was crushing as the audience member asked the same question: when would the paradigm shift? We all seemed to tune in more than ever, because in the crux of that question lay a sense of wistfulness of a world where it wouldn’t have been asked at all. See, I’ve gotten so used to stories of Black struggle and pain. My body, as Billy-Ray Belcourt, a writer from the Driftpile Cree Nation, once expressed, brands so many wounds of remembering our constant oppression that it almost feels normal. Which is probably why the chapter titled “May” made me cry. It’s the shortest chapter in the book, only a page and a half, and in it Cole speaks only of his affinity for nature and caring for plants. Of watching caterpillars crawl on
his friend’s hands, of reminiscing about the tulips his mother saved in jars, of visiting the botanical gardens. There it was, that world we all attentively waited for Cole to tell us was just around the corner, hoping he’d say that we, too, wouldn’t leave this earth still dreaming, just wishing. It was right there in that chapter of “May,” and it broke me just how far away it was. Cole’s response confirmed exactly what I already knew was fact: we are the ones that decide when it all ends. I let out a small, tired sigh as I crashed back down to Earth. We have to choose whether or not we wait for capitalism, and, in turn, racism, to crush us under the weight of it all or to fight for our survival. But God knows how much I’d give to be planting roses instead. To reminisce about my mother’s excited rambles about the tomatoes she was growing in her garden, to focus on teaching my sister how to care for her indoor plants, to just smell the damn flowers forever. I want to live in May, where remembering isn’t painful and all life knows is nothing but cultivating plants and plucking tulips. I hate that the unfortunate truth is that I have to fight to get there, just like Cole decided he’d rather fight for Black liberation, rather than fall into despair. It’s not like white Canadians are willingly going to step outside the cycle of ignorance; it doesn’t benefit them to take any kind of accountability. Cole too, I believe, would rather get to that field of flowers sooner rather than later. It’s the secret driving force often overlooked within Black activism — why I guess the whole liberation movement hasn’t killed me yet, like I believe a pure reliance on indignation would. We’re all just dreaming of planting breaths of fresh air and blissfully just being. I don’t know whether we’re close to that life or not, and it was hard to listen to that audience member’s question knowing that the next day, she was going to bury her friend who died wondering the same thing. I guess my only consolation, if anything, is that in that garden of liberation, someone might remember to plant some poppies, forget-me-nots, maybe even a couple of asphodels, in memory of me, in memory of her, in memory of all of us.
Opinion: What happened to the smoke-free policy at U of T? Why students have been ignoring the policy since its enactment
Abhya Adlakha Varsity Staff
I was standing outside Sidney Smith Hall when one of my friends lit a cigarette. He closed his eyes and took a nonchalant long drag, as if he were a character in a James Bond movie. I, on the other hand, glanced around nervously to check if anyone saw or was bothered by it. Didn’t he know smoking on university grounds had been banned for a year now? I shot him a dirty look. “What? No one cares,” he said laughingly. I stood there, slouching in the corner, waiting for him to finish smoking his cigarette, and watched people pass by. No one looked up or glanced our way, let alone tried to stop my friend from smoking. He was right — no one cared. But the real question was, why? On December 13, 2018, U of T’s Governing Council passed a smoke-free policy. Starting January 1, 2019, smoking, holding a lighted tobacco or cannabis cigarette, and using an e-cigarette or any other vaping device on university property would not be allowed. It didn’t matter if you were smoking on a locked roof somewhere or in one of
the many secluded gardens around the university — smoking was banned everywhere. The policy was introduced to provide a healthy environment for everyone at U of T and to protect students from second-hand smoke. This was both a bold step and a sign of good will, considering that “800 non-smokers die each year from lung cancer and heart disease through exposure to second-hand smoke,” according to U of T. However, the policy failed to work for two reasons. First, U of T’s administration didn’t clarify the penalties for smoking on campus. The policy simply reads, “Enforcement measures will depend on the individual’s relationship with the university, the nature of the infraction, and the place in which it occurred.” Thus, lack of clarity around consequences failed to stop people from smoking on campus. Second, unlike UTSC and UTM, the administration at St. George also apparently didn’t think it was important to create accessible designated smoking areas, noting that community members can smoke on “city-owned property.” There were so many problems with this. For starters, people don’t know which streets are part of campus and
ADITI PUTCHA/ THE VARSITY
which are not, meaning that they are not sure where they can and can’t smoke. Further, it just doesn’t make sense for U of T to have people walking around policing students on where they can smoke and where they cannot. Hence, the policy didn’t quite take off like it was supposed to. As a result, people are still smoking everywhere — especially with the popularity of e-cigarettes. I started noticing people taking Juul hits inside classrooms, under the table in study areas, or sometimes even in university bathrooms. While walking around, I started looking out for cigarette buds as well. I found most of them lying in
front of Robarts Library, followed by the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. The findings made sense though. Those are two of the many populous places for late-night study sessions on campus, and students usually take a lot of cigarette breaks. It was finally after these multitude of observations that I realized where students’ apathy toward the policy was coming from. It was simply from the lack of enforcement and penalization connected to the policy, and hence, we chose to ignore it. And therefore, the smoke-free policy only exists now as a stark reminder of something that is well intended, yet ridiculous.
MARCH 23, 2020
The Invisible Man review A horror film to keep you company while you keep away from company Will Gotlib Varsity Staff
A serious reboot of a classic 1930s Universal Pictures monster movie comes with an implicit level of ridiculousness. It also conjures the image of a studio desperately digging up recognizable intellectual property from its past to make some money. But 90 years on, this new Invisible Man is a remake in name only — along with the basic concept of a man being invisible, I suppose. The Invisible Man is directed by Leigh Whannell, the co-creator of the Saw horror franchise and director of 2018’s acclaimed Upgrade. Whannell has proven to thrive on relatively low budgets, finding ingenious ways to create successful and fully-realized worlds even within such restrictions. The Invisible Man cost an estimated $7 million, and it’s already made that back many times over. It’s also a complete creative success — converting a classic horror film into a story of predatory sexual behaviour and confronting abuse. It is tense and terrifying, well-acted, strongly directed, and surprisingly intelligent. This rendition of The Invisible Man follows Cecilia, an architect in a suffocating and dangerous relationship, played excellently by Elizabeth Moss. Following her escape from her abusive ex-boyfriend and his apparent suicide, she begins
to experience unexplained events that make her start doubting that he’s really dead at all, and that he’s maybe become the Invisible Man! The genius of The Invisible Man’s horror lies deep in its conceit as a stalker movie with a twist. The whole point is that the villain isn’t a visible man, to the characters nor the audience, and so in every shot we are subtly prodded to think and worry about whether he’s actually right in front of us. Whannell purposefully lingers on shots of dark vacant hallways and empty areas of rooms, giving us excruciating time to examine the frame, letting our imagination fill in where he might be, but almost never letting us be sure. The film is mostly scary for how it sits in its tension, relishing its empty space and silences, forcing us to strain to notice the creak of a floorboard or a phantom imprint on a cushion.There are jumpscares every so often, but they are effective and well-earned. The film is also impressive for how it rises above pure thrills in its tactful and intelligent handling of complicated and timely themes of domestic abuse. The invisibility of the man works as more than simply a mechanism of the villain: it casts doubt on Cecilia’s experiences and sense of reality, wreaking havoc on her life without accountability. It’s an interesting parallel to the gaslighting and controlling abuse presented explicitly elsewhere in the film.
The new Invisible Man remake is a predatory twist on the old tale. COURTESY OF NBC UNIVERSAL
When not in its sequences of tension and action, The Invisible Man doesn’t manage to hold onto much of its distinctive style and struggles to be as compelling. This is largely toward the beginning, when a series of low-action scenes are needed as a buffer between the white-knuckle introductory sequence of Cecilia’s escape — which didn’t really draw me in, despite it having all the makings of a great cold open — and the eventual escalation back into horror. These scenes don’t pack the same punch, and have a strangely different atmosphere than the movie does at its best, feeling more like a cheap soap opera. This is not an indictment of the whole movie, though. Overall, it’s very well paced, does a great job
keeping up the tension, and is scattered with excellent twists and turns in the plot that are as shocking as they are satisfying. When it gets going, it pretty much doesn’t let up, aside from the very end. This finale is kind of a strange gear shift out of climactic action, but it’s also a well-staged conclusion and a satisfying vindication of the movie’s themes. The Invisible Man isn’t perfect, but it’s a chilling, creative contemporary horror thriller, showing the damage of turning a blind eye to domestic violence and telling a great story of a woman’s empowerment. Disclosure: Will Gotlib was recently elected to the 2020–2021 Victoria College Council.
Book Club: Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster You read Monkey Beach in first-year English, but now it’s time to veer away from the syllabus
Rachel DeGasperis Varsity Contributor
Eden Robinson is one the most highly regarded Indigenous writers in Canada. A member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, Robinson is best known for her collection of short stories, Traplines, and her novel Monkey Beach, which was a Giller Prize finalist. Robinson’s latest novel, Son of a Trickster, stays true to her classic style, brilliantly combining the mundanity of reality with the magic of the supernatural. The protagonist, Jared, must navigate his adolescence in an Indigenous community while confronting complex characters, drugs, love, ghost-like apes, cannibalistic otters, and a talking raven named Wee’git. However, the supernatural elements of Robinson’s plot are not the novel’s main feature, but an additive. Even more impressive is Robinson’s clever juxtaposition of the typical coming-of-age struggles — such as romance, friendship, drama, partying, sex, and drunken violence — with the
IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY
They are survived by their decade-defining music Tsitsi Macherera Varsity Contributor
We all have that moment — whether it be in a random dressing room at the mall or while shuffling through a friend’s Spotify playlist — when you stumble upon a new band and immediately know that you’ve found your latest obsession. You can never quite put your finger on what triggers this instantaneous liking, but there’s always something that immediately hooks you in. Whatever this something is for you, the band Her’s has it. March 27 marks the one-year anniversary of the band’s sudden death in a car accident in Santa Ana, California. Putting a dreamy ’80s twist on indie rock, Her’s cultivated an utterly original sound, yet still manages to maintain the warm nostalgic sound of indie-pop predecessors like The Drums and Craft Spells. Yet, despite their sudden deaths, the Liverpool duo — Stephen
Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading — left behind an ageless discography that is incredibly wellrounded, showing the cohesion and comprehension of identity that takes most bands multiple projects to achieve. Fan favourites like “What Once Was” and “Cool With You” are some of the clearest demonstrations that Her’s was not your run-of-themill indie band. Fitzpatrick’s impressive vocal range, combined with dynamic riffs and infectious drums, makes for instantaneous hits. Slower tracks like “She Needs Him” and “Under Wraps” showcase their ability to tap into the nostalgic escapism of subgenres like shoegaze and dream pop, but whatever type of music you’re into, their ability to dip their toes into a variety of genres means they have something for all listeners. However, if being incredibly talented was not
tough reality of adulthood. Jared is left juggling these two worlds when both the teenagers and the adults in his life are constantly on the brink of falling apart. For example, Jared is roped into helping his local bully with a romantic relationship, while also selling weed cookies to help his absent dad pay rent. Jared’s big heart is a blessing and a curse, and his situation is emblematic of the ways in which teenagers sometimes have to carry the adults in their lives when the roles should be reversed. Robinson is able to communicate the haphazardness of Jared’s life in a manner that is not overly dramatic. Rather, she uses wry humour that is translated exceptionally well through her complex characters, most of whom are quick-witted and vulgar in their responses to absurd situations. It is the characters’ nuance that makes the book feel true to life. No major character is wholly good or wholly bad; rather, they are flawed people living with their own secrets and burdens. One moment, you might find yourself rooting for Jared’s loving, abrasive, and eccentric mother, but then her self-
ish tendencies and the way she brings drugs and dangerous men into Jared’s life infuriate you. Robinson’s ability to write about violence without sensationalizing it is crucial to how we understand Jared’s life. He is affected by violence and substance use disorder, but these don’t define his character, and don’t necessarily define his life, either. Without dramatization, Robinson shows how substance use disorder can alter a person’s relationships with their loved ones and how sticky situations almost always ensue. Son of a Trickster allows the reader to step into a world much different from their own, filled with magic, monsters, and supernatural animals. Yet the characters’ hardships and the complexity of love and loss will also resonate with many. Jared’s strength — and the strength that many teenagers have to learn throughout adolescence — can be summed up with the motto Jared repeats to himself throughout the novel: “The world is hard, you have to be harder.” And with Son of a Trickster being the first novel in a trilogy to come, it seems like Jared’s story is only beginning.
enough, they were also some of the nicest guys in the industry. Having had the pleasure of seeing them perform here in Toronto last year, it was clear to see how genuinely passionate they were about their music and fans. Given their passing, listening to their music can at times feel bittersweet, but at the same time, it’s those dreamy riffs, catchy hooks, and entrancing drums which are able to ward off some of the bitterness. So, if you’re looking to pick up
some additions to your summer soundtrack while also supporting the legacy of an amazing band, consider checking out Her’s today.
ZACH KOH/ THE VARSITY
March 23, 2020 var.st/science firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Bee-washing’ as greenwashing: how outwardly bee-friendly companies actually hurt bees
U of T PhD candidate Charlotte de Keyzer’s blog explores how honey bees may harm native bees Hannah Nie Varsity Contributor
The topic of pollinator conservation has generated a lot of buzz in recent years. Concerns have risen about the possible impacts of global declines in pollinator species on crop production, 75 per cent of which requires some form of pollination. Ecologists — including those affiliated with the United Nations — have also warned of the disruptive effects that the declines of these vital species may have on ecosystems and biodiversity. ‘Bee-washing’ refers to a form of greenwashing in which bee-related marketing is used to promote certain products and services, or improve companies’ public images. Companies participating in bee-washing can spread misinformation about ways on how to save pollinators. In a response to these claims, Charlotte de Keyzer, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, maintains a blog to educate readers about this topic. What are pollinators? Pollinators constitute over 20,000 bee species and numerous animal and insect species. Of these, the Western honey bee is perhaps the most widely recognized, and as such, has become a poster child for companies to promote ‘bee-friendly’ products and campaigns. Despite their popularity, honey bees from farms can cause damage to native bees, as they can outcompete them for resources, such as pollen and nectar, and introduce diseases. The stressors that wild bees face also differ from those experienced by honey bees. For example, habitat-wise, about 75 per cent of wild and solitary bees in Canada live on the ground, and the remaining 25 per cent make their nests in cavities. Common bee-washing initiatives that install honey bee hives on rooftops, in parks, or urban areas do not help wild bees, and may even be harmful. Disease transmission and competition between honey bees and wild bees can be particularly problematic in urban areas with limited flowering resources. As honey bees crop up on cereal boxes and social media campaigns, the issues affecting many species of wild bees are neglected, and may even be exacerbated by these marketing tactics and the misinformation that they spread.
The impact of bee-washing Bee-washing is a term coined by researchers at York University that appeals to consumers’ desire to help bees. However, it is rife with misinformation about the threats that bees face and the solutions that will actually benefit bees. De Keyzer’s blog aims to educate readers about bee-washing and provide resources on the topic for educators doing bee outreach. In an interview with The Varsity, de Keyzer remarked that public misconceptions about bees often stem from a lack of awareness about their diversity. For instance, Toronto alone is home to over 350 species of bees — approximately one species for each day of the year. Bee-washing companies that focus their campaigns on honey bees often overlook this diversity of species. While these companies only focus on honey bees, there is in fact a plethora of bee species in the wild that have many different traits and behaviours, as showcased by de Keyzer on her website. The scale of bee-washing is still unknown. To combat this, de Keyzer has been discussing ways to quantify bee-washing with Dr. Olivier Boiral, a professor at Laval University. A systematic method to evaluate the prevalence of this practice in various industries is yet to be developed, but
from what de Keyzer has seen, examples of beewashing can be found across many industries. Examples of bee-washing Cheerios is a well-known company that practices bee-washing. For several years, the cereal’s bee mascot, Buzz, was removed from the product’s packaging as a nod to the disappearance of bees, and as part of their #BringBacktheBees campaign. Beth Skwarecki, Senior Health Editor at Life Hacker, wrote an article which criticized the campaign for giving out wildflower seed packets that could contain species invasive to North America. In response, Cheerios maintained that the seeds did not contain invasive species, which a horticulturist confirmed to CBC News. Skwarecki issued a correction, but wrote a follow-up piece where Dr. Kathryn Turner, an ecologist, confirmed that the seed packets still contained non-native species, which could harm native plant species by out-competing them for resources. Bee-washing is not limited to agricultural and food-related industries. Shopping centres in the GTA, such as Hillcrest Mall and Yorkdale, have installed honey bee hives on rooftops. Rooftop beehives may provide educational value, according to Blake Retter, Toronto Director of beekeeping supplier Alvéole, in an interview with TVO.
Nevertheless, as research has shown, the honey bees from rooftops could harm the wild bee population, in the same ways as honey bees from farms. How to help wild bees Given the problematic practices of common beewashing campaigns, what are some better ways for corporations to help save wild bees? Some companies’ industries involve land use and wild bee habitat destruction for development, resource extraction, agriculture, or other purposes. In these cases de Keyzer contended that the idea that bee-washing campaigns, such as taking care of honey bees, can compensate for other environmentally damaging actions of a company is flawed. Instead, de Keyzer suggested scaling back on the amount of habitat destruction, or helping to restore habitats in other areas. For companies not directly involved with land use or habitats, money used on honey bee centred campaigns would be put to better use if donated to conservation groups for local wild bee habitats. However, the solution to bee decline does not necessarily lie with corporations. With the beewashing blog, de Keyzer aims to raise awareness about bee-washing and to prevent well-meaning consumers from being misled by such campaigns. There are many ways for people to help bees, with no purchases required. For instance, adopting less disruptive gardening practices — such as mulching less — helps restore wild bee habitats, especially for bees living underground. If planting new plants, choose native species that can act as hosts for wild bees. Many wild bees have evolved to be specialized for specific native plants as hosts, so growing species targeted toward the wild bee species in your area can be particularly beneficial. The citizen science project Bumble Bee Watch is another way to get involved by reporting bee sightings to help with efforts in bee tracking and conservation. The City of Toronto also provides an annual grant, PollinateTO, which awards community pollinator gardens with up to $5,000. “By connecting people to the diversity of bees surrounding them,” explained de Keyzer, “I’m hoping that they get those positive feelings of those good intentions without having to buy something or potentially do something negative to the environment, like introduce more honey bees, where they are not needed.”
FI ON A TU /T NG HE I RS VA TY
MARCH 23, 2020
Graduate students express frustration, confusion at U of T’s advisories on lab work amid COVID-19 “Non-essential” lab research to be suspended as of March 20 due to pandemic
Srivindhya Kolluru Business Editor
On March 13, U of T announced that it would be cancelling in-person courses for undergraduate and graduate students, but that research operations would continue. “Faculty members have a responsibility to maintain the operations of laboratory and research environments,” reads the statement. Almost immediately, confusion ensued among research staff, postdoctoral fellows, visiting scientists, and graduate students across U of T. Days later, on March 17, U of T officials stated that lab-based research operations must be shut down by March 20 at 5:00 pm, with the exception of time-sensitive projects under the approval of the Incident Management Team, or projects related to the COVID-19 pandemic. But before U of T made this call, research staff and graduate students were left in limbo. Some researchers received directions from their respective faculties, departments, or research supervisors to remain home if possible, or work in the lab during off-peak hours. In addition, several departments advised principal investigators (PIs), or heads of research groups, to move group meetings online, prepare contingency plans for experiments, and accommodate students who feel unsafe coming into work. Researchers at U of T-affiliated hospitals have also received additional advisories. On March 16, the University Health Network (UHN) suspended “non-essential on-site research activities” until April 6. The UHN noted that projects related to COVID-19, studies essential to clinical care, and those that have “significant cost- or time-related implications” will remain active, but in-person access will be limited to “essential personnel” who have been tasked with maintaining facilities, instrumentation, or looking after animal colonies. “We all have a pile of papers to write and data to analyze,” wrote Dr. Bradly Wouters, Executive Vice-President Science and Research at UHN, in an email to PIs at UHN on March 12. “Stay home, use the time valuably and let’s all see a
bump in publication productivity over the next 6 months.” The Varsity contacted graduate students across various science departments at U of T to determine how their departments, labs, and supervisors are responding to COVID-19.
Mixed signals: graduate students received little direction from departments, PIs Lee*, a public health graduate student, said that their PI initially expected their team to come into the lab every day amid cancellation announcements, even though Lee’s lab does not require wet-lab or on-site experiments. “My PI has given us no direction on whether we’re to come in but it seems like the expectation is yes,” wrote Lee to The Varsity. Lee noted that they felt their PI’s message to lab members “seemed to downplay the situation.” Similarly, Alex*, a biology graduate student, wrote to The Varsity that while their PI encouraged lab members to take precautions, like washing their hands often, they still expected students to work in the lab. “[They want] us to do more work just in case we won’t be able to in the future. For example if we become sick and need to self-isolate,” Alex wrote. “[They think] there’s less distractions now since we don’t have as much TA work.” “I am concerned about getting infected but since it’s worse in older people I’m more concerned about getting infected and then infecting others,” Alex noted. Following U of T’s announcement on March 17, both Lee and Alex’s PIs responded by either telling them to stay home, or to make preparations
to work from home. In a comment to The Varsity, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) wrote that they have been communicating with administration regarding lab closures. “The UTGSU Executives are disappointed that it took so long for the University to take this step, but remain advocates for safe working conditions for our members.” Prioritizing health and safety: “It’s been instilled in the lab culture” While some graduate students felt frustrated at a lack of response from their supervisors, several graduate students told The Varsity that their PIs have taken extra steps to support their lab members during the pandemic. Chemistry PhD candidate JoAnn Chen wrote to The Varsity that her PI had not explicitly said anything about COVID-19, but her lab’s culture has always made it possible for students to stay home when they are feeling sick. “In my lab, the students have decided [that] we’ll come in when we have scheduled instrument time, but otherwise, we won’t be coming to lab,” Chen wrote on March 13. “Our supervisor has always been accommodating in terms of sick days and vacation, so we were able to decide as a group, but in other labs, the PI probably needs to say something.” After U of T’s shutdown notice for non-essential lab work on March 17, Chen’s PI informed lab members of plans to shut down instruments. Molly Sung, also a chemistry PhD candidate, is scheduled to defend her thesis on April 7. “I have my PhD defense coming up – the next group
How U of T medical students have worked to improve equity in the health care
Symposium challenges “non-inclusive narratives” in medicine “Recognizing the missed chance for collaboraJaviera Gutierrez Duan Associate Science Editor
How can health care education, research, and clinical services be more equitable and welcoming to professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds? The Equity in Health Research, Education and Services Learner-Led Symposium on March 11 sought to answer these questions. The Office of Inclusion and Diversity at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine hosted the symposium in a video conference format. The motivation for the conference The symposium was the brainchild of U of T medical students Chantal Phillips, Imaan Javeed, and Stevan Cho. Shannon Giannitsopoulou, Program Coordinator at the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, worked alongside members of the Learner Equity Action & Discussion Committee Symposium Working Group and organized the symposium. Phillips, Javeed, and Cho had participated in equity, inclusion, and diversity research, but found it difficult to learn more about their colleagues’ work in equity.
tion and support, we recognized the need to start an event… where learners can share their works,” wrote Cho to The Varsity. According to Phillips, the symposium aimed to showcase the equity work of medical students, as well as provide them with an opportunity to get to know each other. Additionally, the symposium offered an opportunity to amplify the voices of the students who were concerned about equity, noted Giannitsopoulou. “It’s really important to me that we are able to change non-inclusive narratives that are so prevalent in not only Medicine but many other fields,” reflected Javeed, “such that everyone is able to picture themselves as being successful and welcome in Medicine.” Medical professionals should be able to do this “without changing anything about who they are, their core values and principles, or being asked to put aside their rich life history and personal background just to blend in,” Javeed continued. Stop moving the target: redefining the meaning of equity The keynote speaker for the night was LLana James, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Medicine’s Rehabilitation Sciences Institute. Her work
focuses on the relationships between artificial intelligence, public health, and medicine. What equity should be, according to James, is “moving the ball down the court,” as she noted in the symposium. However, James described that it is difficult to achieve equity when the target is always moving. She explained this as “a tactic of colonization.” “[People in power] change the definition, change the rules, change the finish line,” she said. “Because as long as it’s changing, you can’t actually cross it.” “[Equity] should be about confronting the legal frameworks; it should be about moving the legal frameworks to where they belong,” she continued. “Where we’re looking and working within Indigenous constitutional frameworks” — in other words, respecting the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Changing the medical school curriculum Nikisha Khare, a second-year medical student, and Alexandra Florescu and Helena Kita, both second-year MD-PhD students, delivered a presentation titled “Advocating for pre-clerkship medical school curriculum change through an anti-oppressive approach.” Khare, Florescu, and Kita developed a report with three key recommendations: to develop a curriculum that draws from critical social perspectives; to critically examine how historical events
meeting was supposed to be my practice,” wrote Sung to The Varsity on March 15. Her PI, Professor Robert Morris, offered to meet with her one-on-one to practice her talk. On March 17, Sung found out that her defence will take place over a video call, but the public portion of her defence has been cancelled. Graduate students worried about research setbacks Even though classes and meetings shifted online this week, Kyle*, a graduate student in biology, expressed guilt about their inability to complete lab work. “It’s hard to sit at home when you know you have a growing pile of work that has to be done at the lab,” Kyle wrote to The Varsity. “This will either set you behind or create more work to do.” Similarly, Ash*, a neuroscience graduate student who works with mice, wrote that they were worried about how a lab shutdown would impact their mouse colonies and degree progress. “I have a lot of big ideas but no concrete evidence to link everything together yet,” Ash wrote. “If research is shut down, it’s not easy to get back.” Ash said that their PI is looking into “whether the research animals have to undergo mass euthanasia.” “It is a huge waste of research funds if it happens and we’d like to prevent it as much as possible,” Ash wrote. Avery*, a pharmaceutical sciences graduate student shared this sentiment. “I’m definitely worried about the impact this will have on my research.” “The guilt I feel at the possibility of missing a few weeks in [the] lab is immense. But the guilt I feel about not doing my part to stop the spread of COVID-19 is also huge.” The Varsity has reached out to U of T and the UHN for comment. *Names have been changed for privacy. have informed social inequities; and to diversify patient panels. Patient panels are often composed of white people from a high socioeconomic status. Medical experts tend to view patients in this demographic as “good patients” with “good relationships with their physicians,” according to their presentation. They noted that the narrow scope can reinforce bias, and represents a missed opportunity for medical students to be more empathetic toward patients who experience less privilege in the medical system. Evaluating the diversity mentorship program Javeed looked into the Diversity Mentorship Program, which is facilitated through the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Inclusion and Diversity. The Diversity Mentorship Program matches medical students from marginalized groups with mentors who “are able to support and assist them in their education and professional growth and development,” according to their website. The program’s objectives are to “empower excellence,” “[strengthen the] community,” and “[foster] identity development,” according to their presentation. The program was evaluated through surveys and focus groups. They found that the program was successful, as “a large proportion of [participants] felt that they had a productive relationship,” Javeed continued. “Mentees felt that it was a rewarding addition to their medical education, and mentors found it both personally and professionally rewarding.” Furthermore, when pairings had more than three meetings there was a “greater achievement of the results.”
March 23, 2020 var.st/sports email@example.com
Women coaching women: “You just need to be resilient and persevere” In conversation with Varsity Blues women’s basketball coach Michèle Bélanger Aleksa Cosovic Varsity Contributor
Michèle Bélanger, centre, has been the coach of the women’s basketball team for 41 years. COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES
Swimmer Kylie Masse signs with ISL’s Toronto Titans The U of T alum will compete for the Toronto expansion franchise in the 2020–2021 season
Silas Le Blanc Sports Editor
After one season with the Cali Condors in the International Swim League (ISL), Varsity Blues swimming alum Kylie Masse is coming home to Toronto to compete for her home city’s new expansion franchise. Masse is an Olympic bronze medalist, a previous world-record holder in the women’s 100-metre backstroke, and a two-time world champion in the 100-metre backstroke. The Toronto Titans are one of two expansion franchises in the ISL’s second year of existence. Their general manager, Rob Kent, is also a former U of T swimmer. In an email to The Varsity, Kent praised the ISL’s members, calling each a “star.” “It is much harder to make an ISL team than it is to make the Olympic team, for the simple reason that there are fewer spots and the competition for those spots is much tougher than it is even to make the Olympics. So that is the base level you are working with, the best of the best, just to get in the door.” Kent wrote that even within this competitive group of swimmers, Masse stands out, as she is one of the best in the world: “So to say that she is a key signing is an understatement.” Masse is the first major signing for the Titans, but they hope that she is not the last. “Kylie was our first announcement, but there are plenty of other Canadians and international swimmers to be announced over the next few days too,” Kent wrote. “And we are signing more almost every day.” Among the names that ISL hopes to bring over are Penny Oleksiak, who won four medals at the 2016 Olympics, as well as Kayla Sanchez, Sydney Pickrem, and Kelsey Wog. Although Masse is an exception, many swimmers do not have agents, which makes the recruitment process much different and less formal than that of other professional sports leagues. Kent says that many general managers do not have a direct point of contact to the athletes whom
they are hoping to recruit, and are discussing with coaches to figure out who knows the swimmer. He also noted that he didn’t need to sell Masse too hard on the idea of coming back to Toronto. “Clearly you have to make a good financial offer, but any team is capable of doing that, and we are under a salary cap, so that part is even,” Kent wrote. “I just believe that if you lay out all the pros and cons, on top of a good financial offer, then you will end up with the swimmers that really want to be there, and aren't there just for the money.” Masse’s agent, Elliott Kerr, added that Masse mainly wanted to come home. “Everything that Kylie does, says Canada first,” wrote Kerr in an email to The Varsity. “She attends a world class university here, she receives world class coaching here, she enjoys world class facilities here and her family is here. Many world class swimmers travel south of the border, but Kylie chose Toronto. It made total sense to me that she became a member of the Toronto Titans.” Kerr corroborated the rather unique process that is behind recruiting in the ISL. “When I first heard that Toronto had secured an ISL franchise, I immediately reached out to Rob Kent to discuss the possibilities. It was very clear to me that a Toronto franchise would be interested in Canada’s world champion.In concept I was intrigued, but I needed to be convinced that solid ownership and management was in place.” “After my first meeting with Rob, I knew the Toronto franchise was in good hands.” Kylie Masse swam for the Varsity Blues from 2014–2019. COURTESY OF MARTIN BAZYL/ VARSITY BLUES
Coaching in varsity and professional sports has consistently been dominated by men, even on women’s teams. While professions that have been historically dominated by men, like medicine or law, have been working to increase the number of employed women, professional coaching has not had the same progress. As of now, women only account for 16 per cent of coaches at the university level, and that number has been declining in recent years. The Varsity recently interviewed Michèle Bélanger, who’s been the head coach of the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team for the past 41 years. She discussed the importance of the acceptance of, and representation for, women in the field of coaching, and shared advice for younger women who are looking to find a career in sports management. She also spoke about her strong belief that women’s sports teams should be coached by women. “I believe that women should coach women, and women have to see, and young girls have to see that when you see a female coaching that those are options for career goals and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Bélanger continued, “When you don’t see women coaching at a higher level, then there’s assumptions that those are not female driven ca-
reers, and that it’s never going to happen.” Research has shown that women are discouraged from even entering coaching jobs in the first place. While men will often disregard job requirements and believe that they are more likely to learn on the job, women are less likely to apply if they do not meet the qualifications when they’re applying. Similarly, much of the language used in job advertisements can be perceived as being catered toward men. Bélanger’s assertion is in line with what is recommended by the Government of Canada. The Minister of Science and Sport’s Working Group on Gender Equity recommends that more women coaches be hired in women’s sports. Men sponsoring women’s sports and the hiring of women coaches can go a long way in the development of professional leagues. For younger generations of women looking to go into a profession in the field of sports management and coaching, Bélanger stressed the importance of not getting discouraged or disappointed if they don’t fit in or find the perfect opportunity. “Know that with every day, there’s changes that are being made and you just need to be resilient and persevere and speak up to what you believe is right. Have a voice and just be willing to make the sacrifices, because they are really important for generations to come.”
Here’s how to stay healthy during your COVID-19 self-quarantine Tips for maintaining your workout routine and eating well during the crisis
Silas Le Blanc Sports Editor
It might be hard to maintain fitness and health during the COVID-19 pandemic. U of T has closed all gyms, and minimizing grocery shopping does not bode well for fruits and vegetables, which tend to go bad after about a week. However, there are still many ways to maintain your health without needing to leave the house often. Fitness Although it is recommended that everyone stay inside during the pandemic, it is perfectly safe for you and others around you to go for a run. As long as you are complying with social distancing guidelines, there is no harm in engaging in most outdoor physical activities. If you are used to running on busy streets, it may be best to find residential areas in order to maintain the recommended six feet of distance between yourself and others. Remember to also avoid drinking from any water fountains. In terms of strength and conditioning, burpees are one of the best exercises to do at home. They are accessible to anyone at any fitness level and are incredibly efficient. However, you should also be conscious of varying your exercises as well, and should include pushups and squats into your routine. These three exercises alone make for an effective workout.
Nutrition Grocery shopping can be difficult during this pandemic, given that many things are already off the shelves, and that canned and other non-perishable foods last much longer than other food. When buying milk, it is best to look for shelfstable milk, such as soy, almond, or hemp milk. These have a much longer shelf-life than regular milk, and can be a substitute for almost anything you normally use milk for. In terms of food, beans are one of the most nutritious and cost-efficient items to buy. Dry beans are cheap and can be bought in large quantities, but canned beans work well too and are much more convenient. Although many fresh vegetables spoil quickly, there are many that you can buy frozen, such as corn, peas, and broccoli. The freezer is also a great way to keep many of your meals fresh for a long time. One last trick is to smear your pasta sauces, lentil and bean soups, chilli, or other stew-like meals into an ice tray, freeze them overnight, and put the cubes into a plastic bag the next morning. This saves a lot of time in having to thaw meals, and can be reheated in the microwave very quickly. Mental health Eating healthy can positively affect one’s mental health. This is important during a time of crisis that causes a dramatic change to routine — especially one that requires self-isolation. Dark leafy greens, asparagus, legumes, nuts, and whole grains help keep your blood sugar stable, which helps reduce anxiety. Anxiety can also be curbed by antioxidants, such as blueberries, acai, and foods with Omega-3 fats, such as salmon. For a treat, chocolate can be a stress minimizer as well. Try to avoid foods that trigger anxiety, such as simple sugars, fried foods, alcohol, and excessive caffeine.
MARCH 23, 2020
Dashed dreams: Varsity Blues veterans talk nationals cancellations amid COVID-19 pandemic
Graduating athletes cherish accomplished university careers, despite disappointing end Laura Ashwood Associate Sports Editor
We are all living in a new ‘normal’: as U of T students, we have watched our lectures and tutorials move online with varying degrees of success. We have witnessed our graduations and end-of-year showcases get put in potential jeopardy. We stood by as our beloved clubs, intramurals, and extracurricular activities slowly dwindled away. Most jarringly, we are living in a time of deep uncertainty surrounding what the future holds, and how we will navigate it. For some Varsity teams, however, part of their future is grimly set in stone: players watched their championships vanish before their eyes, robbing them of the chance for a moment of glory at the national level. Their most ambitious goal of the year, one they fought tooth and nail and beat the masses for, disappeared. For men’s volleyball, it was their first chance at a national title. For women’s hockey, it was a chance at an equally elusive U SPORTS title. Similarly, the women’s volleyball team had to watch their national championship disappear. The Varsity reached out to some graduating players from these teams to discuss how they are responding to a tumultuous and disappointing cap to their careers. “The team has had an amazing year, finishing first in the league and winning the McCaw Cup. We definitely had a chance… to be National Champions,” wrote hockey veteran Cristine Chao. Chao is title-holder of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Defender of the Year, Most Sportsmanlike
Player, and First Team All-Star awards. “To have it end abruptly just like that… just shocked me. I didn’t know that the game on Thursday was going to be my last hockey game ever as a part of the University of Toronto Women’s Hockey program.” Andrew Kos of the men’s volleyball team, a veteran who has competed on the national and international stages for beach volleyball, shared Chao’s sentiment: “It is obviously quite disappointing. Having it be my last year, it was an unorthodox way to end my varsity career, but nevertheless quite memorable.” Decorated volleyball veteran Alina Dormann is similarly disheartened. She had to anticlimactically cap off a Varsity Blues career that boasted national and provincial team experiences as well as multiple titles of OUA East First Team All-Star and U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian. “It was definitely a challenging end to the season, to have it end so suddenly and not have the opportunity to compete for the national championship, which is what we had been working towards all year,” Dormann admitted. The team had even travelled to Calgary, where the nationals would have been hosted. After training for two days, they were “feeling very confident and ready for the
weekend.” Then, before the games could begin, they were on a flight home and the season was over. Despite these dashed dreams, there is a common understanding that these cancellations are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some graduating athletes chose to cherish the memories of being a Blue that they do have, rather than focus on the ones that could have been.“At least we were able to win OUAs this year,” Chao reminisced. “The feeling that I had at Varsity Area that night is a memory that I will never forget.” Dormann has chosen to adopt a similarly positive outlook: “As a team, we have been focusing on enjoying the journey that led up to that point, as nationals doesn’t define our team or take away from all the other amazing things we have accomplished this year.” She added that as she leaves her years as a Blue behind, she will “keep the focus on all the incredible experiences and times I have had as a Varsity Blue throughout the last five years, rather than the disappointment of not being able to compete with my teammates one last time.”
JOSEPH DONATO/ THE VARSITY
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MARCH 23, 2020