The McGill Daily On strike since 1911 2015-04-25T23:00:20Z WordPress Igor Sadikov <![CDATA[Senators concerned about Student Services funding]]> 2015-04-24T19:32:43Z 2015-04-24T19:32:43Z Senate updated on research regulation review, expected $4 million budget surplus

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McGill’s Senate convened on April 22 for its penultimate meeting of the year, approving revisions to McGill’s mission statement and the creation of a faculty council in the Faculty of Medicine. Senate also discussed McGill’s budget orientations – in particular, the funding of Student Services – and received an update on the ongoing review of McGill’s research conduct regulation.

Budget surplus, Student Services funding

Provost Anthony Masi informed Senate that, despite an initial forecast of a $7 million deficit, the projected balance of the 2014-15 budget is a $4.3 million surplus. For the second year in a row, the government has provided unforeseen funds to the university following a revision of student enrolment numbers, resulting in a budget surplus despite severe cuts to the operating grant.

“Two years doesn’t make a trend – yet,” said Masi, also noting that additional expenditures during the month of April could reduce the surplus.

The 2015-16 budget, expected to be approved by the Board of Governors on April 28, forecasts an additional $11 million reduction in the operating budget, to be mitigated by the continuation of cost-cutting practices introduced in the past two years, such as the hiring freeze on administrative and support staff. International students in faculties with deregulated international tuition – Engineering, Law, Management, and Science – will also face a 5 per cent tuition increase.

The budget also includes a $4.75 million revenue increase from additional overhead charges imposed to the university’s “self-funding” units, including Student Services, which is mostly funded by student fees. According to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, the changes will require Student Services to allocate $1.5 million of its accumulated $6 million surplus to new overhead charges.

“There’s no way we can commit to [maintaining current levels of service].”

Student Services also receives a yearly grant from the provincial government. Responding to a question from Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan, SSMU President Courtney Ayukawa, SSMU Arts and Science Senator and incoming VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke, and SSMU Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon, Dyens left open the possibility that this grant could begin to be partially distributed to other units instead, noting that 25 per cent of the $1.8 million grant is already being allocated to Athletics.

“The government grant we receive is meant to fund services to students, [which] include McGill Student Services, but also things such as the Dean of Students, Service Point, advising, the libraries, et cetera,” said Dyens. “If we face unsustainable cuts over the next few years, we may have to use part of that grant to ensure the viability of services to students. We would be able to do so only because Student Services has an accumulated budget surplus of more than $6 million – this is not a long-term solution.”

Student senators voiced concern about the long-term sustainability of the funding of Student Services, a unit already unable to meet student demand and reduce wait times.

“Student Services was previously planning to be using some of that surplus to be doing things like hiring new therapists, but now they are not able to […] meet the increase in demand because of these new overheads,” said Stewart-Kanigan.

Dyens noted that $3.5 million of the surplus was still available, but warned against creating “unreasonable expectations.”

“We could use the entire $6 million to […] bring wait time to zero this year; however, it would mean [that] next year, we’d be unable to do so, and we would create an unreasonable expectation on our services,” he said. “Even if we were to address these needs right now, the demand keeps increasing. […] It’s just not sustainable, we need to find solutions that are more creative.”

Asked by Ayukawa whether the University could commit to maintaining current levels of service after 2016, Dyens said, “There’s no way we can commit to this. What we can commit to is [to] try as hard as we can to do it.”

Mission statement

Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity) Lydia White presented for approval an updated mission statement and a statement of principles for McGill. Taking into consideration feedback from the discussion of the proposed changes at the February 18 Senate meeting, the Academic Policy Committee (APC) revised the proposed statement by removing “engaging the wider community” from the mission statement and revising the principles to be “academic freedom, integrity, responsibility, equity, and inclusiveness.”

Greenspon and Ayukawa raised concerns over the insufficient emphasis on teaching in the mission statement, and on students as recipients of education. “It’s emphasizing research a bit more than teaching,” said Ayukawa.

The new mission statement was approved, with one vote against.

Research conduct regulation review

Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations) Rosie Goldstein verbally updated Senate on the progress of the review of McGill’s Regulation on the Conduct of Research. A working group charged with making recommendations to this effect was struck last fall.

Although it recommended some changes to the regulation itself, the working group mostly made procedural recommendations to improve the implementation of existing rules. Among these were two items to be added to the standard research approval process: a statement that the researcher “has considered the consequences of the research,” and an indication whether the sponsor of the research “operates harmful applications into which research could foreseeably be incorporated,” with an explanation of the balance of benefits and harms of the research if necessary.

Goldstein said that she would conduct consultation among the vice-principals and the deans before bringing the report of the committee to Senate in the fall.

“My expectation was that the report would be made public [today],” said Stewart-Kanigan. “Members of the community haven’t been able to see any sign of the work we’ve done so far.”

Medicine faculty council

Senate approved the creation of a faculty council for the Faculty of Medicine, to be composed of representatives from faculty leadership, academic staff, and students.

“The Faculty of Medicine was perhaps unique in the university in not having a formal faculty council,” said Dean of Medicine David Eidelman.

The council will act as an advisory body to the dean, and will review its terms of reference within two years.

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rosalind hampton <![CDATA[More than a “special issue”]]> 2015-04-21T18:36:49Z 2015-04-21T14:39:31Z Maintaining the conversation about race at McGill

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The critical articles featured in The Daily’s recent special issue on race are both timely and painfully timeless. In the following response I build on and offer further context for some of the concerns raised in the article “No more excuses” (March 23, Special Issue Pullout, p. 10), which discussed the representation of faculty members of colour at McGill. I do so through drawing on my experiences at McGill over the past four years as well as my doctoral research examining the social relations between Black people and the University.

McGill’s ‘diversity’

Students and faculty members have been raising concerns about institutional racism at McGill for at least half a century. Committees, focus groups, and more committees have been formed; reports, recommendations, and more recommendations have been submitted to all levels of the administration. Most of this volunteer labour has been and continues to be done by racialized students and professors, with minimal if any tangible results. The senior administration has consistently refused to acknowledge and address institutional racism at McGill, using the depoliticized framing of liberal Canadian multiculturalism and the strategic pairing of ‘diversity and equity’ in institutional discourses to suggest an automatic cause and effect between the two.

The University has increasingly mobilized the abstract and market-friendly language of ‘diversity,’ such as in the Principal’s Task Force on Diversity, Excellence and Community. This language serves as a container for all forms of difference from an assumed white, middle to upper class, heterosexual, able-bodied, Anglo norm, shifting attention away from demands for equity and toward a notion of shared values such as ‘excellence’ and ‘community.’ For example, despite the extensive work of the 2010 Equity Sub-Committee on Race and Ethnic Relations for the Principal’s Task Force, chaired by Charmaine Nelson, an Associate Professor of Art History at McGill, the administration’s preliminary response generally ignored the specificity of race and institutional racism, broadly defining “diversity” as “reflected not only in race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability, but also in language, sexual orientation, gender identity, community, politics, culture, way of life, economic status, and interests.”

Rather than signifying a new agenda and direction shifting away from McGill’s longstanding reputation as a predominantly white, anglophone, elite institution, the “use of diversity as an official description can be a way of maintaining rather than transforming existing organizational values,” as Sara Ahmed wrote in her 2012 book, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life. In practice, the limited diversity that McGill does seem to value continues to be its international diversity: its ability to extend its economic, social, and political reach to draw students from across the globe.

The white supremacy inherent to many Canadian universities is part and parcel of the colonial contexts within which they were established and developed; and this, I believe, is what makes these spaces particularly problematic and in many cases hostile to Indigenous and Black people.

Representation in education

As an educator, one of the most concerning points raised in The Daily’s article about faculty representation was that “the worst-performing faculties in terms of tenure-track professors who identified as a ‘visible minority,’ ‘ethnic minority,’ or ‘Aboriginal,’ include the Faculty of Education (19.5 per cent) and the Faculty of Arts (22.8 per cent).” Much of my own past work as a community worker and educator in Montreal Black communities has involved organizing to compensate for and struggle against the Eurocentrism and racism of curricula, teachers, and school administrators within Montreal primary and secondary schools and school boards. This work informed my decision to pursue a doctoral program in Educational Studies as well as my current research examining social relations between Black people and the University. Shifting my immediate focus to universities as the production sites of knowledge and power and to the university programs within and by which education and other social, cultural, and political workers are schooled has, quite frankly, explained a lot.

In the spring of 2013, as VP Diversity and Equity of the Education Graduate Students’ Society (EGSS), I authored a report titled “Diversity and Equity in the McGill University Faculty of Education,” calling attention to the ongoing lack of racial diversity and the persistence of institutional racism at McGill despite years of organizing and activism, particularly by students and faculty members of colour. While these teachers and learners have consistently created alternative pedagogical initiatives and spaces to better address their concerns and meet their needs outside of the university’s official channels and structures, they have also demanded accountability and change from within the institution. The report was endorsed by EGSS Council on May 1, 2013 and submitted to all professors in the Faculty as well as to the Dean of the Faculty of Education, on May 9, 2013.

For what I believe to be a variety of reasons, including fear, ambivalence, apathy, and strategic disengagement from institutional structures, only one professor responded: she assigned the report to her graduate classes in the fall of 2013, and invited me and my EGSS colleagues to visit her classes and to discuss the report with her students. Several graduate students expressed to us that while they had recognized or experienced institutional racism at the university, they were afraid to speak out against it. One international student shared that reading the report had made them aware of how they had come to McGill aspiring to become a teacher in Quebec, but through their experiences in the Faculty had internalized the notion that people of their background are not teachers here and had abandoned their goal. This points to the broader consequences of teacher education programs that offer neither racially diverse faculty nor curricula that reflect the impacts and contributions of decades of critical race and Indigenous studies in academia.

That the Faculties of Education and Arts are reported to be those with the fewest “‘visible minority,’ ‘ethnic minority,’ or ‘Aboriginal’” tenure-track professors at McGill is particularly striking because these faculties are arguably the most prominent sites of contemporary race-related research and scholarship, with professors conducting all manner of research and claiming pedagogical expertise in critical race theory, Indigenous studies, postcolonial theories, inclusive education, and social justice education. The highly active and engaged memberships of Canadian academic organizations such as the Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equity (R.A.C.E. Network) and the Black Canadian Studies Association, as well as the longstanding transnational Critical Ethnic Studies Association demonstrate the ridiculous nature of assertions of a lack of qualified racialized professors within these fields.

Canadian scholars of colour have and continue to make critical contributions to their fields, including (but by no means limited to) those challenging some of the academy’s outdated and limited assumptions, agendas, and practices. Clearly, the issue is not a lack of qualified scholars. It must be underscored that this failure represents an ‘intellectual deficit’ within the university itself. As Nathan Richards, a freelance digital journalist and doctoral researcher at Goldsmiths University noted regarding universities in the UK, the failure to engage “the vast perspectives and experiences of the communities within this country or from the people roaming the halls of our universities; and [the ongoing] marginalization of certain groups negatively impacts social and political policy, policing, law, media, the arts and pretty much every facet within our society.”

The University’s institutional texts, discourses, and display practices constantly celebrate McGill’s colonial roots while ignoring and erasing the realities of colonial dispossession and violence.

White supremacy at settler universities

An ever-expanding corpus of research on Canadian universities has demonstrated the persistence of deeply embedded structural racism and biases against racialized faculty. According to University Affairs, Canadian universities have responded to this research “with reams of reports, commissions, committees, policies and plans. Not only do most have equity or human rights departments and offices, but the majority also state they want a more inclusive academy.” Yet, they fail to make progress on racial equity and progressive structural change. McGill has a pervasive and deeply embedded “culture of whiteness,” including a clear racial hierarchy that puts Black and Indigenous students and faculty at the very bottom.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, this institutional racism is not merely the unfortunate result of recent austerity measures and the underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous professors is certainly not due to a lack of qualified potential candidates. The white supremacy inherent to many Canadian universities is part and parcel of the colonial contexts within which they were established and developed; and this, I believe, is what makes these spaces particularly problematic and in many cases hostile to Indigenous and Black people. As several students and scholars who I have interviewed for my research have asserted, the University’s institutional texts, discourses, and display practices constantly celebrate McGill’s colonial roots while ignoring and erasing the realities of colonial dispossession and violence. Most of these people are well aware that James McGill was a colonizer who both owned and traded in Black and Indigenous slaves and many are both offended and deeply troubled by the University’s promotion of James McGill’s persona, most obviously through the prominent positioning of his skull and bones in the tomb outside of the Arts Building and of the statue enacting his immortal presence on lower campus.

A group of Black academics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), in solidarity with student activists involved in the #RhodesMustFall movement, recently asserted that the statue of British colonizer Cecil John Rhodes on the UCT campus is “a key sign of the larger symbolic landscape of the university’s failure to transform, [which] includes: the artifacts and names allocated to space across our campuses; the under-representation and under-valuing of black academic staff at all levels; the offensive discourse around standards and performance; and curricula that largely disregard African knowledges and practice in all their complexity. All of this contributes to an alienating institutional culture for black staff and students across the institution. [These are] key areas on which the university must focus in order to advance real transformation.”

In addition to calling for the removal of the Rhodes statue from the UCT campus, the movement demands “the inclusion of an Afrocentric curriculum, the promotion of workers’ rights and an end to outsourcing, and the employment of more Black academics.” As one student activist adeptly put it, “From the time that it was colonized there was never an attempt to decolonize the university. The university culture is still very white, it’s very elitist, [it’s] patriarchal, and it’s very heteronormative.”

As noted by writers on Africa is a Country, “Rhodes must fall everywhere.” The statue on the UCT campus was indeed taken down on April 9. However, Rhodes’s statue in this context represents much more – it is a symbol of the ongoing celebration and perpetuation of the colonial ideologies upon which so many settler colonial colleges and universities like McGill were founded, and more broadly, of the lasting colonial relations and racial hierarchies in universities – whether in Canada, South Africa, or elsewhere.

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Igor Sadikov <![CDATA[Women’s Studies students end two-week strike]]> 2015-04-18T01:39:17Z 2015-04-18T01:39:17Z Students use music as a less-confrontational disruption tactic

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Women’s Studies and Sexual Diversity Studies Student Association (WSSA) members voted at a General Assembly on April 14 to end their strike against austerity measures, which began on April 1. During the two weeks of strike, the WSSA strike committee disrupted classes offered by the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (IGSF), organized educational activities, and helped plan an anti-austerity community sit-in in front of the James Administration building on April 14.

“We’ve […] been hosting teach-ins and workshops during usual class time to give folks something else to go to, [as] a popular education tactic so that folks have the opportunity to come out and continue learning […] from one another, in a way that is much less hierarchical than class generally is,” explained Women’s Studies student and strike committee member Molly Swain.

Strike committee members employed a combination of soft pickets, hard pickets, and noise disruption to successfully cancel most classes scheduled during the two weeks. Although most students respected the strike mandate and did not attend class, tensions between picketers and strike-breaking students ran particularly high on certain occasions.

“We ask basically for the same respect from the folks who don’t necessarily agree with the strike.”

On one occasion, after a professor and around six students were prevented from accessing their classroom, the professor decided to move the class to an office instead of cancelling it. Picketers followed the students to the office and engaged in noise disruption, causing discomfort and fear among the students inside, according to reports.

“I was very scared, everyone in the room was very uncomfortable, very scared. […] They kept pounding on the door, they kept on making noise, and we couldn’t do anything,” said Blare Coughlin, one of the students who attended the class. “By enforcing the strike in such a loud, pressuring way […] it’s very alienating.”

Swain acknowledged that some of the tactics used contributed to tensions between students, but emphasized students’ responsibility to respect the strike mandate.

“Folks disagree on tactics; folks feel that if things get too confrontational, it can be uncomfortable for people,” said Swain. “We ask people to leave, and we always give them the opportunity to do so if they choose.”

“Should the strike get voted down, the strike committee is not going to […] keep picketing, out of respect for the decision of the collective body, and we ask basically for the same respect from the folks who don’t necessarily agree with the strike,” added Swain.

Whereas, Women cover band

In an attempt to ease tensions and lighten the mood, striking students formed a cover band called Whereas, Women in order to enforce classroom disruptions by means of musical performance.

“We thought we might try a more fun and inclusive tactic,” Women’s Studies student Kelly Schieder told The Daily at the band’s debut performance, which took place in the IGSF building on the morning of April 10.

“It’s a way for noise disruption to happen and for us to fulfill our mandate in ways that are somewhat less confrontational,” added Swain.

The band, whose repertoire ranges from 90s hits to classic protest songs, also staged a show on April 13 to celebrate the last scheduled class of the year in the department. The class was cancelled with no issues, and the festive atmosphere elicited a positive response from the students who had come to attend the class.

“They took a different approach, and I’m really thankful for that,” said Coughlin.

Unaccommodating professors

The strike committee attempted to coordinate the enforcement of the WSSA strike mandate with IGSF faculty, as the WSSA had done during the 2012 student strikes. However, despite their stated opposition to austerity measures, the professors were largely unaccommodating this time around, with some indicating that they would call security on picketing students.

“We went into this having communicated with the IGSF […] beforehand, and their response to us was very similar to what we received in 2012, which was, basically, ‘We’ll do the best we can to support you, but we also need to make sure the profs are getting the support they need,’” explained Swain, who was in her first year at McGill during the 2012 student strikes.

“[In 2012], professors said that if we put up picket lines, they wouldn’t cross them, so we effectively cancelled class fairly easily. […] The reception from the professors [this time] was not as accommodating at all to the strike.”

In an interview with The Daily, IGSF Director Carrie Rentschler expressed opposition to austerity measures, but argued that the precarious nature of the IGSF instructors’ position made it difficult for them to support the striking students.

“I am anti-austerity. We have seen here at McGill a round of budget cuts in the millions […] – they are hampering our ability to provide the kinds of education that we want to provide here at the institute,” said Rentschler.

“None of us have the protection of a union. Our instructors work on contract basis, which means their positions are precarious – not because we make them precarious, but they are by nature precarious. So those instructors don’t have the kind of protections you would have if you were a union person going on strike.”

“This has given folks a little bit of taste of what this can look like, and they can take that and make it their own in the fall.”

On April 4, the strike committee published an open letter expressing its disappointment with the IGSF’s response to the WSSA strike.

“We understand that the IGSF is receiving threats that their professors […] could lose their jobs or not be paid if they attempt to accommodate or support striking students,” the letter reads.

“What we do not understand is why they have chosen to accept these conditions wholesale and have proceeded to repress our resistance to these same forces instead of working with us to challenge those above them in the university hierarchy, as we are putting ourselves at risk to do.”

With the strike now over, the strike committee will continue working with the IGSF to attempt to establish assessment procedures that do not penalize students who were involved in the strike.

“We’re going to be meeting with them to ensure that everybody in this situation comes out of it feeling like there’s no remaining hostility, and that students who have been involved in the strike feel like they’re protected moving forward in their degrees – and the profs also feel comfortable continuing to teach folks,” said Swain.

Both Coughlin and Swain also said that they look forward to the continuing mobilization in the fall.

“In the fall, we’ll be able to mobilize a lot more, because people won’t be scared about finals […] hanging over their heads – so I’m actually kind of hopeful for fall,” said Coughlin.

“This has been a learning process for the strike committee, but it has also been a learning process for Women’s Studies students as a whole,” noted Swain. “Mobilization is going to happen in a new way in the fall […] – this has given folks a little bit of taste of what this can look like, and they can take that and make it their own in the fall.”

—With files from Marina Cupido

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Marina Cupido <![CDATA[Long debates on climate change, military research policies at Council]]> 2015-04-24T19:29:31Z 2015-04-17T23:59:21Z Consultation results on policies show divide among faculties

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On April 9, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council convened for its final meeting of the year, which lasted eight hours, to debate proposed policies on for SSMU regarding climate change and harmful military research. The Climate Change Policy was ultimately referred to a committee for reworking, and the Policy for a Campus Free from Harmful Military Technology passed only partially.

Councillors also passed motions to stand in solidarity with teaching assistants in their ongoing negotiations with the administration, and to increase SSMU’s support of the Peer Support Network (PSN).

Harmful military technology

At this year’s Fall General Assembly (GA), students voted in favour of a motion calling on SSMU to “renew its stance of opposition to the development of harmful military technology on campus”; a policy to this effect was brought to Council for approval.

The document, moved by VP University Affairs Claire Stewart-Kanigan, VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette, and Arts Representative Patrick Dunbar-Lavoie, noted that SSMU’s previous policy on the issue had expired in 2013, and that “McGill has remained non-transparent about the extent and nature of military funded research on campus.”

The proposed policy in its original form would have mandated SSMU to oppose the development of harmful military technology on campus, support campaigns with this goal, promote alternative student research opportunities, and lobby the administration for more transparency in the potential applications of research contracts.

It also called on the VP University Affairs to advocate for the delineation of “social responsibility” and of the criteria to be used to weigh the “potential benefits against the possibility of harmful applications’ to evaluate the permissibility of research contracts.”

The policy sparked a lengthy, and at times heated, debate among councillors.

Science Representative and incoming VP Finance and Operations Zacheriah Houston expressed concern over the relatively small proportion of consulted McGill students who had expressed support for such a stance. Out of 200 students polled on the subject, only 27 per cent had responded favourably.

Arts and Science Senator and incoming VP University Affairs Chloe Rourke also voiced concerns based on the survey.

“I think there was a lot of backlash,” she said, speculating that much of students’ opposition to the policy was based on opposition to the activist group Demilitarize McGill. However, she said, most respondents had expressed a desire for greater transparency with regard to the technologies developed at McGill and their possible applications.

In response to Rourke’s concerns, Stewart-Kanigan said that Demilitarize McGill had not been consulted in the drafting of this policy, which, contrary to the concerns of some students, would not offer the controversial group unlimited support from SSMU.

Engineering Representative Anikke Rioux told Council that many students had expressed skepticism about the policy, arguing that many crucial innovations – such as nuclear technology and many advances in aviation – have their origins in military research. She also noted that these contracts bring money to the university at a time when provincial cuts to education are a major concern.

Stewart-Kanigan, meanwhile, defended the policy. “The term [‘harmful’ expresses] that we’d rather not be developing bombs, thermobaric explosives, missiles – those […] very specific things that are designed to inflict harm onto somebody else’s body.”

Medicine Senator David Benrimoh concurred, arguing that “it’s not necessarily about the technology itself, it’s about the provision of the contract.” Clearly, he said, SSMU’s policy would not end the development of such technologies altogether, nor would it bring Canada’s military to its knees – “but that’s not the point.”

“As a university,” said Benrimoh, “we should not be encouraging the military to think of us as a place where they can sink their research dollars for technologies that are [intended for combat].”

After nearly an hour of debate, a motion was brought forward to divide the question. The first ‘resolved’ clause, stating SSMU’s opposition to the development of harmful military technology on campus, passed by a close margin. The final three clauses passed easily, mandating SSMU to lobby in favour of increased transparency on this issue.

The portions requiring SSMU to support student initiatives against harmful technologies and to promote alternative research opportunities, however, were defeated.

The most controversial clauses were voted on by roll call.

Climate change policy

Following extensive consultation and research, Moustaqim-Barrette brought forward a climate policy for SSMU, along with Stewart-Kanigan and Dunbar-Lavoie, in accordance with another motion passed at the Fall 2014 GA.

The proposal outlined the stances SSMU would take with respect to different climate issues (the Society would, for example, be mandated to oppose the extraction of fossil fuels), the prioritization of funding for broader climate justice projects, and the diverse tactics that would be used in pursuit of climate justice.

According to Moustaqim-Barrette, the policy was developed through months of consultation with experienced activists and specialists in a variety of domains pertaining to climate justice advocacy.

Houston took issue, however, with the lack of broad consultation with students from the Faculties of Science and Engineering. While the climate change policy in its original form was supported by 55 per cent of the 200 students surveyed and more than 60 per cent of respondents in each of the Arts, Arts & Science, Medicine, and Science faculties, it had the support of only 23 per cent of respondents from Engineering.

The Engineering Representatives themselves, Rioux and Scott Conrad, expressed vehement opposition to the policy as it stood, arguing instead for a reworking of the proposal over the summer. Rourke and Houston agreed, taking the position that, while elements of the policy were valuable, it should appeal to students across all faculties.

Medicine Representative Joshua Chin, along with a number of other councillors, objected to the fact that, while labelled a “climate change” policy, much of the document dealt with climate justice. “[At the Fall GA] we voted on a motion regarding climate change, and in that motion there was not one single mention of climate justice. How come this policy, which comes from that GA motion, mentions climate change only [briefly], whereas climate justice is [referred to] throughout the rest of the motion,” said Chin.

Stewart-Kanigan defended the relevance of climate justice. “The elements of climate justice that are outlined in this policy are very specific to allying ourselves with Indigenous communities who face extraction on their territories without their consent, [or] who face oil spills in their area.”

She continued, “If you […] want to take the ‘justice’ part out of it, you’re really [saying, for example, that] it would be a bad idea to have a fundraiser for an Indigenous community who’s getting a mine put on their territory that they don’t want. […] These are people you’re talking about.”

After much discussion, Houston moved to refer the proposal to a committee, which would revise the motion to make it appealing to a broader base of students before bringing it back to Council in the fall. The committee would consist of Moustaqim-Barrette and any other interested parties, and would be formed as soon as possible.

This passed by a wide margin.

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Janna Bryson <![CDATA[Teaching assistant strike kicks off exam season]]> 2015-04-17T17:09:17Z 2015-04-17T16:38:33Z AGSEM members hold day-long soft picket to raise visibility

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McGill students’ exam season started off with picket lines held by teaching assistants (TAs) who, frustrated by their collective agreement negotiations with the administration, voted last week to go on a one-day strike. The TAs picketed outside the Arthur Currie Gym, the main site of examinations at the university, calling on the administration to provide more TA hours and to index TA funding to student enrollment.

The strike started at 7 a.m. and ended around 7 p.m.. Organized by AGSEM, the union that represents TAs and invigilators, the picket was divided into shifts of fifty to sixty people, with each shift lasting around four hours.

Because the union voted to hold a ‘soft’ picket, no one was prevented from from entering or leaving the gym – most invigilators chose to continue with their work, though some did join the picket line as an act of solidarity for their fellow employees.

“Our purpose was really not to disrupt exams. Our purpose was to stand and to make a point, and to get visibility for these issues that we want to talk about,” said AGSEM Invigilator Grievance Officer Jamie Burnett.

“It is just to say, ‘look, we are here’ – it’s not that it’s just for people [directly] bargaining with you, it’s the whole TA union who cares about the outcome of this. We support our bargaining team.”

Physics PhD student and TA Michael Stroebe, who was part of the picket line, told The Daily that visible support for the bargaining committee was one of the main goals of the strike. “It is just to say, ‘look, we are here’ – it’s not that it’s just for people [directly] bargaining with you, it’s the whole TA union who cares about the outcome of this. We support our bargaining team.”

In an email to The Daily, McGill Director of Labour and Employee Relations Robert Comeau was appreciative that the strike did not disrupt finals. “The union has a legal right to exercise this way of expressing their concerns, and we think they handled their strike with the upmost [sic] respect for the rights of our students, who were in exams, and we thank them for it.”

Although some undergraduates had expressed concerns about the potential impact of the strike on their exams, AGSEM TA Bargaining Chair Giulia Alberini told The Daily that students had been largely supportive.

“We were worried that maybe undergrads, being nervous for their exams, [would] not [be] too happy with us being there, but they actually have been very supportive. People have been asking for the stickers to put on their exams, and the day has been very cheerful and joyful.”

According to Burnett, the organizers of the strike were in communication with McGill security and representatives from Labour and Employee Relations to make sure that exams could still go smoothly during the picket.

TAs seek better compensation, student ratios

One of AGSEM’s main bargaining demands is a wage increase of 5 per cent per year. According to AGSEM, McGill TAs are are poorly paid compared to those at their peer institutions across Canada, such as the University of Toronto and York University. TAs at both institutions were on strike for the month of March over funding and working conditions.

According to the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, the minimum funding that graduate students receive has not increased since 2008 and is well below the poverty line for a single adult in Toronto.

“Compared to other universities all over Canada, [McGill has] relatively badly paid TAships,” said Stroebe. “We want to make sure that there’s some leverage, because McGill always wants to compare themselves, not only in Canada, but worldwide.”

“It’s difficult to bargain at McGill, the administration has not always made it clear that they care a lot about student concerns, about worker concerns, so it’s difficult. But we have a lot of support, so I think we can move forward.”

However, McGill’s TAs are better paid than those at other universities in Quebec, which, according to Comeau, is the most relevant comparison.

“We would note that McGill TAs are the best paid TAs in Quebec, and we don’t think the reference market is Toronto,” he said.

AGSEM is also asking the University to include a limit on student-to-TA ratios in the agreement in order to prevent them from increasing further. According to Burnett, this is important for TAs’ working conditions, as well as for the quality of education for undergraduates. “We want to make sure that we have enough time to do our job properly, and that’s something that undergrads care about as much as we do.”

According to Comeau, two conciliatory dates have been set to continue negotiations, although a specific timeline was not given.

Speaking to the nature of negotiations with the University, Burnett said, “It’s difficult to bargain at McGill, the administration has not always made it clear that they care a lot about student concerns, about worker concerns, so it’s difficult. But we have a lot of support, so I think we can move forward.”

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Noah Daoust <![CDATA[It’s time to invest in sports culture]]> 2015-04-15T16:57:17Z 2015-04-17T16:00:02Z LETTER

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Reading “It’s time to change sports culture” (March 30, Sports, page 38) by Drew Wolfson Bell, I was bothered to see such a negative take on sports culture, especially here at McGill. This piece was a ‘hot take’ on an issue that is simply too complex and that cannot be pigeonholed by blaming sports culture.

While domestic abuse seems to be rampant in professional sports, it is too easy to place blame on the culture. Most of the time, these incidents should be seen as isolated – independent from the field and the locker room. Point to upbringing or lack of guidance in that person’s life, but not to sports culture. To discriminate against athletes due to the actions of a small few is unfair.

For example, Wolfson Bell took issue with McGill not forcing all varsity athletes to go through consent training. No matter how you spin it, that’s discrimination, and punishment for men and women who are exemplary members of society.

But that is not the point I wish to make. Too often articles like this focus on the negative and miss the positives. Sports teach discipline, respect, and fraternity, just to name a few qualities.

Varsity athletes encounter different challenges than other students do. Whether it be arriving to practice half an hour early (even if it is at 6 a.m.) or finding a way to balance school, nutrition, sleep, and sport, athletes are pushed to their physical and mental limits daily.

Athletes know that they are to be held to a high standard when they have the privilege of representing their school or city. When our world is riddled with disaster and negativity, there is no better time to look to sports for role models.

Noah Daoust, U0 Arts

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Commentary <![CDATA[A change to The Daily’s style guide]]> 2015-04-16T16:54:22Z 2015-04-16T16:54:22Z EDITORIAL

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The Daily will commit to a change in its style guide pertaining to the capitalization of the word “black.” We will start capitalizing the word black when using it to describe racial, ethnic, and cultural identities. This change will be made out of respect for and in recognition of Black being not just a skin colour, but a cultural identity.

In Canada and the U.S., Black identity is often based on cultural and communal histories, wherein racialization has played a significant role. When peoples of the African diaspora first arrived in the Americas, colonizers grouped them together homogeneously as African, and later black – as a means of distinguishing from whiteness. Over the years, however, Black thinkers have imbued this arbitrary label with a powerful meaning, and have been calling for capitalization. Out of respect for this long history, we will be capitalizing black when referring to people who self-identify as Black.

This change – discussed, though not yet accepted, by major newspapers in Canada and the U.S. – is widely accepted in academic style guides, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) style guide. Following The Daily’s Statement of Principles, we are mandated to take on anti-oppressive stances not only in our coverage, but also in our language. While we recognize that The Daily is not an anti-oppressive space yet, we see this as part of working toward fulfilling our mandate.

As a majority-white editorial board, we do recognize that this style guide change should not be strictly enforced, but rather serve as a guideline. We would like to emphasize that self-identification is paramount to our style guide and that we will respect people’s own terms of identification over our style guide, as best as we can. We would like to encourage discussion, questions and criticism on this topic. With this in mind, you can leave a comment online, email us at, or send a letter (300 words or less) to

The McGill Daily Editorial Board

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Anusar Farooqui <![CDATA[Solving the bargaining impasse]]> 2015-04-15T22:42:05Z 2015-04-15T19:48:16Z Indexing wage rates to inflation can solve TAs problems

The post Solving the bargaining impasse appeared first on The McGill Daily.

McGill teaching assistants have voted to strike on April 16, the first day of exams. AGSEM, McGill’s Teaching Support Union, has locked horns with the administration primarily over pay, although there are other issues at stake.This is not the first time that TAs are striking at McGill: there was a two-month strike in 2008 that was particularly grueling. Collective bargaining impasses are not all that uncommon between the two parties. Since its founding in 1993, AGSEM has struck four collective agreements with the University. All except one have involved protracted bargaining.

I want to make the case for indexing future pay increases to inflation for McGill teaching assistants (TAs). Admittedly, this will not completely solve the bargaining problem over pay. The University and the union will still need to agree on an initial fair wage rate. However, once they have done so, indexing to inflation will ensure that they will never need to revisit the question. Because job actions, like strikes, are especially costly on campus and collective bargaining impasses are about pay increases – among other things – McGill would benefit greatly from making future pay increases transparent, automatic, and depoliticized. Not only is this proposal beneficial to undergraduates, it is also in the interest of the University and of graduate students themselves. Indexing to inflation is straightforward, easy to implement, sustainable, and demonstrably fair.

With solid labour standards already in place, workers’ most serious concerns are invariably related to pay. McGill graduate students have negotiated hard for equal pay (in 1998), working hours (in 2007), and pay increases (in 1998, 2007, 2008, 2011). This time around, the TAs’ demands include a cap on TA-to-student ratios, but the principal demand is for a yearly wage increase of 5 per cent. Resolving the issue of pay would therefore not eliminate all need for bargaining, but it would take the thorniest issue off the bargaining table.

Resolving the issue of pay would therefore not eliminate all need for bargaining, but it would take the thorniest issue off the bargaining table.

Since college students have a very tight calendar, job actions – which would be hardly disruptive in other settings – can be quite costly on campus. For instance, even though we could conceive the planned one-day strike on the first day of exams as symbolic, the disruption could nevertheless be significant. Students trekking up to sit through a major exam will be confronted by soft picket lines and the general disruption caused by invigilators who might be joining the strike. Were there to be an unlimited strike, instead of a one-day strike like we have right now, exams would go ungraded. In general, the rigidity of the academic cycle makes job actions on campus extraordinarily costly to the University, but especially to students.

What, then, should teaching assistants be paid? The University does not engage in price competition when hiring graduate students, because it is the only employer of TAs on campus. As such, the fair wage cannot be set by the market. Obviously, TAs must be paid enough so as to meet a basic standard of living. Beyond that, it is hard to make the case for a specific number. Let us say, for example, that the union and the administration agree on a certain fixed wage per hour. Theoretically, if there is no inflation, then neither the union nor the administration would ever need to revisit the agreement, because the costs for decent living standards would not increase. Since inflation is rarely nonzero, however, the bargain would need to be revisited again and again, with the risk of disruption on campus. If, for instance, they were to agree on a 2 per cent per year increase for the next three years, the union and the University would be back at the table in 2018, fighting over the exact same issue all over again. If the agreement was indexed to inflation, the wages would be adjusted automatically.

For instance, even though we could conceive the planned one-day strike on the first day of exams as symbolic, the disruption could nevertheless be significant.

Here is how indexing for inflation would work. The University and the union would agree on a fair hourly wage rate, a published inflation rate by which to calculate the adjustment, and the frequency of the adjustment. For instance, the two could agree on a baseline wage rate of $30 per hour; the preceding 12-month consumer price inflation figure, published by Statistics Canada; and an annual adjustment to the base rate, effected on May 1 of every year. Inflation-indexing would make future pay increases transparent and automatic. This, in turn, would depoliticize the entire issue.

If indexing to inflation is so reasonable, why is it so uncommon? The reason is simple. Workers bargain both for restoring living standards (which indexing could fix) and a share of gains in productivity (which indexing cannot address). The latter does not apply to graduate students. Indeed, graduate study is best regarded as an apprenticeship: the real monetary rewards lie in the future. So indexing to inflation is particularly well-suited to the TAs’ collective bargaining problem.

With a definite wage increase tied to inflation, graduate students would not have to worry about the risk of falling living standards – they would be ceding that risk to the University, which, with its billion-dollar balance sheet, is in a considerably better position to stomach that risk than poor graduate students. TAs thus stand to gain more than merely decent living wages; with their wages indexed to inflation, they also get insurance against higher-than-anticipated inflation.

McGill undergraduate students deserve a campus free of disruption and TAs who are not overworked and disgruntled. Graduate students deserve a decent standard of living.

The University would also gain from indexing wages to inflation. Since its wage bill will track inflation, the University could easily hedge against the risk of unexpected inflation hikes. The University would, in effect, pocket the savings on the cost of insuring against uncertainty in its financial outflows. Indeed, getting rid of real wage uncertainty increases the real economic pie in absolute terms: the gains can be shared between graduate students and the University.

Indexing wages to inflation is sustainable. Pay increases above the rate of inflation could bankrupt the University; those below the rate of inflation would steadily erode graduate students’ living standards. On the other hand, McGill can afford to increase pay at the rate of inflation, since the University’s receipts from tuition, endowments, and investment income could outperform inflation relatively easily.

McGill undergraduate students deserve a campus free of disruption and TAs who are not overworked and disgruntled. Graduate students deserve a decent standard of living. The University needs a financially affordable and sustainable commitment. Indexing wagees to inflation ensures all of the above in perpetuity.

Anusar Farooqui is a PhD student at the Department of Mathematics. To contact him, please email

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Virginia Shram <![CDATA[The Envelope mistakes complaining for comedy]]> 2015-04-10T19:18:42Z 2015-04-10T18:35:24Z Vittorio Rossi’s new play is an empty critique of Canadian cinema

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In any film industry, success comes at a price. The Envelope a new play from Montreal writer/director Vittorio Rossi, is the story of playwright Michael Moretti (Ron Lea) and the struggle to turn his play, Romeo’s Rise, into a movie. In an Italian restaurant, Moretti negotiates with producers from the Canadian Federal Film Fund and an indie director from Los Angeles in a gamble to win fame and fortune. This drama-comedy thus hits a crossroads: will Moretti choose hipster stardom in Hollywood or the spectacular mediocrity of living large in a country where people only watch television “for hockey, the news, or the weather”?

Moretti’s future as a reputable screenwriter hangs in the balance, as do the careers of his actors. He initially accepts a partnership with Canadian producer Jake Henry Smith (David Gow), who promises him sizeable public funding for his movie if he survives the editing process with Sarah Mackenzie (Leni Parker) from the Film Fund. The rest of the play sees the actors of Romeo’s Rise practicing their lines, arguing over romances, and fretting about the movie, while Moretti complains about the Film Fund’s bureaucracy and ineptitude. Lacking a complex and developed plot, The Envelope coasts through its story with frustratingly little effort.

The play’s biggest misstep is in the writing: it promises an exploration of the conflict between artistic integrity and pursuit of profit, not to mention the difficult balance between loyalty and individualism in a cutthroat industry. Unfortunately, The Envelope lacks any kind of meaningful emotional depth, as well as any motivation behind characters’ words and actions. When the stress over the fate of Romeo’s Rise culminates, one of the actors breaks down in tears – a superfluous, misplaced crying scene that is almost laughable in its disingenuousness.

This lack of impact could be attributed in part to the rushed dialogue, but, in fairness to the actors, the characters themselves are unengaging tropes: there’s the young swarthy Italian who is two steps away from a fistfight at any point, the flamboyant older actor to provide comic relief, and the innocent young actress in her first major show, to mention a few. While local actor Ron Lea is magnificent as Moretti, the aging playwright is little more than a Mary Sue – a flat and overly autobiographical character grappling with the hardships of playwriting.

The whole thing comes across as a lukewarm monologue pinballing between characters as they complain about how hard it is to ‘make it big’ in the industry. Before long, the trick gets old, and it starts to feel like Rossi wrote this play to passive-aggressively trash-talk the Canadian film scene.

Actually, almost all the characters appear to be mouthpieces for the playwright himself. The whole thing comes across as a lukewarm monologue pinballing between characters as they complain about how hard it is to ‘make it big’ in the industry. Before long, the trick gets old, and it starts to feel like Rossi wrote this play to passive-aggressively trash-talk the Canadian film scene. The problem is that Rossi wrote what the conflict is, but not why it’s important to the characters, which leaves the audience wondering why it should care what happens at all.

The humour also leaves something to be desired, relying on offensive and boring tropes. The only two female characters are both forced into awkward romances, and are otherwise mocked: the women are emotional and the men talk business. When Mackenzie (Parker), the older businesswoman, starts getting reasonably upset about the state of Canada’s movie industry, a male character tells her to “calm down and watch Dr. Phil,” playing the line for laughs. The biggest eye-roll comes when Moretti mansplains screenwriting to his female editor, describing the basics of filmmaking to her – a job she has done for her entire career.

Rossi’s stereotypical characters dabble in artistic and cultural elitism, as they mock awful blockbusters and children’s movies, claiming that these pale in comparison to theatre and high art. These condescending scenes give the impression that Rossi sees his own work as more culturally significant than pop culture. Indeed, one of The Envelope’s supposedly tragic moments is when Moretti is demanded to ‘dumb down’ his play so it can be turned into a children’s movie. This elitism is used to overly romanticize Moretti’s struggle for success.

Rossi’s cultural lament extends beyond the arts to an ancient critique of contemporary society. Characters engage in yelling matches about the garbage Millennial age of convenience over struggle: “Fuck Facebook, fuck Twitter. Connect with each other and not your phones,” screams one character, yearning for the yesteryear of film reviews delivered via carrier pigeons.

As a drama, The Envelope isn’t very intriguing. As a comedy, it isn’t very funny. That said, if you’re ever in the mood for angry people being angry as a sore surrogate for plot, The Envelope will certainly deliver.

The Envelope runs at Centaur Theatre until April 19.

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Rayleigh Lee <![CDATA[Discovering Islam at McGill]]> 2015-04-10T19:27:54Z 2015-04-10T17:48:25Z McGill students invited to experience and exchange ideas about Islam

The post Discovering Islam at McGill appeared first on The McGill Daily.

On the afternoon of March 27, the Muslim Students Association of McGill (MSA) hosted an event titled “Discover Islam” to allow people to experience cultural, spiritual, and educational aspects of Islam.

The two-hour event consisted of activities, panels, and discussions exploring Islam. The activities and panels introducing Islam, led by students and volunteers, featured games as well as opportunities for cultural exchange, such as trying on a hijab or a henna tattoo. On the other side of the room, discussions over tea were led by Muslim guest speakers who explored topics such as community and family.

Ahmer Wali, president of MSA, told The Daily that the intentions of the event were multifaceted. “It’s to let people know about Islam – for those who do know and for those who don’t know, it’s a good reminder, it lets people interact with Muslims, and to learn more,” Wali said.

“We’re living in times where there is a lot of information, but extremely little knowledge.”

He also emphasized that the event was open to non-Muslims. “Perhaps they want to know, but do not know as much about Islam,” he stated. He continued, “we divided the groups accordingly, some of the basic info that most Muslims would have, and then some more in depth topics.”

Razia Hamidi, a community outreach worker, spoke at the event and discussed the topic of an Islamic community as well as what role practicing Muslims must play in today’s society.

“Community in Islam is not founded in race, gender, nationality, locality, occupation, kinship, or special interest,” Hamidi said. “The principles of Islam are about forbidding the evil and enjoining good, so you do that through political activism, through community engagement, civic engagement, constantly.”

She emphasized that community involvement is an important part of Islam. “In order to be a practicing Muslim, and to fundamentally practice Islam as it was meant to be, it’s not just practicing in your homes, rather something that you do outside, and engage and help better your presence in either in Canada, Montreal, on a micro level,” Hamidi said.

Shakib Ahsan, a PhD graduate in education at McGill, clarified the concept of jihad. Although the word can have many meanings, it is often translated as “holy war,” and is understood as a violent act by the public.

“I am happy that there is so much genuine interest about Islam, and people turned up to learn.”

“The misconception about jihad still exists today after 15, 20 years. So I think a lot of these are same old things that are being repeated probably because the media hasn’t done well in teaching the public or they’ve just twisted it to an extent where […] these things are still in the public perception, very blurred,” Ahsan told The Daily.

Seif Zeineldin, a speaker, stressed the importance of directly engaging with the Muslim population in order to have a clear understanding of the religion.

“We’re living in times where there is a lot of information, but extremely little knowledge. And it is much better actually to get the knowledge from someone who already studied this tradition and spent some time studying this tradition [rather] than going around and googling.”

“That’s what this event is all about. Making people question what is portrayed in the media and get a real taste of Islam,” Hamidi said.

After completing the activities, U1 Political Science student Didier Chen noted that he “realized that [he] didn’t know a lot about Islam.”

Lina, a U3 Arts student, told The Daily that she learned a lot at the event. “I am enjoying having conversations with strangers about things that I am not educated in. […] It’s fantastic, this is one of the best events I’ve seen in SSMU. I’m really happy I walked in here,” Lina said.

Wali said that he felt the event was a success. “I am happy that there is so much genuine interest about Islam, and people turned up to learn.”

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Subhanya Sivajothy <![CDATA[The realities of post-traumatic stress disorder]]> 2015-04-10T16:19:06Z 2015-04-10T16:19:06Z Bridge the Gap seeks to provide broader understanding of mental health

The post The realities of post-traumatic stress disorder appeared first on The McGill Daily.

On March 24, the Bridge the Gap speaker series held an event focusing on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Bridge the Gap is a mental health speaker series meant to foster better understanding and awareness of mental health-related topics. The speakers are selected so that an event begins with a more scientific discussion of mental health, which is followed by a speaker presenting their personal experience with the topic. Bridge the Gap is an initiative of, a network that aims to remove the stigma surrounding mental health through education.

Jorge Armony, a researcher at the Douglas Institute and associate professor of psychology at McGill, explained that PTSD is a mental illness that follows direct exposure to a traumatic event. Traumatic events may include different types of threats, sexual violence, or a serious injury, among many other things.

“My experience with post-traumatic stress disorder – I compare it to waves that are rolling in consistently, and I’m constantly trying to get on shore. I would constantly have these triggers which would be another wave coming and coming.”

Armony described three general categories of PTSD symptoms. The first type involves reliving the event, possibly through nightmares or flashbacks. The second type involves avoiding situations that create reminders of the event. The third includes negative associations and changes, such as avoiding loved ones.

Armony noted that a person may not necessarily experience all four types of symptoms.

Caitlin Kelley, the student speaker at the event, shared her personal experience with PTSD. She started experiencing PTSD a couple of years ago following an incident of sexual assault.

“My experience with post-traumatic stress disorder – I compare it to waves that are rolling in consistently, and I’m constantly trying to get on shore,” said Kelley. “I would constantly have these triggers which would be another wave coming and coming.”

She explained that part of the difficulty in trying to recover from PTSD is the stigma and shame that surrounds mental health, and emphasized the importance of destigmatizing mental illnesses by creating more awareness of them.

Armony also touched upon the impact of stigma when discussing treatment for mental illness. He explained that individuals who have experienced traumatic events like natural disasters are much more likely to recover than a man who has experienced a sexual assault. This is because for the first incident there is more likely to be a sense of community and sharing of experiences while the latter would most likely be hidden due to stigma.

“I think it’s super important to have education-based events, because it helps inform people […] a lot of people don’t know how to approach the topic. Having things like this helps open the conversation about mental health.”

“Strength lies in the ability to love yourself unconditionally,” said Kelley.

Illustrating PTSD in more scientific terms, Armony explained that within the brain, the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, is very active. The prefrontal cortex the area associated with control – including emotional control – is less active. This means that someone with PTSD will feel their emotions more deeply, but possess less of a capacity to deal with these emotions.

Regarding risk factors, studies have shown that individuals with a smaller hippocampal volume are more likely to get PTSD. The hippocampus is a major component of the brain that is associated with memory and is very susceptible to stress – when an individual reaches high levels of stress, it actually kills cells in that area.

After the talk, student audience member Loa Gordon spoke positively about the event. “It’s really nice that you get the perspective of an expert in the field […] and also a personal story.”

One of the audience members asked what a good response would be to a friend who suffers from PTSD. Kelley said that responses would vary depending on the individual, but that one of the more important things is to say that you’ll be there to support them.

“I think it’s super important to have education-based events, because it helps inform people […] a lot of people don’t know how to approach the topic,” said Laura Herbert, the president of McGill’s Chapter of “Having things like this helps open the conversation about mental health.”

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Marina Cupido <![CDATA[Women fight back against austerity]]> 2015-04-09T19:18:47Z 2015-04-09T13:35:20Z Police violently disperse "non-mixte" protest

The post Women fight back against austerity appeared first on The McGill Daily.

Correction appended April 9.

At 9 p.m. on April 7, over 200 people gathered at Norman Bethune Square to protest provincial austerity measures. The event, organized by the anonymous collective Hyènes en Jupons (Hyenas in Petticoats), was a feminist protest, open only to trans people and those who self-identify as women.

A McGill Women’s Studies minor student who participated in the demonstration explained her view on this decision.

“I think that so long as [a closed demonstration] is done […] so that gender policing doesn’t become a thing – because that would be violent and problematic in its own way – I think that it’s really important and valuable for non-dudes to have spaces to do activism,” she said. “Not only are activists claiming the streets, but women are claiming activist space in the streets.”

A student from Cégep de Saint-Laurent, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed a different opinion, emphasizing the importance of large turnout at demonstrations.

“There are some who think that it’s because white, heterosexual guys can’t really understand the struggle of women […] which isn’t false, but the more [people] we are, the more we’ll make ourselves heard.”

Setting out on Guy and turning west onto Sherbrooke, the demonstration was soon met with a police cordon, ultimately forcing it back down to De Maisonneuve. During the hour that followed, police restricted the crowd to the Concordia area, blocking its passage further east.

A few stand-offs occurred during this time, and a number of protestors were physically assaulted by police as they hurried to surround the group. One woman was knocked roughly to the ground by a running police officer, breaking her glasses.

Despite the heavy police presence, the mood of the demonstration was lively. Protesters chanted feminist slogans: “Crions! Plus fort! Sinon les femmes on nous ignore!” (“Shout! Louder! Otherwise we women are ignored!”) and “À qui la rue? Aux femmes la rue!” (“Whose streets? Women’s streets!”).

Several protesters noted that women are particularly vulnerable to the negative impact of austerity measures. Others cited Quebec Minister of Health Gaétan Barrette’s controversial Bill 20, which many doctors and health professionals worry will limit the number of abortions Quebec doctors would be able to perform, as one reason for the demonstration.

Another anonymous protester said, “Austerity affects […] marginalized groups in particular, including trans women, who are certainly one of the most marginalized groups, and who austerity stigmatizes further.”

A contingent from the Muslim Jewish Feminist Alliance at Concordia was also present.

“We are marching because the neoliberal agenda is definitely discriminating against women, and women of Muslim […] and Jewish cultural background in Western societies are struggling to uphold their views and their values, and it’s to denounce this oppression that we’re here tonight,” explained a member of the group. “As a visible minority, as women, we have to denounce [austerity].”

At roughly 10 p.m., riot police began to surround the demonstration, and it was declared illegal. They then proceeded to disperse the gathering, firing stun grenades at the margins of the crowd and using tear gas to clear the Concordia area. By 10:30 p.m., the demonstration had scattered and the riot police had left the scene.

One woman described her experience to The Daily. “I was on the sidewalk, and someone knocked into me with a riot shield […] at a certain point I [was thrown] down,” she said. “One of the police officers, I didn’t see who, grabbed me by my scarf [from behind] and pulled me. I’m not sure how I got out of that situation.”

A U1 McGill student also described scenes of brutality, saying the behaviour of police was “unnecessarily violent.”

“At the very beginning, for some reason, they started running towards us, and just pushed this girl who fell on her head, and literally, she was just standing there. She wasn’t doing anything,” said the student.

The McGill Women’s Studies student said, “I think it’s the most aggressive [police repression] I have seen yet. […] The ratio of police to protesters was exorbitantly different than it has been at other [demonstrations]. [That reflects] the way a women, trans, or femme demo is viewed.”

A previous version of this article stated that the march was open only to those who self-identify as women. In fact, the march was also open to all trans people, not just those who self-identify as women. The Daily regrets the error.

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Igor Sadikov <![CDATA[Teaching assistants to strike on first day of exams]]> 2015-04-08T13:15:57Z 2015-04-08T13:15:57Z BRIEF

The post Teaching assistants to strike on first day of exams appeared first on The McGill Daily.

McGill’s teaching assistants (TAs) will be on strike on April 16, the first day of final exams, to put pressure on the University and express their disappointment with the lack of progress in negotiations, ongoing since the TAs’ collective agreement expired in June 2014. A vote to that effect passed at the April 7 General Assembly (GA) of AGSEM, their union, by a margin of 129 to 68.

Although the organizational details of the strike were left to the discretion of a newly formed strike committee, the GA did vote to hold a ‘soft’ picket line, meaning that individuals will be discouraged, but not prevented, from crossing it. Invigilators, also unionized under AGSEM as a separate bargaining unit, have the legal right to refuse to cross a picket line preventing access to an examination location.

“It was great to see this many people out, and have an actual debate with so much of the membership about what McGill has offered and how we respond,” said AGSEM Mobilization Committee Chair Mona Luxion, speaking as an AGSEM member. “I think it’s going to take a lot more than this to get major concessions from McGill, but […] I really see this as the first step in an ongoing process.”

The TAs’ current bargaining priorities are a wage increase and the codification of a limit on TA-to-student ratios. McGill countered the TAs’ demand for a 5 per cent yearly wage increase with an offer of an increase equal to that of the Quebec public service workers, with a one-year lag. As the public service workers’ agreement is currently in negotiations, the amount is as of yet undefined.

According to AGSEM TA Bargaining Committee Chair Giulia Alberini, the administration has staunchly refused to compromise on the TA-to-student ratios, as well as on the TAs’ other demands, such as a new harassment-related grievance resolution policy. The last two bargaining sessions were held in the presence of a mediating conciliator, and at least one more session is planned in the coming days.

“What I think is absolutely clear from this meeting is that the membership is really disappointed in what McGill has offered,” said Luxion. “I think that a visible action, especially one that is a strike and does have a real disruptive effect on McGill and in TAs’ lives, is going to start a lot of conversations […] and I think this is the perfect time to do it – while we’re talking about austerity across the province.”

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Arianee Wang <![CDATA[Tens of thousands against austerity on the streets of Montreal]]> 2015-04-03T18:27:37Z 2015-04-03T18:27:37Z 130,000 students on strike as protest continues late into the night

The post Tens of thousands against austerity on the streets of Montreal appeared first on The McGill Daily.

Over 30,000 people gathered at Square Victoria on April 2 to demonstrate against the Quebec government’s austerity measures, totalling over $7 billion in cuts to healthcare, education, and other public services. Over 130,000 university and CEGEP students – including McGill’s Faculty of Law and three departmental associations – were on strike for the day of the demonstration, organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ).

Gathering at Square Victoria at 1 p.m., protesters marched in the streets of downtown Montreal – including Sherbrooke, Robert-Bourassa (formerly University), and St. Denis – for over two hours, before finally arriving to Place Émilie-Gamelin, near the Berri-UQAM metro station, around 3:30 p.m.. The demonstrators did not give the itinerary of their march to the police, making it illegal under municipal bylaw P-6, and many Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) were present throughout.

Protesters expressed their discontent with the government’s austerity measures with picket signs and banners. Marching in the streets, they chanted slogans in French such as “Un peuple uni jamais ne sera vaincu!” (“The people united will never be defeated!”) and “À qui la rue? À nous la rue!” (“Who owns the street? We own the street!”).

“Instead of hitting the big people, they’re hitting the little people.”

Connor Spencer, a U1 German Studies and History student at McGill, told The Daily that she attended the demonstration because of the far-reaching effects of austerity. “All of the things I feel very strongly about, specifically public services, public benefits, and the things that the government should be supporting, are being attacked in order to conquer the provincial debt,” she said.

She continued, “Instead of hitting the big people, they’re hitting the little people, just people further down, so I’m trying to protest that.”

Although the demonstration consisted mostly of students, unions and community organizations were also represented at the protest. A contingent was also present representing the provincial political party Québec solidaire.

After the demonstration officially ended, some demonstrators remained on the streets until late into the evening; a second night demonstration had been planned for 8 p.m.. At around 6 p.m., protesters and police clashed near Berri-UQAM, at which point police ordered protesters to disperse and began spraying the crowd with tear gas.

Also in attendance were representatives of the Immigrant Workers Centre and the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution (AWCEP), a group that fights human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of Asian bodies.

Sarah Mah, a member of AWCEP, explained that the effects of austerity are not felt equally by different groups. “Austerity measures will adversely affect not only everybody, but disproportionately women – disproportionately women of colour and poor women.”

Mah added, “Austerity measures and the cuts to health services, and most recently, Bill 20, will definitely negatively affect access to [healthcare] for women, and disproportionately for women of colour.”

Florence Tétreault, a Literature and Art History student at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), noted the importance of the strike in communicating student views to the government. “That’s the only thing we can do, I think. I don’t know how I could be active in protest in another way,” Tétreault told The Daily.

Speaking to McGill students’ participation in the demonstration, Spencer said that she saw it as a necessary “symbol of solidarity.”

“It shows that we are aware, we don’t live in this ‘anglo bubble,’ we know what’s going in Quebec, we know that it affects us, and that we care and we’re showing solidarity with [the] province even though we come from all over.”

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Jill Bachelder <![CDATA[McGill Women’s Studies, Law students vote to strike]]> 2015-04-01T22:34:36Z 2015-04-01T22:34:36Z BRIEF

The post McGill Women’s Studies, Law students vote to strike appeared first on The McGill Daily.

The Women’s and Sexual Diversity Studies Student Association (WSSA) voted at a General Assembly (GA) on Tuesday to strike against austerity measures from April 1 to April 7. Additionally, in an online strike referendum held from March 30 to April 1, the Law Students’ Association (LSA) chose to hold a one-day strike on April 2.

A total of four McGill student associations will thus be on strike on April 2 in conjunction with the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ)’s mass protest against austerity, joining over 100,000 students province-wide. The Association des étudiant(e)s en langue et littérature françaises inscrit(e)s aux études supérieures (ADELFIES) will also be on strike for the day, and the Association générale des étudiantes et étudiants de langue et littérature françaises (AGELF), striking since Monday, will remain on strike until April 3.

LSA’s one-day strike passed by a vote of 310 to 197, with a turnout of 76.6 per cent. The strike vote at the WSSA GA passed by a vote of 39 to 9. The motion included a provision to hold another GA on April 7 to consider the renewal of the strike.

“I think it’s really important that we’re actually coming together as a collective and engaging with the topics that we address theoretically [in our courses], and doing something about it, and doing grassroots organizing,” U3 Women’s Studies and Political Science student Sula Greene told The Daily, “especially in an institution that we all criticize in classrooms and find super oppressive.”

The Department of English Student Association (DESA) also held a GA on Tuesday, but it failed to reach quorum for a strike motion. The GA voted to instead hold a strike vote by secret ballot on Wednesday, but this also failed to reach quorum. Although 57 per cent of those voting voted for a strike, the turnout was only 14.4 per cent, while 20 per cent, or 205 students, was required.

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