The McGill Daily Leaving McGill to work in the private sector since 1911 Mon, 02 May 2016 15:56:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 McGill feeds a cycle of sexual violence Wed, 20 Apr 2016 19:32:13 +0000 Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault and self-harm.

I have spent the last two years in a fight, struggling to accept that I have been sexually assaulted by another student, and that I am worthy despite what has happened to me. The first year, the fight was with myself, and I won; the second year, it was with McGill, and I lost miserably. It has become abundantly clear to me that, following the shameful example set by the Canadian justice system, McGill breeds predators, lacks adequate mechanisms to support its students, and refuses to put any in place. And in the past year, I have watched myself fall through its cracks.

In the first few months after the assault, I was in denial. I couldn’t even tell my therapist what had happened to me – she still doesn’t know. I spent most of my days sleeping, drinking, and smoking. I dodged my family. I regularly watched entire seasons of shows on Netflix in mere days. I had unpleasant sex with random people as I desperately attempted to regain control over my body. I took handfuls of Advil just to feel numb. I gained weight. I couldn’t concentrate for long enough to read a single page of a course reading in one sitting. I was weeks behind in my classes, and ended up withdrawing an entire semester worth of credits. I was toxic to my friends, and I wondered if killing myself would make them feel the pain that I was living with every day.

Some days I remember something new: a colour, another object in his room, another word that was exchanged. Some days I wonder if it was all a bad dream.

It’s been almost two years. I still have to leave my classrooms whenever sexual assault is brought up without warning, and I regularly puke after seeing rape scenes in movies. Some days my anti-depressants don’t drug me enough to be able to walk across campus without panicking at the sight of every white man I see. I avoid certain buildings on campus that he frequents. I still cannot verbalize how it happened, though I still see it projected on the ceiling over my bed at night. Those are the most vivid memories I have of anything I’ve ever been through. Some days I remember something new: a colour, another object in his room, another word that was exchanged. Some days I wonder if it was all a bad dream.

No, I won’t tell you “what happened,” because it shouldn’t matter. Because your next question shouldn’t be about how I acted, or what I wore. Because you shouldn’t be evaluating the morality of his act of rape based on what I did before or after it happened, because you should trust women – and science – when we speak of the nature of memory, abuse, self-hatred, and trauma.

But since I’m going to be accused of lying no matter what, I will tell you this: let’s assume I have made this all up, for attention, for “revenge,” or any of those goals that women are supposedly so desperate to achieve that they resort to publicly lying about rape. McGill had no way of knowing that my story was false. They treated me the way they would treat a “perfect victim” that is raped at gunpoint in a dark alley wearing a skirt and shrieking in resistance. Now, may I continue?


In the first week of the Fall 2015 semester, following the instructions I received from an administrator, I went to see a disciplinary officer (DO) to file a cease-and-desist order against my assailant. Let’s call him C. This order would not get C expelled, since sexually assaulting another human being is not reason for expulsion at this institution – though plagiarism is – or have any effect on him after he graduated. It would only prevent him from contacting me, and to me, that was enough. I was afraid of running into him, being harassed, receiving booty calls or replies to my comments on public McGill-related Facebook groups or pages. But, really, I shouldn’t have to justify why I want the reassurance of not having to hear a word from the person that sexually assaulted me for as long as he is a McGill student.

The first thing that I asked the DO was whether C had graduated. She told me that this information could not be disclosed, not even if I filed a sexual assault case against him. It seemed as if my safety on campus, for which McGill is responsible, mattered less than a rapist’s confidentiality. I hastily messaged a friend that knew him. He was still on campus.

It seemed as if my safety on campus, for which McGill is responsible, mattered less than a rapist’s confidentiality.

“What happened?” The DO asked as she sat back and crossed her arms, not mirroring my body language at all – which is what you would do if you’ve been trained in active listening – but actually asserting her power. If only what happened was that easy to remember and retell. As I collected myself and shifted my focus to the grimmest day of my life, I requested a more specific question.

Did it happen on McGill property? No.

Did it happen at a McGill event? No.

Apologizing, she stated that since the incident hadn’t taken place in a “McGill context” (meaning on McGill property or at a McGill-related event), there was not much that McGill could do. This policy is bizarre, unrealistic, and inapplicable to our university, where the majority of students do not live in a “McGill context.” Next time I’m getting sexually assaulted, I should have said, I’ll make sure to pause so we can move it to Rez or a couch in a student lounge – if that’s what it takes to have McGill acknowledge my pain and address my needs. How convenient for McGill to only take responsibility for students’ conduct toward each other when it occurs on its own property, and ignore the impact of students’ off-campus interactions on their academic performance and safety on campus.

The DO went on to justify this policy by comparing my mental and bodily integrity to an inanimate object: if I had my backpack stolen by a McGill student off campus, I was informed, the hands of the administration would be tied. I am a person, not a backpack, I should have said, and I would be happy to give her my backpack – tens of backpacks, actually – just to undo what happened to me. But instead I bit my tongue. I bit my tongue enough times at that meeting that it bled.

A cease-and-desist order against C could only be imposed until a tribunal, after which point it would expire, she told me. I would lose the tribunal for not having been sexually assaulted in a “McGill context,” I was informed, and I surely wouldn’t want to give C the pleasure of knowing that McGill couldn’t do anything for me? I was having a head rush. I said, I don’t know, I guess. My bodily integrity had been taken away from me; now, with her suggested advice, it seemed that so had my ability to make my own decisions about how to respond to this situation.

I bit my tongue enough times at that meeting that it bled.

The DO asked me if there was a reason I didn’t file a police report. Yes, I should have said, because of people like you. But I was speechless at the DO’s ignorance of the reality of the criminal (in)justice system’s treatment of survivors. She told me that there is a staff member in Security Services that could tell me honestly and confidentially if my case could have any legal weight. Except that I already knew it didn’t.

She asked me why I had waited an entire year to file a report, as if the passing of time delegitimized my experience. She asked if any recent interaction with C had triggered me. I was already on trial. Sorry, I should have said, next time I get raped I’ll make sure the first thing I do immediately after is to run to your office. She didn’t seem to know that you have to take time to heal to even be able to utter the word “sexual assault” while talking about yourself.

She asked if I had a fear of C harming me. She generously clarified, “And by harm I don’t mean if he’s going to rape you again.” When I heard the word “rape,” which I had not used at that meeting nor verbally in any other context to describe my experience, I started scratching my thighs over and over, until I could feel the dead skin gathering underneath my nails. I don’t think so, I said, thinking back to the last time I had a nightmare of that incident.

Then she asked me if C had contacted me lately at all, and when I said no, she asked me why I was there. I didn’t know why I was there anymore either. I said, “You realize that he is still out there, doing the same things.”

She replied, “Even if we kick him out, he may not be raping McGill women anymore, he’s still going to rape Montreal women.” Let me paraphrase: rape is tolerated in this institution because rape is everywhere.

She asked me, in a pitying voice, if I was seeking support. I was frustrated. I was there for concrete action, and I certainly hadn’t taken an entire year to process trauma only to go to a DO for mental health advice. Workshops on anti-oppression, active listening, consent, and allyship happen all over campus all year round, and I could tell that the DO had probably not attended a single one of those. Was she required to undergo such training before being trusted to meet with survivors of sexual violence?

“Even if we kick him out, he may not be raping McGill women anymore, he’s still going to rape Montreal women.”

I couldn’t get the phrase “rape you again” out of my head. I apologized and left the DO’s office in tears. I was ready to let go of the cease-and-desist order before I found out that I was in the same math class as C. There was another section available that I could switch into, but anyone who has ever taken a math class at McGill knows that it is common for students to attend other sections of a class or go to the office hours of the other sections’ professors and teaching assistants. Plus, I hadn’t done anything wrong, why did I have to be the person switching sections? Switching would have been an acceptance of C’s continued domination over my body. I couldn’t let him win. Trauma had turned my life into a competition. I wish I had switched, if only to spare myself from the suffering that was to follow.

For two weeks, I cried myself to sleep the nights before my math class and got over my anxiety by burning my ankles with cigarettes in the morning, only to spend the entire lecture scanning the room for C. I panicked every time someone entered the classroom. After class, I ran out of the room quickly and took stairs connected to other buildings to lower the chance of potentially running into him. I was afraid to stay after class for a clarification, of going to office hours, of walking into class late lest I’d have to be the centre of attention. This wasn’t sustainable.

In mid-September, I went to see a member of the senior administration. He had forwarded my email about a request for a meeting, which included a note about my sexual assault, to his secretary without my consent. The DO, I learned, had actually given me false information about what McGill could do for me. The administrator told me that he would meet with C and ask him to switch sections.

Despite sending him a reminder email two weeks later, he never contacted me about his meeting with C and the situation with my class. I shouldn’t have to justify why I didn’t send him more than one reminder to do his job, but I will. I had come to fear this email so much that I rarely even checked my McGill email anymore, afraid of being blamed, shamed, or accused of lying. This had dragged on for so long that the semester was about to end. If no meeting with C had taken place yet, there was little point in arranging one now. But also, in mid-November, C disappeared from the class list of both sections of my course. Had he withdrawn from the course? Had the administration removed him from the class list to fool me? Had he left McGill?

For two weeks, I cried myself to sleep the nights before my math class and got over my anxiety by burning my ankles with cigarettes in the morning, only to spend the entire lecture scanning the room for C.

I didn’t go to class all semester, nor did I go to office hours or tutorials. I missed my midterm to write the make-up exam just to lessen the chances of being in the same room as C. I wrote my final exam in a state of panic expecting to see C at any minute. And I failed the course. My professor, although sympathetic, told me that he couldn’t raise my grade to a passing one since apparently being too afraid to go to class is a “matter unrelated to the course.” I wasn’t looking for an unearned raise, but perhaps another chance, some special considerations short of having to write a supplementary exam in May after my other finals.

In January, an advisor implied in an email to me that, since I had failed my math course, I was academically incompetent to take computer science courses. I told her all I needed was safety in my classes, and that if the administration had done their job right, I would have, too. She never replied. How many other stories of sexual assault are heard by the administration in this school and swept under the rug?

I didn’t have the mental or emotional stamina to pursue this any further. My friend contacted the Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) on my behalf and corresponded with them throughout the semester as their volunteers met with the administration. While the administration was often incredibly unresponsive, I also took too long to decide how to proceed at different stages. I wanted to bury this story and never look back, not to remind myself of it over and over as I navigated the many ambiguities of McGill’s administrative channels. But I had to. I already had five “withdrawal” grades from the earlier semester on my transcript, and I didn’t want to jeopardize my future further by having a low GPA as well.

It was already spring break by the time the administration offered to negotiate accommodations with my SACOMSS representatives, but I couldn’t make a meaningful decision without knowing what information about me had been exchanged between the administration and C. The semester was going to be over in a few weeks. I was confused, lost, and tired.

How many other stories of sexual assault are heard by the administration in this school and swept under the rug?

Earlier in the semester, the administration promised to take care of having the F on my transcript E-flagged – meaning, even though it would still be on my transcript, the F would not affect my GPA. Later, they told me that it was my obligation to contact an advisor about my request and, aware of my experience but insensitive to it, suggested that I contact the same DO that I’d talked to earlier. I knew that if it was left to me, I would never be able to recount and relive my rape once more for another stranger, so my friend wrote the text of the email for me. Since I don’t have an assigned advisor, I sent this email to a general email address that could be read by any Arts advisors and god knows whoever else.

Despite a vague email an administrator sent me immediately after I called him out publicly on a Facebook event, I still have not been updated with meaningful details about my case. I don’t know if there is a cease-and-desist order against C in place and I don’t know when he graduates. After eight months of requests and reminders for accommodation and information, not only have I lost all trust in this administration, I would also not believe them if they communicated with me now.


In the U.S., Title IX, a portion of a law that forbids gender-based discrimination in federally funded educational institutions, often comes in handy when students protest their university’s disgraceful treatment of survivors on campus. In Canada, we don’t even have that. Here, universities are not even required to make statistical information about campus crimes public, a disclosure mandated in the U.S. by the Clery Act. In Canadian universities, the fate of survivors is entirely at the mercy of whoever happens to hold relevant positions in the administration, and the corporatization of our universities has stripped administrations of the decency required to treat their students as more than a mere revenue source.

Sexual assault is an unfortunate rite of passage for many young women. Rape happens here more often than we think, committed against people we know, by people we trust. Yet, McGill has no official policy on sexual assault. Just this month, administrators explicitly refused to bring the Sexual Assault Policy drafted by student activists to Senate due to its emphasis on being intersectional and pro-survivor. Without this policy, I cannot in good conscience encourage anyone to report their sexual assault and to put themselves through McGill’s maze of outdated and inefficient policies and insensitive and untrained administrators that offer nothing but cheap words, empty promises, and conflicting information.

If I hadn’t reported, I would have still suffered, but I would have at least suffered without feeling disposable to, and dehumanized by, my university. I have been stripped of my self-worth once by C, and once more by McGill. Reporting didn’t make me feel safer, but more vulnerable. Reporting didn’t benefit me at all, and, because I did report, there are now people on this campus who see me as the “liar” who “changed her mind” after sex, as the girl who “cried rape.”

If I hadn’t reported, I would have still suffered, but I would have at least suffered without feeling disposable to, and dehumanized by, my university.

I wonder to this day, McGill, what other terrible thing needed to have happened to my body in order for it to be worthy of your attention? To be bruised and covered in blood? To get pregnant? To get raped in front of the administration – how’s that for a “McGill context?” Go on, McGill, go on and protect rapists that roam freely on this campus looking for fresh meat. I won’t be chasing a justice that is impossible within the current system anymore. You’ve worn me out. Go on, McGill, and cover up your complicity in sexual violence by adding to a trauma that will take me years, if not a lifetime, to heal from.

SSMU Board of Directors referendum endorsement Sat, 16 Apr 2016 02:30:31 +0000 The final Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) referendum period of the 2015-16 academic year will be held from April 15 to 22. The questions concern the proposed restructuring of the SSMU Board of Directors, as well as the ratification of directors who will hold office until the Fall 2016 General Assembly.

Moreover, because the previous referendum regarding mandatory fees charged by the University failed to make quorum, those questions will be asked again. Read our endorsements for those questions here.

Restructuring of the SSMU Board of Directors – YES

The Board of Directors, which oversees SSMU’s legal and financial affairs, is currently composed of 15 executives and councillors. The proposed restructuring would reduce the size of the Board to 12 directors, four of whom would be members at large. Further, because legal constraints prevent international students from sitting on the Board as full members, the proposed changes would create an an advisory seat reserved for an international student. Finally, whereas the Board currently has to ratify all decisions of the SSMU Legislative Council, the restructuring would give Council autonomy in decisions that do not concern legal and financial matters.

The Daily endorses a “yes” vote on these changes, which will make the management of the SSMU’s affairs both more efficient and more democratic.

—The McGill Daily editorial board

Administrators withdraw support from Sexual Assault Policy draft Thu, 14 Apr 2016 13:56:38 +0000 On April 7, the Sexual Assault Policy Working Group published an open letter to condemn the McGill administration’s refusal to support the final draft of the Sexual Assault Policy (SAP), which has been in development since 2013. On March 22, Dean of Students André Costopoulos and Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures and Equity) Angela Campbell informed the working group that they would not be bringing the policy to Senate for approval. Without their support, it would be nearly impossible to have Senate adopt the policy.

The open letter has over 1,300 signatures at the time of this article’s publication. The letter reads, “The administration’s refusal sends a clear message that McGill does not support survivors of sexual assault and is unwilling to commit the resources required to adequately support survivors and address sexual violence on campus.”

The demands of the working group include hiring additional staff dedicated to sexual assault prevention and response, a transparent and collaborative review process for determining the best sets of policies for supporting survivors, and forming an ad-hoc Senate committee with student-staff parity to pass “a pro-survivor, proactive, accessible, and intersectional sexual assault policy” before the end of 2016.

“For him to turn around and say he does not support it in this iteration was surprising, and incredibly disappointing.”

Cecilia MacArthur, a member of the working group, told The Daily that she was frustrated that the administration has used their labour to bolster their own image in the past two years.

“There were definitely benefits for them in purporting to support the policy all along; considering in any article written about sexual assault across Canada, McGill was always cited as ‘developing a policy,’ or something along those lines,” MacArthur wrote in an email to The Daily. “But the administration – namely [Costopoulos] – also made concrete commitments in the past […] so for him to turn around and say he does not support it in this iteration was surprising, and incredibly disappointing.”

According to the open letter, the administration has instead offered an “aspirational document,” a one-page outline of a policy prepared by Costopoulos, as a compromise. However, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke told The Daily that the document is “very watered down and nonspecific.” The alternative to the “aspirational policy” would be developing an entirely new policy through an ad-hoc committee of Senate.

Among the administration’s objections is the incorporation of intersectionality in the policy. Intersectionality, according to the SAP, “is an approach which recognizes that individuals may experience oppression differently due to their membership in different social and cultural groups.” In accordance with this recognition, SAP includes the right “to have access to resources that accommodate [one’s] particular experiences and identities” among the list of rights survivors should be provided.

In an email to The Daily, Campbell explained her objection to the current incorporation of intersectionality in the SAP.

“For her to say she tried to work on intersectionality with us is truly a mystery to me.”

Campbell said, “Incorporation [of intersectionality] into any policy or procedure must be done carefully and responsibly to ensure that the interests of all equity-seeking groups, especially those affected by intersectionality, are identified and foregrounded.”

“The University did not reject the integration of intersectionality within a policy addressing sexual assault, but in dialogue with the working group, indicated that more work and discussion are required to accomplish the goals set above,” Campbell continued.

While the administration has been in touch with media about the SAP open letter, according to Talia Gruber, another member of the working group, it has not reached out to the working group itself.

“The only meeting [Campbell] ever came to was this last one [on March 22]. We invited her to at least three other meetings which she did not attend,” Gruber told The Daily in an interview. “So for her to say she tried to work on intersectionality with us is truly a mystery to me. The only time she even brought it up was at the last meeting to justify not passing the policy.”

“We intentionally named people to ensure that they are adequately represented in the policy and in all measures within it.”

At the March 22 meeting, Campbell objected to naming historically marginalized groups in the SAP. Gruber told the Daily that the inclusion of these terms is important for the working group.

“We intentionally named people to ensure that they are adequately represented in the policy and in all measures within it,” Gruber said.

Campbell has also objected to including a definition of consent in the policy that could potentially conflict with the legal definition of consent. However, according to the working group, McGill Legal Services has already approved this use and other universities have included a definition of consent in their policies.

Gruber mentioned to The Daily that the working group was willing to let go of its request for the addition of another staff member for responding to sexual violence on campus.

“All the things admin are saying they can’t have in the policy are all things that the working group openly agreed to take out or change. The problem isn’t those things – it’s just an unwillingness to fight for a policy created ‘untraditionally,’ i.e. not through Senate,” Gruber said. “The only things we really didn’t agree to change were the intersectionality bits and the pro-survivor [clauses].”

Students can opt out of SSMU Fri, 08 Apr 2016 21:57:47 +0000 Recently, McGill has been rocked by controversy after controversy. From the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to electing a new student body president, it seems that nothing can get done without large swaths of people priming themselves for war and charging head first for the causes they truly believe in. While there is usually nothing wrong with that – debating and discussing important issues is the hallmark of any vibrant community – some argue that things have gone too far.

The truth is that a sizable minority, perhaps even a majority, of people are dissatisfied with SSMU. Some people think that SSMU is being held hostage by political activists. A different group of people claim that SSMU has not done enough to foster safe debate on campus and create the safe spaces that have come to characterize many parts of McGill. Still, others want nothing to do with SSMU anymore, either since they see the organization as incompetent or since they want to focus on learning and not politics.

Whether or not any of these criticisms are valid is not for me to say. However, students around campus seem to be operating on the assumption that membership in SSMU is compulsory. That is false. Every student has the right to choose whether or not they wish to be members of SSMU. It is true that, by default, every undergraduate student is a member of the organization. But according to Article 26 of the Act Respecting the Accreditation and Financing of Students’ Associations, any student can notify SSMU in writing that they wish to no longer be represented by the association. And then, like magic, you would no longer be a member of SSMU.

This does not mean that cancelling your SSMU membership is a good idea. First off, you will still need to pay the SSMU fees, and you will not have a say in SSMU elections, referenda, et cetera. But if you feel strongly enough then cancelling your membership can send a strong message – either that you disagree with SSMU’s policies, the way SSMU operates, or that you doubt that the association is legitimately representing student interests. Regardless of your motives, you have the right to opt out of SSMU at any time.

—Robin Morgan, Law student

3D printing our education Fri, 08 Apr 2016 01:08:17 +0000 This February, the McGill Anatomy and Cell Biology Students’ Society (MACSSS) acquired an in-house 3D printer and scanner for the McGill’s Strathcona Anatomy and Dentistry building, thereby offering 3D printing services to supplement anatomy courses. This new technology promises numerous possibilities that could play an essential role in the human anatomy courses offered by the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

The Strathcona building has a large and diverse collection of cadaver sections on site in the human anatomy lab and museum, which are available to medical and anatomy students. The costs associated with maintaining cadavers, however, are high because the period of time for which they can be used for educational purposes is limited due to decomposition. Also, cadaver sections must be kept in formaldehyde solutions, handled with extreme care, and kept in a well-ventilated lab. Sections can be easily damaged in cadaver labs, hindering the discernibility of key anatomical features.

But now, having access to an in-house 3D printer and scanner will allow students and professors to scan pre-existing cadaver sections and produce replicas that are tougher, longer lasting, easier to use, and readily available for students to examine. Plus, 3D printing is a crucial step toward having a more sustainable campus with affordable, practical, and renewable teaching materials.

The 3D printing and scanning technology will be used exclusively by anatomy professors, students, and department members for educational uses. There is also discussion within MACSS about the possibility of selling brand new 3D printed sections to students to help cover the upkeep costs of the machinery and to allow students to obtain affordable replicas of sections studied in class and in the lab. An extensive library of section templates is currently available to print organs, muscles, bones, and other anatomical features.

The printer is part of an effort to implement 21st-century technology in the classroom, and to continue providing the hands on materials of courses, such as ANAT 214: Systemic Human Anatomy, which attract the most number of students. Geoffroy Noel, the Director of the Anatomical Sciences Division of the Centre for Medical Education at McGill, stated in an interview with The Daily that he “sees the addition of 3D printing services to be exactly what the department needed to improve student learning.”

 Maha Nagaria is the incoming VP Academic of MACSS for 2016-17.

SSMU: a love story Mon, 04 Apr 2016 18:25:52 +0000 We found each other,

we battled for SSMU.

I lost the election

but I didn’t lose you.

Year in Review: Scitech Mon, 04 Apr 2016 18:01:07 +0000 Technology and social justice

This year technology has taken new steps to redefinesocial justice. From JustHack’s effort to encourage a more inclusive environment for computer science hopefuls (“Coding for community, not corporations,” September 14, online) to the Centre for Gender Advocacy’s online map of places in Montreal where trans people have faced discrimination (“Mapping cissexism,” November 30, page 24). With the rise of social media, technology has become an increasingly important tool in social justice movements around the globe, like #STEM on twitter, drawing attention to marginalized voices in STEM (“#ILooklikeSTEM,” October 15, page 14). We still have many steps to take in fighting for social justice – and technology will play a pivotal part in that.

These movements have sought to create a diverse and inclusive environment for all science and technology lovers. As a society, we should seek to make the paths of science and technology as accessible as possible – events like JustHack, the research by Johns Hopkins University supporting individualized vaccines (“A movement towards individualized vaccines,” January 25, page 13), and creating apps combatting inaccessibility (“Using apps to combat inaccessibility,” September 1, page 14) are just the tip of an iceberg.

Science does not get a free pass from social justice efforts. The scientific community needs to look at how research can play into oppressive power structures. By working toward an anti-oppressive environment, we create opportunities for marginalized individualized to participate more in research and in changing the world.

Mental health and neuroscience

As this year’s Sci+Tech columnist Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez, put it, our minds are more than simply the sum of our parts. Her column about mental health kicked off a key discusion. Over the course of this past year, Sci+Tech writers have discussed many mental health disorders and aspects of neuroscience, ranging from seasonal affective disorder (“Grappling with the ‘winter blues,’” November 30, page 22) to schizophrenia (“Mysteries in diagnosis,” March 21, page 19). Mental health’s research is a broad-based discipline and area of study that requires knowledge from many different fields, such as psychology, anatomy, physiology, and psychiatry.

Due to the complexity of neuroscience and mental health research as a whole, many individuals may try to oversimplify complex diseases like ALS, often missing key pieces of information – but not to fear, Pérez Gay Juárez’s column has deconstructed the disease and illuminated a potential path to a cure (“A step forward in ALS research,” February 1, page 15).

With regard to mental health, an important theme to keep in mind (pun intended) is the fight against the “work now play later” approach that many of us may take, especially when faced with mountains of work. As Pérez Gay Juárez has explained, this may do more harm than good, as our brains need time to relax, and our memories need a good night’s sleep in order to consolidate. This balance is something we should all aim for to take care of ourselves and our mental health.

Discoveries in Science

This year has been a great one for scientific discoveries in fields ranging from aerospace to renewable energy. The scientific community has revealed some significant findings that may be the foundations of big things to come in the upcoming years. One of the most recent of these discoveries is Google’s Deep Mind AI which managed to beat a professional player in the board game Go (“Google’s AI triumphs in the world of Go,” February 22, page 15), spelling new promises for artificial intelligence development. Additionally, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX successfully landed its first pilotless rocket (“Dawn of a new space age,” January 18, page 15), potentially creating a future for cheap space travel and goods transportation. New research for Lou Gehrig’s disease (“A step forward in ALS research,” February 1, page 15) and Alzheimer’s (“Ten more years for Alzheimers,” January 11, page 15) show new hope for diagnosis and treatment. And newly discovered species are feeling the influence of pop culture – harvestmen have been named Smeagol from Lord of the Rings, and sea slugs named after Khaleesi from Game of Thrones (“Nomenclature normalities,” February 1, page 16).

These discoveries also show us just how much work is left to do. Despite all our advances, large parts of the natural world remain unknown to us. Hopefully, if this year is any indication, we are on our way to new answers, and even more questions, about our world and our place in it.

The rhetoric of the reactionary Mon, 04 Apr 2016 16:33:16 +0000 Whenever activists fighting for social and environmental justice try to get anything done at McGill, they are immediately faced with two obstacles: reactionarism and apathy. Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assemblies (GAs) are a perfect example: either they are sparsely attended and fail to make quorum, or reactionaries attend in full force to tell students that they shouldn’t be supporting a particular social justice issue.

Consider the SSMU Fall 2014 GA, where a motion calling for solidarity with Palestinian human rights was tabled indefinitely. The discussion was hijacked, and instead of discussing the merits of standing in solidarity with an oppressed people, students were forced to discuss the intricacies of Robert’s Rules of Order.

A common argument goes like this: students should not be discussing these issues, because the milieu in which they discuss them, the student union, ought not to be political. We are supposedly students first; we have our grades to worry about, assignments to finish, lectures to listen to, parties to attend et cetera. SSMU should not be discussing these “political” issues, because students have other “more important” things to do. In addition, even the proposition for SSMU to consider taking a political stance is deemed divisive and alienating, as political discussions apparently create unbearable tension within the student body. This kind of reactionary is the “politically neutral.”

When the SSMU Legislative Council passed a motion to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) occupation of the Toronto Police Service headquarters, SSMU VP Internal Omar El-Sharawy said that students want SSMU to be more “fun” and less “political.” Former SSMU presidential candidates Alexei Simakov and Jordan Sinder made “political neutrality” the centrepiece of their campaigns.

While political discussions that are brought up at SSMU are uncomfortable at times, this is not a bad thing. They highlight tensions and disagreements that already exist among students, and working through them is necessary for us to take meaningful steps forward.

The problem is that nothing is politically neutral: everything is inherently political. Though this may seem like a vague statement, the simple fact that injustice and oppression exist in the world means that neutrality, or the choice to not do anything, has the effect of tacitly supporting this status quo. This choice is, in itself, political. It is SSMU’s recognition of its role as a political agent that justifies the commitment to “leadership in matters of human rights, social justice, and environmental protection” set out in SSMU’s Constitution. And while political discussions that are brought up at SSMU are uncomfortable at times, this is not a bad thing. They highlight tensions and disagreements that already exist among students, and working through them is necessary for us to take meaningful steps forward.

Another kind of reactionary hides behind a feigned concern for effectiveness. They recognize that SSMU is, in practice, political, but they argue that SSMU does not have the ability to effect meaningful change, and so any actions and stances in support of social justice on its part are not worth the effort. They don’t see the point in standing in solidarity with the anti-austerity movement, for example, by going on strike. They fail to see that direct action, in the past, has forced the government to change its policy and listen to student demands – remember when Quebec tuitions were not hiked? When other students want the University to divest from the fossil fuel industry or from companies that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine, the reactionaries argue that these are symbolic actions that mean nothing, and that no matter what SSMU does, it will not be effective in bringing about the desired outcome. They forget, however, that McGill has successfully and meaningfully been a part of similar movements in the past, having divested from the tobacco industry and companies profiting from the South African apartheid.

As such, SSMU is said to be useless and a waste of money. Instead of providing their own alternatives, however, these reactionaries merely attempt to shut down progressive movements. Why would they provide their own alternatives anyway? To them, there is no problem with the status quo.

Turnout at these acts of direct democracy is usually rather low, but this does not mean that it is not representative of the political climate – if we are to assume that the silent majority at McGill simply does not care about what we do, then it cannot inform our decisions either way. As a side note, however, it would be nice if they cared.

Apathy is another threat to effecting change. It is difficult to get people engaged at McGill. This does not mean that students don’t care – but when it comes to active engagement, they disappear, often because of very valid reasons like school or work. However, student apathy often becomes a tool for reactionaries to push their claims: they dispute the legitimacy of the vocal minority – arguably a small group of very loud activists – in pursuing progressive goals on behalf of a majority that is okay with the status quo. But the reactionaries themselves can’t speak on this silent majority’s behalf, either as the fact that students don’t get involved does not mean that they oppose a progressive agenda. The results of student-run referenda and SSMU elections, our best indicators of the majority opinion, consistently show that many more students support progressive proposals. Admittedly, turnout at these acts of direct democracy is usually rather low, but this does not mean that it is not representative of the political climate – if we are to assume that the silent majority at McGill simply does not care about what we do, then it cannot inform our decisions either way. As a side note, however, it would be nice if they cared.

The rhetorical devices I have just described are not new. Indeed, when we look at McGill’s history, we see that this back-and-forth between reactionaries and those fighting for social and environmental justice changes rarely, and even the language used remains more or less the same. As they say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Over the past few years, there has been a growing polarization of political philosophy on campus. We have witnessed the growth of such groups as Students for Democratic University (S.D.U.); the Socialist Action Committee (S.A.C.); the McGill Student Movement; the Committee at McGill to End the War in Vietnam, etc. Each of these groups has sought to gain support for its own political view. We have also seen the Daily converted from the Campus-oriented journal edited by Jon Fenston in 1964, through the transitional issues of Patric MacFadden (who managed to weather several non-confidence motions) and Sandy Gage (who was not so fortunate), to the politically-oriented newspapers of Peter Allnutt and Mark Starowicz. 

—In December of 1968, the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) held a referendum to disaffiliate from the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). Ronald Segal, a “yes” campaigner, wrote an opinion piece focusing on political neutrality as a reason to secede. (“Should the engineers secede? YES.” December 3, 1968, page 6)

I recognize the importance of establishing a SSMU executive branch which maintains political neutrality. […] Our student government must represent and cater to the diversity of all political beliefs and ideologies, not a preferential few. I envision a SSMU which facilitates a means of political discussion and awareness. However, our student government must represent all political views, not retroactively impose their own beliefs on the student body.

–Following in the footsteps of former presidential candidate Alexei Simakov, Jordan Sinder ran on a platform of political neutralty. Sinder’s platform, compared with Simakov’s was definitely more toned down. (From SSMU presidential candidate Jordan Sinder’s campaign platform, 2016)

Discourse of neutrality and polarization

In 1968, an important discussion overtook the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS). Students argued that engineering students were not benefitting enough (or at all) from being members of SSMU. In addition, some argued that SSMU’s representative efforts were misguided – essentially, according to them, SSMU was too political. In the end, EUS decided to stay in SSMU, with 63 per cent of the votes.

Almost fifty years later, the debate on SSMU’s political nature is far from settled, and there remains a reactionary attitude to perceived politicization and radicalization of our student union. During this year’s referendum period, a motion to create a steering committee to block motions deemed to be “external and divisive” from being discussed at GAs was put forward. The question, criticized by its opponents (of which I was one of the most vocal) as stifling democracy, ultimately failed by a slim margin, with 52.6 per cent voting against it. A hesitancy, or even fear, of “polarizing” the student body marked the platforms of many candidates, especially presidential candidates, in this year’s executive elections.

The discourse of neutrality and polarization is meant to cloud people’s judgment. In actuality, the problem here is not that SSMU is taking too many political positions – it’s that the reactionary is not in favour of the topics being discussed. Back in 1968, one of the critiques brought up against SSMU was that it was in favour of making McGill a “critical university,” where that research would be conscious of its sociopolitical nature. This would imply responsible and ethical research. Avoiding this outcome is not political neutrality – it is a political choice. Similarly, the steering committee motion was brought up right after a contentious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion was discussed at the SSMU Winter 2016 GA. Not discussing “external and divisive” motions, however, does not erase polarization – it’s merely burying one’s head in the sand.

McGill’s level of participation was hardly noticeable in the rally and many saw the low McGill student turnout as a clear indication of an uncaring and inactive SSMU. “It’s always sad that SSMU never comes out to these thing,” said Rudy. “My question is, who does SSMU support? If they’re not out here today fighting against tuition hikes, then what are they doing?” he asked.

—In November of 1999, the students in Montreal were striking against government cuts to education. Notably, however, SSMU was missing from the ranks. (“Students Take Demands to the Streets,” November 4, 1999, News, page 8)

“That culture [of student unions as sites of political] is not present at McGill yet, and that’s the problem – people see the student union as being more for events and for clubs,” she said. “That’s what I think needs to be changed, it’s the culture and the political awareness that needs to be reformed.”

—Former SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barette attempted to mobilize SSMU to be more directly involved with the Spring 2015 anti-austerity movement. Much to her chagrin, it takes more than asking nicely to get students to believe in SSMU. (“Quebec students set to strike,” February 2, 2015, News, page 6)

Ineffectiveness and McGill exceptionalism and the McGill bubble

The critique that SSMU’s political stances are meaningless has a kernel of truth in it, though, as they often end up having little effect. However, this is not because SSMU is powerless to enact meaningful change, but rather because, when it comes to mobilization, SSMU often trails significantly behind its counterparts at other universities. It is clear that the solution is not, as the reactionaries would have it, to cease political activity, but rather to increase SSMU’s mobilization capabilities.

One of the reasons why SSMU is difficult to mobilize – despite being located in Quebec, a province with many vibrant student movements – is the widespread perception that McGill is fundamentally different from the rest of Quebec, with the campus enclosed, as it were, by a bubble. This explains the fact that most McGill students again stood idle while the rest of the province was up in arms against provincial austerity measures, as was the case during the Spring 2015 movement.

In fact, though, McGill is not as different as we’d like to think – if we put our mind to it, what works elsewhere will work here as well. When enough students mobilize, they get tangible results. In 2012, when the provincial Liberals tried to hike tuition fees, tens of thousands of students took to the streets, eventually leading to the ousting of that government. Even though McGill was not very active in that movement, it benefited from the actions of other Quebec students.

Whatever anyone says, McGill is in Montreal and is affected by its political climate. Saying that SSMU is ineffective, without attempting to make it any better serves a reactionary agenda. If other universities and other student unions can do it, so can we. Calling SSMU ineffective is not an argument against it – it’s an effort to keep it that way for political reasons.

Mike Clarke, finance director of the Students’ Society, insisted that the secessionists were premature in their wish to withdraw. He said if the Engineers were dissatisfied with the Students’ Society, they should first work for changes within it. If adequate change was impossible then the students might be justified in their desire for secession.

—Finance Director of SSMU Mike Clarke complains about EUS members who complain about how SSMU is useless, while never proposing any solutions themselves. (“EUS considers secession,” November 27, 1968, page 3)

Every time that the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) ends up on my Facebook feed, there seems to be another scandal or controversy concerning the elusive group that runs our student government and their ‘esoteric leftist liberal agenda.’ This just means that students on this campus are focusing on all the wrong issues. Students’ reactions seem to be stuck within the binary of ‘not caring’ and ‘complaining.’ With that sort of attitude, we can never make SSMU into the ally we need.

—Lauria Galbraith, who wrote this article, was The Daily’s SSMU beat in 2014-15. From her vantage point, it was clear that SSMU could be used as a tool, yet students need to be convinced first. (“End your apathy,” March 30, 2015, Commentary, page 22)

Discourse of uselessness, waste of money

Whether they acknowledge it or not, every student at McGill benefits from the services and advocacy provided by SSMU. Extended library hours, the operation of the Shatner building, Senate representation, reading week, student rights – none of these could exist if SSMU had no money to spend on services as well as advocacy efforts. This is the case for any student union. As such, it is just patently wrong to argue that paying the SSMU fee is a waste.

No service SSMU provides can come for free. Understandably, students are hesitant to increase their fees. This provides a useful talking point for the reactionary who would prefer that this money not be spent toward progressive goals. Hiding behind the argument that progressive groups (often funded via, but not by, student unions) are useless, however, is merely avoiding a discussion about the true political intents of the reactionary.

Any other entity on campus that has a mandate to fight for social and environmental justice also needs to be funded – the amount of labour that goes into these endeavours and the socials goods that they create make these groups worthwhile investments. Examples of such groups include CKUT, QPIRG-McGill, and everybody’s favourite campus newspaper (yours truly). According to the reactionary, funding these groups privileges their political stances above others and this privilege is unearned. But this is false. Money for these groups comes from student fees levied through referenda, and students have repeatedly voted in favour of these initiatives. If SSMU and other organizations are truly useless to most students, nothing can explain the fact that these can survive and have survived for decades now with students’ continued support.

Any group with sufficiently high levels of support can lobby both SSMU and the University to be funded by student fees. The McGill Chapter of the World University Service Canada (WUSC), for instance, collects a Student Refugee Fee in order to fund refugee students’ studies at McGill. It surely cannot be the fault of social justice groups that no opposing reactionary student group is funded through student fees.

With little fanfare or audience, Activism Day passed quietly in the Shatner building.

—Similar to the anti-austerity week that was held at the beginning of this academic year, SSMU tried to hold an Activism Day in 1999. Turnout left much to be desired. (“Talkin’ About a Revolution,” November 4, 1999, News, page 4)

Apathy and the silent majority

The reactionary often attempts to further bolster the legitimacy of their rhetorical efforts by speaking on behalf of the “silent majority.” This nebulous group of students is presented as sharing the reactionary’s opposition to progressive efforts – the fact that they don’t speak out is taken to mean that they support the status quo.

The truth of the matter, however, is that public political discourse necessarily exists only among the vocal minorities, to which, incidentally, reactionaries of this kind also belong. While a professed commitment to neutrality is, as discussed earlier, a political stance, we cannot say the same of silence. In fact, we can hardly assume anything about the opinions of this silent majority, nor can we speak on its behalf.

The only way to find out what the majority thinks is to consult it. And in fact, referendum results for questions about progressive groups and issues, which are frequently decided by close margins, show that the distribution of opinions is much less clear than the reactionary would lead us to believe.

The turnout rates at referenda and elections, however, seem to contradict this statement. A majority of the approximately 30 per cent of the entire student body is really a minority. Yet, this approximately 70 per cent that constitute the silent majority is so consistent that we can ignore its epistemic impossibility. If it is the case that this 70 per cent is truly apathetic, then their opinion actually does not matter. We cannot know what they think if they do not speak up. We cannot know if they are for or against progessive movements if they do not vote. As such, there is nothing wrong with focusing exclusively on that fraction of students who do.

The debates happen between the vocal minorities, but it is still the majority that holds decision-making power, and it does not need anyone to speak on its behalf.

Explaining that while he personally was not for or against the motion, VP Internal Omar El-Sharawy said that consultations with students and groups have shown that students want “SSMU to be more fun, and less political. […] It just seems that this semester we have become more political and I think this is something to consider.”

—SSMU VP Internal comments that SSMU ought be less political and more fun, as per the demands of the broader student body. (“SSMU stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Indigenous groups,” March 28, 2016, News, online)

However, the fight is far from over. “This year there’s been sort of a new group of students that have cropped up, we call ourselves McGill Against Austerity, Boytinck continued. “Organizing movements at McGill is a very slow and laborious process and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re still at baseline mobilization, but I do feel like it’s growing.”

—SSMU VP External Emily Boytinck was more fortunate than her predecessor in finding passionate students to mobilize against austerity. The process is arduous, but it’s progress. (“The butterfly effect,” November 23, 2015, Features, page 10)


The political nature of student life at McGill is a fact. As students, we are passionate about the things we study and the things we do. It is inevitable that we care about certain issues. Personally, I do not believe that there is such a thing as true apathy. That 30 per cent is the highest turnout we see at SSMU elections could be seen as a piece of evidence against my conviction.

On the other hand, looking through the archives of The Daily, I have seen that this battle between activists and reactionaries has been waged for decades now. For every progressive action, there has been a reaction. Obstacles were always in the way. I believe, however, that there is a reason why EUS stayed a part of SSMU; there is a reason why QPIRG-McGill is still around; there is a reason why political campaigns such as Divest McGill and Demilitarize McGill can pass motions at general assemblies that mandate SSMU to support them; and there is a reason why The Daily is still here.

The progress of the progressive movement is real. The recent increase in reactionary efforts is only proof of this. The stronger the action, the stronger the reaction. History shows, however, that in the end, it is the activists who win. Sure, there are some defeats here and there; however, the social and environmental justice movements cannot be stopped. This is not arrogance that fuels these words. This is radical optimism. I am radically hopeful that one day we will eradicate all injustices in the world.

Until that day however, the battle against the reactionary continues.

Confronting our culture of silence Mon, 04 Apr 2016 15:44:08 +0000 Trigger warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of rape and sexual assault.

“Cassandra among the Creeps” is the title Rebecca Solnit, writer and contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, gives her 2014 piece about silencing in cases of sexual violence. The title alludes to the Trojan princess Cassandra, to whom Apollo gave the power of prophecy in an attempt to seduce her. Upon her refusal of his advances, Apollo cursed her so that no one would believe her prophecies. The tale of Cassandra serves as an apt parallel to the reality that many sexual assault survivors face. Often, testaments of sexual assault are disregarded, citing the teller’s lack of credibility. This pattern exists within public purview and its repercussions echo throughout: on March 24, when Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking, the 90-minute verdict cited the complainants’ “inconsistencies” and “deception” as the basis for Ghomeshi’s acquittal.

An ongoing Toronto Star investigation has detailed allegations against Ghomeshi from 15 women, but only three came forward to the police. During the trial, which began on February 1, the three women testified to instances of Ghomeshi’s violence, which they claimed had come without warning or consent. One woman testified that Ghomeshi had yanked her hair forcefully and punched her in the head multiple times. Another stated that he had choked her, pushed her up against the wall, and slapped her three times. The third woman said that he had choked her. With Ontario Court Justice William Horkins claiming that “it is impossible for the Court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants,” it’s hard not to see reflections of Cassandra, the ‘liar.’

The Ghomeshi case is hardly an isolated incident. Its verdict speaks to a broader cultural pattern of not recognizing or respecting the testaments of those who have experienced sexual assault. When the voices of survivors are discredited, their experiences become erased. As advocates who work with sexual assault survivors have said, the trial could deter and discourage survivors from reporting. Lenore Lukasik-Foss, head of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, reports that responses to the unfolding of the case include comments like, “Wow, I’m so glad I didn’t report,” and, “I don’t know that I could ever report because of this. I don’t want to be treated like this.”

The aftermath of the trial has sparked public outcry and an outpouring of sympathy, as well as outrage at the failure of the criminal justice system to treat survivors fairly. The case resonated with women across Canada. Its ripples were felt on a national level, they were felt here at McGill – where a demonstration in support of survivors was held last Thursday – and I felt them in my own personal life. As this widespread rippling effect makes clear, the ramifications of our culture of silence extend beyond highly publicized cases. Upon reflection, I found that they were also echoed in both my friends’ and my own experiences.

Layers of silence

As it stands, sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in Canada, with only 5 per cent of survivors contacting police. From that already dismal pool of reported cases, sexual assault cases in Canada have a conviction rate of 45 per cent – the lowest for violent crime exempting attempted murder. Several lawyers who specialize in sex crimes state that fear and mistrust of the courts are major reasons why survivors don’t report their assault.

Legal proceedings are an inherently harrowing experience for survivors of sexual assault. Testifying means inviting an anonymous crowd to dissect and scrutinize intensely personal events. In that way, survivors are made to constantly re-live their assault when most would prefer to repress those memories. Their credibility is also questioned, and they place their experiences in the public eye with no guarantee of results. Understandably, survivors think twice about seeking legal justice.

In her essay, Solnit describes the multiple factors that push survivors to keep quiet as concentric circles of silence. The innermost circle consists of internal inhibitions, like shame, repression, self-doubt, and confusion. These inner conflicts make it difficult for a person to speak out. However, in the rare instance when someone does voice their experience, there still exists a surrounding circle of forces that attempt to silence them. For instance, family and friends may try to dissuade the person from speaking out in order to preserve a specific reputation. If this barrier is overcome and the story is voiced, the person still risks facing the final circle of silencing: the outermost ring in which both the testimony and the speaker are completely discredited by society at large.

These are the obstacles that survivors face when they choose to speak out. Doing so already requires immense courage and strength, and it’s reprehensible that survivors of sexual assault are subject to multilevel silencing forces. I feel outrage at this system, especially after witnessing first hand how the consequences have affected those close to me.

The mental haze and the aftermath

“It’s funny,” my friend Anna* begins, “how people aren’t aware of what they’re doing.”

She tells her story. “My sexual assault – everyone has their own story – but mine was that I hooked up with this guy who I had never met before. I didn’t want anything personal, so I was fine not knowing him. Anyway, we did it. After we finished, people immediately knocked on his door. I thought he was going to tell them to go, but instead he leaves and his friend comes in. I was so vulnerable – I was in bed, I didn’t have anything on me. I opened my eyes and he started to kiss me. I said, ‘Let’s not do that.’ We struggled and circled around the room for about 15 minutes. He would touch my body. I said, ‘No, don’t.’ I made it clear that I didn’t want him to touch me. He left the room and a different guy came in. I was scared. This time, I had nothing in me to fight back. All right, okay. He puts on a condom and rapes me.

I didn’t think things could happen to me like that. It was almost like you’re watching a movie. You’re in the middle of everything, but you’re not in control of it. You’re just not given the right to any action. You feel, but you don’t contribute to the plot. The third guy left and the second guy came in. He said, ‘How come he got to fuck you?’ Fine. I’m not going to argue with you. I don’t even know these people. We had sex.

I was in bed after. They all came in. One of them said, ‘Which one of us was the best?’

I was new to sex. It was very novel to my life – I had never done that before, go over to someone’s place like that. I realized what happened only later. After, the three of them asked me if I was hungry and gave me some chips. They were casually speaking. It’s like… they just don’t know what they’ve done. I think they regarded me as someone who provided the service. The first guy said, ‘I’m going to get up early tomorrow so you better leave.’ It was like a business transaction. The second guy texted me later asking if I wanted to chill. I said, ‘Do you even know what you did?’ Then he said, ‘We thought you were having fun.’ That was the last that I’ve heard from any of them.

I would feel irresponsible if I didn’t report to the police. But at the same time, it felt like it wasn’t right. It was personal, you’re the only witness. There’s no one who can speak for you. Especially when you were in it, you don’t remember everything that happens – it’s hard to recall everything. You’re suppressing that part of your memory, and when it happens, you’re in the film.

I waited a long time. I felt that I needed to think it through. After it happened I went to the clinic to do some tests and make sure I was physically okay. There was a social worker there, she was nice. They were all nice. I feel numb. I bear the burden of this piece of memory.”

Four months after the incident and one month after reporting, the police denied Anna’s case.

When “nothing happened”

The Sexual Assault Centre of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) defines sexual assault as “any unwanted act of a sexual nature.” This deliberately general wording leaves room for people to define their own experiences – a consideration that becomes important when thinking about infringements that don’t include physical violation.

I incidentally heard about an instance like this while some friends were over for dinner. We were joking about how one of us, Enya*, always lands herself in abnormal situations. Somebody offhandedly mentioned Café Campus. My curiosity was piqued – I hadn’t heard that story before.


“What happened at Café Campus?” I ask.

“Oh, it was a while ago,” she says with a laugh and a dismissing wave of the hand. “There was a creepy guy.”

We smile, anticipating something funny. “How so?”

“I don’t know,” she starts. “He was so weird. I mean, he bought me a drink and then left right away. After, I was just sitting down on the floor and I couldn’t stand.”

Smiles drop and eyebrows furrow. “Wait, what?”

After a prolonged silence, someone asks, “What happened?”

Enya laughs uneasily. “Well, he just approaches me and says, ‘Hey, you want a drink?’ and I say, ‘Sure.’ So he goes away for five minutes and comes back with two shots of tequila. We drink it then he just leaves. Doesn’t say anything and walks back to the bar. I remember thinking that it was so strange, how he was just watching me. By that time everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, let’s go,’ so we leave for some air. We’re at coat check and I just – I sit down. Everyone’s telling me to stand and I’m like, ‘I can’t.’ They all laugh at me because they think I’m drunk, but then they realize that I can’t get up. My roommate took me home after that, so it’s okay. You guys don’t have to be so weird… I mean, nothing happened.”


A situation like this is difficult to orient in the general discussion of sexual assault, as the term “assault” innately implies a point of contact. Not everyone would agree that an incident lacking the breach of physical boundaries, like slipping something into a person’s drink, counts as violation. A non-physical transgression occurs in a different, less tangible sphere. Experiences of emotional infractions do not transcend to a universal level of understanding, and speaking out can rouse comments like, “It could’ve been worse.”

This kind of dismissal is not always external, but can also be part of the internal dialogue of the person who experiences the transgression. Like Enya said – “It’s okay… nothing happened.” However, the lack of direct physical assault does not excuse the infraction or make it less severe. The “it could’ve been worse” mentality carries heavy implications: it insinuates that the situation doesn’t warrant any reaction, and thus minimizes the gravity of the event. Such erasure of serious experiences contributes to inaction and the broader cultural act of silencing.

The in-between

After a few personal experiences on the Montreal metro, I started to weigh in on the question of how severe a violation of personal space has to be before it can be obviously defined as sexual assault. In the first case, an older man had asked me for the time, pointing to my watch. Before I could respond, he took my wrist and twisted it in his direction. On his way out, he patted me on the knee with a smile and a “merci, chérie.” I felt a nagging agitation that I dismissed, after reasoning that I wasn’t harmed. I had gone to the clinic with Anna – this was nothing in comparison.

A few weeks later I was on my way home, cutting through the post-rush hour emptiness of the Lionel-Groulx station. A man’s arm reached out as if to grab the edge of the door, yet ended up winding around my chest. I froze in shock, not realizing what had happened. There was a lag between my mental processing and the physical contact. By the time I processed what had occurred, he had already disappeared down the escalator. I laughed – an absurd reaction, in retrospect. It struck me as bizarre how he was merely on his way, going through the rest of his day.

When I got to my room afterward, I stared at the ceiling for half an hour to sort through the disorientation that trailed behind me on my way home. The state of not knowing what to feel echoed the previous instance, with the watch and the knee. I realized that both experiences left me in the same place emotionally, despite the fact that one was clearly more severe than the other. However, I tried to dismiss this incident too, because I couldn’t justify the indignation that I felt: the situation just didn’t seem grave enough.

The concentric circles of silence are such that we question our most innate reactions. Am I overreacting? Is it appropriate to feel violated? Are my feelings valid? The confusion that follows can lead to a pattern of dismissal. If it seems like certain experiences aren’t enough to deserve a strong reaction, then the obvious conclusion is to brush them aside. However, dismissal becomes a form of self-silencing.

Repression never fully works: lingering effects still manage to surface. It’s as if the confinement that begins from the enclosed setting of assault gradually evolves into the confinement of the mind. Pushing these things down means indirectly allowing them to keep happening, since perpetrators continue to get away scot-free.

Confronting our culture of silence

The total impunity enjoyed by perpetrators serves as the common denominator in all these cases.

It’s abhorrent that in only our first year of university, my friends and I, along with countless others whose stories remain unvoiced, have already accumulated these experiences. There’s no denying the culture of silence when we live in a world of its consequences.
However, just because this oppressive culture is so deeply ingrained does not necessarily mean that it’s impossible to overcome. The world is shifting in response to the sheer exasperation of those affected by sexual assault and their supporters. The nationwide outrage in the wake of the Ghomeshi verdict shows how people are discussing sexual assault and drawing attention to the issues at hand, despite society’s insistence on cloaking these experiences. Last week was SACOMSS Sexual Assault Awareness week.

Addressing and dissolving the silencing cloud surrounding sexual assault means unmuting the experiences of survivors. By raising the subject into an audible, visible sphere, the voices of survivors gain the weight and traction that they deserve. This is a necessary step toward believing survivors and treating their accounts with respect and sympathy.

At the demonstration held by McGill students in support of survivors last Thursday, speakers emphasized the dire need to support survivors and change the structures that allow for acts of sexual assault to continue in silence. Regarding these structures, speaker Sadie McInnes stated at the demonstration, “We are angry and we are sad.” Most importantly, we are not quiet.

*Names have been changed.

The Education Undergraduate Society offers support Mon, 04 Apr 2016 13:00:38 +0000 Re: “Speak louder than racism” (February 8, Commentary, page 9).

The members of the Education Undergraduate Society (EdUS) would like to extend their deepest sympathy to the writer of this article and to all of those who have experienced similar events during their field experiences. As a student society, we are deeply concerned with these issues occurring during field experiences, and we are currently looking into ways to make support systems more accessible to students.

We would like to take this time to remind students that if they are facing a difficult situation, or if they would like to talk about anything pertaining to our Faculty – whether it is related to courses, field experiences, or the Faculty in general – our doors are open and we are here as outlets and support systems for you.

—Natalie Pepiot, VP Communications of EdUS

Look again for symbolism Mon, 04 Apr 2016 10:45:53 +0000 Held at Parisian Laundry, “D’un objet à l’autre” and “Opaque Architectures” is a joint exhibition showcasing recent explorations of renowned Canadian artists Alexandre David and Jaime Angelopoulos, respectively. “D’un objet à l’autre” is a collection of four plywood objects, each spanning the length of a wall, and “Opaque Architectures” is a series of intricate paintings and sculptures which touch upon the theme of depression by highlighting the entrapment of the human spirit inside oppressive structures. Although at first glance I found it difficult to grasp what united the two works, further inspection revealed that both exhibits are a commentary on the subtle, covert nature of the power of common structures, whether physical or psychological.

“D’un objet à l’autre” was easy to overlook: David’s ordinary-looking plywood boards nailed to the wall looked so much like part of the gallery space that I bypassed the pieces entirely and went to see the other artwork first. Upon returning, however, I noticed differences in the sculptures that hadn’t captured my sight before: they each seemed to have slight modifications in the angles of the edges and in the cut of the plywood.

After about half an hour of carefully navigating the room, I realized that the four slabs of plywood are actually very distinct from one another, despite the similarities that make them a coherent exhibit. The individual boards are full of character in and of themselves: everything from the pattern of micro-swirls formed by the cut of the wood to the way the light hits the surface of the sculptures is unique. The plywood structures turned out to be anything but background noise, although one has to be attentive and patient to grasp this.

Angelopoulos’s “Opaque Architectures” is much easier to interpret. Each of the six conté-on-paper works, a technique that uses compressed powdered graphite for drawing, featured a continuous, brightly coloured string trapped by black lines. At first glance, the pieces looked like explorations of form, but in an interview with The Daily, Angelopoulos explained that, “these pieces are part of an attempt to highlight the ubiquitous – [and] therefore invisible – structures oppressing our feelings, impulses, and desires.” One of the most representative pieces is called Parents, which features a continuous pink ray encircled by black lines. The black figures resemble parents stretching their loving arms out and limiting the span of the innocent pink thread, perhaps symbolizing their child, as if in an effort to protect it.

“[Opaque Architectures] are part of an attempt to highlight the ubiquitous – [and] therefore invisible – structures oppressing our feelings, impulses, and desires.”

Angelopoulos’s exhibit also features three black steel sculptures, bearing resemblance to the black ball and chain that traps the colour in her two-dimensional works. The sculptures each reference certain oppressive frameworks, such as the way conscience limits our freedom, without directly representing any concrete object. Weight of conscience is visually and symbolically reminiscent of a whip or even a gallows, alluding to the way people’s thoughts torment them while driving their actions, much like a whip makes a horse run but also harms the animal in the process.

Another of Angelopoulos’ pieces, You’re Hysterical, portrays a ghostlike figure with its arms up in despair, as if both acquiescing to the negative label imposed upon it by the piece’s title and rebelling against it through an active gesture. The sculpture made me think about mental illness, which can be both a consequence of an overwhelming environment and, perhaps, sometimes allowing the sufferer to dissociate from and push against the structures that oppress them.

Both artists’ pieces in the exhibit achieved their goal of exposing invisible structures by highlighting their idiosyncrasies and oppressive nature while prompting viewers to reflect on them. If you decide to go (and you should), go twice: you will notice something different each time.

“D’un objet à l’autre” and “Opaque Architectures” run until April 23 at Parisian Laundry gallery.

Relaxed and easy since 1976 Mon, 04 Apr 2016 10:30:05 +0000 Close your eyes, imagine yourself at your favourite coffee shop, and feel the rush of energy after that first shot of caffeine. Now flash back forty years to a time when there were very few cafes, mostly pizzerias and five-star sit-down restaurants. This is what Montreal was like before Garth Gilker opened Café Santropol in 1976 on an inconspicuous street corner in the Plateau. It’s hard to imagine Montreal’s cafe culture as unexciting as it once was.

Celebrating the cafe’s fortieth anniversary, Santropol and its owner Gilker are pioneers of the artisanal and small business scene in Montreal. It was first opened in an alternative to protect the Plateau’s history and landmarks. The stretch of buildings where Santropol is located today were earmarked for demolition in the 1970s; the entire Plateau was being cleared by developers so they could erect new buildings, infrastructure, and parking lots. Against the advice of those around him, Gilker started the cafe as a form of protest.

“After being in Europe for over a year, I thought, there’s no cafes in Montreal and that looks like the perfect corner for a cafe. […] If I open [it], then when they want to […] demolish [the Plateau’s buildings], I can get my clients – if they like the cafe – out in the streets to protest,” said Gilker. It was a “business opened with other business intentions,” an important initiative which, in turn, also ended up creating a living for Gilker and for the cafe’s staff team.

In an economic climate where small business ventures were virtually unheard of, Gilker faced significant difficulties in sustaining his enterprise. These difficulties included that permits didn’t exist yet for small businesses, outdoor terraces were illegal, and there were no pre-existing cafe culture. People asked him: “What are you going to serve, Garth? Fries, soft drinks?” He replied, “Oh, hell no.” Out of his ambition to create something new came a menu of wholesome and affordable sandwiches, that has barely changed since 1976.

Santropol has managed to stay true to its eccentric character and relevant in the face of waves of change.

When the cafe was at the peak of its popularity, it also functioned as a bar, serving as a hub for young people in the Plateau. Although the cafe has since evolved from being a night hangout where students shared drinks and partied, it has kept its relaxed and easy atmosphere. Moreover, Santropol has developed into a community landmark in its own right.

My friend’s mother, who first visited Santropol around 1982 while she was a student at McGill, shared her memories of the cafe with The Daily. “The first time I went to Santropol, I couldn’t take it all in. […] I was so distracted by the small objects and pictures inside.” The furnishings and decor may look worn, but they each add tales and history to the establishment and have been curated and repurposed by Gilker throughout the years. The antique mirror with its chipped white paint on the back wall of the alcove near the entrance, for example, is from Expo 67.

“I love the ambiance in Santropol,” McGill student Audrey Carleton told The Daily. “It’s very cozy, with dark lights and couches and paintings that look like you’ve walked into a very old house with a lot of history and past lives.” Santropol has managed to stay true to its eccentric character and relevant in the face of waves of change. Staying relevant can be intimidating for small businesses, especially since chain coffee shops such as Starbucks have become very popular in the past decade. However, McGill student Mandy Lam told The Daily, “People are more inclined to explore the [cafes] with unique decorations or layout. In comparison to other cafes, Santropol operates more [as] a restaurant. […] However, I enjoy the freedom to roam around the cafe and pick a seat to my liking, and switch around at times.”

Keeping business ethical and sustainable works in favour of Santropol’s efforts to preserve its popularity amidst changes in customers’ tastes.

It’s true that Santropol doesn’t have the regular characteristics of a coffee shop, such as an open space concept, a work atmosphere, and an eye-catching espresso machine. It isn’t where you want to go to churn out that 2,500-word essay due at midnight. In addition, Carleton noted that “Santropol doesn’t have that much space per table. […] You’re not guaranteed the space to spread out all your stuff out on a very small table.” The cross between cafe and restaurant nonetheless provides a nice backdrop for socializing.

When it comes to the food, Santropol continues to purchase ingredients from local farmers and producers, just like it did forty years ago. Keeping business ethical and sustainable works in favour of Santropol’s efforts to preserve its popularity amidst changes in customers’ tastes. “As a vegan and an environmentally-minded person, it is very important to me to buy ethically and locally sourced products,” Carleton told The Daily.

Although the cafe pays attention to sustainable business, however, not many students are aware of this aspect of Santropol. In an age when students and young people decide which cafe to visit using Instagram and other forms of social media, it’s time for Santropol to market itself more effectively to attract visitors beyond its circle of second-generation customers.

For the time being, Santropol will no doubt continue to serve up homey tastes with its famous stacked sandwiches. The menu’s warm familiarity is especially appealing to long-time Santropol’s customers, some of whom came to school in Montreal, moved away, then came back.

In an age when students and young people decide which cafe to visit using Instagram and other forms of social media, it’s time for Santropol to market itself more effectively to attract visitors beyond its circle of second-generation customers.

Santropol is a community hub and establishment which embodies the spirit of the Plateau Mont-Royal. But if it wants to continue to attract students, just being cozy will not be enough: the cafe culture in Montreal is no longer as solemn as it used to be. A new crop of independent coffee shops are springing up left and right and are changing the way we interact with our food by making cafe spaces creative environments suitable for both work and socialization.

Santropol, with its long-standing history and rebellious origins, has transcended generational and seasonal changes with its eccentric yet warm and welcoming atmosphere. As of yet, no other cafe can rival its popularity and its deep roots in the city. Santropol will always be Montreal’s first. However, it is no longer the student hub it once was. As it stands, it’s a place to share a wholesome, hearty meal and memorable conversations. Café Santropol is a time capsule filled with laughs and memories: as you deposit some during each visit, you also retrieve something from its past.

Silhouettes, and a blue fence Mon, 04 Apr 2016 10:30:01 +0000 On March 18, The Fridge Door Gallery, a student-run art initiative at McGill, put on an exhibition titled “Perspectives / Perceptions.” The exhibit explored the age old and ultimately rhetorical theme of “what is art.”

Founded in 2007, Fridge Door showcases an exhibition each semester to promote the production of student art. Born out of the absence of a fine arts program, it aims to establish a creative platform for students to engage with and discuss visual arts. More importantly, it motivates students to view the fine arts as an accessible means of expression.

Kavya Anchuri, one of the artists featured in this semester’s exhibit, told The Daily, “‘Perspectives / Perceptions’ allows students […] who wouldn’t have [the] time or the interest to go to a museum [to see art]. It’s a fantastic outlet for people to display their own work.”
The exhibition analyzed the topics of reality and perspective through a range of mediums, including photography, collage, painting, and illustration. It strove to promote a widening of horizons and to highlight, through art, different views of reality. A diverse selection of works showcased students’ multi-faceted responses to the ways art is defined, lending equal weight to both amateurs and professionals in the discussion.

A diverse selection of works [in the “Perspectives / Perceptions” exhibit] showcased students’ multi-faceted responses to the ways art is defined, lending equal weight to both amateurs and professionals in the discussion.

One of the Fridge Door Gallery’s taglines for the exhibition was that “art deals with representations that are never pure reflections of reality.” Hayley Mortin’s collages titled Amalgam II, IV, and V played with this idea by exposing the viewer to different spatial perspectives and points of reference. Mortin used mixed media to create compositions which depicted faceless figures and human silhouettes. This placed the viewer inside the work, as the featureless forms allowed them to project themselves into the scenes and spaces that Mortin had created.

Anchuri took a different approach to her photo Hole-in-the-Fence, Backyard. The focal point of this work is a blue fence, something often completely ignored by passersby. Anchuri’s piece is realist, static, and direct, but still plays with physical perspective. Hole-in-the-Fence, Backyard was the product of Anchuri’s experimentation in the summer of 2015, she explained to The Daily.

“It was evening time and the fence was newly painted in my backyard, so I went around and started fooling around with my camera, and that is where the photo came from,” Anchuri said. “The photo speaks to perspective because [it is taken] so close to the fence. It isn’t a noticeable spot by adults, [since] it is so low down, so it can only really be seen by children. It’s interesting because how we perceive the world is so dependent on variables like height, size and how we move. Perception is influenced by our own biology.”

Often, we leave big questions such as “what is art?” to scholars and academics with a vast background in art history and aesthetics. However, in this Fridge Door Gallery exhibition, students engaged with this lofty question. This is important, as student voices are often ignored. Although it can be argued that they still have much to learn, it is refreshing to see these questions addressed by the student population through visual arts.

Often, we leave big questions such as “what is art?” to scholars and academics with a vast background in art history and aesthetics. However, in this Fridge Door Gallery exhibition, students engaged with this lofty question.

“Perspectives / Perceptions” created an expressive and intellectual space in a university environment where we are often constrained by academic demands. To those who would usually disregard the arts, the exhibition offered a creative outlet. It did so especially well in light of its position at an academically rigorous university, where sometimes students do not or cannot consider art beyond a peripheral approach, due to a lack of time and motivation. Ultimately, the exhibition allowed students to voice their opinions on the substance of art through their own work.

A Game of Tones Mon, 04 Apr 2016 10:20:40 +0000 Rodelinda]]> Black-clad state police, wearing ski masks and brandishing nightsticks, apprehend an anti-establishment graffiti artist. It’s not exactly how you might expect the opening scene of an 18th century opera to unfold, but Opera McGill’s March 19 performance of Rodelinda defied expectations from its very first note to its last, though not always in a good way.

Rodelinda, composed in 1719 by Georg Friedrich Händel, is a rarely performed spectacle of a convoluted plot with larger-than-life characters. It’s loosely based on the events surrounding the usurpation and attempted assassination of Perctarit, king of the Lombards, in the 7th century. Since it’s hard to confine a medieval military coup to three hours of theatrical staging, Händel’s work focuses instead on the twisted yet decidedly human relationships between the parties involved.

Stage director Patrick Hansen was stumped by Rodelinda’s relative obscurity. In the director’s notes, Hansen wrote, “[Rodelinda] is not as well known in North America as it should be. […] I’m not sure why, as the themes and characters present in this opera are timeless and currently reflected in HBO’s Game of Thrones television series.” He cites violence, lust, obsession, and royal intrigue as common to both works. It should be noted, however, that Rodelinda is sadly devoid of dragons.

Throughout the production, talented opera students from McGill’s Schulich School of Music dominated the challenging, ornate vocal lines for which Baroque-era music is known. Stellar voices and acting skills, even in the context of the storyline’s melodrama, amounted to an impressive collective performance. Meanwhile, an orchestra hidden in the pit beneath the stage aced the trills and flourishes of Händel’s capering score.

The evening’s standout was countertenor Nicholas Burns. Hailing from British Columbia, the 21-year-old took on the lead role of King Bertarido with impeccable vocals and an enthralling stage presence. In Rodelinda, Bertarido has been deposed by the tyrannical Grimoaldo and presumed dead by his son Flavio and wife Rodelinda. But Burns’s arrival on stage midway through the first act made it apparent that the king, in fact, lives on.

Throughout the production, talented opera students from McGill’s Schulich School of Music dominated the challenging, ornate vocal lines for which Baroque-era music is known.

Burns channelled the regal poise of a monarch and the pained urgency of a father and husband separated from those he loves, all encapsulated by a skillful voice rarely heard in a performer so young. Often, countertenor roles will be reassigned as “pants roles,” or male roles played by a lower-voiced woman, in absence of a male singer sufficiently capable in the high vocal range demanded of countertenors. Luckily for Opera McGill, Burns was more than capable, with a voice that could compete with the pros.

Soprano Lauren Woods in the role of Rodelinda was another highlight, depicting equal parts majesty and woe with a voice at once agile and nuanced. Woods performed with a gripping and elegant intensity, capturing the eponymous queen’s acts of mourning, loyalty, and defiance. Woods made her regal entrance in the first scene, wearing a swirling pink crown that would have made Effie Trinket jealous.
Despite the student performers’ display of utmost professionalism, the actual professional stage designers failed to hit the mark, resulting in a production that was visually interesting, but thematically half-baked.

The opera appeared to be set inside a dystopian Ikea: bare metal scaffolding, grey mesh columns, and, oddly, a chair suspended upside-down from the ceiling. The set amounted to an aesthetic that perhaps can best be described as “warehouse chic.” In his director’s notes, Hansen explained that he hoped “to create a minimalist expression” in which to frame the characters and their interactions, abstracting the plot to its most basic emotional core.

Despite the student performers’ display of utmost professionalism, the actual professional stage designers failed to hit the mark, resulting in a production that was visually interesting, but thematically half-baked.

The look was, if nothing else, cool. The set was sleek and flexible, with movable pieces meant to signify scene transitions. But some conspicuous design flaws undercut the set’s success: as the orchestra struck its opening notes, outward-facing lights at the back of the stage nearly blinded the first several rows of audience members, while characters ducking around the mesh columns disappeared completely, though unintentionally, from the audience’s view.

And that chair – oh, that upside-down chair. Characters would periodically stand off to the side of the stage and reach longingly toward the chair with outstretched arms. The airborne furniture, hanging awkwardly above stage left, was overtly symbolic of Bertarido’s contested throne, and more generally, of power and control. Pro tip: if your symbolism is overt, it’s not doing its job.

Throughout the production, bizarre currents of violent sexuality came into focus. Lust and desire are unquestionably central to the opera’s plot, but when a vengeful aria sung by King Bertarido’s sister Eduige (chillingly and charmingly portrayed by mezzo-soprano Emma Bonanno) turned into a choreographed BDSM ostentation alongside the scheming Duke Garibaldo (a role brilliantly sung by baritone Jean-Philippe McClish), the effect was more comical than intense.

Pro tip: if your symbolism is overt, it’s not doing its job.

The sexual bent would have been more compelling had it examined or thwarted gender roles. Though the opera features two powerful women, Queen Rodelinda and her sister-in-law Eduige, it fails the Bechdel Test, the set of criteria, usually applied to film and television, that evaluates how women are represented in media. The test asks whether a given work has at least two female characters who talk to each other about a topic other than any of the male characters. (For some perspective, Jessica Jones passes the test, while Daredevil falls short).

Rodelinda and Eduige score on the first and second criteria, but their sole interaction is about, you guessed it, men. This is to be expected of an opera written in the 18th century, but Opera McGill’s abstracted set and staging choices at first seemed to point toward a fresh perspective. Yet, even as Eduige takes on the domineering role in her BDSM aria early in the opera, this staging doesn’t carry through: by the final scene, she docilely agrees to wed Grimoaldo. Here, Hansen had the opportunity to stage Eduige’s betrothal through a lens of empowerment and agency, as a grab for monarchical power or a return to the earlier motif of intertwined dominance and desire. Instead, Eduige’s previous display of passion fizzles in favour of a conventional happy ending.

Even if these components had come together more persuasively, the fact remains that such a modernized take is hardly original. Opera directors are constantly reimagining and reinterpreting their repertoire, searching for innovative settings and unexplored nuances to reinvigorate a centuries-old genre. The question that directors must ask themselves is whether their updated version presents the opera in a way that doesn’t simply transplant the original, but transforms it. Does the staging interrogate the opera’s themes, or simply reroute them? Opera McGill’s vision for Rodelinda was on the cusp of achieving this interpretive metamorphosis, but fell short on multiple counts.

The question that directors must ask themselves is whether their updated version presents the opera in a way that doesn’t simply transplant the original, but transforms it. Does the staging interrogate the opera’s themes, or simply reroute them?

Fortunately, sublime performances shone where the staging faltered, with the Schulich School of Music’s brilliant students lending vivacity and passion to this final production of Opera McGill’s 2015-16 season.

A letter to the better us Mon, 04 Apr 2016 10:16:48 +0000 Racism isn’t new. So, how come every time I experience it, it feels like the first time? How come I feel like my heart is being stabbed a thousand times over when I see yet another video of police brutality committed against a Black person, an Indigenous person, or a person of colour (BIPOC), or hear another speech given by Donald Trump? Why am I so overwhelmed when I talk about these things? Am I the only one who feels like this?

No, of course I’m not. Most if not all BIPOCs have felt like this at least once and many feel like this everyday – and it’s fucking tiring. I continuously ask myself, “Will things ever really change?” It seems like whenever progress is made, something new always happens to reverse the evolution.

I don’t think I’m pessimistic, just realistic. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want something a bit more peppy. I want the peppy.

So, this week, I decided to write an idealistic open letter to our future society. Whether it’s thirty, seventy, or a hundred years from now, I hope that this is how the world is one day.


To the oppressors,

I hope that you have found peace within yourself so that imposing chaos in and around somebody else’s life is no longer necessary for you.

To the allies,

I hope that you have continued to understand your position within the fight for racial justice and how important it is for us, BIPOCs, to have you by our side.

I hope that you’ve continued to respect us as individuals and have not forgotten to hold that same value for our cultures. That you’ve listened to our best interests without expecting us to teach you about systems of oppression and how you should combat them. That you’ve found out about us on your own time by using the resources that are available to you as a result of your privilege.

I hope you still use this privilege for good under various circumstances, like talking to other non-BIPOCs about racism and racial justice and standing directly against the systems of power that have committed injustices against BIPOCs. You’ve hopefully taken risks that have been scary and completely put you out of your comfort zone.

I also hope that you have remembered to give space to those whom you have allied yourself with, that you have been conscious of your surroundings and careful not to take over the narrative of their struggle, because you know that this would be disrespectful and damaging in that it erases the true story, which is not yours to tell.


To the oppressed,

I hope that your society no longer makes you feel inferior or disadvantaged because of your identity. Whether at the interview for that job you’ve worked your ass off to get, or at the school you’ve been dreaming of attending since you were five, may you have approached the opportunity with the utmost sense of pride and confidence. The hope is that where you are now, they no longer take one look at you, or your name, or where you come from, and immediately decide that you’re not good enough. They all see what you always knew, that those descriptors don’t determine your worth or status as a person. Yes, they are pieces of you that should be cherished, but they do not define you.

I hope that you can walk down the street freely without being afraid of judgement or harm based on your appearance. That systemic racial violence and colonialism have finally become an acknowledged, disgraced part of history, and that because of this, BIPOCs no longer have to be raised with the idea that they have to compromise their identities for the benefit of their oppressors.

I hope that these institutional changes are reflected in the social sphere. That you no longer feel less intelligent or accomplished than “Robert,” the cis gendered, heterosexual, loud, white man at that dinner party. That a little BIPOC girl can turn on her TV and see an accurate representation of herself and her experiences instead of a dehumanizing caricature that damages her self-esteem. That a queer BIPOC can feel comfortable and safe within their community, without stigmas attached to their race, gender or sexuality.

Finally, what I hope for the most is that you have all reached the highest level of unity among yourselves. No matter what group or social class you may belong to, I hope that you have chosen to support each other in your respective endeavours, continuously showing empathy and solidarity when it is most needed, even when facing issues that may not affect you “directly.”

I hope we all finally understand that we can’t be pitted against each other and expect things to change. We just can’t.

Talk Black is a column that seeks to engage in anti-racist culture writing, addressing art, music, and events. Jedidah Nabwangu can be reached at