The McGill Daily http://www.mcgilldaily.com The mop squad since 1911 Mon, 27 Feb 2017 19:47:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.2 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/cropped-logo2-32x32.jpg The McGill Daily http://www.mcgilldaily.com 32 32 Students criticize SSMU executives for inaction on David Aird http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/students-criticize-ssmu-executives-for-inaction-on-david-aird/ Mon, 27 Feb 2017 18:22:48 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49875 jQuery(document).ready(function($) {$('#trigger-warning').modal();});

At a meeting on February 23, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council discussed SSMU’s response to reported acts of gendered and sexual violence committed by former VP External David Aird, which came to light in the lead-up to his resignation on February 22.

“Upsetting” lack of action

The Community Disclosure Network (CDN), a group of survivors and allies, which had formed in order to take action against Aird, published a statement on February 21 describing Aird’s alleged history of gendered and sexual violence. According to the statement, when students had brought the matter to the attention of SSMU executives last semester, their response had been underwhelming. The CDN criticized available avenues of recourse as “insufficient and undesirable,” and pointed to a perceived culture of inaction among the executives.

President Ben Ger stated at Council that SSMU had received reports in the Fall 2016 semester of behaviour from Aird which “made individuals feel uncomfortable,” at which point “consultation was done internally” within the SSMU executive team. The executives’ response to these reports had been to establish private weekly ‘check-ins’ between Aird and Ger, a course of action that was sharply criticized by councillors and members of the gallery.

“When the first case of harassment came up to the exec team, why was this information kept secretive?” asked Environment Representative Tuviere Okome.

“This executive was in this room with women who have potentially experienced sexual violence,” added Okome. “This is embarrassing, but even more so, as a woman, especially as a Black woman, it’s so upsetting that this happened.”

“This executive was in this room with women who have potentially experienced sexual violence. […] This is embarrassing, but even more so, as a woman, especially as a Black woman, it’s so upsetting that this happened.”

VP University Affairs Erin Sobat said that the complaints about Aird’s behaviour which the SSMU exec received in the fall did not include reports of sexual assault. Sobat said that “it would have been difficult to proceed with a motion for removal” at that point, but recognized that “more could have been done to assess the risks to members posed by the individual at that time and try to collect more information.” Had there been reports of sexual assault, the executive would have taken “more severe steps,” he said.

Ariane Schang, Computer Science Undergraduate Society Equity Commissioner, questioned Sobat’s justification, noting that the weekly check-ins established between Aird and Ger proved that the executive team “had identified [Aird] as a threat.”

“I think that the SSMU exec […] probably had a solid understanding that there was a danger, because [Aird] was having to receive further consent education on a one-on-one basis,” said Schang.

Ger, however, defended the check-ins as “the most action we could [take] at the time.”

Asked if minutes were taken or attendance recorded at the check-ins between Aird and Ger, Ger said that no such record was available, adding that “people in other offices […] nearby” might be able to confirm that the check-ins did in fact occur.

Arts and Science student Kiana Saint-Macary challenged the notion that respecting the complainants’ desire to remain anonymous was incompatible with stronger action. Saint-Macary is the co-president of Jeunes néodémocrates du Québec (JNDQ), the Quebec youth wing of the New Democratic Party (NDP), where Aird briefly held an executive position in the fall of 2016 before resigning following complaints about his behaviour.

“Immediately after hearing that there [were] complaints, not of sexual assault but harassment, we got David [Aird] to resign from the [JNDQ] executive,” said Saint-Macary, adding that in doing so the JNDQ was still able to maintain the anonymity and respect the wishes of the complainants.

“I think that the SSMU exec […] probably had a solid understanding that there was a danger, because [Aird] was having to receive further consent education on a one-on-one basis.”

“I think there has been proof […] that when you threaten [Aird] with exposure, he is willing to resign,” Saint-Macary continued. “I think that the fact that he never […] felt enough pressure from the [SSMU] executive to resign – even before you knew about his assault – is an indicator that he didn’t feel that you were ever going to do anything that was going to really punish him or reprimand him for what he was doing.”

“You didn’t do enough to […] get him away from a position of power yourselves, and I’m really disappointed in the SSMU executives,” she added.

Ger and Sobat confirmed at Council that the SSMU executive had not asked Aird to resign. Asked whether executives would themselves consider resigning at this point, Ger said that they were not considering resignation. He later added that he would be willing to “have a conversation” regarding the matter if there were widespread calls to do so.

Accusations of feigned ignorance

Several councillors expressed concern over the fact that Ger did not refer the handling of the reports received in the fall to the correct oversight channels, such as the SSMU Board of Directors, which is in charge of human resources at the executive level.

Malaya Powers, U3 Arts student and co-president of NDP McGill, cast doubt on the claim that SSMU had not received reports of sexual harassment or assault committed by Aird in the fall, arguing that this contradicted the CDN’s statement. Sobat responded by saying that any reports made to individuals affiliated with SSMU did not reach the executives, noting that this pointed to a flaw in existing reporting procedures.

“You didn’t do enough to […] get him away from a position of power yourselves, and I’m really disappointed in the SSMU executives.”

“What I’m hearing tonight, frankly, I think, is a lie, that SSMU did not know that [Aird] was sexually harassing people on campus, so I want to say tonight to every survivor […] that I believe you, and a whole group of us believe you,” said Powers.

Law Representative Romita Sur confirmed that “quite a few members on this Council had received messages from survivors, saying that they had consulted and let the executive know about the harassment.” Sur also noted that concerns about Aird’s behaviour had been raised at a confidential session of Council where executives were not present, in early December 2016.

“This is not something new, people were aware of this issue,” said Sur.

Moving forward, Sobat committed himself to working with the CDN to implement its demands to SSMU, in particular the development of a SSMU sexual assault policy that would facilitate accessible complaint procedures and response protocols. Currently, SSMU’s equity policy fails to mention sexual violence. Ger further committed to issuing a statement that would acknowledge SSMU’s responsibility in perpetuating rape culture and contributing to gendered violence on campus.

Council adjourned around 8:30 p.m. in a sober mood, having discussed matters related to Aird’s resignation for roughly ninety minutes.

Postponed business

Motions postponed to the next meeting of Council due to the early adjournment include the adoption of a policy on unpaid internships, revisions to the Indigenous solidarity policy, amendments to internal regulations, and proposed referendum questions regarding constitutional amendments and an increase to the Athletics fee. Ger will seek to adjust the referendum timeline to make up for the resulting delay in approving questions.

“What I’m hearing tonight, frankly, I think, is a lie, that SSMU did not know that [Aird] was sexually harassing people on campus, so I want to say tonight to every survivor […] that I believe you, and a whole group of us believe you.”

Ger said that Aird’s responsibilities would be divided among the other executives following his resignation. Sobat will ensure SSMU’s representation to the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ), as he has been attending AVEQ meetings jointly with Aird.

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SSMU VP External resigns amid allegations of sexual violence http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/ssmu-vp-external-resigns-amid-allegations-of-sexual-violence/ Wed, 22 Feb 2017 23:48:45 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49816 jQuery(document).ready(function($) {$('#trigger-warning').modal();});

On February 22, David Aird resigned as VP External of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), SSMU President Ben Ger told The Daily. On the evening of February 21, the Community Disclosure Network (CDN), “a group of survivors and allies who have united to take action against David Aird,” published a statement online alleging that Aird had sexually assaulted various McGill students.

The statement condemned “the history of sexualized and gendered violence committed by Aird both before and during his time as VP External,” and asserted that Aird’s resignation was the direct result of the group’s demands for him to step down from his position.

On February 9, the CDN circulated an anonymous online form to collect disclosures regarding Aird’s behaviour and alleged history of sexual violence. According to CDN’s statement, multiple people disclosed through the form, and “the disclosures were to be presented to the SSMU Board of Directors as part of an established process demanding Aird’s resignation.”

On the evening of February 21, the Community Disclosure Network (CDN), “a group of survivors and allies who have united to take action against David Aird,” published a statement online alleging that Aird had sexually assaulted various McGill students.

Melody*, member of CDN and U3 Arts student told The Daily that Aird found out about the online form and contacted CDN with an offer to resign. Aird’s offer to resign came with three conditions, said Melody: “that he would get a week to resign, […] that he could write a letter of apology to all the people that [disclosed or submitted complaints], and that he would leave quietly. Of course, for safety reasons, we do not want him to resign without having to disclose the real reasons behind his resignation. The McGill University community deserves to know.”

Disclosures of alleged sexual assault

The Daily has obtained statements that were submitted through the online form, both of which indicated that the writers were comfortable with their comments being quoted publicly.

Nina Hermes is a floor fellow and U3 social work student, who first spoke with Aird on Tinder in early 2016. She wrote that “David has made me feel extremely uncomfortable many times since I first met him, has asked me out repeatedly to the point where it borders on harassment, and I do not feel comfortable at all having him in a major leadership position at the University.”

The statement condemned “the history of sexualized and gendered violence committed by Aird both before and during his time as VP External,” and asserted that Aird’s resignation was the direct result of the group’s demands for him to step down from his position.

“A few months later I saw a public status posted by a friend of mine [wherein] multiple women shared that they’ve also experienced similar things from David. That was when I realized that his pattern of repeatedly asking women out on dates to the point where it is borderline harassment was not a singular incident with me, but a much deeper pattern that I find deeply concerning.”

The second disclosure The Daily obtained alleged a case of sexual assault wherein Aird had penetrative sex with the writer of the complaint without their consent, despite them repeatedly telling Aird that they didn’t want to have penetrative sex. The writer connected with Aird on Facebook via a mutual friend, and first went on a date with him on June 12, 2016.

The Daily has obtained statements that were submitted through the online form, both of which indicated that the writers were comfortable with their comments being quoted publicly.

After the author invited Aird to their apartment and stressed that they did not want to have penetrative sex, “David asked me if he could tie me to the bed. I was hesitant and resisted for a while, but eventually allowed him to tie only my arms to the bed frame. We continued to kiss and I continued to stress that I was not planning on having (penetrative) sex with him. He said that was fine. After a few minutes he asked if he could take off my underwear because he wanted to go down on me. Once again I was hesitant, but he started to beg so I eventually gave in. He then began to say he wanted to have (penetrative) sex, to which I firmly said no. He kept on bringing it up and I kept saying no. We went back and forth on it for a while; he was getting impatient and whiny and I was becoming uncomfortable because he was on top of me and my arms were tied up above my head. David then decided to disregard what I was saying to him because he proceeded [to] put his penis inside me. Not only was this done without my consent, but it was also done without a condom which is not something I would ever agree to. My reaction was something along the lines of ‘Woah, what the fuck are you doing?!’ and so he did stop. I told him to get off of me and untie me immediately, which he did, reluctantly.”

“Not only was this done without my consent, but it was also done without a condom which is not something I would ever agree to.”

On July 2, 2016, the author sent Aird a Facebook message explaining to him that “he pushed me when I was clearly hesitant, and it made me very uncomfortable. I told him that, in combination with his aggression, some of the language he used during our sexual encounter was not okay. For example, phrases like ‘you’re going to like it,’ ‘you’ll get used to it,’ or calling me derogatory names.” Aird responded, saying that “I’m a different person when I’m horny, which is something I hate but that’s just how it is. Doesn’t mean I stop caring about consent, but yes, it does mean that I’ll try to push through hesitancy and ‘advance my own interests.’ Regardless, fundamentally, I care very much about consent and I’d never fuck around with unambiguous answers.”

“The quotes I have inserted are directly from my Facebook conversations with David, and I did my best to contextualize them properly,” the author writes. “Essentially, David Aird believes that, while he deeply cares about consent, he cannot actually control himself in sexual situations and that he loses his principles in that moment. He believes that it is the other person’s responsibility to tell him to stop, using only ‘unambiguous answers,’ because his intention is to ‘push through hesitancy.’”

“I was sexually assaulted by [Aird] the night of November 1st, 2016,” Lilith*, a McGill student and member of CDN, told The Daily in an email. “[Aird] knows that coercion is not consent, and that actively refusing to listen to ‘no’ is sexual assault. [His] actions were violent.”

According to Lilith, after she went over to Aird’s house and consented to cuddle with him, he then proceeded to grope, penetrate, and spank her without her consent, or in situations of coerced consent.

“[Aird] knows that coercion is not consent, and that actively refusing to listen to ‘no’ is sexual assault. [His] actions were violent.”

Melody* told The Daily that she had also felt pressured into agreeing to sexual acts with Aird. “He asked if he could take off my shirt, and at first I said ‘no’ but he asked two or three times, and eventually I said ‘yeah.’ […] I could tell that my body was saying no, but he wouldn’t listen to that – he wouldn’t even listen to ‘no’ – he would only listen to ‘yes’ or even ‘I don’t know,’ which to him meant ‘convince me,’” she recounted.

“He’d also talk about how important consent was, and so I thought, ‘this man is a feminist.’ So I guess he knew how to [practice consent], but, more than that, he knew his way around it,” she continued.

A history of resignations and removals

According to the CDN statement, “two student societies that Aird was involved in — McGill Against Austerity and NDP McGill — received complaints of sexual violence in October and December of 2016, respectively.” Both societies were unable to take action against Aird, since those affected by his actions wished to remain anonymous.

According to the CDN statement, “two student societies that Aird was involved in — McGill Against Austerity and NDP McGill — received complaints of sexual violence in October and December of 2016, respectively.”

Angèle Pineau-Lemieux, the VP Communications of the Jeunes néodémocrates du Québec (JNDQ) – the youth wing of the New Democratic Party – told The Daily that Aird was elected VP Politics of the JNDQ in late October, 2016. Within the days following, three to four complaints were brought to the JNDQ executive by McGill students who were NDP members, and who were uncomfortable with Aird being in a position of power, said Pineau-Lemieux. The JNDQ brought the latter to the attention of the Quebec NDP, at which point Aird chose to resign rather than have the case presented to the NDP Administration Council.

“The revelations regarding David’s behavior came to our attention on October 30, 2016,” Malaya Powers, co-president of NDP McGill, told The Daily. “At that point we were contacted by the JNDQ with formal requests that David be removed from all online communication forms associated with NDP McGill. So listservs, Facebook groups, Facebook pages – anything that was affiliated with the NDP club on campus.” The JNDQ was representing the wishes of a person who had been sexually assaulted, Powers added.

“At that point we were contacted by the JNDQ with formal requests that David be removed from all online communication forms associated with NDP McGill.”

A member of McGill Against Austerity, who wished to remain anonymous, also confirmed that Aird had been removed from the group earlier this semester “for the same reason CDN called for his resignation: gendered and sexualized violence.”

Regarding Aird’s resignation from the position of VP External, “the position will stay empty until someone is elected for the incoming year,” Ger told The Daily. “We’re discussing potentials of reaching out to previous VP Externals to have them come in on a contract or something like that.”

Calls for a SSMU sexual assault policy

According to the CDN statement, several students brought Aird’s behaviour to the attention of SSMU Executive, which Ger confirmed in an interview with The Daily. “The only action undertaken by SSMU in response to these students’ complaints was to establish weekly ‘check-ins’ between Aird and the President of SSMU,” the statement says.

Ger confirmed that he had been meeting with Aird weekly to “actively review specific events that had happened throughout the week” which included reviewing equity and consent training materials. “So, if I was in a meeting with him, or we were ever around the office together and something that could be deemed ‘inappropriate’ happened […] making sure he understood changes in language that needed to happen,” explained Ger.

A member of McGill Against Austerity, who wished to remain anonymous, also confirmed that Aird had been removed from the group earlier this semester “for the same reason CDN called for his resignation: gendered and sexualized violence.”

In her statement submitted through the online form, Hermes criticized the “weekly check-ins,” saying that “[Ger’s] response to the problem included having a ‘talk’ with David. Someone who is in a position of power who has a history of harassing women is very rarely going to change after a ‘talk,’ and that proved to be the case with David.”

McGill’s sexual violence policy does not does not have jurisdiction over SSMU, and SSMU does not have a clear outline of procedures for receiving disclosures. “I don’t believe that [weekly check-ins] alone were adequate,” said Ger. “There was definitely a desire to do more.”

In her statement submitted through the online form, Hermes criticized the “weekly check-ins,” saying that “[Ger’s] response to the problem included having a ‘talk’ with David.

Within SSMU, “a lack of clear, binding policy has lead to multiple instances of disclosures being mishandled,” says the CDN statement. As a result, the CDN demands that SSMU issue a statement condemning Aird’s actions as well as issue public apologies to survivors and the community for the lack of action on the part of some members of the SSMU executive who failed to “immediately [take] steps towards pro-survivor disciplinary action” upon being approached with disclosures. CDN also demands that SSMU develop “a concrete stand-alone sexual assault policy” and “easily accessible complaint procedures and response protocols related to sexual assault,” and that all elected representatives undergo training on how to respond to disclosures of sexual assault.

At the time of publication, SSMU executives had yet to release a statement regarding Aird’s resignation.

*names have been changed

The Daily has not yet been able to verify the allegations of sexual assault.

The CDN is organizing a support group open to those who may have experienced any degree of sexualized or gendered violence by Aird; email community.disclosure.network@gmail.com. The CDN statement also includes a list of Montreal-based resources for those who have experienced sexual assault, including crisis centres, active listening services, self-care material, and 24-hour support services.

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Graduate students’ issues addressed at Senate http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/graduate-students-issues-addressed-at-senate/ Wed, 22 Feb 2017 16:45:16 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49811 On Wednesday, February 15, the McGill Senate convened for its sixth meeting of the 2016-2017 academic year.
Senators discussed a question regarding graduate student teaching at McGill, a motion regarding the annual celebration of Black History Month, had a lengthy discussion regarding the “McGill University Strategic Academic Plan 2017-2020,” and heard reports from a number of committees.

Opening remarks

In her opening address, Principal Suzanne Fortier mentioned her meeting with other heads of Quebec universities and the Ministers of Finance and Education in December, largely to discuss what is needed for the government to better support its universities.

Fortier noted that the Quebec government had instituted austerity measures which hurt universities, but said, “now that we’ve passed this period, we made the case to the Minister of Finance that it is time now to reinvest in universities.”

The Principal further noted that the ministers seemed to understand this request.

In her opening address, Principal Suzanne Fortier mentioned her meeting with other heads of Quebec universities and the Ministers of Finance and Education in December, largely to discuss what is needed for the government to better support its universities.

Following Fortier’s remarks, one senator asked what the University has done and will do for refugees, in light of the recent executive order from U.S. President Donald Trump, which banned refugees, and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.
In response, Provost and VP Academic Christopher Manfredi said that “some of the measures we put in place for students affected by the executive order were already in place for refugees.”

Kathleen Massey, university registrar and executive director of enrolment services, added that “refugees often encounter some unique problems […]. There are often challenges related to just ensuring official documentation which may have been destroyed through war or other serious matters. So we practice a level of flexibility around documentation for example.”

Massey noted that these measures were already in place prior to the executive order. She further added that for those students who may have dire financial difficulties, the University either waives or refunds their application fee.

Manfredi also added that the University “recently entered into a partnership with the Al Ghurair Foundation based in the United Arab Emirates. That foundation has a mission […] to provide educational opportunities for students from the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] region mostly, from underprivileged backgrounds as well as from refugee areas, provide them access to high quality secondary as well as post-secondary education.”

There are often challenges related to just ensuring official documentation which may have been destroyed through war or other serious matters. So we practice a level of flexibility around documentation for example.”

Manfredi elaborated that following Trump’s executive order, the University reached out to the foundation to see if “they needed [McGill’s] assistance either to place students from those seven countries or to place students from other countries in the region who might find it difficult going to the United States, whether because of their country of origin or refugee status.”

Graduate students teaching

Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Academic Affairs Officer Nicholas Dunn brought a question to Senate asking what the University is doing to ensure a better distribution of courses that graduate students can teach, and if the University is willing to guarantee at least one teaching opportunity for all incoming PhD students.

The question largely concerned the Collective Agreement between McGill and the Course Lecturers and Instructors Union (MCLIU), which allows the University to reserve up to fifteen per cent of courses not allocated to ranked academic staff for graduate students. However, there is a widespread belief that graduate students still lack teaching opportunities, according to Dunn.

Manfredi had provided a written answer to the question prior to the Senate meeting.

Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Academic Affairs Officer Nicholas Dunn brought a question to Senate asking what the University is doing to ensure a better distribution of courses that graduate students can teach.

Dunn referred to this answer initially: “I take your point insofar as there’s a technical point to be made which is that these [positions] can be reserved for a range of individuals, of which graduate students are a part. But I hope that you can understand the spirit of the question, which is that many people are concerned about the way in which the allocation of course exclusions will affect their graduate programs.”

“You say that grad students are free to apply to the courses that are posted, and this is of course true,” Dunn continued, “however, if they arrived after the collective agreement, they have zero points and so there’s no way for them to [enter] into the system, and even those who were here before but don’t have as many points as those who have been course lecturers for longer will never get any courses.”

In response, Manfredi said “the annual distribution of [teaching positions for graduate students is] recalibrated on an annual basis, and it’s recalibrated first of all on the basis of consultation with faculties to determine their needs, and I think we’re in a learning process.”

“I think the faculties are getting better at determining their needs […] so I think that’s part of the learning process, and at the provostial level, we’re in a learning process and getting better at how we do those allocations,” Manfredi continued.

Referencing the reserve clause in the collective agreement, Manfredi added that “to negotiate an agreement like this, there are many different faculties, with many different types of teaching needs and teaching program delivery styles, and you have to have a clause that accommodates all those different needs.”

“I hope that you can understand the spirit of the question, which is that many people are concerned about the way in which the allocation of course exclusions will affect their graduate programs.”

Senator Tetyana Krupiy, a postdoctoral scholar, then asked if it would be possible to receive the distribution of these positions by faculty and explanation for the distribution.

She further referenced Fortier’s discussion about the Business Higher Education round table, where the University discussed with local businesses how to further increase engagement and work opportunities for students.

“This is a real example of how [the University’s] not doing that, and where we can, we should. I speak as a graduate program director of a department that has 120 doctoral students but only five positions, so I urge you to reconsider these kinds of opportunities and make them available to our doctoral students,” Krupiy said.

Another senator asked if there was room in negotiations to recognize the different structure of faculties, as “some faculties clearly have permanent lecturers who require job protection and in whose interest the union exists, and other faculties may have an overarching need to give training to their students, and it seems to me the problem is that it’s not capturing that diversity.”

“I think the faculties are getting better at determining their needs […] so I think that’s part of the learning process, and at the provostial level, we’re in a learning process and getting better at how we do those allocations,” Manfredi continued.

Manfredi noted that the University will honor the agreement it signed with MCLIU, but when the agreement comes up for renegotiations “those are things we can take into account.”

Black History Month motion

Arts Senator Charles Keita brought a motion to Senate that asked “that McGill officially celebrates Black History Month,” in his words.

“Until this year there was no official body on the campus that celebrated it. This year that mantle was taken up by [the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office] and I have to say that they did a great job for the events that I’ve gone to and the community definitely seems to have enjoyed them. To keep it going, I propose this motion so that it is followed through that we do this every year and it doesn’t become a rare occurrence that McGill celebrates Black History Month,” Keita elaborated.
The motion passed unanimously.

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Winter 2017 SSMU GA http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/winter-2017-ssmu-general-assembly/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 20:12:53 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49801

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Autism and the plastic brain http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/autism-and-the-plastic-brain/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:33:10 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49728 According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated one in 68 individuals in the United States are currently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); a prevalence that has been rising since the 1970s. Although the increase in numbers is likely a primary result of broadened diagnostic parameters, these statistics have been turning heads in recent years and drawing the public’s attention. Accordingly, researchers have begun seriously considering a long-standing question: what is ASD and how does it occur? To be clear, vaccines, are not the correct answer to the latter.

ASD, colloquially known as Autism, is primarily characterized by difficulties with social interaction, lack of verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive or restrictive behavior, such as lining up and ordering objects. In addition to these core challenges, individuals may also present with altered learning and memory, epilepsy, aggression, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression. Because it is a spectrum disorder, different individuals with ASD will experience these problems to a greater or lesser degree, which will differentially affect their lives. As a consequence, the journey to understand and treat ASD is complicated and has historically been misguided.

Up until the late 1960s, it was common belief that Autism was due to a lack of maternal affection toward their child and the derogatory term “refrigerator mothers” was coined as a description for the cause of the condition. This non-evidence-based label undoubtedly caused distress, and certainly did not provide suitable grounds for thorough biomedical investigation.

We now understand that the genetic makeup of an individual, in combination with certain high-risk genetic mutations, is paramount for ASD etiology and susceptibility. The problem is that ASD is largely polygenetic in nature, meaning it results from alterations of multiple genes involved in a variety of functions. This makes studying ASD particularly challenging and has necessitated the use of tedious investigative paradigms.

The current strategy for understanding ASD implements a ground up approach. Scientists start with the identification of genes involved in the development of ASD, particularly in patients with de novo mutations compared with unaffected family members. With this information, scientists can understand how certain molecules and proteins work in neuron to neuron communication, how these connections make functional circuits in the brain, and how these circuits function in one or multiple brain regions ultimately governing behavior.

We are starting to identify clusters of genes involved in common functions, thereby giving us clues into the cellular and molecular basis of ASD. The regulatory mechanisms of protein synthesis and neuroplasticity have become a major candidate in this regard.

mRNA translation is the process by which new cellular proteins are synthesized based on the genetic code of an organism. This is required for cell growth and function throughout the body, and maintains physiologic homeostasis. In the brain, protein synthesis is elaborately regulated to ensure appropriate communication between neurons and within neural circuits.

Connections that are too strong or too weak can lead to aberrant brain function. Neuroscientists are speculating that this imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory (E/I) neural activity is involved in ASD pathogenesis. Importantly, the Sonenberg lab at McGill University described how dysregulation of the translation machinery resulting in enhanced synaptic protein synthesis leads to an ASD-like phenotype in mice. Can we, then, therapeutically target regulatory mechanisms of translation, correct E/I imbalance, and reverse ASD pathophysiology? The answer is: maybe, but it’s not easy.

Because it is a spectrum disorder, different individuals with ASD will experience these problems to a greater or lesser degree

Current drug treatment options for ASD are scarce and offer little support for the core symptoms. Unfortunately, since Autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of genetic heterogeneity, researchers are unlikely to find a therapeutic for every genetic cause of ASD or to find one common treatment for every case.

Furthermore, the process of designing effective neurological medication is complicated by poor drug delivery into the central nervous system (i.e. penetration of the blood brain barrier), in addition to off-target effects when it does enter the brain. Since neural function is fundamentally interconnected, correcting one problem often causes new complications to arise. In general, these challenges have made the quest for discovering effective neurologic pharmaceuticals slow and frustrating.

The future of ASD research, however, is more promising. Similar to the current strategy of targeting the translation machinery in cancer, we may be able to use this approach in the case of ASD.

Since translation is regulated at many levels, there are likely druggable targets that, when their function is attenuated or enhanced, may correct core deficits in ASD. This would indeed, on a physiological level, necessitate profound rewiring of neural circuitry and reshaping of cell-to-cell connectivity. Is such a phenomenon even possible? Should we even pursue such an end?

It was once thought that connections between neurons are hardwired and unchanging but we now understand that they are flexible, plastic, and can change over time. Regulated protein synthesis is indispensable for appropriate neuroplasticity. This ability has considerable implications for how memory is stored in the brain, the way we learn to interact with our surrounding environment, and ultimately how we experience life. The issue is, then, how would chemically altering neural activity with therapeutics change that experience? Furthermore, can we correct behavioral defects without altering other aspects of one’s life, such as their personality or even their memories?

Even though our relatively plastic brains can be rewired, this does not necessarily mean that they should. ASD may be experienced as a real disorder to some, but for others this may not be the case.

Steve Silberman, in his book about Autism and Neurodiversity, states that “By autistic standards, the “normal” brain is easily distractible, is obsessively social, and suffers from a deficit of attention to detail and routine. Thus, people on the spectrum experience the neurotypical world as relentlessly unpredictable and chaotic, perpetually turned up too loud, and full of people who have little respect for personal space.” In part, the lack of understanding, on a personal level, makes integration into typical society difficult for some with ASD.

However, the lack of understanding, on a scientific level, makes it nearly impossible to find real and effective solutions. In seeking to understand ASD, we are not only taking steps forward to help those in need, but we are given the opportunity to see into a new world from a new perspective. If we can communicate, we can connect; if we can connect, we can understand; and if we can understand, we have a hopeful future. I am talking, of course, about the inner workings of Autism and the plastic brain.

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Racism in 1990s Montreal http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/racism-in-1990s-montreal/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:03:01 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49757 Content warning: racism, violence, slurs

On Monday February 13, a group of students and community members gathered for a presentation by Délice Mugabo. Mugabo presented part of her research: “On Haunted Places: Encountering Slavery in 1990s Montreal.” The presentation was followed by an extended discussion focusing on the intersecting themes of Mugabo’s research.

Mugabo opened the panel by detailing the experiences of three Black people living in Montreal in the 1990s: Mireille Romulus, Pierre Moncius Étienne, and William Kafe. All three had faced some sort of violence while living in the city.

Being Black in Montreal

Romulus, a Haitian-born mother of two, was in her Longueuil apartment when two white male police officers busted in “on the pretext that her sister had an unpaid bill for $425 at the Simpson’s department store.” After handcuffing her, one of the officers choked her on the kitchen floor, then kicked and slapped her.

“[Romulus’] children reported being traumatized by the ordeal and remembered hearing the male officer calling their mother a dirty n****r and telling her to ‘go back to Africa’.”

After handcuffing her, one of the officers choked her on the kitchen floor, then kicked and slapped her.

Mugabo commented on the event, saying, “Africa, and not Longueil, is where Mireille Romulus was told she belonged. Africa is not only an elsewhere, but also an out of sight. This process of carefully placing Black people out of sight is a way of landscaping Blackness out of the nation.”

“It is rather unfathomable that they wouldn’t have known of her Haitian origin,” they added, “for not only are the vast majority of francophone Black people in Montreal descended from Haiti, the Quebec state had recruited many of them […] to help build a number of institutions.”

“Had the police officers wanted to emphasize her assumed immigration trajectory, they would have told her to go back to Haiti,” Mugabo continued “but I would argue that ‘go back to Africa,’ refers to the middle passage from Africa to the Caribbean and North America.”

“This process of carefully placing Black people out of sight is a way of landscaping Blackness out of the nation.”

Mugabo continued the discussion by recounting the violence perpetrated against Étienne, a 47 years-old Haitian father of two, when he was waiting for the bus inside the Pie IX subway station.

“A gang of fifteen skinheads ran into the station on the heels of a young Black man who had been trying to make a phone call,” said Mugabo. “The young Black man managed to get away, but the skinheads spotted Étienne and started yelling at him past the ticket booth attendant who did not intervene. The skinheads caught up to Étienne and beat him into unconsciousness. As they beat him they repeated ‘we don’t want n****rs here, go back to where you came from’.”

As a result of his severe injuries, Étienne spent several weeks recovering in the hospital and was fired from his job as a result.

“A year later, he said he still suffered from back pain, feared travelling at night, and had recurrent nightmares about the skinheads. Only four of his assailants were charged.”

Mugabo finally then went on to present the experiences of Kafe, an East Montreal teacher who immigrated to Quebec from Guinea.

“The skinheads caught up to Étienne and beat him into unconsciousness. As they beat him they repeated ‘we don’t want n****rs here, go back to where you came from’.”

“Having endured fifteen years of racial attacks from students at the Deux Montagne school board, the 54-year-old teacher submitted a complaint to the Quebec Human Rights Commission in 1992,” Mugabo explained.

“He testified that over the years students brought their excrement to throw at him and kicked him around in the classroom shouting ‘if the n****r dies what does it matter,’ and also ‘n****r crisis – the n****rs are everywhere’.”

As a result of his severe injuries, Étienne spent several weeks recovering in the hospital and was fired from his job as a result.

The children also repeatedly told Kafe that he was supposed to be their slave, not their teacher.

“The students’ claims to this Black man’s enslaveability are not due to their ignorance,” Mugabo made clear. “They seemed intent to make it clear to him either that slavery was as much a reality in Quebec as it had been in the states, or that if slavery hadn’t existed in Quebec that it should have.”

Mugabo called attention to the fact that this event was an instance of children expressing society’s thinly veiled prejudice: “Disruptive adolescents unconcerned with political correctness […] could shout ‘burn the n****r,’ voicing the feelings of an adult world which dared not to.”

The “haunting” nature of slavery in Quebec

Mugabo argued that these events illustrate how Black people today are haunted by slavery, even 184 years after its abolishment in Quebec. She also called attention to the lack of acknowledgement of the existence of slavery in Quebec and how that denial seeks to eradicate the experience of Black Quebecers.

“He testified that over the years students brought their excrement to throw at him and kicked him around in the classroom shouting ‘if the n****r dies what does it matter,’ and also ‘n****r crisis – the n****rs are everywhere’.”

“This province continuously denied or minimized its history of slavery,” she said, emphasizing that many in Quebec privilege Canadian slavery by claiming it was better than in the United States.

“Slavery in Quebec is said to be nicer because they were given Christian names, they were baptized,” Mugabo said.

Mugabo eventually returned to the theme of haunting, this time as proof of history’s existence. “What we learn from Beloved [by Toni Morrison] is that haunting is one way in which abusive systems of power make themselves known […] especially when they are supposedly over and done with or when their oppressive nature is denied.”

During the discussion, Rachel Zellars, a professor at McGill, raised a common issue in articulating racism. “One of the things that we’re always pushing against is scale. So the case of William Kafe can be perceived as exceptional and deviant from the norm. In Quebec in particular that narrative is something […] I’m always working against.”

“Disruptive adolescents unconcerned with political correctness […] could shout ‘burn the n****r,’ voicing the feelings of an adult world which dared not to.”

Mugabo responded: “No violence is ever spectacular enough or bad enough for it to matter or register as violent.” She continued, “It obviously isn’t spectacular enough because the school board didn’t do anything about it.”

“When we talk about systemic racism we talk about it as if it’s something [and we] don’t know how it happens. No one’s racist but you have systemic racism. So for me, [through] these cases, we can really see that this is something that people do, it’s not something that’s in the air.”

Racism in Canada vs. Quebec

When asked about the difference in racism in Quebec and the rest of Canada, Mugabo responded, “Quebec wants [Black Quebecers] to continuously say ‘you’re not racist, you’re not racist,’ asking us to speak our history in relation to their own political […] aspirations because […] people will always claim Quebec-bashing from the rest of Canada and from the rest of the world.”

“The fact that Quebec has wider issues with Canada does negate the fact that I have issues with Quebec,” she continued. “Quebec’s aspirations are not mine, so I have no interest in defending it or promoting it in any way.”

Elaborating on the theme of Quebec’s denial of slavery and racism, Zellars said, “So we only had two cases of reported lynchings in comparison to 4,000. So we only had 4,000 slaves in comparison to 4 million.”

When asked about the difference in racism in Quebec and the rest of Canada, Mugabo responded, “Quebec wants [Black Quebecers] to continuously say ‘you’re not racist, you’re not racist,’ asking us to speak our history in relation to their own political […] aspirations because […] people will always claim Quebec-bashing from the rest of Canada and from the rest of the world.”

“Whatever numbers we have, we did the same exact things that the United States did […] you still enslaved the first Black people who came here. Your framework for understanding Blackness was identical to the United States,” Zellars concluded.

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What mental illness is ‘supposed to look like’ http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/what-mental-illness-is-supposed-to-look-like/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:51 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49736 Content warning: mental illness, treatment

An alarming 66 per cent of undergraduate students at McGill report feeling “academic distress” over the course of the school year. Currently, we are being hit with waves of midterms and papers, and soon we’ll be struck with the tsunami known as finals season. Paired with a lack of sleep and excessive amounts of caffeine intake, this academic pressure can create a stressful environment, and is just one of many factors that can trigger emotional turmoil for students at McGill. 90 per cent of students at McGill reported feeling overwhelmed at some point over the course of the year, 56 per cent reported feeling overwhelming anxiety, and 40 per cent reported feeling so depressed it was difficult to function. Repetitive bouts of stress can have different underlying causes for each student. The competitive academic environment can exacerbate emotional stress. Mental illness manifests in different ways, but those who do not have stereotypical and traditional embodiments of mental illness, or those who are deemed not ‘sick enough,’ are not taken seriously and are often overlooked.

The overwhelming sense of competition among students that exists at institutions like McGill contribute to high levels of academic stress. Among students, a hierarchy forms: those who continue to excel as they previously had and those who find themselves adjusting to their new environment at a slower pace. Undergraduate students are at a stage in their lives where they are attempting to create a platform for themselves. The general idea is that success now will lead to successful endeavors after graduation. McGill students find themselves associating poor academic performance today with a pessimistic outlook for the future. The anticipation and perfectionism that manifests in McGill students are traits that have been linked to the development of anxiety and depressive disorders.

Students often need external assistance from mental health resources to readjust or learn self-regulation strategies to help cope with emotional distress. It is imperative that students who feel they require mental health services are not denied so because they don’t qualify as ‘mentally ill enough.’ It is imperative that those who are not considered ‘ill enough’ receive care before they are in crisis. Some people go through stressful periods with little difficulty and arrive at the finish line unscathed and there are a few who suffer minor stumbles along the way. But some of us suffer from too many falls, cuts and bruises during the marathon that is an undergraduate degree. Some run through the pain without giving any obvious indication of distress. Others outwardly grimace in pain indicating to others that there is cause for concern. Some find themselves falling behind in the race and create such a gap between themselves and their peers that it becomes hard to ever catch up without external assistance. There is a sort of mental health care rationing that exist at McGill’s Mental Health clinic. Although they try to provide for as many students as they can, they place priority on only those student who need ‘urgent care,’ while also dismissing many of these students as ‘too ill,’ citing that McGill is “not a hospital.” When McGill students decide to reach out to external resources available on campus, often those who are deemed too high functioning — the marathoners who may not outwardly grimace in pain — are not given the appropriate attention they deserve because the don’t fall into the ‘sweet spot’ McGill sees as fit for treatment.

So what does poor mental health or mental illness look like? Researchers have highlighted genetic and neuronal variation between individuals based on race, gender, socioeconomic background to name a few. There is no definite answer to the question of what mental illness should look like. Scientists acknowledge that the variation in the human brain means that mental illness will naturally manifest in a variety of ways, but this understanding doesn’t translate similarly in our communities. Several studies have come up with reliable evidence for the deleterious effect of racism on mental health. Similarly, there is evidence of poor mental health in LGBTQ communities, in comparison to heterosexuals.There is a correlation between lower socioeconomics and the quality of your mental health. We need to acknowledge that mental illness does not have the same causes or look the same among different communities at McGill.

We have all found ourselves guilty of having preconceived notions of what poor mental health looks like. We find it difficult to believe that seemingly happy, ‘high functioning’ individuals may actually be suffering from a mental illness. There are stereotypes that those suffering from mental illness are violent, or must behave in what is often described using pejorative terms like ‘crazy’ or ‘nuts.’ People often wait until these extreme symptoms of mental illness become evident before taking an individual seriously. People believe those with mental illness have bizarre disruptive behaviour or are unable to communicate with others. People with mental illness can be valuable members of society. We expect all mentally ill people to embody their experiences in the same ways, ways that are palatable.

We have spent years battling the stigma of mental disorders. Over the last five years, there has been a 35 per cent increase in students seeking help from McGill Mental Health Services, which is indicative of more students willing to seek help. Yet there are still people who suffer in silence, and are not allowed access to the resources they require. Students have reported being turned away from receiving one-on-one mental health services because they were “too high functioning.” The strain on resources at McGill mental health and counselling services, along with budget alterations and structural changes, have left many students neglected and disillusioned. The school is currently operating with the belief that only certain manifestations of mental illness need immediate medical attention- this does not take into consideration students who are on the margins of the community, or whose mental illnesses exhibit themselves in unconventional ways. Those deemed high functioning are not prioritized until they exhibit extreme signs of urgency which mirror what mental illness stereotypically looks like.

Destigmatization of mental disorders through open discussions does not, by default, allow for their trivialization. Part of the ongoing stigma of mental illness is its constant invalidation. It can be dangerous to get caught in the stigma that homogenizes mental illness and defines it using stringent stereotyped ideas.

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The Daily reviews http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/the-daily-reviews-14/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:50 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49765 Des milliers de fenêtres]]> February 13, 2017 marked the day of last-minute Valentine’s Day shopping, as well as the release of Des milliers de fenêtres: an ambient electronic album by Racine, a Montreal-based multidisciplinary artist.

The album, translating to ‘Thousands of windows,’ consists of seven tracks that experiment with rhythm and density. Highlights include the eponymous title track and “le lac noir qui nourrit les sources souterraines” – roughly translating to ‘the black lake that nurtures underground springs.’

Des milliers de fenêtres cracks the code of ambient music through the texture and tonality of sound. Electronic beats, static noise, and ethereal sounds compliment and battle each other, creating a sensory experience that challenges how we react to and envision what we hear. The songs travel through both emotional and physical space – or, as Racine himself puts it, “memories of a lost city and sensations of a room.” Melodies are pierced through, and dissipated to make way for new ones within the same track.

Racine, also known as Rabieto, or as band member of the Dolphin Dream pyramids, has self-published eight albums in Montreal. In 2015, he performed at MUTEK – the international summer festival dedicated to electronic music and digital arts – where he worked among artist collectives such as Daïmôn.

This album is the first collaboration between Julien Racine and the signing record label Archipel Musique. He has recently performed as a DJ at one of Archipel’s events where he combined visual imagery and film projected in the background, with live music. In fact, the last track of Des milliers of fenêtres scores a short film, which has been created in light of the upcoming release.


Check out Des milliers de fenêtres at soundcloud.com/julienracine.

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Eyeliners sharp, lipsticks blue http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/eyeliners-sharp-lipsticks-blue/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:38 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49742 Content warnings: mentions of misogyny, suicidal ideation, sexual harassment and assault, alcoholism, child abuse

Not long ago, Gale* got into a fight with someone from the queer student group at her school. She voiced her discomfort when the group tried to host an event that was “femmes only.” She got promptly shut down. One of the organizers referred publicly to her concerns as “masc tears” and subsequently joked about flirting with a butch barista in a “self-callout.”

Gale recently got out of an abusive relationship with another woman. Traumatized and dysphoric, she finally found comfort by cutting her hair, getting rid of her feminine clothes, and presenting herself as butch. “Icing on the damn cake,” she said, referring to the organizer’s story about flirting with a butch woman. “[They made] it clear they were referring to butch lesbians as basically men, and so it was hilarious that they were attracted to them. [It’s] straight up objectifying.”

Like Gale, I spent most of my undergrad moving in and out of different activist circles. I am a feminine-presenting person of colour who was designated female at birth, and I’ve been using ‘they’ pronouns exclusively for the past couple of years. I’ve met some of my closest friends while organizing, and I have a great deal of attachment to activist culture. However, I’ve become disillusioned with the gender politics that run rampant within rad queer circles. It’s a politics that is unsubstantiated, ahistorical, and not at all ‘radical.’

At the centre of this politics is the concept of ‘femmephobia.’ An article from good ol’ Everyday Feminism defines it as “the fear or hatred of all people [who] are perceived as femme, feminine […] regardless of their gender.” The author argues that we should recognize femininity as “beautiful, valuable, or strong” and calls for us to “stop devaluing [anyone] who doesn’t meet some societal stereotype of perfect masculinity.”

I’ve become disillusioned with the gender politics that run rampant within rad queer circles. It’s a politics that is unsubstantiated, ahistorical, and not at all ‘radical.’

To compensate for the cultural devaluation of femininity, we have decided to glorify it as much as possible. Decades following the emergence of queer theory, our activism has gotten to a point where anything and everything can be empowering if we say it is. “Eyeliner so sharp it could kill a man,” we insist. “If you wear your lipstick in the right shade of blue, you’re contributing to the revolution!”

Our uncritical reverence of femininity is a misguided attempt to tackle misogyny. The current conversation about how feminine-presenting people bear the brunt of patriarchal violence fails to account for the experiences of butch and gender non-conforming women, as well as people who may not be women but face specific consequences because they were designated female at birth.

“A woman like me”

El* is a self described “neuroatypical Jewish lesbian” who loved Star Wars and baseball as a child. “I was a girl,” they said, “but not a very good one.” It was as if they’d failed “some secret, invisible test.” As a teenager, they tried hard to fix things. “If I style my thick, unruly hair […] I will be beautiful and worth something,” they told themselves. “If I pluck my defiant eyebrows. If I shave my arm and leg hair every morning. If I start wearing makeup. If I wear the right clothes. If I stop raising my hand so much.”

In high school El started engaging in LGBTQ activism and realized that they didn’t have to be a girl. “I still wanted to be pretty,” they said, “but I wanted to be pretty as a boy, or at least something else.” Like El, I discovered near the end of high school that I didn’t have to identify with the sex I was assigned to at birth. I wasn’t pretty, didn’t know a thing about makeup, and did horribly in my textiles class. I rejoiced in knowing that it was all because I wasn’t a girl – I was “something else.”

To compensate for the cultural devaluation of femininity, we have decided to glorify it as much as possible.

Weirdly enough, my relationship to the men in my life didn’t change one bit. When I cut my hair short, my then-boyfriend told me that he preferred me with long hair. I ended up growing it out. When adult men in my family made comments about my body, I told myself that my fear was unwarranted.

El now wears exclusively ‘men’s’ clothing and swaggers a bit when they walk. “I’m usually too scared,” they said, “to even compliment girls out of fear that they’ll find any attention from me unwelcome.” Their more feminine lesbian friends could not relate. El wonders. “Do men […] agonize like this over the decision to tell a girl she’s cute?”

“Maybe it would be easier for me to be a man,” El admits, “I tried to cope with the crushing realities of misogyny […] by identifying away from womanhood […] But I don’t want to be a man. I want to be a woman who looks and acts like me.”

However El and I may identify internally, we move through the world as women. I am almost always read as a woman, and El sometimes gets addressed as a guy. We were raised as girls, or, in El’s words, “girlhood had been assigned to me before I even had a chance to scream at the world for the first time.” Expectations of conventional womanhood shape our embodiment, whether we like it or not. ‘Femmephobia’ doesn’t address the fact that femininity is, for us at the very least, not a choice.

“I don’t want to be a man. I want to be a woman who looks and acts like me.” –El*

By the time she was eight, my mom had been fully tasked with cleaning the house and cooking for the entire family. One time when I was little, my dad drunkenly insulted me in all sorts of creative ways from across the dinner table. My mom said nothing. Maybe she was trying to teach me something. I had yet to learn that her necklaces and heels, that I used to play dress up with, were symbols of submission. Performing femininity, in other words, comes with a demand.

Say woman, not femme

El told me, “the treatment that I’ve come to expect from the world as a butch lesbian made me wish I could die.” When their then-best friend sent them an article about ‘butch privilege,’ they felt sick. “Was I denying my privilege when I carried my pocketknife with me on the subway just in case? When I avoided public bathrooms as much as possible, expecting to be gawked at in the best-case scenario?”

‘Femmephobia’ is a deeply flawed attempt to name the cause of gendered violence. As a form of analysis, it makes the gross mistake of separating femininity from womanhood. Although the demands of femininity are transient and in no way natural, they are tied up conceptually with womanhood through socialization, which begins as soon as the doctor declares, “it’s a girl!”

From that moment, built-in mechanisms exist on every social level that make sure women are to be exploited for their reproductive and domestic labour at all times. We are obliged to spend large sums of money on cosmetics and an extraordinary level of effort in keeping up with beauty rituals that are time-consuming and painful. We can’t simply opt out of these expectations because we’ve been trained to accept them as good and desirable, and there are material consequences if we do refuse them, which includes everything from harassment and assault to lack of job opportunities.

“Was I denying my privilege when I carried my pocketknife with me on the subway just in case?” –El

I want to make it clear that I have no issue with people who present as feminine because they can’t afford otherwise. If you’re racialized, fat, trans, disabled, and you need to conform to conventions of femininity for safety, I feel for you – I really do. I’m sorry that we live in a world where deviation from ‘correct’ performances of gender results in various levels of corporeal violence. The fear of punishment for nonconformity is real and devastating.

Nor am I chastising those who find it meaningful or fun to reclaim femininity for themselves. For those of us who are denied access to traditional notions of femininity, it can feel validating to be in dresses and heels, all powder and glitter.

At the end of the day, we need to all agree that a structural, historical analysis of gender as a system of domination is more accurate than any theoretical framework that deals entirely with language and representation. Dismantling essentialist ideas about sex and gender does not end with changing our language, not in a world where women’s bodies remain a primary site of patriarchal control. This is not to say that using the right words is unimportant, but addressing the material reality of oppression should always be our top priority.

The fear of punishment for nonconformity is real and devastating.

“I am hated,” El said, “not because I am feminine. I am hated because I am a woman and because I am not feminine.” Next time you get the urge to substitute ‘women’ for ‘femmes,’ note the assumptions you’re making about people whose experiences you don’t understand. The scars we carry for not being and loving men – not until the end of patriarchy would we need another name for this. The word is misogyny.


*Names have been changed.

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Oscars are not white; Oscars are gold http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/oscars-are-not-white-oscars-are-gold/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:33 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49745 Race is a contentious issue in American entertainment, as reality TV star Donnie Drumpf recently showed by making America a live, 24-hour Survivor sequel starring marginalized people. Should race dominate the upcoming Oscars discourse, though, or are there more important Hollyweed issues to talk about? Like the fact that some ignoramus has changed the Hollyweed sign to read “Hollywood” for over a month now, perhaps? Or, as I, and several Hollyweed notables argue, the startling fact that the Oscars were never white – they were always gold.

2017 Oscar nominee Emma Pebble, an advocate for dismissing the race discourse (she’s totally Asian, so she’s got cred), was recently quoted as saying, “you know, I’ve been to a lot of these ceremonies, despite there being other actresses a lot more qualified, and, some would argue, more Asian than me. I can say with certainty though that those statues have always been gold.”
In the course of the same interview, Emma Pebble bid “Aloha” to another totally Asian actor, Matt Demon, star of the upcoming Chinese documentary picture, The Great Wall. Demon, who was not nominated for an Oscar, later admitted that, “maybe if I could play a black woman, I’d have received a nomination this year – not a win, of course, but a nomination. Being born as the race that I am, it’s limiting.”

Indeed, as Demon said, the Academy nominated a significant number of Black films, actors, and filmmakers this year, in an effort to enable all its white members to say with certainty that they have a Black friend. William Smith may even return to the ceremony, allowing white people to rap the Fresh Prince theme song again, as opposed to accusing Smith of obscurity. Some films, however, may be too much for the populace –Moonlight contains not just queer Black men, but queer Black men who are not slaves. No actors of colour could be reached for comment about this topic, however, nor would any deign to sidestep racial issues in favour of chatting about the colour of the statuettes.

The race problem, then, is solved – Black voices can be thoroughly relayed by white people speaking for them in appropriated Black slang. But who will speak for the gold Oscars? I nominate Peril Streep, whose Liberal Status™ was renewed this year by her earth-shattering denunciation of Donnie Drumpf – marginalized actors had only been doing that for years before her, but ask yourself this: who is more marginalized than a white woman?

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Fight the government with song http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/fight-the-government-with-song/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:27 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49725 In 1794, at the height of France’s Reign of Terror, fourteen Carmelite nuns were sentenced to the guillotine.

Religious organizations stirred paranoia in the new Jacobin government: cloistered and secretive, might the nuns be plotting against the Revolution? The fourteen nuns were ordered to disband their convent – their home and community – but instead, they took a vow of martyrdom, willing to die for their beliefs. As they marched to their deaths on the scaffold, the nuns didn’t cry or scream in protest. Instead, they sang.

The true story of the singing Martyrs of Compiègne inspired a screenplay by French writer Georges Bernanos, which in turn inspired composer Francis Poulenc’s landmark 1956 opera Dialogues des carmélites. One of few regularly programmed postwar operas – most are overshadowed by the celebrated earlier works of Verdi and Psuccini – Dialogues is a meditative and tragic reflection on friendship, faith, and hardline ideology in times of danger and fear.

At first, the production seemed marred by a sense of cold detachment, with physical distance separating the characters and isolating the audience.

Opéra de Montréal presented Dialogues des carmélites in Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier for a four-show run between January 28 to February 4. The performance on January 31 featured successful delivery by an all-Canadian cast, bolstered by the phenomenal Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal under the baton of conductor Jean-François Rivest.

At first, the production seemed marred by a sense of cold detachment, with physical distance separating the characters and isolating the audience. Nuns sat in chairs spaced far apart along the perimeter of the stage, and a gauzy, semi-sheer curtain acted as a physical barrier between characters and scenes. Life in the convent felt bleak and lonely; even the long-winded death of the convent’s Prioress – sung with ample gravitas by mezzo-soprano Mia Lennox – failed to enact any sense of intimacy in shared sorrow among the community of nuns.

Protagonist Blanche de La Force – soprano Marianne Fiset – and Sister Constance de Saint Denis – soprano Magali Simard-Galdès – provided an intimate antithesis to this staged detachment. Blanche is the nervous, flighty daughter of a deposed Marquis. Frightened of the increasingly violent Paris streets, and professing her desire to “lead a heroic life,” Blanche enters into the Order of Carmel as a novice nun. There, she meets another novice, Sister Constance, a bubbly and blithe foil to Blanche’s anxious pessimism. The two become friends, even as Blanche is shaken by Constance’s eerie premonition that the two would die young, together, on the same day.

Simard-Galdès stole the show in the role of Sister Constance, effortlessly nailing each bright, leaping melody. She lent her character a sense of the supernatural – angelic, prescient – in contrast with Fiset’s overwrought Sister Blanche. Fiset sang the demanding role with musical success, while Blanche’s stiff, melodramatic arias echoed the cold, spacious staging of the opening two acts.

As they marched to their deaths on the scaffold, the nuns didn’t cry or scream in protest. Instead, they sang.

However, in Act III, the audience witnessed a shift. Jacobin officers forced the nuns to exchange their habits for plainclothes, and urged them to declare allegiance to the Revolutionary government. Resolute in their refusal, the nuns – now unrecognizable in threadbare civilian cloaks – gathered closely in a crowd, finding warmth and strength in one another, and bridging the icy distance that stretched through the previous acts. Suddenly, closeness became a theme of the final act – closeness of community, both physical and emotional; the encroaching nearness of death; and closeness to God, on the threshold of the nuns’ martyrdom.

Dialogues des carmélites counts among a series of sacred and spiritual works composed by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) after the 1935 death of his father spurred his return to the Catholic Church. A member of Les Six – the six most prominent Parisian composers of the 20th century – Poulenc struggled to reconcile his devout Catholic faith with his queer sexuality. Dialogues sees traces of these identities: the intimate relationship between Blanche and Constance could easily be read as romantic, culminating in a literal “’til death do us part,” within a community of women and femmes devoted to serving God, and ultimately killed for their devotion.

When the nuns vote to take vows of martyrdom, Blanche’s faith wavers: she flees the convent, taking to the streets of Paris. However, on the day of the execution, she arrives at the city square and calmly takes her place on the scaffold, Sister Constance at her side.

Dialogues des carmélites continues to feel relevant in light of the perilous populism globally on the rise.

L’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal delivered a colourful interpretation of Poulenc’s richly layered score. Woodwind melodies shone – especially a mournful, chant-like cadenza played by Pierre-Vincent Plante on English horn – while brass lent militaristic precision and resonant cellos and basses kept the orchestra grounded in a low, sombre range. The powerful ending featured the nuns’ final song: a harrowing rendition of the prayer “Salve Regina” as they approached the guillotine. Thunderous percussion paired with an electronic sound effect imitated the slicing of a blade, while each nun’s spotlight went out one by one, leaving the dead in darkness.

Written in a France still reeling from fascism and war, and recounting an earlier France similarly caught in the throes of extremism and terror, Dialogues des carmélites continues to feel relevant in light of the perilous populism globally on the rise. But there is a certain danger in ascribing heroism to Poulenc’s martyred nuns: they were willing to die for their beliefs, but not to stand and fight.

Nonetheless, Dialogues tells the story of a community of strong women and femmes who support one another, love one another, and uphold their faith and their values with outspoken pride in the face of violent political oppression – and who meet their fate not with resignation or fear, but with song. Here, song – music – becomes a political act: the voices of the oppressed, raised in unity, are impossible to ignore.

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Feeling BoGged down by lack of accountability http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/feeling-bogged-down-by-lack-of-accountability/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:21 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49733 On November 29, 2016 the office of the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President released a report called “A Seat at the Table: An Analysis of the McGill University BoG [Board of Governors].” The SSMU press release announcing the research report stated that “the current state of governance at McGill University has perpetuated an environment where community members feel disenfranchised and unheard by the Board of Governors [BoG].” Among other things, SSMU asked to expand member-at-large seats (Board members who are not faculty, staff, or students) from the McGill community, the public nomination of said members-at-large, greater diversity, tracked voting for all decisions, and consultative protocols for student input in decision-making. Although procedure which addresses the final demand has since been implemented, it has been ineffective, and has shown a lack of true commitment to increasing student input. If the BoG claims to be open to the McGill’s community input, they must be held accountable. Instead, they are leaving no space for student engagement, activism, or dissent.

At the December 1, 2016 BoG meeting, the Board passed a resolution which established twenty minute community sessions twice a year. Members of the McGill community can submit written questions prior to the community session, and receive a written response. If they have follow-up questions, they are allotted five minutes to ask them at the Board’s community sessions.

However, community sessions are an ineffective solution to the BoG’s lack of accountability and transparency. The Board not only gets to choose which questions it gets to answer, but also retains the right to decline a question if an individual or group has previously appeared before the Board meeting asking a similar question, even if the question was inadequately answered or dismissed in a previous session. While the Chair of the Board, Stuart (Kip) Cobbett, has called the community sessions a “step ahead,” in reality the community sessions are a weak façade of democracy. Five minutes per interaction simply isn’t enough time to explain an issue and receive a substantial response. Moreover, during a community session, the Board has proven that it reserves the right not to clarify a response when pushed for additional details, and thereby shut down the discussion.

As pointed out by SSMU in “A Seat at the Table,” too many important discussions at McGill happen behind closed doors. The decision-making process lacks transparency at the best of times, and is riddled with conflicts of interest at worst. The Chair should relinquish their right to reject a question if a similar one has already been asked.Moreover, the choice of which questions get answered should not solely be at the discretion of the Chair: student representatives should have a role in deciding which questions get heard. In order to ensure that the BoG is held accountable to the McGill community, there must be a greater representation of students on the board – as of now, the only students who sit on the board are the SSMU president and the PGSS Secretary General, which is insufficient representation of a vast and varied student body. Additionally, the Board must heed SSMU’s recommendations on actively recruiting and creating designated seats for governors who reflect the diversity of the wider community, such as Indigenous people, people of colour, trans people, and people with disabilities.

This article has been amended for clarification. The Nominating, Governance, and Ethics Committee of the Board plans to review the SSMU requests when they meet in April. 

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Musicians’ Mental Health http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/musicians-mental-health/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:18 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49773 On Monday, February 13, McGill students and members of Montreal’s music community gathered at the Wirth Music building for a panel discussion, entitled “Musician’s Health Throughout a Performing Career.”

Claire Motyer, the founder of the Schulich Musician’s Health Committee, which organized the event, started the discussion by saying, “I don’t think you can really separate emotional, physical, and mental health from each other. We’re really just trying to get this conversation started, really just wanting to open up about musician’s health [and] bring some faculty, some alumni, and some current students [together] to share their stories so more people open up and feel comfortable talking about their stories.”

Speaking with The Daily, Motyer said, “I really want students, and faculty as well, just to feel more comfortable talking about these issues, creating a dialogue between all of us as a community, and creating more of a sense of a community around these topics.”

Motyer, a U3 Music student and violinist at McGill, has experienced injury herself. “It’s only now really that I’m realizing this is what I want to do, bring awareness to these issues, and to musicians’ health. At first I found it hard to talk about, but now I feel much better being open about it.”

Panelists included Yolanda Bruno, a violinist, Isabelle Cossette, Director at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music, Media, and Technology, trumpet professor Russell Devuyst, and Renée Yoxon, a jazz vocalist. To start the discussion, each of the panelists introduced themselves.

“I’m originally from Ottawa, and I’m a violinist,” said Bruno. “I’ll focus on the angle of injury: I’ve had an injury twice before. The first time, I was still young so I brushed over it quite quickly. The second time was quite traumatic. The second time I had to take a significant amount of time off, maybe three to four months off, which felt like an eternity.”

“I had to cancel many concerts and I had to tell people that I was injured and then the word got out and people knew and that was really scary because as soon as one person knew, then more people knew,” she continued.

Speaking about her recovery process, Bruno explained that she was uncertain how to move forward because she “received a lot of information from many different people.”

“It took a long time for me to find my route to recovery,” she said, “which ended up being one-on-one sessions with a Hatha yoga instructor, and acupuncture after doing chiropracting, and lots of running and swimming and lots of different things.”

Another panelist, Isabelle Cossette, the director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT), was trained as a flute player and got her doctorate in music performance, but decided ultimately to turn to a career in research, focusing on the respiratory mechanics of musicians. Throughout the discussion, she spoke about the importance of accepting and embracing change.

“I’m not here to necessarily discuss a specific injury that I had while I was performing,” Cossette said. “I can make a lot of parallels; I had to go through depressions and that is very similar to someone who gets injured and can’t play. You find ways to recover. Changes, in fact, can be seen as exciting.”

Devuyst, who played for the Montreal Symphony for twenty-four years, focused on injury in terms of the effects it can have not only on a musician’s career, but also on their self-confidence.

“In relation to performance injuries, I’ve been injured three times actually,” he explained. “I never thought that I would, you know, you don’t think of being injured when you’re eighteen years, you think you’re infallible […] you just go crazy, and you just play.”

The first injury Devuyst experienced was partial facial paralysis caused by Ramsay Hunt Syndrome.

“I couldn’t play,” he said. “It was like going to the dentist and getting novocaine and then trying to play. That’s the way I felt for a couple of months.”

“Coming back from that was a very arduous thing,” he elaborated, “because I had two kids, three and five years old, so I just figured okay, my life’s over. What am I going to do now?”

Outlining the difficulties of recovery, and his mental health during this time, Devuyst explained how he used new hobbies as a coping mechanism.

“Instead of getting all worried, I just started woodworking,” he said. “I got this book on how to make toys […] I made them for my kids and I said, ‘Hey, this is kind of fun.’ It took my mind of it.”

Devuyst also spoke about his second accident. “The second accident I had, I was riding my bike and […] I was carrying a bag from the supermarket and the bag got caught in the front wheel and I went over the front handlebars. Even though I had a helmet on, it didn’t help because I smashed my teeth.”

“I did everything that a trumpet player’s not supposed to do and broke my front teeth,” he continued. “My teeth were broken, my lips were bleeding like crazy, I was looking at the cement and I saw chips of my teeth, so I took my teeth, put them in my pocket, and I went to the dentist and said, ‘glue them back,’ and they’re still there actually.”

Devuyst stressed the importance of accepting an injury and pacing your recovery. “The difficulty in coming back after an injury is that your brain knows where you used to be, but your body doesn’t respond to that, so you can really hurt yourself if you try to get yourself back into the level [musically] that you were. You have to accept where you are and just start from there and don’t expect anything”

Yoxon was the last panelist to introduce themself. “I’m a jazz vocalist. I’m studying currently in the undergraduate program here at McGill and I have chronic pain. I’ve been dealing with chronic pain for about ten years; I’m almost thirty now and I started experiencing chronic pain symptoms when I was in my late teens and then I started identifying as someone with chronic pain when I was like twenty, twenty-one years old. […] For me, my pain threshold is much, much lower, so I’m just in pain all the time, even when there’s no injury.”

Yoxon continued, “Your pain system is there to prevent injury, so you feel pain before you become injured, which is why you [are] supposed to stop playing [then]. However, in my case, I’m feeling pain all the time and I actually have to play through it a little bit. I would just be stopping all the time if I didn’t. So what I’m […] dealing with is how to adapt singing for me, even though I’m going to be injured forever.”

In an interview with The Daily, Yoxon stressed the importance of making music accessible to those with disabilities, by “[listing] what accessibility features are on their event information.”

They also highlighted the benefits of live broadcasting. “I think live broadcasting can not only bring shows to disabled people, […] live broadcastings brings shows to people who have lower incomes, people who need childcare. Lots of people don’t have the privilege of going out.”

Noémie Chemali, an attendee and music student at McGill, has experienced both the physical and mental stress that the panelists discussed. “When I first came to McGill, I was a violin student and there was definitely a huge leap of expectations from what I was used to. I come from a small town in the U.S. and coming here, it’s a bigger city. I felt like a very small fish in a big pond basically.”

“I’m glad we have more dialogue going on about musician’s health, definitely to help people from struggling, the way I did, especially my first two years when I didn’t have the courage to stand up and say I’m in pain, I’m not going to play today,” Chemali added.

The rest of the discussion focused mainly on methods of coping with the physical and emotional stresses of musicianship. The panelists all stressed focusing on one’s own progress as opposed to competition.

Yoxon said, “I feel like in order to succeed at McGill, you need to be like an athlete, and we are, we’re athletes, but I think that there’s something to be gained by learning music and not approaching it from the point of athleticism.”

Later in the discussion, they stated, “We do have a lot of people who are playing from a place of fear. […] It helps your mental health to not worry about what other people are thinking.”

Devuyst, similarly, expressed the importance of practicing to improve, not to avoid making mistakes. He also stressed the importance of “knowing your body, knowing what you can do with your body, how far you can go.”

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Are we waiting for another scandal? http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/are-we-waiting-for-another-scandal/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:15 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49754 Content warning: sexual assault

The Hunting Ground, the groundbreaking movie on campus sexual violence in the U.S., opens with various shots of football players, looking hideous and sinister underneath their black helmets and shoulder pads as an ominous soundtrack plays in the background. The narrative of the sexually violent student-athlete isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who follows discussions of campus sexual assault. Male student-athletes tend to dominate the headlines and conversations. It’s only logical to wonder: do athletes rape more often?

We don’t even have to look too far for evidence. From the termination of the football season in 2005 over brutal hazing incidents to suspension of multiple players charged with sexual and domestic violence in the past few years, McGill student-athletes – particularly football players – have been consistently in the news due to Athletics’ poor treatment of sexual violence. This is while student-athletes make up a tiny proportion of the overall student body.

It’s been almost four years since the storm that took over campus about McGill’s treatment of the reports of a sexual assault by three R*dmen players, and a few months since the passing of McGill’s Policy Against Sexual Violence. So I had to wonder: how much has changed in Athletics since?

Why is sexual violence prevalent among student-athletes?

Since 1992, numerous studies have shown that male student-athletes are indeed more likely to commit  sexual violence. According to a review of the literature on college athletics and sexual assault by Kristy McCray of Otterbein University, male student-athletes are grossly overrepresented in official campus rape reports and are more likely themselves to admit potential or past sexually abusive behaviour than their non-athlete peers. Moreover, athletes are also self-identified as assailants by survivors of sexual violence at disproportionate rates.

The research McCray reviews attributes this violence to a variety of factors, such as the increased likelihood for athletes to be physically and sexually aggressive. Immersed in a male-dominated environment, they are more likely to feel the need to prove their masculinity, display misogynistic attitudes, receive and cave into peer pressure, have a sense of celebrity entitlement and believe in rape myths – false and widely held attitudes about rape. Athletes’ impunity is not baseless: often, athletics departments and universities do their best to protect their star athletes from criminal allegations or charges, as has been the case at McGill.

Last year, a study published in Violence Against Women showed that recreational athletes often display the above attitudes and behaviours seen in varsity athletes. In fact, the study found no significant difference in rape myth acceptance, attitudes toward women, and sexual coercion between the two types of athletes.

The study found no significant difference in rape myth acceptance, attitudes toward women, and sexual coercion between the [varsity and recreational] athletes.

All this research, however, is almost exclusively conducted in the U.S., and the similar studies in a Canadian context are scarce. Even the 2016 independent investigation funded by the Government of Ontario – considered as offering some of the most comprehensive findings  in Canada – barely mentions the unique nature of Athletics and the abusive dynamics that often exist in its culture. Now, unlike the U.S., Canadian university life is not centered around athletics and R*dmen particularly do not enjoy the same status and prestige of their American counterparts.

But I think this is exactly why we need to pay more attention to athletes’ sexual violence in Canada. It is in the absence of such athletic prestige that, time and again, R*dmen’s sexual violence has dominated headlines and galvanized the student body. If, in the absence of empirical data, our own university is to be a lesson for others, it is clear that something is wrong with the culture of Athletics at McGill, and it’s important to actively acknowledge and address that.

McGill R*dmen after 2013

In 2014, Ian Sheriff was employed at McGill’s sports summer camp for 6 to 15 years-old children while still undergoing investigation for the sexual assault with a weapon of a female Concordia student. This was the third summer Sheriff was working at the summer camp following his arrest. His hiring would have been censured by the guidelines of Quebec Association of Certified Camps, but McGill wasn’t affiliated with that association at the time.

The CBC revealed the news about Sheriff’s employment on July 23, 2014. Drew Love, the executive director of McGill Athletics at the time, was quoted by the CBC as saying that all new employees undergo background checks. However, he added, “We are bound by the presumption of innocence, and by an accused’s right to due process.”

The next day, Anthony Masi, who was  Provost of McGill at the time, chimed in to disagree. The hiring of Sheriff was now, according to Masi, a “lapse in judgement.” He also told the CBC about his call for a  “thorough review of the circumstances that led to this hiring at the sports camp and a full and complete examination of employment procedures at McGill Athletics and Recreation.”

This report, however, was never released to the public, and the administration did not respond to my request about these investigations.

Those of us who have been around long enough still remember the storm that took over campus when it was revealed that Sheriff, along with Brenden Carriere and Guillaume Tremblay, had been allowed to remain on the R*dmen’s roster and stay at McGill after being charged with sexual assault with a weapon and forcible confinement in 2011.

Even if the University doesn’t want to “comment on any individual case,” […] it ought to make the general conclusions and ramifications of these investigations public.

At the time, Deputy Provost (Living and Learning) Ollivier Dyens told the Montreal Gazette, “It didn’t happen on the McGill campus and she wasn’t a McGill student […].” He claimed to have been unaware of the charges. However, the Gazette claimed to have contacted McGill after the attack in 2011, and the then football head coach Clint Uttley was informed of the arrests in 2012. The publicity crisis resulting from Dyens’ comments, Uttley’s knowledge of the charges and the overall lack of transparency about the situation led to the athletes’ suspension.

In 2014, star athlete Luis Guimont-Mota was charged with domestic violence against his wife. This wasn’t Guimont-Mota’s first criminal charge: he had previously been been sentenced to ninety days of jail time – served on Sundays to avoid interference with his athletic career – and 240 hours of community service after pleading guilty to assaulting a man in 2010.

This time, the administration seemed to have learnt its lesson. “In line with the University’s varsity athletics guidelines,” read a statement released by Dyens, “effective immediately, this player is suspended from the football team pending resolution of his case by the Court.”

To be clear, according to my correspondence with Dyens about the Guimont-Mota case, there is no such clause in the “University’s varsity athletics guidelines.” This claim is likely an interpretation of section 21 of the Student Code of Conduct: students can be excluded from university premises if there exists  “reasonable grounds to believe that the student’s continued presence is detrimental to good order, or constitutes a threat to the well-being of others.’”

Dyens also told CBC news, “[Guimont-Mota] should not have come to McGill University. We take full responsibility for this.” Similar to Masi in the 2013 case, Dyens is reported to have called for an inquiry, this time into Guimont-Mota’s recruitment. He said, “We want to know who knew what, when and how.” According to Guimont-Mota and Uttley, the administration was aware of the charges at the time.

I requested an interview with Athletics’ eligibility officer, Caroline James, current football head coach, Ronald Hilaire, executive director, Marc Gélinas as well as Dyens regarding this investigation and the ramifications for future recruitment and background screening.

James and Hilaire never got back to me, Gélinas told me to talk to Dyens and Dyens told me that he can’t discuss the investigation. Let me reiterate: in response to publicity crises, the University’s senior administration reported the launch of investigations about the University’s most high-profile sexual assault cases. Now that everything has blown over, the University refuses to publish these findings, and puts a gag order on anyone else that may dare to speak of the incidents.

I believe that is important to be transparent about Sheriff’s employment at or Guimont-Mota’s recruitment to McGill. Even if the University doesn’t want to “comment on any individual case,” as Dyens told me, it ought to make the general conclusions and ramifications of these investigations public. This is not only because the University made a promise, but because, as students, we deserve to know.

Guimont-Mota, needless to say, was reinstated in early 2015 once the charges against him were dropped. This is while Dyens had said his recruitment had been a mistake in the first place. Guimont-Mota went on to play for R*dmen for the next season, as well.

McGill’s response to sexual violence in Athletics

In the Senate meeting of September 17, 2014, Dyens said that he won’t be institutionalizing consent training for athletes; he was “not going to target one group of students.”

In some ways, Dyens has changed his mind. He told me in an email that, since 2014, the University has offered consent and bystander prevention workshops to coaches. Athletes themselves, in collaboration with Consent McGill, have produced a consent video and other “educational information.” But that’s it.

That’s all that McGill’s accountability with regards the sexual violence committed by male athletes has consisted of: workshops for coaches, and making videos. In an article titled “#ThisIsNotHelping” published in The Daily last year, I have outlined the shortcomings of consent education in depth, particularly when used as the sole measure to combat sexual violence, and it seems to be the case at Athletics as well.

However, my skepticism of consent education’s effectiveness does not hinder me from believing that such training can indeed do some good in the case of McGill Athletics. Uttley, after all, was fully aware of Guimont-Mota’s conviction and the charges against Sheriff, Carriere and Tremblay. He just didn’t think it was important to do something about it. Perhaps if he had received some consent training – empirically shown to change attitudes about the gravity of sexual violence – he would have thought otherwise. But what if coaches are abusive themselves?

Let’s talk about the coach

There has been a lot of conversations on our campus about professors’ abuse of power to groom and sexually harass or abuse their students. Perhaps due to the disconnect between Athletics and the wider campus community, not much discussion has revolved around similar abusive dynamics between athletes and coaches.

The focus on changing coaches’ attitudes about sexual violence, as seem to be McGill’s focus, may prevent Uttley-like coverups in the future. However, attitude change can only take you so far, particularly when men are set on abusing their authority. No study has, to my knowledge, shown that consent education leads to long term behavioural change. Understanding this has serious ramifications for the role of coaches in sports and athletic environments.

Perhaps the most high-profile case of coach misconduct in recent memory is that of Penn State: in 2011, Jerry Sandusky, former coach for the school’s football team, was convicted of 52 counts of sexual abuse and sentenced to 442 years in prison. In the nearby City of Wesmount, it was only last month that  a class action suit against against the city representing the child abuse victims of the city’s former hockey coach, John Garland, was settled.

Attitude change can only take you so far, particularly when men are set on abusing their authority.

In a study published in Canadian Woman Studies, one in five athletes among the 1,200 Canadian national team athletes surveyed (ninety per cent of whom are female) reported having had sexual relations with people who held positions of power over them. Moreover, in the survey, the female respondents wrote four times as many accounts of harassment and abuse involving coaches (48, to be precise) than others.

What this all means that, coaches are likely to abuse the responsibility and power they are entrusted with. They are not always potential “active bystanders,” but potential abusers. And as others in position of authority over students, they ought to be subject to regular reviews and subject to an accountability process that prioritizes students’ safety over the University’s reputation.

On second chances

I’d like to end this piece with a note on second chances. Uttley resigned over Dyens’s statement that Guimont-Mota should have never been recruited. Uttley defended his choice of recruitment by saying that the University was aware of Guimont-Mota’s charges. He also said, “I believe in rehabilitation.”

I’m also of the unpopular belief that people do deserve second chances. However,  reintroducing or keeping an abuser in the community poses significant challenges and responsibilities to community leaders. Wrongdoings require meticulous investigation, monitoring and counseling. This form of rehabilitation also requires full transparency about the situation with the wider community – in this case, the football team, other varsity teams, McGill’s student body – and always keeping the safety of the victims and the community as a priority.

This is not what Uttley did. McGill, as well, has kept the results of its investigations confidential and neglected to introduce any meaningful measures to change Athletics culture or hold abusive students and coaches accountable.

A policy […] that doesn’t seek transparency about past and present negligences or addresses the special dynamics at work in Athletics, isn’t enough.

When I asked Dyens about the measures in place to increase transparency about male student-athletes’ criminal activity and holding them accountable, his first instinct was to remind of the existence of the Sexual Violence Policy. The policy, according to Dyens, demonstrates “McGill’s firm and ongoing commitment to increasing awareness of, and responding to, sexual violence across all parts of our campuses.” But does it really?

A policy, particularly one that doesn’t seek transparency about past and present negligences or addresses the special dynamics at work in Athletics, isn’t enough. You’d think that with such a troubled history, McGill Athletics may have learnt its lesson. Perhaps we need another scandal to get McGill to spring into action.

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We must all stand with Tibet http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2017/02/we-must-all-stand-with-tibet/ Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:00:04 +0000 http://www.mcgilldaily.com/?p=49750 The present North American political context is defined by the perpetuation of deep fear, factual inaccuracy, and the subordination of Otherness. It is one characterized by the struggles of neoliberalism and the politics of greed and fracture which accompany it. In the wake of the recent American election, radical right-wing political projects to limit migrant and refugee rights, and complete destructive pipeline projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline have made this social reality unquestionably explicit. Even if today’s situation may seem unique in recent Canadian and American memories, the projects of the present are mere contributions to a much broader global trend towards unrestrained growth and private ownership. Tibet seems perhaps an unlikely place from which to understand the challenges afflicting today’s North American context, though the sustained struggle of its traditional inhabitants offers a model for resilience in the face of powerful oppressive institutions.

In 1950, The People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet and by the end of 1951 had annexed the entire Tibetan Plateau. The young Dalai Lama, who serves as the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan nation, sought common ground with the occupying power to no avail. On March 10, 1959, tensions culminated in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, leading to massive uprisings, during which more than 10,000 people are believed to have been killed. Following these uprisings, the Dalai Lama fled his ancestral homeland to exile in India, followed by around 80,000 Tibetans. The Indian city of Dharamsala is now home to both the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration: the governing authority which Tibetans consider legitimate. Due to its significance in the collective Tibetan memory, March 10 now serves as an international day of resistance against China’s abusive colonialism.

Lhasa, the historical religious and political capital of Tibet, lies in an area designated by the Chinese as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). Despite what the name suggests, the region’s government largely advances Chinese Communist Party (CPC) directives through a local “people’s congress” designed by and answering to the CPC. In order to have any real influence in local politics, Tibetans must join their local Communist Party branch, where the atheism required for membership effectively prohibits representation for the Buddhist majority. International labor and human rights organizations are categorically banned from working in the region, while access for foreign journalists and diplomats is extremely limited and restricted only to government-approved areas.

Despite the façade of modernization propagated by the Chinese government, Tibet is one of the most severely repressed places in the world. The region ranks at the bottom of Freedom House’s 2016 ‘Freedom in the World index,’ second only to Syria. Acts as harmless as possessing a photo of the Dalai Lama are met with arrest and beatings, while political dissidents are routinely silenced with lengthy prison sentences and torture. This has led to a frustrating tension within Tibetan society: while the Dalai Lama’s pacifist message emphasizes nonviolent resistance, avenues for such resistance have been blocked off by the Chinese regime.

Both culturally and naturally, Tibet is under profound threat. At three miles above sea level, Tibet is the source of several of Asia’s major rivers, which leads to its popular characterization as the ‘roof of the world.’ The detrimental effects of climate change are often first and most intensely experienced within the region through droughts, which devastate local agricultural practices, melting of permafrost grounds which form the foundations for countless communities, and the loss of a myriad of keystone species which provide a crucial source of food in the harsh environment. More directly, Chinese presence within the region has radically disrupted environmental autonomy through the development of invasive damming projects and by way of pollution via mining industries and nuclear waste disposal sites throughout remote portions of Tibet.

Such kinds of ecological domination must necessarily be conceived of as inseparable from social forms of oppression, wherein Tibetans are limited in their freedom to practice indigenous spirituality and Tibetan Buddhism. Since the Chinese Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s to 70s, 99 per cent of Buddhist monasteries have been closed at the hands of the state. Most recently, China has begun the destruction of Larung Gar, one of the largest religious communities in the world populated by over 10,000 practicing Buddhists. Due to the nonviolent teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, a radical act of political protest has been popularized: self-immolation. In response to the desecration of their way of life, 146 Tibetans aged 16 to 64 have self-immolated since 2009.

Because of their lack of political rights and meaningful representation in formal governing structures. Tibetans have had to look to alternative forms of mobilization. Direct action such as disruptive protesting has become the norm, as the only practical way to seek change. Within Tibet, significant actions have been undertaken, not by political elites but rather by everyday Tibetans. Outside of Tibet, a transnational social movement has transpired thanks to the advances of social media. Tibetans in exile, despite being scattered across the globe, have set up various issue-oriented interest groups such as the Canada Tibet Committee and Students for a Free Tibet. Unfortunately, countries consistently disregard the situation within Tibet and continue to treat China with deference. In fact, due to Chinese pressure, South Africa has consistently refused the Dalai Lama entry, notably for fellow nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu’s 80th Birthday celebrations in 2011 as well as for the 14th World Summit of World Peace Laureates of 2014. Other countries to act as such include Mongolia and Norway.

Ultimately, globalization has acted as an empowering force for the Chinese state and has granted it considerable commercial, economic and diplomatic power on the international stage. Canada has contributed to Tibet’s contemporary challenges in the form of extractive mining developments. Companies previously financed by Canada, such as China Gold, aid the project of colonialism and environmental devastation through mining techniques involving the pollution of local water sources, resource extraction, and exploitive labor practices. Tibetans hired to work at these mines frequently face dire health consequences and become cyclically impoverished as they come to depend on the menial wages they receive from the industry.

In the early 1970s, Canada was one of only two Western nations (the other being Switzerland) to offer resettlement to Tibetan refugees. However, Canada has had a mixed record, choosing to adopt a foreign policy of “principled pragmatism” with respect to China. This has translated into a careful diplomatic balancing act aimed at appeasing the Chinese government on the one hand, while maintaining the carefully cultivated image of a country that recognizes human rights as a cornerstone of is international relations. In fact, having de-linked human rights and trade to the point of withdrawing support for a United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution on China in 1997, Canada has effectively excused itself from putting meaningful pressure on China. The likely-impending free trade deal between our two nations will likely increase Canada’s involvement in the economic colonization of Tibet.

China’s far-reaching economic and political influence does not mean there is nothing we, as Canadian individuals, can do to sustain the resistance movement. The Chinese government is extremely sensitive about its reputation and sustained pro-Tibet movements here and elsewhere in the world have had a tremendous impact, leading to the release of numerous jailed dissidents. Showing solidarity with the struggle of Tibetans on March 10 sends an important signal to the government of China that the oppression with which they meet Tibet’s nonviolent resistance movement is not ignored by the world. Standing with Tibet means standing against injustice and colonialism everywhere. Bhod Gyalo!

All are welcome to attend this year’s March 10 rally on Parliament Hill. For more information or to find out how you can show solidarity in other ways, please contact the Canada Tibet Committee at ctcoffice@tibet.ca.

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