The Varsity Magazine Vol. XI No. 2 | Winter 2018
The Physical Issue Taking up space when society gives you none page 22
Stories of sexual harassment behind the screen page 28
Struggling to balance homelessness and studies page 42
Volume XI No. 2 The Physical Issue Kaitlyn Simpson Magazine Editor
Ilya Bañares & Josie Kao Magazine Assistants
Elham Numan Creative Director
Keith Cheng Associate Design Editor
Jacob Lorinc Editor-in-Chief
Shanna Hunter & Andy Takagi Associate Photo Editors
Tom Yun Managing Online Editor Rachel Chen Managing Editor
Kevin Lu & Evelyn Maude Associate Senior Copy Editors
Blythe Hunter Senior Copy Editor
Kary Cozens Business Manager
Michael Teoh Deputy Senior Copy Editor
Emma Findlay-White, Algimantas Janusis, & Angela Lee Advertising Executives
Pearl Cao & Piyumi Konara Design Editors Steven Lee Photo Editor Mia Carnevale Illustrations Editor Shaq Hosein Video Editor Mohammed Durrani & Tamim Mansour Web Developers George Kell Associate Magazine Editor
Copy Editors Marisa Balleani, Claire Doi, Alisha Farrow, Ash Nicol, Jovana Pajovic, Ethan Raymond, Eleanor Schoeffel, Julie Shi, Sabrina Wu Designers Rebecca Arshawsky, Darren Cheng, Angela Fu, Judy Hu, Gheyana Purbodiningrat
Special thanks to Ilya, Blythe, and Michael for hanging in there, Tessa and Scott, #Pyeongchang2018, Julien Balbontin, coffee, Pri Sharma, Steven Lee, Tom Yun, Aubrey Graham for the Saks shopping spree, Reut Cohen, Teodora Pasca, Roll Up the Rim, Linus, Nora, Piyumi’s orange, and the pink brain. Also happy belated birthday to Zain Numan. The Varsity Magazine has a circulation of 10,000 published by Varsity Publications Inc. It is printed by Masterweb Inc. Content © 2018 by The Varsity. All rights reserved. Any editorial inquiries and/or letters should be directed to the associated editors. The Varsity Magazine reserves the right to edit all submissions. Please recycle this issue after reading. 21 Sussex Ave, Suite 200 Toronto, ON M5S 1J6 (416) 946-7600 magazine.thevarsity.ca
Letters from us I was hoping that my second attempt at writing a letter from the editor would be easier — it’s not. It’s still nearly impossible to sum up the number of hours, the amount of effort, and the sum of coffee cups that go into producing a magazine. Nonetheless, since completing The Varsity’s fall magazine, I’ve worked to ensure the winter magazine’s articles push boundaries and shift perspectives. The theme ‘physical’ followed a deep ponder sesh I had while making dinner. I liked the multiplicity of it. Turns out, it was appropriate given the timeliness of many of the articles that were inspired by it. For example, in light of the #MeToo movement and societal discussions of sexual violence, Teodora Pasca wrote a shocking article showcasing the stories of 15 students who have experienced sexual harassment or assault online (page 28). Additionally, the current state of youth homelessness in the city was explored by Steven Lee — a student who has experienced homelessness — and Ilya Bañares. Both writers worked incredibly hard to ensure that this article became a reality, and the final product is jarring (page 42). I’m extremely proud of all of the contributors, designers, and those who helped out with the magazine; the stories were inspiring, funny, and important. I invite you to grab a coffee, find a cozy seat, and enjoy flipping through the Physical Issue. —Kaitlyn Simpson After the first Varsity magazine, I thought I knew everything I needed to know about what goes into creating a magazine. Bold. But then I remembered how many times articles changed, how many visuals shifted, and how all the ideas I started out with were nothing like what was eventually executed. I guess that’s part of the fun of it all. The process of coming up with the cover was a result of a creative back and forth that sounded something like this: “So this is the physical issue. Think body, touch, aggressive... maybe texture?” “That’s not really going anywhere. What are the main colours in it?” “There’s quite a bit of orange.” “How about an orange on the cover?” Plus a number of other changes. The image featured on the back cover is a close-up of Bernini’s “The Rape of Persephone,” with the frame highlighting the hyper-real sense of touch that you would never usually associate with a material like marble. Alongside the cover, the Physical Issue brings together in-your-face visuals that invite you into stories that often feel out of reach. The designs facilitate these stories to take up the space they deserve. Please enjoy! —Elham Numan
Wise words from a sassy squirrel with a reputation
How a paperless future could be in sight for universities
History was made with the first Black female astronaut
Like a phoenix from the ashes
It’s getting hot in here
Call Me By Your Name is the love story that Moonlight’s Chiron deserved
An invisible struggle Struggling with both homelessness and studies
The measure of accessibility Navigating accessibility hurdles students face
Temperatures are a-changing — recapping climate change in 2017
Circumventing stigma Overcoming skepticism of the medical field
In an age of new media, this newspaper refuses to go online
Offline, online, physical, invisble
No phones, no books, no talking Finding inner peace during a busy day
Black queer people deserve better love stories
Saying hi to hijab
A personal reflection on wearing the hijab
Consent in cyberspace Stories of sexual harassment behind the screen
Un[touchable] A poem exploring the physicality of outdated views
Touch Drawing the physicality of the fifth sense
Taking up space when society gives you none
Notes from the dark room A student’s story of recovering from a concussion
A look at the commercialization of beauty
My tattoos, my stories Reflecting on what ink means
Buy less, experience more What brings you joy?
Etiquette Squirrel The physical edition Dear Etiquette Squirrel, I said good morning to my roommate today, and my speaker said good morning back. Should I be worried? I’m thinking of taking a baseball bat to it. — Concerned Grandmother Dear Concerned Grandmother, It’s nothing to be afraid of… yet. There are fancy new speakers that will do that. However, if you start to see it walk, I suggest you talk to Watson from IBM — after all, he almost won Jeopardy.
Dear Etiquette Squirrel, I’m making a family dinner next week and I have no idea what to make at the last minute. Do you have any good ideas? — Janet Dear Janet, You can’t go wrong with Etiquette Squirrel’s natural enemy, the turkey. I hear they roam the halls of Robarts looking to eat the brains of first years. I’d favour a good ol’ fashioned tur-turkey-key — that’s a turkey stuffed inside an even larger turkey. Mmm, delicious.
Hey Etiquette Squirrel, I have a class at Brennan Hall, but I’ll be coming straight from Bahen. Is it physically possible to get there in this winter weather? — Not Fast But Furious Dear Not Fast But Furious, Based on your name, I’m inclined to recommend driving one of those gold sports cars outside of Sid Smith to get to the east side, but if you’ve got equipment and little to no shame, why not ski across campus? You wouldn’t be the first one.
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Hiya Etiquette Squirrel, I’ve never actually physically seen you IRL. Do you even exist? You’re probably just some student writer who goes under a pen name, like all the other classical authors I don’t read. Reveal yourself, heathen! — Sneakily Suspicious Dear Sneakily Suspicious, I notice that you also haven’t revealed your real name. Oh how the turntables…
Hey Squirrel with a Reputation, I wanna be your endgame I wanna be your first string I wanna be your A-Team I wanna be your endgame, endgame — Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran & Future Dear Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran & Future, Obsessed much? First of all, not interested. I’m taken already, if you haven’t heard. Second of all — not a fan. Of any of you. Except maybe Ed. He’s hot. Bye.
RAPID FIRE Dear Etiquette Squirrel, I like food. Like, a lot. Help. Pls. — Foodie Dear Foodie, Don’t listen to anyone. Go nuts (haha) on that two-piece meal with cajun fries from Popeye’s. Dear Etiquette Squirrel, How do you stay warm all winter? — Freezing in Lash Miller Dear Freezing in Lash Miller, I have this thing called ‘fur.’ Ever heard of it? Dear Etiquette Squirrel, Cinnamon buns. Thoughts? — Cinnamon challenge survivor Dear CCS, If you got bunz, hun, eat your heart out.
Physician, Engineer and
Illustration by Troy Lawrence
ae Jemison is an engineer and the first Black female astronaut. Born in 1956, she was part of the team aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which launched in 1992. After her career with NASA, she became a postsecondary professor who taught science to future generations.
Winter 2018 â€”â€” 7
Like a phoenix from the ashes A paper rises from the doom and gloom of print journalism Article by Jacob Lorinc Photos by Kaitlyn Simpson
t’s no revelation that print media is dying. Rather, it’s the subject of most newsroom conversations, and should you forget about the Canadian media’s slow demise — if only briefly — any young journalist would be eager to remind you of it two or three times. Our media landscape, to say nothing of the one down south, has all but abandoned the physical copy of a newspaper in exchange for investments in digital output. This has been played out through a number of painful cost-cutting methods conducted by major news outlets across the country over the last few years. In January 2016, the Toronto Star closed its printing plant in Vaughan, and it outsourced its print production to potentially increase focus on digital media. In September 2016, Rogers Media announced it would cut Maclean’s magazine from a weekly edition to a monthly edition. Earlier in 2013, The Globe and Mail cut its print edition in
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Newfoundland and Labrador and then, in November 2017, it extended this rollback to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The Globe consolidated its Arts section with the News section, mixed Business with Sports, and narrowed the lengths of its pages. Circulation among all major media outlets has dropped. Even we at The Varsity dropped our weekly circulation from 20,000 to 18,000 copies in 2017. Here, the Charles Dickens quote no longer applies — it’s definitely not the best of times, and it’s probably the worst of times. Dave Bidini though — pointedly not a journalist and yet the founder of a recently established local paper — isn’t having the worst of times. In fact, he’s having fun. The guitarist for the disbanded Rheostatics and a bohemian of the downtown core is now the founder of The West End Phoenix, a local monthly newspaper.
You probably haven’t heard of it, and there’s a reason for that: the West End doesn’t exist online. Its business model is antithetical to that of practically any paper in its vicinity. It’s print-only, ad-free, and cannot be found on newsstands but rather by home subscription. In place of articles, its website reads, “Thou shalt not PDF.” The newly founded paper is not necessarily built to last — the website itself is headed with the quote, “You’re crazy, but good luck” — so it’s unsurprising, then, that when I meet with Bidini in the paper’s office, a bedroom-turned-workplace in the centenarian Gladstone Hotel on the outskirts of Parkdale, he’s knowingly tentative about the paper’s future. “Honestly, we don’t even know if it’s going to work,” he tells me. “We have certain targets we want to meet — in terms of our subscription, in terms of our funding — [and] we may
make it, it may be fantastic, [but] maybe we won’t. But we want to try.” The paper is Bidini’s brainchild — an idea that came to mind after a visit to Yellowknife in 2015. The city’s local paper, the Yellowknifer, is akin to the purity of media prior to the digital revolution. It prints twice a week, and it is sold on the streets by kids with part-time jobs. It bears minimal online presence, existing only under the name of its parent company, Northern News Service. When Bidini returned to Toronto from the north, he noticed an unfortunate contrast in the local papers here. “I remember one day The Villager appeared on my porch, and it was huge. But once you open it up, you realize it’s all… wrapped in flyers. All of the editorials have been gouged out — they were all bought by Metroland [Media].” That’s when he decided to start a paper of his own. “We’re in this catchment in the west end, this amazing place in this amazing city — who’s telling the stories? I thought the opportunity existed to start a community paper that will be telling the stories of people who live here rather than it being a glorified coupon wrap,” he said. The paper is funded primarily by subscriptions and patron supporters. Neither are cheap — a yearly subscription starts at $56.50, and the base patron donation is $200 — but it has roped in some interested buyers nonetheless. The paper has roughly 1,800 subscribers in the west end of Toronto and approximately
450 subscribers sprinkled across the rest of Canada and the world. Bidini himself is in a unique position to take such a risk. Prior to his stint in journalism, he was known primarily as the guitarist for the Rheostatics, a Canadian indie rock band popular in the ’80s in ’90s. Bidini has since become a staple of the Canadian arts scene — a figure in the same circle as the late Gord Downie, Margaret Atwood, and other notable figures. This status helped when forming the West End. “I was calling in every fucking favour of people I met in music [and] people I met in publishing,” says Bidini, which is why the list of major patrons on the newspaper’s second page reads like the starting lineup of Canada’s arts scene all-star team. Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Serena Ryder, Bruce McDonald, and George Stroumboulopoulos are but few of the names listed as “major” and “founding” patrons. The paper also received starting donations from TD Bank, Blundstone Canada, and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, among others. So why the aversion to publishing online? “Part of it is romance; part of it is nostalgia for sure,” explains Bidini. “Somebody contacted us the other day and said, ‘I’m looking for the name of the writer who did the story on tunnels for you guys,’ and my wife was like, ‘Isn’t that cool? That they had to write to us rather than find [these] names on the internet?’ Bidini dismisses the notion of the West End being anti-digital, but the obscurity of the
product is certainly pointed. In some ways, the paper appears to counteract the rapid change that its geographic surroundings are experiencing. Parkdale, whose previously undesirable market value helped facilitate an influx of artists over the past two decades, is undergoing the familiar process of gentrification. Implicitly, if not explicitly, the West End — in all its ad-free purity — appears to want to preserve the culture that some may fear is dissipating. As a paper that, for the most part, only locals know about, it lends itself to the preservation of a neighbourhood once unexposed to big business and overpriced condos. It’s not NIMBYism, but the process has stoked a collective need to preserve the old. “By supporting the paper, you’re supporting the poet and the graphic designer, and the illustrator that lives on your street,” pitches Bidini. If the neighbourhood becomes unaffordable for the artist class, then the poets, graphic designers, and illustrators leave. And when they go, so does the heart of the neighbourhood. It becomes, as Bidini puts it, “less freaky.” So is the project sustainable? “We’ll see,” says Bidini. “It’s an experiment. And I’d be an idiot to say it’s not a ‘can’t miss’ project.” In a media landscape that’s looking more and more like a battlefield, the success of a leisurely local is nowhere near guaranteed. But for a community trying to preserve a neighbourhood, perhaps there’s a demand.
Winter 2018 —— 9
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It’s getting hot in here Warming up to the truth about climate change — what happened in 2017 and what could come next Article by Keith Cheng Illustrations by Belinda Hoang
limate change is more of a hot topic now than it has ever been. The past year saw unprecedented amounts of environmental damage that can have harrowing and long-lasting global impacts if it continues at the current rate. Despite these anxieties, some individuals maintain a growing skepticism of the validity of climate change. In the US, climate change deniers are perhaps more powerful than ever, and they have been actively working to dismantle any progress that was made on environmental policy over the past few years. President Donald Trump’s intent to withdraw the US from the United Na-
tions Paris Agreement, announced on June 1, 2017, is one such example. The Paris Agreement was established in 2015 to “limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius,” as described on the United Nations website. As the world’s second largest carbon emitter, the US’ withdrawal is a worrying sign for the future of the environment. This intended withdrawal has even seen certain US states, including California and New York, pursue environmental policies that uphold commitments to the agreement. With fears of climate change rising, it is becoming increasingly important to take action before it’s too late.
Winter 2018 —— 11
Climate change in 2017
Coral reef bleaching
Rising Arctic temperatures
Canada’s large quantity of forested area makes it especially susceptible to wildfires; since 1990, an average of 2.5 million hectares of Canadian forest have been lost annually to wildfires. The recent dry weather and drought has helped expedite both the frequency and severity of these fires, leading to large amounts of environmental damage as well as costly financial burdens for Canada. British Columbia experienced its worst wildfire season in 2017, costing the province a total of $315.7 million. As of April 1, 894,491 hectares of land had been burned, beating the previous record of 855,000 hectares in 1958. And it’s not only Canada that has faced rising rates of forest fires; unprecedented rates of forest fires have wreaked havoc through California, Russia, Australia, and Chile, among others. While wildfires are a natural part of the forest ecosystem and can be beneficial in moderation, the increasing severity can have devastating effects if it continues. The emissions from the wildfires can lead to significant air pollution that can cause health problems, especially to those with asthma. The increase in fires also increases the risk of other disasters such as flooding, debris flow, and landslides. The emissions from wildfires can also increase global temperatures; “the fires release ‘particulates’ — tiny particles that become airborne — and greenhouse gases that warm the planet,” states NASA’s website.
Coral bleaching is when corals become completely white because algae have been expelled from their tissues. This phenomenon occurs when corals are put under stress from changing conditions, such as changes in light, temperature, or nutrients. Coral and algae have a symbiotic relationship where they are dependent upon one another to survive. Without algae, coral loses its main source of food and becomes more susceptible to death and disease. Increased water temperature from climate change is one factor that can lead to coral bleaching. The world’s largest reefs experienced two major mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 that killed approximately half of the world’s coral. The Coral Watch program of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put most of the coral reefs on “Alert Level 1” in February of last year, indicating that while bleaching is considered likely, it is unlikely to be severe enough to cause more coral to die. However, bleaching is likely to continue, which is definitely still a reason to be concerned. The loss of coral reefs would affect all species in the ecosystem, as coral is a source of food and shelter for many organisms, and its disappearance would lead to a subsequent decline in the fish communities that depend on it. This loss of coral can affect human communities in ways that may not be obvious. Many communities near the reefs depend on them for food and income, and they also help protect coastal communities from environmental damage, such as storm surges and erosion. There are also many medicines that rely on organisms from the coral reefs. Deemed the ‘medicine cabinets’ of the twenty-first century, the reefs provide us with many important compounds necessary for the development of medicines used to treat diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
The impacts of climate change on the Arctic have been a worry for many years, though the concerns are now becoming increasingly dire. The NOAA publishes an annual report card that analyzes the current state of the Arctic ecosystem, and found that March 7, 2017 was the “lowest winter maximum ice extent in the satellite record.” This is the third straight year in which there is a record low winter maximum in Arctic ice, meaning there was less of the Arctic Ocean that froze during the coldest times in the winter. The loss of Arctic sea ice changes the amount of solar radiation reflecting off the Earth’s surface. Current levels of sea ice reflect approximately 50 per cent of radiation back into space during the summer. Water temperatures begin to rise as sea ice melts and less solar radiation is refracted. The NOAA’s report card found that sea surface temperatures in August 2017 were 4°C warmer than previous trends in the Barents and Chukchi seas. Studies have found that this decrease in reflection is comparable to a 25 per cent increase in CO2. Another pressing concern with rising Arctic temperatures is the potential of rising sea levels. The warming of the Arctic Ocean has been shown to have affected the Greenland Ice Sheet: there has been an observed 30 per cent increase in summer melt on the ice sheet between 1979 and 2006. Melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet can have detrimental effects; it is estimated that if the entire sheet melts, sea levels could rise up to six metres, potentially leaving cities such as Richmond, British Columbia underwater by the end of the century.
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What does this mean for us? Impacts of climate change can already be seen in Toronto. The average temperature in Canada has increased by 1.6°C from 1948–2013, and Toronto’s Future Weather and Climate Driver Study from 2012 predicts that summer temperatures in Toronto could reach a high of 44°C by 2050. Warmer temperatures can lead to various problems for the city. The increased temperature promotes the spread of vector-borne disease and increases the risk of water and foodborne diseases. The risk of dehydration and heat stroke also become more prominent. Diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease, for example, become more frequent as disease-bearing organisms are able to survive and breed longer in a warmer climate. The increased temperature can also affect ecosystems, both on a natural and urban scale. Natural ecosystems will see a change in composition of plant and animal species as native species disappear and more invasive species begin to take over. The urban landscape and architecture will be affected by the milder winters; more frequent freeze-thaw cycles will accelerate the degradation of roads and buildings. Moving forward As a city, Toronto has always been quite progressive in climate change initiatives; The Atmospheric Fund, for example, is a Toronto-based organization that strives to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area through the promotion of sustainable startups. A policy called TransformTO has also been established by the city as an attempt to “reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and improve our health, grow our economy, and improve social equity,” as stated on its website. John Robinson, a U of T professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and School of the Environment, believes that the next step moving forward is deciding “how to ramp things up, how to move beyond the somewhat ad-hoc process where different issues [are] looked at somewhat separately.”
While there are many initiatives that try to tackle specific issues such as carbon emissions, moving forward requires an interdisciplinary approach. We can’t simply look at the environmental issues when hoping to promote change; understanding the social issues that are intertwined with them is an important part of moving forward. “You can’t just deal with poverty on its own, you can’t deal with pollution on its own — they’re actually quite tightly coupled, and so you have to start thinking in a more holistic way,” says Robinson. Robinson also emphasizes the role that universities play in sustainability, stating that universities are now expected to engage in social problems like sustainability. U of T has been somewhat active in sustainability through its President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability that was set up in 2017. Its mandate states that it strives “to identify ways to advance the University’s contributions to meeting the challenges of climate change and sustainability, with a particular focus on research and innovation, teaching, and University operations.” The committee is currently working to take on the challenge of sustainability in three ways. The first step is turning the campus into a “living lab” where every decision is centred around sustainability. The second step is being an “agent of change” through partnerships with the private and public sector, as well as civil society. “The third area is curriculum innovation and the idea here is to create sustainability pathways — curriculum pathways, so that every single student at the university can add sustainability to their curriculum,” says Robinson. “So, no matter what program you’re in — civil engineering, or medieval history, doesn’t matter, you will be offered a sustainability pathway when you arrive at first year.” While Toronto has taken initiatives to alleviate climate change, the successes of these projects are dependent on us as members of the community. With growing concerns regarding the impacts of climate change, it is vital for us to take action before it’s too late.
Winter 2018 —— 13
Call Me By Your Name is the love story Moonlight’s Chiron deserved The Black queer experience, on screen and off Article by BOSI MORAGIA Illustration by DARREN CHENG
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ast month, I watched Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. I cried the whole way through. The white man sitting next me was only vaguely concerned. My best friend Iyanla offered to let me heave into her bosom, but the theatre seating at the TIFF Bell Lightbox didn’t allow for it, so I powered through. My tears weren’t for Timothée Chalamet’s dazzling on-screen transformation into Elio Perlman — a skittish yet precocious virtuoso contending with the age-old queer adolescent dialectic between sensuality and cynicism — even though, really, give the man and his pentagonal facial symmetry an Oscar already. My tears weren’t for Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s stunning cinematography either. As a continental African, my fight or flight response is usually activated when films are set in any country that had a seat at the table at the Berlin Conference — which, if you didn’t know, divided the continent up among European powers. My tears weren’t even for Sufjan Stevens’ original soundtrack compositions, though if I’m being honest, maybe they were just a little bit. Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” is the dimly lit melancholia anthem that the gays deserve — because queerness is melancholia and rarely fun outside of Twitter — and I’ll be the first one to play it at the bashment. Truthfully, my tears weren’t for any aspect of the movie. In a very real and existential way, they were for Chiron, the boy from the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. Call Me By Your Name was the love story Chiron deserved. I don’t know if anybody in the greater heterosexual world or the greater homosexual one knows this, but the Black queer experience is intrinsically in its own stratosphere. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s sociological intersectional theory does a perfect job of explaining this. Crenshaw proposes that every individual lives within a multiplicity of identities that all simultaneously interact with each other. It challenges selectivism directly, retiring the ‘let’s focus on x before y’ approach of prioritizing oppressions that certain activisms have used when fighting structural oppression. It also seeks to dismiss the myth that the overlap of people’s identities does not contribute to their experience in life. As Audre Lorde succinctly put it, “There is no hierarchy of oppressions.” It just is what it is. That is to say, the way that Black people’s queerness interacts with the world is heavily informed by our Blackness. It’s an interaction
that is woven with loneliness, abrasions, and hesitations, but also lavish joys — all of which form a beautiful tapestry of begrudging yet intentional resistance. This is why Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is important to the Black queer coming-of-age narrative. It is also why Little, the youngest version of Chiron portrayed so effortlessly by a forlorn Alex Hibbert, is still my screensaver about a year and a half after the film’s release. A question I love asking other Black gays is, “Which Chiron are you?” This almost works as well as astrology, because the answer to the question is the window into the soul of someone’s queer experience. Chiron, the character we see evolve in a series of three dysphoric segments, is distinct in every iteration of himself. As a young boy, Little is sequestered into a kind of forced introversion. He, like many Black queer children, understands there is something faceless, something different scratching on the surface of his personhood, but he doesn’t quite understand that others can sense it too. Little is the Black queer child who was taught to hate himself, who internalized the uneasiness that children and adults alike projected onto them and into their sense of self. Little is Black, poor, and the son of a crack addict — his story is a manifestation of the kind of childhood that is not your own to live, of fraught but still pulsing parental relationships, of certain traumas that set in your bones before you learn how to spell them. Chiron, the adolescent version in the trio, becomes an extension of Little, whose unresolved despairs stretch out onto actor Ashton Sanders’ six-foot frame in the second part of the film. Chiron is for the Black queer people whose sullen weariness follows them into adolescence, or conversely, for the Black queer people who discovered their queerness during that time; they feel burdened with a quiet hysteria and self-imposed isolation at the thought of having desires incongruent with the norm. Chiron is for those who laughed awkwardly or a little too heartily at cafeteria gay jokes, for those who learned to only cringe internally at high school lexicons peppered with terms like ‘faggot’ and ‘dyke.’ Chiron is repressed queer sexuality, like the ghost of silent crushes that never came into fruition, the classroom chairs we dreamed of wielding to show our bullies that we could hit back. Maybe Black, the final and briefest instalment of Chiron, functions both as a cautionary tale and pleasant prediction of what Black queer adulthood entails. Maybe Black, like
many of us, fought ferociously into adulthood and traded his softness as a result, receding into a caricatured ‘straight’ version of himself. Black shows us what we stand to lose from assimilation into Black cisgendered heteropatriarchy, but he also lets us know that it’s okay to do whatever is ultimately best for our survival. So, which Chiron are you? No matter your answer, he deserved better. The Black queer experience is far from homogenous, but generally, we tend to navigate our sexuality through the undercurrent of postcolonial violence: poverty, new religions that castigate our queerness, sociopolitical anti-Black phenomena that tether us firmly to a community that doesn’t make space for us at the best of times. The list is infinite. Call Me By Your Name was beautiful. Caucasian excellence, dare I say? But I refuse to absorb the fantasticality of it all in a vacuum. I cannot do that knowing full well that the Tarell Alvin McCraney-adapted play that became Moonlight was nearly autobiographical, while the author of the original novel Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman, is an alma mater of Harvard University, and his father owned a knitting factory. I wish that Chiron wasn’t prematurely rendered mute by the ways of that privileged world — that he could articulate his needs in not one, not two, but three languages like Elio. That he too could vacation in northern Italy and be left to traverse the anxieties of burgeoning sexuality in a villa in the countryside. I wish that Chiron didn’t have to parent himself, and I also can’t help but wonder what trajectory his life would’ve taken if he had experienced that rousing, consoling self-acceptance speech given to Elio by his father. What would his path have been like if he too had had a constant and reliable guardian, and not one thrown into and similarly expelled from his life by sheer chance, like Juan. What if Chiron and his lover Kevin weren’t forcibly separated by mass incarceration but by timing and circumstance instead, as were Elio and Oliver? I have all the questions and none of the answers. What I’m trying to say is that my Black queer tears yearn, in continuum, for a reality in which others like me can contend with our queerness in relative peace like Elio Perlman — where trauma, violence, and rejection aren’t badges of honour. Call Me By Your Name is the coming-of-age tale every Black queer adult should have had, and more pressingly, it is the love story Chiron deserved.
Winter 2018 —— 15
#wakeupandmakeup Exploring makeup and skincare cultures Article by Reut Cohen Visuals by Steven Lee
hen I think about my relationship with makeup, I see it in flashes. There’s me, wearing green eyeliner in middle school — on my lower lash line, no less. I’m researching the best concealers for dark circles, courtesy of midterms. I’m waiting in line to buy $50 foundation to cover up acne scars. I’m being told by a smiley salesperson that this lipstick will change my life. As I suspect is the case for many, if not most, women, makeup has been a constant in my life. Chances are, it’s a relationship that begins young, and one that possibly never ends. Maybe you start by experimenting. You somehow acquire a shimmery lip gloss, and you put it on in the bathroom and like the way it looks. Over time, it escalates. You buy more and more products, which spill into more and more drawers. You’re repeatedly told that this is time and money well spent.
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With makeup, you can cover up blemishes and emphasize your best features. Trends like strategic highlighting and contouring can even make you look like a different person. Can anyone really argue that makeup doesn’t make you look better? From beauty secrets to commercialization There’s a revealing scene in the pilot of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s new show The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, which takes place in the 1950s, in which Midge — played by Rachel Brosnahan, who’s since won an Emmy for the role — and her husband, Joel, are going to bed. Midge lies very still, waiting until Joel falls asleep. Then, she jumps out of bed, and heads to the bathroom. Only then does she put her hair in curlers, remove her lipstick and false eyelashes, and slather on cold cream. In the morning, before the alarm goes off, she wakes and rush-
es to the bathroom again. She carefully washes her face, unwinds the curlers, applies her makeup, and heads back to bed, where she stretches and pretends to yawn as if just waking up. It’s clear from other instances in the show that Midge is someone who cares very much about appearance. But here, the viewer understands that it’s not enough for her to present her best self to the world. She is ashamed of the work she must do to feel pretty. There is no one, not even her husband, around whom she can be her truest self. This attitude, one of beauty as secret, could not be further from that of today. Social media, especially Instagram, has created space for the meticulous audiovisual documentation of all things cosmetic. Hair being cut, hair being dyed, eyebrows being waxed or threaded — hours of footage and thousands of pictures are available at the click of a hashtag. Since its humble beginnings as a simple way to share photos, Instagram has become increasingly commercialized, and the beauty sphere is no exception. Established brands have begun to seek out collaborations with makeup ‘influencers.’ When Kim Kardashian West was gearing up to launch her new cosmetics line, KKW Beauty, she made the rounds on Instagram and YouTube, surrendering to the brushes of users like Desi Perkins and NikkieTutorials. The rise of Instagram as a common area for the beauty-obsessed has led to the prevalence of ‘Instagram makeup’ or ‘Instagram face,’ which refers to a generally recognizable look — that of the razor sharp eyebrows, overly contoured and highlighted features, matte lips, and more. “Is Instagram Makeup Making Us All Beauty Clones?” pondered a Cut headline in 2016.
Women and makeup For women, wearing makeup serves a variety of purposes. Fourthyear student and former Sephora employee Katrina Li said that makeup boosts confidence and helps you feel prepared to face the world. Though the beauty industry often attempts to lean into this psychological motivator, branding itself as an agent of female empowerment, it tends to mask its inherent commercial intentions. Li told me that she was initially drawn to the environment created by Sephora’s female staff. But while it appeared that the brand was actively practicing female empowerment in its stores, she realized this was something of a front when she began to interact more with the corporate side of the company. The higher rungs of the organization were still, typically, male. “This is… women in their field, excelling, doing their best,” said Li. “But then when I saw that they weren’t necessarily excelling because the top positions were still held by men… it kind of loses the magic a little.” Li said that since she stopped working at Sephora, her attitude toward makeup has completely shifted. She was previously mandated to wear a full face of makeup every time she showed up to work — employees were provided a list of the minimum amount of products they had to wear. When wearing makeup was treated as a requirement and used to refer customers to potential ‘life-changing’ products, it lost some of its appeal. Li no longer wears a full face everyday, and she instead focuses more on her skin. When she does wear makeup for a night out or special occasion, it’s still hard to feel completely secure. As soon as she’s done with the routine, she is worried the look will somehow
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be ruined: “I look stunning, but what if this lipstick smudges?” “No matter what, as a woman, you’re just constantly stressed and anxious about your looks, so it doesn’t matter what you look like,” said Li. Carol Eugene Park, also a fourth-year student, has had both similar feelings about wearing makeup to improve confidence and similar experiences with the downsides of wearing makeup. Last year, Park wrote a piece for The Varsity about her experience trying to fit into the Korean community while defying its typical beauty standards. “I was made to feel like an outcast,” wrote Park, describing how embracing her tan skin and curves had alienated her from her peers. Park told me that she first began wearing makeup in secret, since her father forbade it until she entered university. She would apply her makeup on the walk to the school, then immediately head to the bathroom before class to fix any mistakes. Park was insecure about her monolids and the way her eyes appeared in pictures. She explained that when she was growing up, she felt that Asian features were not accepted as beautiful. Makeup allowed her to adhere more strictly to western beauty standards, helping her to feel pretty. She also said that she feels more respected and more confident when she wears makeup. Statistical evidence supports the phenomenon where women who wear makeup are perceived differently; a 2011 study by researchers from Harvard University and Boston University found that women who wear more makeup are perceived as more attractive, likeable, competent,
and trustworthy. The benefits of wearing makeup aren’t limited to the intangible. In 2011, Daniel S. Hamermesh, a Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin, released his book Beauty Pays, which demonstrated that more attractive people actually earn more money than others. “We as customers, employers, and fellow employees prefer to be around good-looking people and are willing to pay for the privilege,” said Hamermesh in an interview. On days when I don’t wear makeup, I don’t usually feel any anxiety about it. When I do, I try to tell myself that I should be able to exist in the world, that I should be able to be seen by others, without trying to make myself more ‘presentable.’ But now, part of me is forced to wonder if I would command more respect, more attention — simply put, more benefit — if I did. I am not alone in this feeling. Nearly half of American women surveyed in 2012 felt either unattractive, self-conscious, or “naked” when not wearing makeup. But perhaps that is beginning to change. Celebrating skincare Slowly but surely, the overdrawn looks of Instagram makeup have begun to cede space to another industry on the rise: skincare. Skincare is celebrated for reasons that are distinguished from makeup. The general notion of caring for or protecting your skin gives the pursuit of flawless skin a quasi-medicinal reputation, as opposed to using makeup to cover up its flaws, which could be seen as avoiding insecurities.
Of course, skincare is not a new phenomenon either. Like makeup, it has a long history, one that dates back millennia. Ancient Egyptians connected it to religious purity; Ayurveda, an Indian form of alternative medicine, prescribed plants for their anti-aging properties; Babylonians stored ointments and cosmetics in carved seashells. Regardless, while skincare is nothing new, it is fair to say that it is currently enjoying a swell of popular appeal that has been only been accelerated by the internet and social media. Sales of prestige skincare in the US reached $5.6 billion in 2017, a nine per cent increase over the preceding year. Women are no longer limited to the dubious advice of magazines and drugstore salespeople to glean knowledge about improving their skin. Sources like the subreddit r/SkincareAddiction have democratized the information process, allowing women to communicate more freely on issues related to skincare. Finally, here is a place where the science and secrets of skincare can be revealed, where women can understand the effects of pH balance, moisturizers, and acids on skin. r/SkincareAddiction now has over 400,000 subscribers, a number that has grown rapidly in the last year. It is full of advice on treating conditions from ordinary acne to skin conditions like rosacea and eczema, and it even has its own vernacular. YMMV: your mileage may vary, meant to caution users that what works for one may not work for another. HG: holy grail, meant to refer to a must-have product. A number of companies have risen to capitalize on skincare’s popularity,
Social media, especially Instagram, has created space for the meticulous audiovisual documentation of all things cosmetic. 18 —— The Varsity Magazine
including the Toronto-based DECIEM, founded in 2013. To call the company’s growth since then rapid would be an understatement. It now has nine lines, with three more on the way, and offices in multiple continents. The Ordinary is among DECIEM’s most popular lines. When it began selling through Sephora in December 2017, the entire supply was sold out within a week. The business strategy behind The Ordinary is simple: offer pure versions of traditionally marked up and diluted products at bargain prices. DECIEM is perfectly poised to exploit the democratization of skincare. Its scientifically labeled formulations appeal to consumers looking to utilize the knowledge they have gained from forums like r/SkincareAddiction, and it is cheap enough to justify purchasing multiple products at once. But buying multiple products for cheap is not the intended endpoint. DECIEM refers to The Ordinary as its “gateway” brand, the primer before customers move on to its more prestigious and more expensive lines. Alongside DECIEM is Glossier, whose branding relies heavily on palettes of millennial pink and racially diverse models. The models have dewy skin, light blush, slightly tinted eyebrows. They’re supposed to look ‘barefaced,’ but as Li pointed out, they’re all already beautiful. It may seem like Glossier promotes a natural, minimalistic approach to beauty, one without traditional markers of a ‘full face,’ like a bold lip colour, or full contour and highlight. The reality is that Glossier is not attempting to erase these beauty standards; it is attempting to replace them. On Glossier’s website, there is a video of none other than its CEO, Emily Weiss, demonstrating how to use one of the brand’s products with the most cultish following, the Milky Jelly Cleanser, of which a 177 millilitre bottle retails for $22.
At first, Weiss appears barefaced, showing the viewer how she uses the cleanser on wet skin in the morning. Later, the video cuts to her with makeup on. To demonstrate how gentle it is, she rubs the cleanser over her closed eyelids, dark eyeshadow and mascara smearing all over her face. Taking makeup off is usually an isolated activity, one that accompanies the transition from public to private. Not only does Weiss make this private ritual available for public consumption, it’s the publicity itself that is meant to entice its audience to use her brand. Like Instagram makeup, this represents a profound shift in the public attitude toward beauty: your hard work shouldn’t be a secret. Self-care or skin-deep? As is often the case with industries in which women comprise the majority of consumers, skincare has begun to receive its own backlash, being dismissed as shallow — literally skin-deep. Writing for The Outline in an article entitled “The Skincare Con,” Krithika Varagur argues that the ‘New Skincare’ boils down to consumerism, a quest to acquire and display precious ingredients, to demonstrate to others that you are improving yourself. “Perfect skin is unattainable because it doesn’t exist,” writes Varagur. “The idea that we should both have it and want it is a waste of our time and money.” Varagur is correct to point out that the modern skincare obsession often has an consumerist bent. Among the various types of posts on r/SkincareAddiction, for example, is the ‘shelfie,’ meant to display the products a user has accumulated in some aesthetically pleasing way. Those shelfie-posters who have shelled out for prestigious brands like Drunk Elephant or Sunday Riley receive reactions of awe and jealousy. For reference, a 30 millilitre bottle of the ‘luxury’
Marula oil costs $90 at Drunk Elephant, compared to $9.90 at The Ordinary. Varagur and other opponents of New Skincare are also quick to dismiss it as a method of what is now popularly known as ‘self-care.’ But for many women, this seems to be the main objective. “Skin care, at its best, is about taking care of yourself,” writes Rachel Krause of Refinery29, “not about a massive industrial scheme working to bamboozle an entire society of vain, unsuspecting wannabe Dorian Grays into emptying their wallets at the prospect of perfect skin.” In an interview with Vulture, actress and host of the beauty podcast Glowing Up Esther Povitsky made this point explicit. “Ultimately, I know that most skin-care products are not going to change my life,” said Povitsky. “I’m not bothered by people thinking skin care and makeup are stupid. They just don’t understand.” In The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino connects the recent growth of the beauty industry to the current tumultuous political climate. There’s “something perversely, unexpectedly hopeful about skin care in today’s political context,” writes Tolentino. She goes on to reference Audre Lorde, who in 1988 wrote, “Caring for myself is not an act of self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” My instinct is to be skeptical that Lorde would place sheet masking into this same category of political warfare. But the truth is that how you choose to execute self-preservation is, by nature, an individual choice. Your skin is a kind of armour. It is your choice to beautify it, to tame it, or to heal it. “Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no makeup on / That’s when you’re the prettiest, I hope that you don’t take it wrong,” raps Drake in “Best I Ever Had.” If this is truly the case, it would certainly be convenient, especially for our current skincare moment. But should we be punished if it’s not?
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Saying hi to hijab What it means to wear the hijab as a young woman in Canada Article by Zeahaa Rehman Illustrations by Corals Zheng
hen I first started wearing the hijab, it was hard to wrap my head around it. I was a shy 11-year-old, fresh off the proverbial boat from Pakistan, and entering the battleground that was sixth grade. I came into school in March, I might add, meaning that cliques had already formed, friendships had been sworn, and alliances had been made by way of pinky promise. I knew I had no hope of making any friends. All I wanted was for someone to take pity on me, invite me to sit with them at lunch, and not laugh when I asked them what ‘pencil crayons’ were. Instead, thanks to the cloth my mom had forced me to cover my head with, all I got were cold stares, awkward silences, and a girl in my class harassing me to “take it off.” So I did what every young adult novel would have its heroine do: I started living a double life. I would wear the hijab when I left for school, take it off and stash it in my bag before my first class, and wrap it around my head again before I went home. It was dishonest, draining, and frightening. I was always on edge, scared of being caught, or worse — being called out. I didn’t know who to turn to. I had no friends at school, my relatives back home were an expensive phone call away, and my mom was a single mother, apartment-hunting so she could give us a roof over our heads that was better than our small, smelly Scarborough apartment. The paranoia became too much to withstand, so I gave up my double life — which hadn’t garnered me any friends, anyway — and started wearing the hijab full-time. Still, I wasn’t head over heels for it. A little later, my mother found us a place in Mississauga, and I took this as an opportunity to restart. I was grateful. I decided the hijab was
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out of my life and off of my head, and nothing could change that. After two years of not wearing the hijab, I started attending religious classes geared toward young Muslim women. I related closely to my teacher, who used to have a fear of the hijab that echoed mine. She had hated wearing it as a young girl, she told us with humour, because it made her ‘uncool’ and unfit to hang out with the popular girls. But she had had an epiphany that changed her mind — we would all experience that epiphany at one point, she promised us, regardless of whether it would lead us to choose the hijab or take it off. I was skeptical of her promise until I decided to learn more about the hijab. What I discovered left me pleasantly surprised. The hijab, also spelled ‘hejab,’ isn’t just a piece of cloth that covers a woman’s head, neck, and chest. It is a concept that denotes modesty, not only through clothing, but through words and actions — and this idea applies to both women and men. It is a physical form of my commitment to my faith, and as I got to know more about the hijab, I suddenly found myself wanting to make that commitment. The only thing holding me back was the fear that my non-hijabi friends might not accept me. But I reasoned with myself that if my friends abandoned me simply because of a cloth on my head, then they weren’t really friends, were they? In January 2011, I decided to wear the hijab. I’d be lying if I said that in the seven years that have since passed, I haven’t once thought about taking it off, because I have. The poor representations of hijab-wearing women in popular culture have caused me to feel ugly, insecure, and to question my decision. This is especially the case when I see how hijabis who aren’t ‘white passing’ are misrepresented in the media as being timid and oppressed.
Hijab But then I remind myself that the hijab is more than a piece of cloth to me. Aside from being a sign of my commitment to my faith, for me, the hijab has become a symbol of feminism and resistance in an age when misogyny and Islamophobia are being perpetrated by leaders of nations. Not to mention that the hijab literally hides my flaws: it hides my double chin, hairy sideburns, and occasionally oily hair. For these reasons, it’s probably better that I keep it on. I love the hijab and everything that it stands for. What I don’t love, however, are the questions that it comes with and the lack of instructions on how to answer them. Some of these questions are reasonable, but many are downright ridiculous. I’ve heard these questions and many more:
Can I see your hair? If you are a female, sure, but not in public. If you are a male, no.
Do you wear it at home? It depends. A hijab is supposed to be worn around unfamiliar males, so if there are men other than my father, grandfather, or brothers, then yes.
Do you sleep with it on? I don’t even sleep with my bra on because that’s too restrictive. Why would I sleep with a hijab on?
Do you shower with it on? My hijab is not permanently attached to my head. It is a piece of cloth that, like the rest of my clothing, comes off when I shower. Also, a wet hijab feels even worse than a wet sock.
Don’t you feel hot? Unfortunately, I don’t know of any hijabs that come with cooling technology, so yes, I do feel hot. The heat still pales in comparison to the oppression I face every day in the form of ignorance and Islamophobia.
What’s under there? The answer to this question has endless possibilities. While it’s usually just hair, there is nothing stopping me from putting all kinds of things under my hijab. What could I put there? A water bottle? While that would certainly free up hands, a water bottle is prone to leaking, and my hair must only be washed every two days, otherwise it frizzes. Plants? This would be lovely, except my hijab is too thick and would block it from getting enough sunlight. Also, how would I water the plant without getting my hijab wet? Dumbbells? Given the numerous excuses I invent to skip the gym, that would certainly be useful and allow me to exercise on the go. However, they could also fall out of my hijab, down my shirt, and maybe break a bone or two. I don’t know if my insurance would cover that. A blanket? A blanket would be useful given my tendency to nap anywhere, regardless of the time or place. However, a proper blanket would probably make my hijab look too bulky, and I have standards of hijab-wearing to abide by. Textbooks? Physical textbooks are too heavy for my gym-skipping, low-upper-body-strength self. Cheat sheets? As a linguistics student with no time to memorize the distinctive features of every sound in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is tempting to stash cheat sheets in my hijab. However, it would be hard to extract them discreetly, especially without messing up my hijab — and since I would be far too lazy to fix it, that will probably never happen. Voldemort? The Last Battle of Hogwarts took place in 1998, a year after I was born. Voldemort had no time and no need to possess the head of a Muggle like me — he already had a physical form by then. I can’t make heads or tails of any of these questions, but I shouldn’t be surprised to hear them in a time when countries and provinces regularly ban the hijab under the guise of removing religious symbols, and hijab-wearing women are constantly attacked. All I can say is that I’m keeping my head — and hijab — up.
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POWERPOSE Taking up space as a woman of colour Article and photos by Gabrielle Warren Winter 2018 —— 23
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t one point during my first year at the University of Toronto, a few groups on campus blocked the Hoskin Avenue and St. George Street intersection in front of Robarts Library to protest the lack of representation of Black and brown people in academic spaces. At the time, I didn’t understand why these individuals were aggravated. My perspective shifted when I entered one of my International Relations courses in second year. During the course, the professors sanitized political narratives by strictly teaching from a Western European approach. I only saw Black, Eastern European, or Asian people represented
when they were looking despondent with swollen bellies to show the casualties of Western European action and thought. At this point in my academic career, that protest became personal. If the University of Toronto is training the leaders of tomorrow, what does a lack of adequate representation say about the future? My greatest frustration is the blatant intellectual dishonesty. In more than half the classes I’ve taken thus far, alternative perspectives have not been explored. As a woman of colour, the irony of the university is that it claims to be inclusive while actively excluding perspectives of marginalized people.
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In class, those who are not Caucasian are frequently portrayed as victims. Non-Western European experiences and philosophies become compressed into one diluted identity that betrays vital complexities. The exploration of these perspectives in the departments of International Relations, Political Science, and others is missing. When I sit in my classrooms, I hear and read content that does not consider my experiences or way of life. I am required to regurgitate and innovate in a space that refuses to allow me to be myself. As a result of this tension, students can become weary and despondent. There needs to be active integration of diverse global and gendered perspectives in all classes. Professors can include African philosophers or Asian political perspectives along with the Western European thought. There is no single way to see the world, yet by excluding non-European thought, some ‘free-thinking’ professors have told me there is. POWERPOSE is an ode to women of colour in academic spaces. In a university that tells us that our experiences do not matter, I want to showcase women fighting back. By taking up space, we are taking back our stories. Angela Davis once said that “Black women have had to develop a larger vision of our society than perhaps any other group. They have had to understand white men, white women, and Black men. And they have had to understand themselves. When Black women win victories, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society.” To be a woman of colour in an academic space and a world that have not been created for you means making room where there is none.
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Consent in cyberspace Sexual harassment remains prevalent in our society — what do we do when it takes place behind a screen? Article by Teodora Pasca Winter 2018 —— 29
Content warning: descriptions of sexual harassment, mentions of sexual assault and rape
exual harassment is often thought of as something intrinsically tied to the physical world. From getting catcalled on the street to receiving unwanted advances from an acquaintance, our typical notions of harassment are too frequently grounded in non-consensual interactions within physical relationships and spaces. The internet has changed things — and our notions of harassment need to change in response. The experiences of online harassment survivors are no less valid, and the need to listen to their voices no less vital. I spoke to 15 students about their experiences with online sexual harassment. The responses I received were overwhelming, humbling, and at times frightening. We don’t often think of the internet as an unsafe or evil place, but the stories told here might cause us to reconsider. The profound impact harassment has had on these students’ lives and the lives of others should spur us to confront this issue head on. Persistent or predatory? Unwanted romantic and sexual advances often escalate into the territory of harassment when parties refuse to take no for an answer. Many of my sources reported being singled out, being tracked down, receiving repeated messages from insistent individuals, or being otherwise targeted through online platforms like Facebook and Snapchat. Such experiences are common within a multitude of online spaces and apps, even on platforms where you would least expect them to take place. Daryna has had multiple experiences with harassment on LinkedIn — a platform that, by all accounts, is intended to be a professional online environment — in which men have initiated conversations under the
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guise of beginning a professional relationship but quickly shift to making comments about her appearance or suggesting that she go out with them on dates. When Daryna turned down one invitation, the man managed to get a hold of her personal email and attempted to add her on other social networks. A notorious arena for unsolicited sexual advances is the world of dating apps like Tinder, where inboxes are cluttered with lewd openers and cringe-worthy one-liners. One of Nicole’s matches, despite seeming normal in his profile, messaged her unsolicited and increasingly graphic descriptions of what he wanted to do to her, which made her very uncomfortable. When Adina cancelled a date she had set up on Tinder, the match she was supposed to meet called her a whore and accused her of leading him on. Adina believes such experiences have as much to do with the dating app environment as the people behind the screen. She tells me that simply being active on a dating app can create the perception that you are looking for sex and are therefore open to receiving any and all sexual advances, no matter how misguided that might be. In the long run, the environment breeds a toxic sense of entitlement to sexual experience, which may make some users feel uncomfortable or threatened. Ray*, a gay man of colour, tells me about his experience on dating apps like Grindr and Scruff, where overt instances of racism are normalized and often justified as sexual preferences. All of the harassment Ray has experienced on dating apps has had racial overtones. “Some of the things will just be so racist that it comes across as funny,” he tells me. “There was this one guy who told me he was trying to sleep with one guy from every country. He’s like, ‘Where are you from? I’ve slept with guys from Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, and I’m trying
to find someone from Hong Kong, China, India, are you any of those?’… Another told me he wanted me to be his ‘manga prince’ or something. He used some sort of Japanese term from anime.” It is common knowledge that the internet can serve as a breeding ground for various forms of bigotry. The accessibility of online platforms can have profound repercussions in terms of the dissemination of harmful ideas, making it easy for some users to spread hatred while hiding behind the anonymity their laptop screens provide — all the while gaining support from cohorts of virtual followers. After Pam* cut ties with a friend she had dated, she was disturbed to discover that he secretly owned an anti-feminist Reddit account, which featured misogynistic comments about women in general and about her and her friends. Pam came across multiple threads and comments linked to his profile that had themes of sexual violence; other users commented on his posts referring to women as ‘bitches’ and ‘cunts,’ stating that women needed to be raped in order to be taught a lesson. The anonymous nature of many online communities, and the separation between users online, also has the potential to facilitate behaviour that can only be described as predatory. In her mid-teens, Manuela* was harassed by someone she met on an internet forum whom she initially trusted because he was a well-respected member of the online community. Wanting to explore her sexuality in a virtual space, Manuela corresponded and had cyber sex with the user over the course of a few weeks. Though their initial interactions were relatively harmless, things quickly escalated into something more insidious. “It became pretty apparent pretty soon that he was
Yeah, he raped her at a party. She confronted him about it afterwards and he lied to her about it. He told her that she was drunk and she didn’t remember consenting, but… Yeah. She obviously broke up with him and it was the same time she was moving away to go to university. I think that’s also why she decided to go to university so
far away... I heard actually just very recently that her ex and a group of his friends had created an Instagram account to post pictures of girls in their grade. Like, pictures that they had found from them, I don’t know how they found them. Not nude pictures, but still sexual or bad pictures just in general.
—Talia basically a pedophile,” says Manuela. The man was significantly older than her and would frequently talk about how attractive and innocent he found young girls to be. Manuela was also aware that he had dated girls even younger than she was at the time. When Manuela refused to send him naked photos of herself, the user became verbally abusive. “He would start to guilt me and shame me every time we talked about sending him my nudes,” she says. “He really would get into my head and just say a lot of terrible things. About how I’m worthless and terrible and selfish and narcissistic… It was very classic abusive behaviour.” At one point, he threatened to come find Manuela and rape her. Max* sent naked photos of himself to a popular Tumblr user. He later came across a troubling post the user had made mocking a 12-yearold’s experience with self-harm. When Max confronted him, the user reblogged his comments to their public Tumblr and attached Max’s nudes to the post. “I felt so violated,” explains Max. “I’d [experienced] sexual assault before in my
life. Everything just came rushing back. Everything I thought I was able to compartmentalize and store away in my head… all those things came back to me.” Dave* had a frightening experience with Tagged.com, a website that matches Facebook profiles and facilitates conversations between users. Dave matched with a beautiful blonde girl, and the two of them started video-chatting and having cyber sex over webcam. The ‘girl’ turned out to be a scam artist stationed in the Philippines with an elaborate extortion operation. The person had set up a fake profile and used video footage from another source to trick Dave into thinking there was a woman on the other end of the screen. The man screenshotted Dave masturbating on camera, tracked down Dave’s family members on Facebook, and demanded money, threatening to send the photos to his family if Dave did not comply. Terrified, Dave wired the man some money and begged him to stop, and the man eventually deleted all but one of the images he had on his hard drive. Dave finally blocked him, deactivated
his email and Tagged.com accounts, and changed his privacy settings on Facebook. The man did not contact him again. “I never heard anything from anyone, so I figured he must have actually taken pity on me,” said Dave. “But he still may very well have that last photo, and could bring my name up at any time.” Personal conflicts in online spaces While trolls, creeps, and criminals lurking the internet’s darkest corners might paint a stereotypical picture of the dangers associated with the online world, the internet also facilitates and enables harm between people in ‘real-life’ relationships. In 2014, a man who asked Joyce* out attempted to escalate their relationship very quickly; this made her uncomfortable to the point where she chose to stop talking to him. In 2017, completely out of the blue, the same man messaged her, writing, “ahaha you’re fat now and your boobs sag. Karma does exist.” Joyce had had very limited contact with him immediately after she ended things, and they hadn’t had any contact at all over the course of three years.
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“Frankly the whole thing was uncomfortable and appalling,” says Joyce, “but I was just shocked at how long he held this grudge for after I very politely turned him down.” After she left her summer job, Fiona* exchanged Facebook information and phone numbers with a co-worker whom she considered a friend. Two hours later, to her shock, he sent her unsolicited photos of his penis. Although Fiona responded negatively, he refused to leave her alone. Over the following weeks, he sent Fiona persistent messages asking her private questions about her sex life and accusing her of leading him on. When Fiona confronted her co-worker, his response was disturbing. “When I openly told him, you know, ‘What you’re doing constitutes sexual harassment, because this is not okay,’ his response was literally, ‘This is turning me on,’” she says. On the other end of the phone with her, my stomach churns at the thought that her harasser found the situation all the more sexually arousing.
When Khrystyna was 17 years old, someone at her workplace messaged her on Facebook, telling her that he had been “watching her” and made sexual comments about her body, including that he sometimes got “hard” at work while staring at her. Khrystyna later found out that he was nine years older than her. Even after Khrystyna changed jobs, for the next five years the man continued to pester her with messages, some sexually explicit, others angry that she was not responding to his advances. Once, he sent her a photo of his penis. A substantial portion of online harassment occurs when intimate relationships go sour. When one of Khrystyna’s ex-partners found out she was seeing someone new, he sent her angry threatening messages and voicemails about harming her, himself, and her new partner. Another ex left sexist comments on all of the feminist Facebook posts she put on her profile; when she confronted him about it, he told her all she needed was “a good dick.”
I tried to speak about it. The only person I spoke with about it was a very good friend of mine. They chose to use it against me. They had been an individual who had been part of my former friend group, and she chose to use what I told her to talk badly about me. That if I had not wanted such an incident to take place, I should not have sent them in the first place. I wish
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When Talia* started receiving suspicious messages from her friend Noelle’s* Snapchat account, they discovered someone had gotten a hold of Noelle’s password. Over the course of a few months, Talia and Noelle were bombarded with random dick pics and threats that Noelle’s intimate photos would be released if Talia did not send intimate photos to Noelle’s Snapchat account. Though their harasser never revealed their identity, Talia and Noelle believe that it was Noelle’s ex-boyfriend, who had sexually assaulted Noelle at a party. Though Noelle never told anyone except Talia about her assault, he denied the fact that the encounter was not consensual and became convinced that Noelle was spreading rumours about what had happened. Some of the most extreme cases of online harassment between intimate partners involve ‘revenge porn’ — disclosure of a person’s intimate images without their consent. After Bethany* broke off a long-term relationship, the person she had been
I could have confronted my parents, but I was too afraid to report it… There was so much fear because of how things would get out, and I was too scared of everything. It’s no longer just you involved, it becomes a larger array of other people… It becomes something so much more, something so much bigger than what you are.
dating leaked her intimate images online. Many of Bethany’s friends, as well as complete strangers, were able to gain access to the photographs. She received an onslaught of unsolicited explicit images, harassment, and judgment from the people around her. Chloe* was involved in a rocky on-and-off relationship with her girlfriend, Evie*. In order to rope her back into the relationship when things went sour, Evie would blackmail Chloe, threatening to send Chloe’s intimate pictures to her parents. After Chloe finally cut things off, Evie managed to gain control over Chloe’s email and Snapchat accounts and was able to access intimate pictures and videos of Chloe and her new partner in the ‘Memories’ section of her Snapchat account. Alarmed, Chloe got in touch with the police, but it was too late. Evie had followed through on her promise and sent the photos and videos to Chloe’s mother. Chloe had not previously been open about her sexuality with her parents; the incident forced her to reveal her sexual orientation to her father. When she was in ninth grade, Indira’s* friend began a long-distance online relationship with an older man she had met on Omegle and who she later discovered had been operating through a fake account. When the two of them got into a fight, he posted a photo she had sent him of her masturbating on her Facebook wall. “About five hours passed until she realized it was there,” says Indira. “By that time, her friends, family, all the people she knew had seen it. She was 15.” Indira also tells me that sending intimate pictures or screenshots of her female classmates was normalized at her high school. These experiences are not only disturbing, they are also highly illegal. Though Chloe opted not to press charges, it is worth noting that under the Canadian Criminal Code, what Evie did could classify as extortion,
an offence carrying a maximum penalty of life in prison. Meanwhile, the girls involved in intimate photo leaks at Indira’s school were all underage. “For the most part we were under 18,” says Indira. “That’s child pornography.” The extent to which perpetrators are willing to violate the privacy and dignity of the people around them is alarming. Perhaps there is something about the online environment that makes the decision to do so easier and more appealing. “The internet enables and empowers to amplify what they would have done in person, or maybe wouldn’t have done in person, given the circumstances,” says Daryna. She explains that the distancing effect the internet has on personal relationships can enable people to make decisions they might not otherwise have made in person. Fiona tells me that, prior to her experience with harassment, she considered her co-worker a friend and did not suspect he was capable of such behaviour given the way they interacted face-to-face. “There were absolutely no signs that he could behave this way,” she emphasizes. “As soon as he had access to my social media, it completely changed his specific behaviour and how he could interact with me.” The internet has the potential to drastically change a person’s behaviour — sometimes to the extent of seeming like an entirely different person. In the case of Fiona’s co-worker, moving their interactions to the digital sphere meant him feeling entitled to her sexual attention and open to share a side of himself that she clearly did not want to see. “He genuinely did not seem to understand why what he was doing was not okay,” she says. Damage beyond the digital The harassment that takes place in the online world can have profound and tangible repercussions for victims.
We should not underestimate the potential psychological stress associated with being exposed to repeated unwanted graphic or threatening sexual messages, having your most intimate photos shown to others, or feeling physically unsafe as a result of these experiences. Because Max’s pictures had been posted on a popular Tumblr account, countless other users had access to them; some actually reached out to him personally, making jokes or continuing the harassment, though others expressed support for him in his situation. Traumatized, Max’s grades and personal relationships suffered dramatically; when he lost his achievement-based financial aid, he was forced to recount his experience in detail to the university administration. “Victims get revictimized constantly,” he says. “You always have to relive that trauma when you explain it.” What happens online is also undoubtedly and necessarily connected to the analogue world. Ray draws a connection between the threats of violence he has received on dating apps and recent cases such as that of Bruce McArthur, who, as of press time, is facing six charges of first-degree murder in relation to the deaths of primarily racialized gay men in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood. “It’s usually an older white man messaging a younger man of colour, wanting to somehow enact and play out his fantasies of dominance and submission and racial power and authority and control,” Ray tells me. Unsurprisingly, traumatic experiences can change how users behave online. All too wary of incurring further harm, many sources reported deleting their social media accounts or otherwise modifying how they navigated the internet. Daryna has taken steps to scrub her LinkedIn profile of certain personal details, ensuring that the image she projects is professional to the point of being
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“sanitized” so as to ward off unwanted attention. The very fact that the onus to take such precautions is often placed on those who have faced harassment, and not the perpetrators, is highly problematic. Nevertheless, this logic continues to pervade interactions between harassers and their targets. After Fiona confronted her co-worker about the photos he sent, he accused her of leading him on, said things like “don’t pretend that you didn’t want this,” and “take some responsibility,” and told her that his girlfriend didn’t need to know about what he had done — that it would be their “little secret.” Even more problematic is the extent to which victims internalize that mentality. A number of the sources who came forward had at some point minimized or second-guessed their experiences, unsure whether what had happened to them could be classified as harassment or was serious enough to warrant intervention. A troubling number of sources began their stories with, “I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for,” or “I’m not sure if this counts.” For many people who experi-
He genuinely did not seem to understand why what he was doing was not okay. Because he was kind of just like, you know, ‘this is not a big deal,’ ‘this is fun,’ ‘we’re just having fun,’ blah blah blah. And I think a lot of the responses that I hear about this are like, you know, you can just block this person, which is true, but it doesn’t mean that these interactions should not be
—Fiona 34—— The Varsity Magazine
ence harassment, the prospect of redress might not seem reasonable in the first place. Khrystyna draws attention to the fact that, in many circumstances, the reporting procedures themselves are unclear, require much emotional labour from victims, and simultaneously afford no guarantee that their complaints will be taken seriously. Bethany did not report the person who distributed her intimate photos or the people who harassed her. She tells me now that she wishes she had, but she was paralyzed by fear of retaliation, as well as by the inexplicable guilt she felt about what had happened to her. Bethany was also afraid that sharing her experience with more people would cause things to spiral even further out of control. “It’s no longer just you involved, it becomes a larger array of other people,” she explains. “It becomes something so much more, something so much bigger than what you are.” Khrystyna also expresses that a lot of women do not process interactions as sexual harassment due to the extent to which such behaviour is normalized in broader society. “When you grow up with people
occurring in the first place. ’Cause yeah, I did block him, but I didn’t want to see those photos in the first place. They shouldn’t have been sent in the first place. So just because I have the option of blocking him and not hearing or seeing him anymore doesn’t mean that it gives him the opportunity to behave this way.
constantly validating the predatory behaviour of boys and men, you eventually learn that apparently that’s ‘just how men are’ and you as a woman are just required to sort of live with it,” she says. “And it can take a long time to unlearn that.” “I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that lots of people who are survivors minimize experiences,” says Manuela, speaking to the trouble she had reconciling with her abuse. For the few weeks she was being threatened and degraded online, Manuela would cry herself to sleep almost every night after logging out of her conversations with the forum user with whom she had been corresponding. Despite the emotional toll this experience took on her at the time, years went by until she realized that the man’s behaviour classified as abusive. Manuela explains that because everything was happening online and the man never physically came to her jurisdiction, her feelings of pain, shame, and fear sometimes felt unreasonable or unjustified. “It just took that long to see it as harmful,” she emphasizes. “Because it felt like it didn’t impact anything, because it was digital.” We’ve now seen that the internet’s grasp is far-reaching, and that the impact of online harassment has implications that extend far beyond the digital sphere. But when your harasser is not physically in front of you, and you are separated by a screen and a network, it is all too easy to convince yourself that what you are experiencing is insignificant — that what is happening to you is not entirely real. Routes to redress Victims should not have to feel as if their experiences are invalid, and clearly something needs to be done to remedy the injustice that can take place online. One approach is to confront social media outlets about the ways in which their structures might in-
advertently facilitate online abuse. Given the frequency with which harassment takes place online, outlets can certainly take proactive steps to prevent it from happening. Most major social media outlets have now integrated mechanisms for users to report offensive or hateful content. To help dissipate potential toxicity on dating apps, Nicole and Ray suggest incorporating regular reminders for users to be respectful when they reach out to one another and embedding clearly visible reporting tools onto the main interface. But there are limitations to what social media outlets can or will do in this regard. After repeatedly being locked out of her account by her harasser, Noelle reported her situation to Snapchat, which helped her disable her account. But both Adina and Khrystyna have tried to report sexist Facebook comments, and Facebook has neglected to take them down. Some complainants turn to law enforcement for assistance, with mixed results. Though Dave found the officers who took his statement to be helpful and reassuring, Chloe’s experience was lacklustre. When she took her case to the Toronto police, they told her they would go to Evie’s house and talk to her in person. As far as Chloe knows, that never happened. “The process was really long,” says Chloe. “It took a month for them to simply leave a message being like, ‘Don’t contact her.’” Not wanting to wait any longer for the police to take action, Chloe resorted to getting in touch with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) through a mutual connection, and an RCMP officer went to Evie’s house that night to give a warning. At the same time, Chloe appreciates that police at least have the influence necessary to scare people into compliance with the law.
“Even if the police don’t necessarily do anything, I think a lot of people are still afraid of consequences,” she adds. “A lot of people are just stupid, but they’re not just going to do something regardless of what the police say. If the police say stop, a lot of people will stop.” Importantly, many complainants have indeed managed to achieve redress through formal channels. Deeply frustrated with the repeated unsolicited photos and messages she received from her co-worker, Fiona wound up filing a complaint with her former management, who took it very seriously. She believes the employee was eventually fired. Finally, there is the potential to achieve positive change through grassroots, community-based channels — often themselves facilitated by online networks. Adina mentions the existence of Toronto-based Facebook groups that women join to alert one another about experiences of harassment they have experienced with specific men on dating apps. The sheer ubiquity of these experiences, especially for women and other marginalized people, means there is power to be harnessed from banding together. Toward a better internet The experiences of the people I spoke with, and the concerns they raised about the nature of online platforms, are valid, concerning, and demand redress. At the same time, they bring us to a crossroads in terms of how we want to think about the internet in the first place. Certainly, elements of online environments make it easier for harassment to take place. But by and large, the internet also facilitates positive connections and relationships; it traverses otherwise impossible distances and barriers and is integral to the openness and accessibility of knowledge, information, and dialogue in the twenty-first century. In many cir-
cles, internet access is considered a basic human right. “As someone who has made a lot of friends and connections online,” says Manuela, “I think there’s a really complicated conversation to be had there about how it can be possible to make things safer for people without just villainizing the medium.” Under these circumstances, an overly restrictive or heavy-handed approach might be inappropriate. The internet can definitely unearth the worst parts of human nature — but it can also be a space for productive dialogue and innovation. Any solutions we put forward to addressing its uglier facets should be sensitive to that. In the meantime, it is encouraging to see that many people are growing more comfortable sharing their experiences. Multiple sources expressed gratitude that someone was willing to publish their stories and hoped that speaking on the record would bring courage to others who were contemplating doing so as well. An immense amount of suffering ties these stories together, but it is compassion and resilience that will ultimately propel them forward. “I am in a place where I am safe from [my abuser],” says Manuela. “He can’t touch me anymore. He can’t hurt me. So I just feel very sorry for him. I feel more sorry for all the people he’s probably hurt along the way, and probably in much worse ways than me, but he needs help in a way that I don’t think any system currently would provide.” “[The] people who probably had to endure his bullshit need help in ways that the system doesn’t provide either,” adds Manuela. “They should come first.” *Name has been changed at the individual’s request
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Un[touchable] Exploring the physicality of outdated views following a trip to India Poem and photo by Kashi Syal
Content warning: descriptions of sexual violence AN INTRODUCTION: There is a joyful hubbub that engulfs Delhi’s streets; the city has become a character within herself. With reckless drivers and careless pedestrians, negotiations and buyers, strays — scattered — weaving themselves between the wheels of rickshaws that rest, impatiently, for commuters. A fine dust settles over the market stalls offering embroidery, bangles and all things clay. The colourful charisma cannot paint over the murky underbelly of her inhabitants. THE BOY AND THE GIRL: She drops the marble; I see it fall and roll around the uneven ground. (I think) she is pretty. I pick it up. I like the way it feels as I trace it back and forth over the grooves indented in my hand. I offer it to her. Assured she will take the unblemished sphere that gingerly balances on the flat of my palm. A gesture. Friendship. Something good. But she looks frightened? And now, a fistful of sand accompanied by rocks, are in my eyes, mouth…this time the earth barely scratches my skin before my forehead bloodies the uncaring dirt. The metro, ablaze with luminous lighting, overlooks the hand that grazes the arched spine.
36 —— The Varsity Magazine
THE GIRL AND THE MAN: There is no hesitation as his hands explore the crevices of my body. (I feel) no kindness in his grip. His breath is uncomfortable against the cusp where my neck meets my shoulder blades. He grasps my breasts, and there is an unrelenting pressure as I squint at the sun strewing its warmth across my cheek. His hand is pressed against my jaw and he pushes himself into me. Now, his moans are quick and frequent, a disarray of need. But he disregards my howls, the way I weep. Tormented | Tortured | Terrified and he finishes. touchable in all ways but one. THE OLD MEN AND THE YOUNG BOYS: Excitable words tripping over their tongues in earnest haste to taunt and jeer just like their Bhaiyas. (Don’t they know) we’ve seen it all before. Crisp cut shirts tucked into shorts that show off the battered kneecaps of cricket players, footballers, an affluent father and a beautiful mother. We’ve sat, along this roadside and endured the abuse that disguises the false bravado that tumbles from their mouths. We see the scuffed shoes, kicking stones towards our bare feet. Now, we sit, in the hot Delhi heat and witness the ingrained fear that clouds the judgment of these highly educated boys. Cars weave in and out of the traffic, stopping, only once, for a cow that stands in amongst a mound of plastic bags. AN ENDING: The damp smog disbands and allows the moon, submerged in light, to hover above the wide pathway leading to India Gate. Delhi withdraws and her people return home to prepare their evening meal but there are a few who remain, untouched. A faint breeze waltzes across the city. Monsoon season is starting.
Winter 2018 —— 37
Offline, online, physical, invisible From online textbooks to smart sinks — how the internet of things manifests itself on campus Article by George Kell Photo by Shanna Hunter
grew up in a time when movies, computers, and phones were becoming increasingly advanced, portable, and small. When I was in middle school, my teachers and school administrators were caught in an ethical dilemma: should they or
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should they not ban mobile phones in the classroom? When they realized it was nearly impossible to outright ban phones, they tried to integrate their presence into lessons, turning phones into learning tools instead of distractions.
One such way this pedagogical policy has manifested itself — which, for me, failed to occur during high school years — is the provision of all textbooks online through school-provided laptops and tablets. This is meant to reduce relative cost and space for students
while simultaneously allowing them to learn through a more familiar medium than previous generations before them had. Although this paperless future has not wholly manifested at U of T, it is evidently on its way, judging by an increasing reliance on online textbooks and articles. This reduces both cost and space for students. What are the implications of the current trajectory that we’re on? From paperless education to seemingly paperless careers, how do we meaningfully remain connected to the world on a physical level? For instance, would someone from 30 years ago with no experience of current technologies recognize a classroom or café on campus filled with laptops, cellphones, and other devices? Likely not. However, our society has in many ways not fundamentally transformed. The phenomenon of having physical objects connected
to the internet — dubbed the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) — plays an enormous role in its popularity and ubiquity. Our attachment to tangible objects is at the core of the IoT. The IoT has an enormous disruptive potential, which is only just beginning to be recognized. According to Forbes, the potential for total connectivity can help us focus on becoming the most accomplished versions of ourselves. Oftentimes, the IoT has been envisioned as a sort of coming-of-age of artificial intelligence, with concepts such as smart fridges, which can predict one’s shopping habits and order food based on their data, among other things. There is a great potential for the IoT on university campuses, which is just beginning to be explored as well. Arizona State University (ASU), for example, uses the IoT at its stadium to determine whether faucets at its facility are left running after
a game. This simple use of the technology helps the university reduce its waste. Further, ASU is also exploring how to inform students remotely on things like real-time parking availability and estimated restroom wait times. It’s easy to see this applied to more substantial endeavours, such as more efficient time management, energy efficiency, and improved health and wellness. Our professors at U of T should be mindful that, although there are certainly many innovations yet to come, the IoT is here. While there are some professors who cling to the notion that dictating laptop bans are the best way to ensure that students gain a meaningful experience, this generation and the ones after us will be increasingly connected to the IoT. Instead of denying this reality, we should integrate it into our lives positively. As of now, the IoT has not yet been fully integrated — but when it is, let’s be prepared to embrace it.
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Circumventing stigma Lessons for battling skepticism of mental illness in the medical field Article by Jillian Schuler Illustration by Gheyana Purbodiningrat
hanks to good health and pure luck, I have had little reason to go to the doctor for more than a regular annual checkup. However, since I only interact with medical professionals about once a year, I have cultivated a deep mistrust of them. The reluctance on my part to accept even the simplest of advice comes from a lack of meaningful relationships with any of my doctors. As I get older, I find it more difficult to see a doctor and not feel personally attacked when they tell me to live my life differently. Whether they say to exercise frequently or drink more water, I scoff and roll my eyes, thinking it’s not that important. Because there isn’t trust between my doctors and me, I continue with a reluctance to be open and listen to what they have to say. This is a cause for concern for many reasons, the largest of which is the understanding that if I ever develop a mental illness, circumventing the stigma around that illness would be extremely difficult to approach and admit given my distrust of doctors. The stigma around mental health is exactly what Professor Thomas Ungar has dedicated his life to defeating. Ungar is the Psychiatristin-Chief at St. Michael’s Hospital and an associate professor in U of T’s Department of Psychiatry, where he says he’s become a “bit of an anti-stigma scholar,” having published several articles on mental health equity. For Ungar, there need to be both attitudinal shifts and structural shifts in how we approach mental health. Throughout our interview, he
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equated mental health ailments to physical ailments to demonstrate why there shouldn’t be a stigma when a mental health specialist provides you with a diagnosis. But what if you’re already skeptical of doctors in general? “You should have the same degree of skepticism as you would your cardiologist or your neurologist or any other diagnosis,” said Ungar. “I wouldn’t be more or less. That’s my issue: why do we think [differently]?” For many people, considering mental illness as just as important as physical illness is the first step to combating it. Bobbie Kerr, a former U of T student, was recently diagnosed with bulimia. Kerr told me that she has always had a strained relationship with food, which reached its peak when she was 16 and lost 45 pounds in three months. Kerr said she never really saw her relationship with food as a disorder. Kerr’s bulimia diagnosis actually stemmed from a physical ailment. At the beginning of the fall semester, she went to see a specialist because she was having difficulty sleeping at night. During an extensive general assessment with a U of T psychologist, they touched upon Kerr’s relationship with food and wound up spending a good portion of the appointment discussing it. It was through these appointments that Kerr eventually received her diagnosis. Kerr said that during her third appointment, her psychologist said that her eating disorder was severe and had
an immense impact on her overall mental health. “After hearing this, I wasn’t quite sure how to process it,” said Kerr. “I knew that it was something I struggled with on a daily basis, but at the same time, I also felt that I wasn’t a danger to myself and that I wasn’t harming my body like I had in previous years.” Kerr said that her psychologist never explicitly said that she was a danger to herself, but rather that if she let the illness go untreated, it could lead to that severity. Either way, Kerr was shocked, and she said that it took her a week or so to accept the idea from her doctor that this was something that needed to be addressed. Ungar said that a patient’s reluctance to accept a mental health diagnosis is due to a misunderstanding of what that diagnosis means. “What’s behind that is probably the misconception on the patient’s side, that it’s somehow a reflection of them as a person.” He added that it is important to separate the illness from your view of yourself. “I tell them it’s not their fault, it’s nothing they’ve done wrong, but they’re not weak, it’s not that they’re not smart, it’s a health condition like any other,” he said. Kerr said that she has always supported feminism and body positivity, but that while she understood the severity of eating disorders, she never thought that she would be “that girl” who had one. During the worst bouts of her eating disorder, when she was about 16 or so,
Kerr said that she received a lot of positive reinforcement from her parents because no one at the time considered it to be a disorder. She added that to this day, she excludes her parents from any discussions she has about her eating disorder. However, despite the initial shock and reluctance she felt after receiving her diagnosis, she does not currently feel debilitated by her eating disorder, though she recognizes the fact that it is still something that should be addressed. Claire Abbott, a second-year student at U of T, also has a history of mental illness. Abott was 13 when she mentioned to her mother that she was not feeling like herself. She said that at the time, she did not know much about mental illness and was inclined to speak to someone who would have a better idea of what was going on. The doctors diagnosed Abbott with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. She was prescribed medication for her illnesses. However, the medication failed to work properly. She was experiencing manic episodes and pushed her doctors to try different methods of addressing her illnesses. The challenges that Abbott faced with her illnesses reached a point where she was becoming suicidal. While simultaneously having mononucleosis, a virus with flu-like symptoms, it was increasingly difficult for
her mother to take proper care of her at home, resulting in her hospitalization. During that time, Abbott said, her doctors realized that she also had bipolar tendencies. With this diagnosis, they were able to prescribe her medicine to address that illness, which then started her recovery. Abbott has been off her antidepressant medication for over a year. She sees a psychologist about once a year and a therapist every two months or so. She said that she is in a much better place with her illness and does not tie it too closely to her perception of herself. “I was lucky to never be in a position where I felt extremely ashamed of my mental illness so it didn’t negatively impact my perception of myself in that sense, but on an individual level sometimes it [was] hard to grapple with the fact that I used to need antipsychotic medication to live a normal life,” said Abbott. Today, Abbott is very vocal about her experience and encourages others to circumvent the stigma surrounding mental illness and seek help. Abbott also stressed that due to her own issue finding the right medication, there is nothing wrong with “being skeptical of the diagnosis that you’re given. There’s so much we still don’t know about the brain, and nothing is black and white.” She said that you should definitely trust
your doctors, but that it is okay to do your own research and to speak up if you feel like your medication is not doing what it’s supposed to do. Ungar called this being an “active participant.” He said that he loves when his patients do their own research, because it allows for a much more informed conversation. “It’s their decision; it’s their health. I’m just here to recommend and encourage and I want to see them do as well as they can. And I’m very open to debate and discussion,” said Ungar. Having trust in your doctor does not mean that you have to take everything they say word for word. You know your body, and properly educating yourself will lead to an overall greater understanding of what needs to be treated. At the end of the day, medical professionals are people who have gone to school for a long time to help determine diagnoses and treatments so that you can live a long and happy life. Reminding yourself of this each time you step into a doctor’s office might give you the courage to accept diagnoses and treatments with a much more open mind so that you can begin the journey of recovery, whatever the ailment.
Winter 2018 —— 41
An invisible struggle In a university of over 80,000 students, and in a city over 30 times that size, young people find it all too easy to blend into the background. For some, however, the retreat into invisibility is a pressing issue. From personal scars to political controversies, students, youth workers, social justice advocates, and professors shed light on youth homelessness in the city.
Article by Ilya BaĂąares & Steven Lee Photos by Steven Lee
42 â€”â€” The Varsity Magazine
n the summer of 2015, U of T News published an article about Anh Cao, an international student who had graduated not only with a 4.0 GPA, but who had earned that GPA while living in a homeless shelter for part of his studies. As a homeless student myself at the time, I found the very nature of the article intriguing. From my experience, many youth who experience homelessness are not inclined to disclose their living conditions to close friends, much less publish them. While the article exemplified the trials and tribulations of Cao’s experience, I couldn’t help but feel that there was an underlying issue failing to be adequately addressed: what type of support exists for homeless students? Looking back on my years as a homeless student, I understand why homelessness persists. The cost of living as a student has risen in recent years, and homelessness is a product of such conditions. While the subject is gaining greater public interest, it’s still rarely depicted in a hopeful light in the media. Homeless students in particular are burdened with heavy stigma, sometimes resulting in reluctance to receive support due to fear of discrimination on campus. This comes alongside the additional stress of maintaining grades. Maintaining a façade under such heavy physical, mental, and financial strain can result in a segment of the homeless population that is ‘hidden’ and fenced off from support and a safe place to live for days, months, and possibly years. This article is an attempt to address the various components that shape the invisible struggle homeless students are facing and provide insight on a situation in which, if you need help, you cannot simply ask. — Steven Lee
Winter 2018 —— 43
Being both homeless and a student “Honestly, I was expecting it to be kind of crazy — but I kept to myself,” Nadia*, a homeless youth, said about living in a shelter. “I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t make any friends because I felt like I was here for a reason, and I didn’t feel like staying for a long time, and I was kind of advised on staying there for a long time, kind of just saving my money and then trying to go to school.” While thousands of young people roam the streets of Toronto every night, few are willing to recount the raw realities of pursuing an education while living in a shelter. Nadia is 20 years old and is attending Ryerson University for nursing. They are currently residing at Covenant House Toronto under the CIBC Rights of Passage (ROP) program. Covenant House is the largest homeless youth agency in the country, and it sees up to 250 young people per day. ROP is an onsite transitional housing program that aims to prepare youth for a transition from a crisis shelter while practicing life skills. The program emphasizes support for younger individuals and those who have a more urgent need to move out. Youth selected for ROP tend to be individuals who have demonstrated a degree of preparedness for a life of independence. “I stayed there for a month and then I got moved to the transitional housing,” said Nadia. “The first day of my intake, I was like, ‘I don’t really want to stay here for a long time, I want to know what my options are, what do you offer?’ And then they told me about ROP… and after that I kept asking about it, and I find it kind of funny how they don’t tell everyone about the options they have, they’re kinda selective on who they tell unless you ask.” RJ*, a student at Monsignor Fraser College, expressed the difficulty of living with other youth. “It’s not easy living there,” said RJ. “I mean first of all, you have to live with a bunch of people with their own issues as well, and staff that may not understand your concerns, and they’re kind of hard on you.” RJ felt that educators at Monsignor Fraser reaching out to youth workers helped them feel sup-
44 —— The Varsity Magazine
ported in school. “They support, they understand, and they even [went to] lengths to come to the program to actually talk to the team leaders, or my worker,” said RJ. “Because [youth workers] weren’t really supporting me, [the educators] wanted me to feel supported because they could see it was taking a toll in my schooling.” Nadia, on the other hand, expressed waning faith in Ryerson’s ability to support their situation, specifically with regard to obtaining financial aid. “The first time I went [to seek financial aid] I was still at [a shelter residence]… and they said, ‘Well, you’ve only been there for a month, are you sure this isn’t a phase? Or are you going back home?’ And I’m like, ‘No, this is not a phase, this is pretty serious, I’m here for a reason.’” Nadia’s pursuit of an education garners favour when interacting with youth workers. “Sometimes I get treated differently… maybe it’s ’cause I’m in university and it’s like I’m the ‘inspiration’ and, ‘You should stay here for another year, and we think you are a good role model.’” RJ recounted a different experience, noting the rigidity of the current support structure provided by transitional housing programs. “I’m getting close to moving out and honestly, they’ve helped me a little bit, but they’ve tried… helping me [more] at the ending, like forcing me to leave,” they observed. “Like, ‘Okay, this is your deadline now, you have to do all of this [stuff]… that they don’t tell you to do in the beginning. It’s kind of like they’re setting you up to fail.” Nadia and RJ hope for increased accessibility to financial support and life skills or employment programs that would help buffer their education. “It’s very hard when people, who… aren’t in social work, like financial aid workers... are the ones judging your case, so basically you go in, tell your entire story to them, and they are basically going to judge whether you need that support or not,” remarked Nadia. The youth worker’s perspective Trying to help embattled homeless youth is a daunting task. Stacey Rees, a youth worker with Covenant House Toronto, said the biggest issues are a lack of resources and building relationships and trust with the youth. Brodie Montreuil is another youth worker at Covenant House. His position entails coordinating with youth to give them the specific care that they need, depending on their unique situation.
He stressed that every person is a different case and that homelessness should not be generalized. “We have people coming in from all different backgrounds — new Canadians, refugees, people [who] came from violent homes, addiction, mental health,” he said. “My job, I consider it to be similar to a doctor in the sense that I get someone to come here, and I assess what services they need, and then I send them off to a specialist.” Rees and Montreuil both noted that youth can become homeless due to a variety of factors, though they agree that lack of family support in particular is prevalent and a big issue. Rees mentioned conflicts involving a youth’s family not understanding their situation, such as mental health struggles, addictions, or sexual orientation. According to Covenant House, close to 80 per cent of youth become homeless because of family conflict, and 63 per cent reported experiencing childhood trauma and abuse.
Montreuil observed that when he was a mature student five years ago, he did not have a real understanding of the issue — he “knew nothing about homelessness.” When he eventually became a youth worker, he was immediately struck, realizing the kids were the same as him. “In terms of just the way
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they act, the way they dress, in my brain, there was originally a stereotype of a squeegee kid or something like that. That wasn’t the case at all, and everyone came from different backgrounds, everyone had different education, everyone had different barriers.” Montreuil underlined that as a young professional, even though he struggled with employment for a while, his situation did not compare to those of homeless youth. He, for example, obtained help from his mother and partner. “If I didn’t have those support systems... I wouldn’t have been able to support myself,” he said. “What I’m trying to get at the most is that a lot of people that ended up here just didn’t have that support.” Rees brought up another large issue: a lack of support for youth from external, non-familial sources. More specifically, she expressed concern that she sees few homeless youth pursuing postsecondary education. “The youth are looking at a housing first model. They’re looking for housing, that’s their main thing,” she said. “When you grow up, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I need a house and then everything else can follow.’ In order to get that house, they need to be working, and so school kind of takes the back burner when that happens.” As a shelter geared toward young people, Covenant House tries to provide as much support as possible to help students in school. “Youth can be on full-time school plans while they’re here, they don’t need to be
46 —— The Varsity Magazine
working,” said Rees. Covenant House also provides access to tutors, study spaces, computers, and wireless internet connection. “We didn’t have WiFi… It took us a long time, we only got it recently. That was a big barrier for a lot of students living here,” remarked Montreuil. Montreuil noted the distinction between secondary and postsecondary institutions, adding that he tends to communicate a lot with high schools, but university and college students usually need less of his support. “Now if there’s a problem, in terms of one of our youth has some health issues and they can’t attend school, then I’ll advocate for them.” Violence, said Montreuil, is also a problem for the GTA homeless community more broadly. “It’s always a concern if there’s violence in the city or anything like that, that’s our top priority for our youth, trying to keep them safe” said Montreuil. “I don’t have the stats, but I feel like there’s a high level of violence right now.” The fight for others’ basic human dignity During a persistent extreme cold weather alert during the winter holidays, concerns for the city’s homeless population were raised, leading to newspaper headlines like, “Concerns mount for Toronto’s homeless as cold strains shelter capacities” from The Globe and Mail and “‘Miscommunication’ led to some homeless being turned away from shelter” from the Toronto Star. But as anyone in the GTA or even in Canada more generally knows, it was not the worst winter people have experienced. Cathy Crowe, a ‘Street Nurse’ and Distinguished Visiting Practitioner at Ryerson University, has dedicated her life’s work to social justice activism for the city’s homeless. “I work in a number of areas around health conditions, shelter conditions, and the bigger, longer-term issue of affordable housing,” said Crowe. She accomplishes
her activism through “community organizing, community development, interfacing with City Hall, deputation, organizing groups to respond on issues, public education, advocacy, and working with the media.” Crowe is not the only advocate for the city’s homeless who uses the media to get the message out. Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor with the Lazarus Rising program at the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, does the same. “I try to listen to what people without homes and trustworthy frontline workers are saying. I rely on my eight years of experience as a street pastor and any means of verification I can make use of to sort out what is most true and newsworthy,” said Hatlem. “After that, I try to put that information into social media, independent media, and major media in a way that will be persuasive to as many people as possible.” “I, along with many others, am fighting for affordable, appropriate, dignified housing and day to day treatment for everyone who lives in Toronto,” he said. Both Crowe and Hatlem understand the need for improved affordable housing. “The bigger, overarching campaign we’re fighting for is for a national housing program that would be similar to what we had up to 1993,” said Crowe. The National Affordable Housing Program in Canada was cut in the early 1990s. It was initially created in the 1970s to provide housing to low-income families. “That’s in the long term, and we’re not there yet,” said Crowe. “In the meantime, we’re working on the local emergency, making sure that they have enough emergency shelters for all people who are homeless, and then at the same time making sure that the conditions in those shelters are adequate and spacious, clean, et cetera.” Crowe’s focus has been on opening new facilities this winter. “Our big campaign has been to get more emergency shelters open, and they’ve actually got eight or nine that are actually opened… that now provide emergency shelter for an additional 750 people,” she said, citing the example of the Living Centre at Exhibition Place. Crowe is involved in a drive to lobby City Council to
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add 1,500 permanent beds to homeless centres. Toronto Police Service (TPS) Detective Barry Radford recently said that TPS officers consider homelessness to be a “factor” in determining the seriousness of a missing person report. Radford said homelessness raises concerns of where to begin searches and the reliability of the information of the person’s last whereabouts. In response to Radford’s statements, Hatlem said, “On the one hand, it’s a bit understandable. In practice, it seems it means that claims involving someone on the street are treated dramatically less seriously than missing person reports would be otherwise. That is a major problem.” Hatlem cited the case of a young woman from Sudbury — a city a few hours north of Toronto — who was found dead in a garbage bag in Lake Ontario. Hatlem believes the woman in question, Kasandra Bolduc, had been homeless, which is why he thinks the police and the media did not pay the case the “attention it deserved.” Crowe believes that incorporating education on homelessness and poverty in “all programs” is important to creating positive change for homeless youth. “I think it applies, really, to every program, whether it’s business, engineering, [or] environmental studies.” Some Canadian universities have already taken steps to include homelessness in their curricula. Crowe mentioned a Ryerson course called “Homelessness in Canadian Society,” and she has been invited by multiple U of T instructors to speak in classes. “Right now, U of T, Ryerson, OCAD, and York are partaking in a joint initiative around housing affordability for students, but to be honest I think what has to happen is universities need to prioritize the building of new student housing that is affordable.” Crowe recalled being invited to U of T by a Muslim student group to give a talk. The group was also working on a project to make sandwiches and distribute them to the homeless. “The brilliant thing was that instead of just walking around randomly handing it out to people, they gave it to a local agency near U of T, so that that agency would have the food to actually give to people, because they have the relationship with people,” she said. Outside of student and university groups, much still needs to be addressed. “We as a society have failed and continue to fail at having
48 —— The Varsity Magazine
an appropriate system for protecting kids from abuse and making sure that those who are abused are cared for in the best possible way,” said Hatlem. Toronto’s failure More than 35,000 Canadians are homeless on any given night. Bonnie Burstow is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Higher, and Adult Education at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Her research and expertise centre primarily on community organizing, community policing, homelessness, and working with survivors of trauma. Burstow said that Canada has given up “even a pretence” of long-term solutions, instead choosing temporary fixes. “We need to commit ourselves to a long term affordable housing strategy,” she wrote, contending that the country’s politicians have failed in their duty to protect the most vulnerable. Crowe believes the current political climate of “neoliberalism” has seen “a lot of cuts to social programs.” This failure is not new. Over the winter, debate raged in the city over whether to open the armouries for use as emergency homeless shelters, with many calling for Mayor John Tory and City Council to open them. Downtown Toronto is home to two armouries: one in Moss Park, the other at Fort York. On December 6, Ward 27 City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam put forward a motion to open the armouries, but it was voted down. On the advice of city staff, Tory eventually opened them up for emergency use. “Our politicians opening up the armouries is tantamount to them acknowledging that… they have allowed a homelessness emergency to emerge,” said Burstow. “Acknowledging this is tantamount to acknowledging that they have dismally failed a huge number of [the] most vulnerable [citizens].” She also pressed the “need to take seriously” why some prefer the streets to shelters, emphasizing the need for special women’s shelters and LGBTQ+ shelters to protect them from sexual violence in other shelters. Hatlem echoed Burstow’s sentiments about the city’s failure. “In the past, when Toronto has had to ask for [the armouries] to be opened, it has been seen as an acknowledgement that the City’s
housing and homelessness policy has failed,” he wrote. “The City has been reluctant to admit, and still hasn’t fully admitted, that what it has been doing for the last half dozen or more years is a rank failure.” According to Crowe, Moss Park and Fort York had been opened four times in the years spanning the late 1990s to 2004. This time around, the federal defence ministry offered the facilities to the municipal government for emergency use. “I have no idea why the Mayor and other City Councillors were so resistant to opening the armouries this time,” she said. “Things got worse and worse and worse through the winter, and it became very apparent, finally apparent, to the Mayor and City Council that they needed to open the armouries,” said Crowe. “It was a huge political hot potato.” But it doesn’t have to be. The city needs to do better and rise above the controversies. “Creating permanent affordable housing needs to be a priority,” said Burstow. “In the context of this emergency that we have created, of course, we should be opening [and] making available the spaces that we have to [offer] shelter to homeless youth.” If you are a youth in need of shelter and crisis services or know an individual who is in need of these services, know that there are supports available. Covenant House can be reached via phone at (416) 593-4849 or toll-free at 1-800-4357308. These lines are open 24/7. If you are a youth who is being sexually exploited or trafficked, or if you are a concerned parent, email email@example.com or call the TPS Human Trafficking Enforcement Team’s 24/7 hotline at (416) 808-2222. Additional homeless help is available through the City of Toronto by calling 311. You can also call Central Intake at (416) 338-4766 or 1-877-338-3398 for emergency shelter. Walk-in referrals are available from the Streets to Homes Assessment and Referral Centre at 129 Peter Street. *Name has been changed for confidentiality
Winter 2018 —— 49
50 —— The Varsity Magazine
raveling down a snow-covered sidewalk during Toronto winters can be a Herculean effort. Even the strongest of us will eventually be weighed down by the existential despair that comes with a pair of wet socks. A few weeks ago, I was walking across campus and grumbling about how I should have gone to a university in a hot country when I realized something about the winter that I had never considered before. During an interview for this article, I asked first-year undergraduate student Victoria Chen, “Do you find that it’s hard to get around in the snow?” “I do,” she responded, “especially today because it just snowed and they haven’t gotten around to shoveling. Sometimes when I’m going up onto the sidewalk… the wheels [get stuck].” The wheels that Chen was referring to are those on her mobility scooter. She has a disability that makes it difficult for her to walk, so she uses a scooter to get around campus. The realization hit me that, though the snow was a mild inconvenience for me, it would be much harder to navigate for someone like Chen, who requires the aid of a mobility device. Like me, many sigh while navigating through Toronto snow, yet few consider how it might be harder for students with physical disabilities. Defining disability ‘Physical disability’ is a term that covers a large spectrum of experiences. There is, of course, the example of someone who uses a mobility device, such as a wheelchair or cane. Yet this doesn’t even begin to cover the varied experiences of people with physical disabilities. “Students with physical disabilities is a wide ranging group,” explained Tanya Lewis, Director of Accessibility Services at U of T. “We have so many stereotypes about what we think a disability is.” Lewis states that, though people often think of a physical disability as something that you can see, the vast majority of disabilities are “invisible.” For example, having a visual impairment or hearing loss are types of physical disabilities that perhaps don’t immediately pop into your mind when you think of a physical disability. Among those with seemingly ‘invisible’ disabilities are people with chronic pain, like U of T student and PhD candidate Corey McAuliffe. McAuliffe is a student at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, studying Social and Behavioural Health Sciences. McAuliffe has “a chronic and episodic disability” stemming from an autoimmune disease she contracted while conducting field research. Because of her disease, McAuliffe has reactive low-level arthritis that, during flares of bad health, weakens her to a
point where she can no longer walk. However, since her condition is episodic and not always visually noticeable, she is not often perceived as having a physical disability, meaning she can pass for an able-bodied person. McAuliffe herself doesn’t like to identify as disabled because people’s notion of the term is so narrow. “It’s just that that label is all-encompassing for so many different bodies. My arthritis is nothing like someone who’s a quadriplegic at all, and not that one’s worse or better, it’s just they’re not the same,” she said. “No one is perfectly healthy ever. I know some people who have a sports injury and for three weeks they’re in way more pain than I am on a daily basis…We come up with these really asinine solutions that don’t actually reflect the experience of people.” Yet McAuliffe feels that she has to use the ‘disability’ label in order to access much-needed services. The difference between her and those with visible disabilities is that she can choose when she wants to disclose. “Not all physical disabilities can pass. So if you are in a wheelchair, you no longer have a choice of disclosing or not… I 100 per cent pass,” said McAuliffe. “Most people would never know if I don’t say anything. I choose who I disclose to and how much I disclose, for sure.” McAuliffe recognizes that she is lucky to have a choice, because not everybody does — others feel that they cannot disclose because it would affect areas of their life, such as their career potential. “No one’s going to want to hire [someone] if they know all these different components because there’s so much stigma attached to it,” said McAuliffe. “There’s this thought of, ‘Oh, we’re going to have to accommodate in all these ways, and we don’t have enough money to do that, and they’re not going to be able to do their job, and they’re going to be sick, and they’re going to not show up.’” Of course, those who have a visible disability often do not have a choice in disclosing. Mark Bowen, a secondyear undergraduate studying International Relations and Classics, who uses a mobility scooter, is one of them. “I have cerebral palsy, which is a disability that mostly affects both my balance and the level of spasticity in my muscles. It means essentially that a lot of my muscles can’t relax or don’t relax and so walking around becomes rather difficult and certainly very time consuming and taxing,” he explained. “I mean the benefit of all this is I make a strong first impression as well, right?” For Bowen, one of the hardest parts of using a scooter is that he really needs to plan ahead and ensure that the places he is going to are accessible. “I have to think of things in advance, [that] would be the main thing, and I have to ensure that I talked to the right
The measure of accessibility Examining accessibility on campus
Article by Josie Kao Photos by Mashal Khan & Steven Lee
Winter 2018 —— 51
Accessibility of academic divisions and major buildings at UTSG
Daniels Faculty of Architecture
Edward Johnson Building
Faculty of Music
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Wetmore Hall Wilson Hall 45 Willcocks Street
Brennan Hall Teefy Hall Historic Houses Carr Hall Loretto College John M. Kelly Library Alumni Hall
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
20% Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Percentages represent the listed academic divisions and major buildings’ overall average of accessibility for UTSG determined by ramps, elevators, and access to all parts of the building.
Victoria College Old Vic Isabel Bader Theatre Northrop Frye Hall EJ Pratt Library Burwash Dining Hall Upper Burwash Hall Lower Burwash Hall Rowell Jackman Hall Birge Carnegie Hall Annesley Hall Goldring Student Centre Magaret Addison Hall Emmanuel College
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Woodsworth College Woodsworth Residence
University College Morrison Hall Sir Daniel’s Whitney Hall University College Union
St. Michael’s College
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Sandford Fleming Galbraith Building Walberg Building Mech. Eng Building Rosebrugh Building
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Athletic Centre Varsity Centre Goldring Centre
Innis College Innis Residence
Faculty of Engineering
Kinesiology & Physical Education
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
77% Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Trinity Proper St. Hilda’s College Larkin Building Devonshire House
Partially Accessible Accessible Inaccessible
Medical Sciences Building Convocation Hall Robarts Library Sidney Smith Hall Hart House
Detailed data not available online for UTM and UTSC 52 —— The Varsity Magazine
Accessibility people beforehand. Once I do that, things tend to work out pretty well. But you also have to leave some room for improvising,” said Bowen. I learned this first-hand when I met up with Bowen for our interview. The place where we had planned to meet was unexpectedly closed when we arrived, and we had to find another room last minute — this turned out to be much harder than I had originally anticipated. When we went to a nearby library in search of a study room, we found that the only elevator in the building was broken. This meant we had to use one of the study rooms on the first floor, which were so small they could barely fit Bowen’s scooter. It took minutes of maneuvering before we managed to squeeze into the room and begin the interview. All of this hassle because our original meeting space was closed and I hadn’t thought to consider an accessible backup plan. Able-bodied ignorance My lack of foresight speaks to the larger issue of able-bodied people being unaware that people with disabilities have different needs. From little things such as doors too narrow for a scooter to larger systemic issues such as fearing the loss of a job, able-bodied people do not have to worry about similar issues. Chen described to me an experience that encapsulatesd the problems she faces because she has a disability that requires the use of a mobility scooter. “My French classroom was in Teefy Hall before, which is not accessible at all,” she said. But Chen hadn’t known that before she went to class. When she arrived, like many students, she couldn’t find the right building. However, unlike many other students, when she finally found Teefy Hall, she realized that she could not get in because it wasn’t accessible. “I asked a lot of people just walking by... [but] most of the time when you ask, people don’t know… just because it’s not something they have to think about in their lives and they’re very busy too,” said Chen. Eventually, she decided to call St. Michael’s College, where Teefy Hall is located, to ask if there was an accessible entrance. “They were very apologetic and very accommodating,” said Chen. Staff members came to help her into the building, and a security guard stayed outside to watch her scooter during class. “So it was not accessible at all, but they apologized and they told me they would figure something out by the next week, and they did,” she said. “I just got an email from my TA that said the classroom had been changed. So that was very nice to see that they took care of that.”
Accessing accommodations Just one of Chen’s singular experiences shows that while there are definitely efforts from the university to accommodate students with disabilities, U of T has a long way to go before the campus is fully accessible. Ron Swail, Chief Operations Officer of Property Services & Sustainability, is one of the people in charge of making UTSG accessible. He says that one of the hardest parts of the job is that many of St. George’s buildings are quite old. “The average building age on St. George is 80 years… So there are areas that aren’t accessible, and we have been working a little bit at a time for years to address those issues,” said Swail. Initiatives include retrofitting elevators to add auditory identification of floors; installing door operators in easier to reach places; putting in large, single-use, non-gendered washrooms; and upgrading labs to include accessible spaces. “There’s also a classroom enhancement project that’s going to address virtually all the classrooms on the campus that are run out of the [Academic and Campus Events] department; part of those retrofits will be addressing AODA,” added Swail. AODA refers to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a provincial law enacted in 2005 that outlines how “all levels of government, non-profits, and private sector businesses” have to make their workplaces accessible, according to their website. Under this legislation, the university is “required to develop “multi-year accessibility plans outlining their strategy to prevent and remove barriers.” While Swail’s department is responsible for getting the physical campus up to date, the Accessibility Services Office is in charge of finding accommodations for students in the meantime. “Students with disabilities come in and they give us documentation that outlines the nature of their disability and then we work with them on what accommodations would be appropriate,” explained Lewis. “They do very fine work particularly,” said Bowen, who uses many of their services, including volunteer note-taking, test accommodations, and taxi credits, which are offered to help students get around campus if they are unable to walk. Chen, likewise, has used the Accessibility Services Office frequently. Her first experience with the office was after she discovered she could not live in Trinity College residence because the buildings were inaccessible at the time. “I talked to Accessibility Services and they were able to basically go through another [college] and put me up somewhere
else,” said Chen. However, there are things that Accessibility Services cannot provide; they cannot help if a building is wholly inaccessible, for example. Students for Barrier-Free Access (SBA), a group on campus that advocates for students with disabilities of all kinds, says that it is still “a common experience for U of T students with classroom accommodations to get to class only to discover that their accommodations aren’t met.” “In many cases U of T buildings do not have elevators, ramps, automatic doors, or push buttons. Some buildings also lack standard signage to notify students of accessible entrance, elevators and washrooms. Failure to remove snow in a timely manner is another example of a physical barrier to access. Relatedly, U of T is also known to keep campus open on major snow days making it close to impossible for students accessing campus on wheelchairs or other mobility limitations to go to class,” the SBA wrote in an email to me. Swail said that “we’re a long way from getting this campus completely accessible,” but the university is trying to speed up the process. “This year, we have a major study that’s going to happen on about a dozen buildings… and then from that we’re going [to] make a plan for the campus as well [as] try and speed up the retrofitting,” said Swail. “I would love to see the St. George campus fully accessible, but it is daunting when you have 120 buildings at the age they are.” In the meantime, students with disabilities will continue having to advocate for themselves, which is no small task. “It is physically and emotionally exhausting to continuously ask for accommodations and not have them met,” stated the SBA. “Individualizing these barriers and placing the responsibility on students with disabilities to overcome them somehow rather than having the University doing the work of removing the barriers only adds to the barriers that students face on campus.” What can able-bodied people do to help those who live with physical disabilities? Move beyond the stereotypical image of a disability and meaningfully consider how experiences are different for everyone. “People tend to just stick to appearances, first impressions. You can’t help it,” said Chen. “I just think that people could just try to educate themselves about all the different types of people out there because, you know, it doesn’t hurt to just open your mind a little… to be aware that you share the space around you.”
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54 —— The Varsity Magazine
No phones, no books, no talking Finding inner peace through meditation Article by Priyanka Sharma Photos by Pearl Cao
few weeks after I graduated high school, my dad told me to pack my bags with some comfortable clothes because he was going to drop me off in the middle of nowhere — also known as Egbert, Ontario. He forgot to mention that he had signed me up for a 10-day silent meditation retreat a few months prior so that I could start my university career with a “calm and settled mind.” This was his way of telling me I had to finally address the severe anger and depression issues we both suspected I had but refused to vocalize. As a child constantly inundated with Hindu and Buddhist aphorisms and morality-infused folktales, I grew up having common anti-western solutions to my health and wellbeing concerns preached to me. So my reaction to my situation in Egbert was one of frustration, thinking that my parents’ obsession with meditation and yoga had reached the extent of forcing me to go on a retreat without my consent and without addressing why they were sending me off in the first place. Still, I was surprised they had willingly agreed to send me away from home, considering I had never been allowed to go on overnight trips before — if you are the eldest daughter of a Desi immigrant family, you know exactly what I mean. There was no way I could pass up this opportunity, even if it was to satisfy their need to keep me ‘cultured’ in a western country. Out of spite, I agreed to go — no technology, no social media, and no talking for 10 days. At the very least, I would get away from my parents and enjoy a short vacation, I thought; at the very most, I would prove the baby boomer generation wrong in their thinking that millennials couldn’t possibly survive without technology. What I actually experienced, however, was neither relaxing nor rebellious. Rather, it was rigorous and refreshing.
In the beginning I hadn’t been able to do any research on the retreat facility beforehand, so my vague assumption of what was to come consisted of some stereotypical, probably whitewashed instruction of how to reflect on happy, sad, emotional, powerful, life-altering, mind-blowing events of my life until I finally reached eternal peace or something. Instead, I realized that meditation had much more to do with focusing on the physical sensations of my body than the fleeting thoughts of my mind. The meditation centre I attended is for the specific teaching of Vipassanā meditation — the basic premise of this technique being to eliminate instinctive reactions through training and bring more intention and awareness to everyday actions. I was skeptical of the whole process to begin with, but I was stuck there for 10 days, so I decided to follow through as instructed. It was difficult. First of all, I’d worry about the thousand things I’d left at home, all the people who might be texting me, and all the fun my friends were having without me. Then I would focus on the 100 people I was at this retreat with but couldn’t talk to. I would think about their lives and make assumptions about their character simply by the type of yoga pants they wore to the meditation hall, not knowing their names but identifying them by their shoes. Eventually I realized that, despite all this happening in my head, it was only day two and I should really try to focus on my breath above my mouth and below my nose like the instructor had repeated about 20 times. Then I would start thinking about my email inbox, inevitably beginning the cycle of thoughts once again. When we disconnected from the world to come to this retreat, beyond the technology, we also couldn’t bring any other source of literature or entertainment. Gena Zheng, a fourth-year undergraduate at Western Uni-
versity who went on the retreat after I told her about it, described this experience: “I was so bored that I started reading my shampoo bottle for some mental stimulation.” Mitra Alizadeh, a friend and aspiring tree hugger, fell asleep the first time she did the retreat. “On my 4th day I struggled pretty hard and started to freak out and wanted to leave,” she wrote to me — a reaction I assure you most people have more than once and that some people follow through on. The learning process Both Gena and Mitra eventually overcame their difficulties. Mitra told me that she began to realize her instinct to run was a habit and defensive mechanism, and she resolved to work through it. Gradually, with practice, her struggle minimized each time she sat for meditation. She later came back to do another retreat. Over the course of her physical experience with discipline and meditation, Mitra understood that she had to apply a similar approach and work through her own struggles in life as well. “I had to work through my attachment issues, my people skills, the strong attachment between my ego and feeling ‘useful’ via work,” she said. For Gena, the experience was eye-opening and helped her find willpower within. “At the end of the retreat, I felt like a better version of myself,” she told me. She now categorizes it under her self-care habits. “It makes me more patient, compassionate, and I am able to better deal with adversity in life, knowing the impermanent nature of everything.” As the 10 days of my first retreat came to an end, I started to be more aware of my physical and mental instinct to react to everything without processing it. As a result, I would try to slow down and process each moment while I meditated. This realization gradually made me feel physically lighter and more alert; I
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was better able to track my thoughts, feel the presence of my body, and start to understand the world in a connected way. On the 10th day, we finally got to break the silence and talk to the neighbours we had been living with for the past week and a half. During this time, I heard stories about everyone’s experiences, their lives, their breakdowns, and their desires to find a way to understand themselves — which ultimately led them to this retreat. Unlike me, Mitra’s reason to try the retreat stemmed from a research project she completed in her final year of university on the role of meditation in neuroplasticity and its effectiveness in rehabilitation of sex offenders. The topic wasn’t one she was too thrilled about, but after discovering the research was quite interesting, her professor recommended a meditation centre north of the city — the very same one my dad dropped me off to four years ago. Since then, I have been going back — willingly! — every summer to disconnect from the world and get further along in my meditation practice. I haven’t been able to consistently continue the suggested two hours of meditation
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practice per day with school, part-time jobs, and life in general. While I know I could practice if I put more effort into making time for it, I find it much more difficult to disconnect myself in Toronto spaces than when in Egbert, surrounded by the campground, tall trees, and natural silence. Meditation technologies Perhaps this inability to disconnect ourselves in everyday life is responsible for the recent popularity of technology-based meditation applications. I talked to people who use a variety of meditation applications like Headspace, Pzizz, and Insight Timer to discover what they got out of the technology. Anecdotally, I found that the quality of experience with these applications was more varied than experience with an intensive, retreat-based course. After the retreat, every person I talked to had a different but positive experience. Meditation applications, however, use different techniques and lack the physical presence of a teacher who can provide one-on-one direction. Pri Pai, an undergraduate student at U of T, told me that she “tried to use a meditation app once and it made [her] more anxious.”
She prefers to practice Hatha yoga through classes that focus on meditation, breathing, and becoming physically stronger. Shalaka Jadhav, an undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo, has tried meditation classes as well as Headspace and Insight Timer. She describes how it is “a pretty strange experience when it’s facilitated by an app,” partially due to the data tracking associated with applications, something that doesn’t accompany meditating without technology. Arjun Kaul, a fourth-year undergraduate student U of T, has tried a variety of techniques, including transcendental meditation, app-based mindfulness meditation, and a few less specific varieties of meditation practiced under the Hindu tradition. Overall, Arjun has been disappointed by his experiences. “I found it increasingly hard to get into; once I started, it was nice, but it had diminishing returns once meditation started coinciding with increasing periods of stress/ work/etc.” While I haven’t tried meditation applications myself, I feel as if the tracker could be an incentive to keep up practice — to establish a Snapchat-like streak and encourage
yourself to keep up practice. However, from my learning of Vipassanā, I worry that this surface-level incentive defeats the point of meditating in the moment for the sake of meditation itself. Unlike me, Gena is diligent in keeping up her practice. “I was told that meditation is like taking a shower. You probably shower every day to clean your body so you should also meditate every day to clean your mind. That really stuck with me so I definitely make the effort to meditate as much as I can,” she said. Clara Thaysen, a fifth-year undergraduate student at U of T, has found her own method of making application-based meditation work for her. She uses Pzizz, which is designed to help the user with sleeping or napping by playing binaural beats through headphones. While going through some emotional stress and inability to sleep, Clara decided to try the app and now finds that she uses it more for meditation than napping. While the meditation techniques of oth-
ers are different than mine, I find that there are some underlying commonalities in our experience that make meditation a valuable potential resource for our everyday lives. The benefits include but are not limited to a deep awareness of body and environment. Meditation and mental health Before I went on the retreat, I was constantly annoyed by the common ‘have you tried meditation’ line from parents, therapists, and peers in response to my mental health inquiries. Arjun felt the same way. “Meditation is increasingly offered as a cure-all for mental health problems, in a society that doesn’t know how to effectively treat them.” He believes coming from a position of immense privilege is essential in order for meditation to be effective because not everyone has the “time and energy” to practice it. He stressed that a lot needs to change in society for meditation to work more effectively, among them our “productivity-based exis-
tence.” I immediately thought of my struggles to meditate successfully within the productivity-based cycle of school and work. Meditation principles, Arjun said, were formed in contexts when society was not as “centred around systems-based productivity.” He also suggested we admit meditation’s “limited reach” and update it accordingly. I won’t say that meditation cured my mental health, but it certainly makes handling life a little easier. While we definitely have a long way to go in addressing the mental health crises in our society, my response to meditation itself is now more positive. “Don’t be intimidated by it,” suggested Clara. “I know more traditional or proper methods of meditation may intimidate people, but you don’t have to reach Nirvana on your first try.”
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Notes from the dark room Inside the reality of a concussion recovery Article by Julia Costanzo Visual by Pearl Cao & Elham Numan
58 â€”â€” The Varsity Magazine
he day following my concussion, I woke up hoping to feel better. I didn’t remember much of the events the day before, but I knew one thing: I hated how I felt. My head throbbed, light stung my eyes, sounds pierced my ears, and everything around me spun. How long would I be stuck like this? Would this ever go away? Slowly, I opened my eyes to complete darkness. The night before, I closed my blinds and shut off the lights when I got home. I didn’t know what time I fell asleep or how long I slept — there was no concept of time in the dark room. My fingers clung to the edge of my bed as I slowly pulled myself upright. I couldn’t see anything, but I felt the world spinning. Still in the dark, I prepared to leave for my doctor’s appointment. I changed into leggings and a hoodie, slid on my sneakers, and zipped up my jacket. Keeping my eyes shut, I pushed open my bedroom door and dragged my fingers along the wall to guide me to the front door. Before leaving, I put on a hat, sunglasses, and headphones with no music playing — it was the best way I could replicate the dark room. It wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped. My hands shook at my sides as I struggled to maintain my balance, the sunglasses didn’t shield my fragile eyes from the bright lights on the fire truck passing by, and the headphones couldn’t block out the barking dog on the other side of the street. Usually, I’m a speed walker who weaves through pockets of slow pedestrians while silently declaring how annoying they are. But not that day. That day I was the slowest on the street. Upon arrival at the clinic, I paced into the waiting room and slumped into a chair. I rested my elbows on my knees, pulled my hat over my eyes, and cupped my hands over my ears. I thought I hated the dark room; I hated being outside it even more. My concussion was the first major health problem I experienced without my parents since moving to Toronto for school. Forced to handle my appointments alone, I was determined to manage everything myself. A few seconds into my appointment, I realized this would be more difficult than I thought. But everything was more difficult than I thought. Diagnosed, concussed The doctor confirmed I had a concussion but told me not to worry. He reassured me that most people with concussions like mine recover in four weeks or less. He advised I spend the first week alone in a dark room, after which I would return to class, then return to homework
and assignments, and finally return to physical activity once I was back to normal. I had prepared questions for the doctor, but I couldn’t recall them during the appointment. After my appointment, the receptionist showed me how to submit medical forms to my academic department, booked my follow-up appointments, and explained what I should do if I started feeling worse. I just stared at her. I should have paid attention. That information was important. Why couldn’t I focus? I put my mobile dark room back on and headed home for my prescribed week of nothing. No activity, no screens, no books, no light, no sound. Nothing. The dark weeks The first few days, I slept all day and all night. The only way to prevent dizziness or debilitating headaches was sleep. But I quickly discovered that you can’t sleep forever. Sitting in the dark was boring, but any activity made my symptoms worse. After a few days of complete darkness, I couldn’t take it. I attempted colouring, puzzles, and card games. Everything made my head feel worse, but I didn’t care. At least I was doing something. After a week in the dark room, I didn’t feel much better. I told my doctor sound bothered me the most. Even distant creaks sounded like loud crashes. Since my other symptoms hadn’t improved, he advised me to stay in the dark room for another week, except this week I was to wear earplugs all the time until my headaches went away. This was the worst week of my recovery. As it happened, all of my roommates went back to their homes for reading week, and I was alone in our apartment. Alone in the dark with my earplugs. I couldn’t hear my footsteps, but the sound of my breaths echoed in my head. I was in a dark, isolating bubble. My thoughts interrupted everything, and I constantly questioned any decision I made. What if you slip in the shower? What if you trip on the stairs? Second-impact syndrome can kill you, you know. I spent my time wondering what normal used to feel like. I couldn’t remember. The doctor said I should feel better after a week, but I didn’t. Would I ever feel normal? Would I ever escape the dark room? Toward the end of my second week in the dark room, my symptoms were less severe and I began to worry about school. I had already missed two weeks of class, and it was halfway through November. I began occasionally using my computer to email my professors and get notes from my friends.
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All of my professors were accommodating. ‘Take as much time as you need’ and ‘just let me know when you can have it finished’ were common responses I received. I appreciated their support, but I despised these messages. I didn’t know how much time I needed, I couldn’t predict when was a good time for me, and I had no idea when I could have everything finished. I begged my doctor for these answers. “The only thing consistent about concussions is inconsistency,” he told me. How was this supposed to help me complete my assignments? When I wasn’t worrying about school, I was crying. I cried constantly. During the first two weeks of my concussion, I cried in my dark room because I was lonely. I sobbed when someone came to visit me because I was excited. I wept on the phone with my parents because I missed them. I sniffled every time I thought about school because I was anxious about unfinished work. And I wailed because I feared I would be stuck in the dark room forever. My emotions were out of my control. I needed to get out of the dark room. After two full weeks, I couldn’t be alone with my thoughts anymore. I didn’t keep a journal because writing made me dizzy, I wasn’t allowed to go for walks, and I could only look at screens for a few minutes at a time. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. Recovering, catching up At week three, I returned to class. Unsure what to expect, I sat near the back and brought my earplugs just in case. I tried to listen, but I could only focus for a few minutes at a time. I couldn’t look at the slides or take notes. All the activity made my head pound. Gradually, my headaches became less severe and the dizziness wore off. I started to believe I would recover, that I wouldn’t be stuck this way forever. My biggest stressor was no longer my body; it was my schoolwork. Since I wasn’t experiencing constant headaches anymore, I was eager to get back to work. Four weeks into my recovery, the exam period was a week away and I was a month behind. Luckily, none of my classes had exams. My professors worked with me to set new deadlines for assignments and re-weigh my grades so I didn’t need to take on too much work. Despite my workload being reduced as much as possible, I didn’t know where to start. Upon resuming my schoolwork, I wondered how I would finish everything on time. Part of me just wanted to rush through my assignments and finish as close to the end of the semester as possible. I also questioned if
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my work would be good enough. My grades were high until my concussion, and I had been looking forward to maintaining them before my injury. I questioned my ability to produce quality work when I was out of practice — I hadn’t read or written for almost a month — and I was nervous that I wouldn’t give myself enough time. Once I began working, I negotiated a middle ground where I completed my work quickly but at a comfortable level. I devoted all of my time to school — classes had finished, and my semester would end when I handed in all my assignments — because I was determined not to waste any time. Relapse Then it came back. I couldn’t work on my laptop without getting dizzy, forcing me to take frequent breaks. Headaches interrupted my concentration, making me reread everything several times. I constantly felt overwhelmed and found myself in tears almost daily. But I couldn’t stop. I had already decided I would finish by December 21, the last day of the exam period, and I still had work to do. I pretended nothing was wrong until every assignment was finished. By the time I pressed submit on my last assignment of the semester, I’d forgotten about my grades — I was just glad to be done. I needed a break. During the holiday, I went home to my parents’ house and spent most days back in the dark room. After a week, the symptoms that had abruptly returned slowly began to fade away. I called the doctor and set an appointment for final clearance the first week of January, six weeks later than the original estimate. “Are you scared? Do you worry about hurting yourself again?” people asked me. I always answered no, but that wasn’t always true. Since my concussion, I walked a little slower, held railings a little tighter, and paid closer attention to my balance. I looked forward to the day I could be sure I was safe. The truth was, the fear didn’t vanish the moment the doctor said I was okay. Even after I was cleared, if I got a headache, I worried it was my concussion coming back. It took time for me to finally feel like myself again. Though I’m glad to be free from the dark room, I carry the lessons from my concussion recovery with me. I’ve learned not to wait too long to ask for help, that sometimes there is no other option besides being patient, and that no matter what, I have to listen to my body. I’ve finally stepped out of the dark room and back into the light.
Illustration by Iris Deng Winter 2018 —— 61
My tattoos, my stories Why I decided to get tattoos, what they mean to me, and why I want more
Article by Aidan Currie Photos by Elham Numan
attoos have always interested me. Growing up, I was fascinated by the colours and designs that covered peoples’ bodies. I began to see myself in each person I saw with tattoos, be it on television or in pictures, as I dreamed that one day I would have my own to show off. The image I had of myself, the version I wanted to present to the world, was brooding and quiet — a mysterious guy in the corner who was dangerous yet attractive. Admittedly, the first time I saw a tattoo in person, I thought it was stupid. My friend’s older brother had a ‘1-Up’ symbol from the Super Mario Bros. games on his forearm. But now, years later, I’ve come to realize that I probably shouldn’t judge him for it. I contemplated getting tattoos for at least five years before finally deciding to get one on my left forearm and one on my right tricep at the same time shortly after turning 18. Looking back three years later, I didn’t quite achieve the aesthetic I was going for. I have the tattoos, but at age 21, I’m only brooding and quiet 10 per cent of the time. I’m generally loud, smiley, and downright flamboyant. Not exactly the way I thought I would end up, but my tattoos have become a part of my story and literally part of who I am physically.
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“Make it mean something” The first time I told my mother I wanted tattoos, she laughed and told me I could go to the tattoo parlour when I no longer lived under her roof. “Fair,” I recall my 13-year-old self saying. This became our routine: me asking if I could get tattoos, and her giving the same response. My parents separated when I was 14; my father and I didn’t get along. When they separated, I decided it would be a great idea to exploit this strained relation-
ship and try to manipulate my mother into letting me get a tattoo. I told her that my father, who wasn’t around, would let me get a tattoo and pay for it. “Go for it,” she replied, toying with me because she knew there was no way I’d do anything with my father. She was right. I dropped the subject for a couple of years. Close to my 18th birthday, I asked my mum again, expecting the same answer I had received years prior. “Make it mean something,” she said.
As I had grown older, I guess she figured I had enough life experience to choose something that I’d want to look at 50 years down the road. I thought long and hard about what I wanted and decided on two symbols that I felt were representative of me. Sitting in a parlour, trying not to scream I was standing outside of a tattoo parlour in my hometown, just steps away from where I’d taken swimming lessons as a kid. I felt this was my coming-of-age moment, and I was unable to resist the urge to juxtapose kid-me to adult-me. I headed into the parlour with my designs in hand and met with Phil, the artist who did my tattoos. We talked about the designs and what they meant to me, and he stenciled them onto my skin. He had to redo the one on my right tricep, a symbol called an awen, which means ‘poetic inspiration,’ because he had stenciled it upside-down thinking it was supposed to represent an explosion. That would’ve been cool, but I’m still glad I caught it in the mirror before we got started. The tattoo on my left forearm is an Aquarius symbol, two zig-zagging lines meant to symbolize waves. I expected pain. I expected to be incredibly uncomfortable, but when Phil started on my first tattoo, it wasn’t that bad. I got cocky thinking everybody who had ever
complained about getting a tattoo was a baby and that I was impervious to pain. Boy, was I wrong. As he moved to the inner part of my arm, a jolt of pain seemed to run through my entire body and left me seeing stars — I thought I was going to pass out. I got nauseous and had to take a break. Everyone was telling jokes to keep me laughing. Three hours later, I was finally a tattooed man. I felt on top of the world. Sitting in the chair was awful, but afterward was indescribable. There was something about being prodded with a series of tiny needles thousands of times that left me invigorated. I could have climbed a mountain if it weren’t for the bruising on my arms leaving me essentially helpless. I’ve never had a high like that since, so I understand why people might get addicted to tattoos. I went home and showed my mother the new additions to my body once I was allowed to take my bandages off. Tattoos had become our inside joke, and my mother, not one to get emotional, simply told me that I had better not regret either of them. I don’t. Body positivity Ask any of my older relatives and they will tell you that tattoos are for sailors and criminals. It took a long time to convince my mother that having tattoos wouldn’t
affect my family’s perception of me. I wasn’t allowed to wear short-sleeved shirts around my grandparents for about a year for fear of judgement. My tattoos are an outward expression of who I am. I felt awkward having to hide them — a part of myself that I not only wanted to share with the world in action but display on my body for all to see. As a teen, I wasn’t especially confident in myself; I was anxious, lonely by choice, and I allowed my insecurities to control my life. Looking back, my tattoos were my way of reclaiming myself, making my body my own, and showing off. I’m not ashamed of my tattoos, and neither is my family. It’s a bit of a joke now — they often poke fun at my Aquarius tattoo, because to them it was obvious that I would have gotten such a ‘basic’ tattoo and that I embody all the personality traits of an Aquarius, whatever that means, but that’s okay, I love them anyways. Maybe someday I’ll convince my mother to get a tattoo with me. Maybe. Every time I experience something meaningful, I want to honour it by putting it on my body. Some of my tattoo ideas are basic, like getting a diamond on my chest. Some are downright stupid, like getting a pizza slice on my forearm. No matter what they are, though, I want my tattoos to say: ‘I am who I am, and that’s pretty cool.’
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Buy less, experience more Minimalist living in the age of accumulation Article by Grace Manalili Photo by Steven Lee
bjects have an odd way of attracting our attention. They hold a lot of promise: they’ll make our lives easier, happier, or even give us the social status we want. Maybe that’s why consumerism is so pervasive and powerful, making it the current driver of most international economies. Consumerism promises infinite economic growth, if only we produce more and buy more. However, an infinite growth rate does not complement a finite world, and soon enough, we will be drowning in landfills from the accumulation of discarded items that a materialistic society has deemed obsolete. Additionally, encouraging consumerism has resulted in a highly individualistic and unhealthy craving of goods, leading to a multitude of personal and societal issues ranging from depression to crime. Why is it so difficult to shift from a consumerist mindset to one that does not emphasize material possession? Perhaps it’s because buying into the newest gadgets or the latest fashion trends is far removed from the longterm effects of excessive consumption. But what if we can cognitively reframe ‘buying products’ from its promises of happiness and wealth into something that disrupts the flow of our lives? What if we can see the immediate benefits of not buying products today? This is what minimalism prom-
64 —— The Varsity Magazine
ises. I discovered minimalism last year through a number of YouTube videos during one of my procrastination-induced decluttering sprees. I quickly learned that minimalism is a lifestyle based on living with less. It doesn’t mean that we have to leave our comfortable home and go into the wild with 10 possessions. Rather, to live minimally is to realize that more doesn’t always equal happiness. As someone who has spent most of her life as a materialist, it was quite the shift of perspective. It was certainly hard to adopt a minimalist mindset in the beginning; unsurprisingly, some scientific research has shown that shopping is associated with release of dopamine in the brain. Shopping feels good physiologically. The challenge is to decrease our susceptibility to that. I did a lot of research about what happens when we buy too many products, about our limited resources, about consumerism, about the life of products when they are no longer wanted, and about the consequences of cheap labour. The trick was to understand that buying a product has its own set of consequences. Then I focused on how a decluttered space made me feel good, because of the clarity it gave my mind. After all, a clear space is a clear mind. I began to think of how much money I would save, and once I disrupted the automatic connection that I made between material possessions and happiness, I was able to really make the
change for myself. A life-changing book about decluttering space, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, shows the benefits of decluttering your space, tricks to getting started, and how to maintain this space. Within its pages, a common trend emerges: keep what sparks joy. To be alright with a life of having less, we must accept that many things we possess do not necessarily serve a purpose in our lives other than collecting dust and tightening our budgets. I let Kondo’s words influence my purchases, and I’ve become more mindful of what I bring into my space. I often ask myself two questions: ‘do I really need this?’ and ‘will owning this bring me happiness?’ The more I adopted a minimalist mindset, the less I fell into the trap of excessive consumption. I made sure that my possessions are investments that will last. I also began to think about the consequences of my purchases. What sort of businesses am I supporting when I buy this product? Was the product produced ethically? My relationship with ‘things’ has also changed. I no longer feel compelled to own the latest trends, especially when the ones I own are still perfectly functional. Once I freed myself from the constant cycle of wanting more, I began to feel more grateful about what I currently have — and that was enough to make me happy. Fully
investing in my priorities instead of unnecessary objects significantly reduced my anxiety. Living minimally has allowed me to open up my physical and mental space to more possibilities. It opened up my budget to investing in my experiences and skills. I was able to allocate time and funds toward vocal, dance, and photography lessons and equipment, all of which are activities that foster my creativity and make me happy and fulfilled. My new budget has also allowed me to treat myself to quality food and drinks, thereby increasing my knowl-
edge of the best restaurants, cafés, and bars in Toronto. I think that it is so important to go out there and explore everything that the city offers. My relationships with people also changed. Since minimalism allowed me to see my priorities much more clearly, I started to truly see how much the people in my life matter to me. I began to appreciate their time, and I felt more grateful when they chose to spend their time with me. Everyone is busy, and everyone is handling their own difficulties, but it means the world when a friend drops everything to make sure you’re okay. In a mate-
rialist world, we show our affections for our loved ones through gifts and trinkets, but reserving time for them in our busy lives is often the greatest gift we can give. I think physical material distracts us from our lives. They have the ability to alter our priorities and make us forget the other aspects of our lives that can give us much more value. Once we limit ourselves from craving more, we can start having the freedom to experience life as it should be experienced: simply.
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