The McGill Daily Unbothered rabbit since 1911 Thu, 19 Oct 2017 13:05:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 SSMU building to close for repairs Thu, 19 Oct 2017 13:04:11 +0000 On October 12, an information session was held regarding the closure of the Shatner Building from February 15, 2018 to winter 2019. The renovation project will vacate the University Centre for a large-scale renovation concerning the heating and ventilation system, as well as the replacement of the electrical distribution. As a result, all business and club operations at the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) building will be closed or moved to another location. Prior to the event, a submission form was available for students to submit questions or concerns. Questions were addressed by general manager of SSMU Ryan Hughes, academic planning officer Jonathan Nordland, SSMU VP Student Affairs Jemark Earle, and Adrian Nicolicescu.

Students unaware of closure

The building closure was announced to the student body through McGill’s “What’s New” listserv this fall semester, then through a SSMU statement e-mailed to undergraduate students in October. However, many students were unaware of the building closure until a public Facebook invite for the information session was made, although some within SSMU had known about the closure well in advance.

“We were made aware that SSMU was going to be closing about a month ago,” said David Marchionni, the VP Communications of WalkSafe McGill.

Marchionni mentioned that some operations, such as student clubs were made aware of the closure later than other groups, “it was made clear to us that the services were being informed, but it was not clear that other clubs would not be informed. […] We figured that if they were telling us, they were going to tell […] everyone, and that turned out not to be true, considering that most people found out by a Facebook event.”

“We figured that if they were telling us, they were going to tell […] everyone, and that turned out not to be true, considering that most people found out by a Facebook event.”

When questioned why it has taken so long for all students to be informed, Hughes answered that details were not available then concerning the scope and timing of the renovations. In response to the criticisms, Earle has promised to expand office hours to answer additional questions from student clubs. The University will also be meeting bi-weekly to discuss how to mediate communication.

How will clubs and services be relocated?

McGill will be referring student services to a new location, and move future events to one of the libraries on campus. Tenants including student clubs and services will have access to the building until the end of February to relocate. Hughes announced that student groups will ideally be notified by mid-November of their new locations but there is no guarantee on the timeline.
The Players’ Theatre is currently struggling to find a method to move out their technical equipment, valued up to thousands of dollars.

“Even if we have a company to dismantle […] we’re going to face a loss of an entire season, as we have no space to perform,” said Nadine Pelaez, the technical director of the theatre company. According to Pelaez, students are not qualified to dismantle their equipment, meaning that they need to pay for a moving service.

“Even if we have a company to dismantle […] we’re going to face a loss of an entire season, as we have no space to perform.”

Pelaez commented on the financial impact of having to move their operations, “The Players’ Theatre was founded in 1921, and is one of the only English black box theatres in the Montreal, community. […] We are funded by ticket sales, from our six shows a year, and end of year drama festival. Without them, it will be difficult to move on in the future. […] I had wanted to make this a theatre company of Montreal, to grow our company and having this closure sets us back completely.”

Hughes mentioned that the financial impact of the move hasn’t been estimated yet, therefore there is currently no guarantee of funding help if student groups face financial difficulty. McGill will not commit to subsidizing spaces if clubs or services face rental increases but announced that ‘help’ will be available for moving, such as access to bubble wrap.

When a representative of Queer McGill asked if the future locations will be accessible, as their organization mandates accessible spaces, Hughes responded, “We live in Montreal.”

Criticism from the McGill community

“There is a complete lack of respect. […] Our company found out in May, and it was very unprofessional in that they didn’t give us information. We were told there would be an end of August announcement, but the statement was a month late. We struggled with avoidance from the SSMU executives, they were not answering e-mails, or giving us dates to meet with them,” said Pelaez.

“I do feel that there is a lot of solidarity with other clubs who face issues with rentals, with storage, and with being without answers.” The only McGill student club verbally assured that their club “will be fine,” regarding storage and access, was the McGill Quidditch team.

“We were told there would be an end of August announcement, but the statement was a month late. We struggled with avoidance from the SSMU executives, they were not answering e-mails, or giving us dates to meet with them.”

On the lack of transparency in the process, Marchionni commented, “I can understand why some services […] would be moved, […] because they are SSMU services rather than student clubs. […] I do understand why student clubs would be upset by this, […] it was […] very sloppy execution,” continued Marchionni, “On behalf of the other clubs I’m in and everyone else, it’s kind of a stab in the back.”

Sexual violence policy still lacking Thu, 19 Oct 2017 13:00:48 +0000 On October 11, Our Turn, a national student-led action plan to end on-campus sexual assault and gendered violence, hosted an information session with the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to announce the organization’s launch. Our Turn is a coalition started by Carleton University students who felt that the school’s sexual violence policy was insufficient. So far, 14 universities from eight provinces have signed onto the action plan and committed to creating their own task force to combat gendered violence and sexual assault on campus.

The speakers at the information session included SSMU VP External Affairs Connor Spencer, Student Life Coordinator for the Concordia Student Union (CSU) Leyla Sutherland, and Our Turn national committee members. Representatives from student groups like the Sexual Assault Center of the McGill Students’ Society (SACOMSS) and the Community Disclosure Network (CDN) were also present.

Spencer discussed the importance of the work already being done by grassroots organizations on campus, emphasizing that activism around this issue has always been student-run: “What was really exciting to SSMU about the Our Turn project […] was that it took grassroots initiatives that were already happening on campus […] and [gave] them the tools and the resources that they need.” Spencer said. “What’s really important within that is recognizing that on this campus especially the movement around sexual violence has always been student-led.”

“What’s really important within that is recognizing that on this campus especially the movement around sexual violence has always been student-led.”

Sexual violence at McGill

Spencer and the representative from the CDN addressed the McGill context, explaining why this conversation is especially important now, and why SSMU is taking steps toward a gendered and sexual violence policy separate from the university.

“Here at SSMU we have a very specific context. For those who are not from McGill you may not know but […] we had a rough year last year,” said Spencer, referring to the resignations of David Aird and Ben Ger in March 2017. Aird was last year’s VP External Affairs, Ger was SSMU President ­— both were publicly accused of sexual assault. “Like a lot of campuses across Canada we had a bit of a crisis, and it was decided […] that this needs to be a conversation now.”

The CDN was formed to specifically address the allegations towards David Aird and to pursue alternative justice for the women he assaulted.

“We initially formed as an ad-hoc group created by survivors and their allies in order to pursue action against a specific individual through a third-party reporting system after finding traditional avenues of justice to be insufficient, explained the CDN representative.

The representative who spoke at the event was also one of the women Aird assaulted. Her experience following the assault highlighted the continued failure of the university in holding students accountable for their actions.

“I desired anonymity but found that that wasn’t an option in traditional avenues,” she said, “and at the time as now I had no faith that the process at the level of the university as it stood would be survivor centered or guarantee my visions of justice, or would ensure my safety and comfort on campus and I didn’t know what to do and I felt really alone.”

“At the time as now I had no faith that the process at the level of the university as it stood would be survivor centered or guarantee my visions of justice, or would ensure my safety and comfort on campus and I didn’t know what to do and I felt really alone.”

Looking forward, she emphasized the need for a revised sexual assault policy at the university level, but also recognized that this will not be the complete solution:
“I hope that McGill and campuses across Canada can [improve] the mechanisms of justice and accountability. We know it’s going to take more than a policy to combat sexualized and gendered violence on university campuses […] but to our minds at the CDN, without a policy that supports survivors who seek out institutional processes, there can be no justice.”

McGill’s policy graded a C-

As a part of its launch, Our Turn graded the sexual violence policies at the universities that have signed on to the Action Plan. McGill received a C- because the policy is not a stand-alone policy, and does not provide any avenues for justice if someone is assaulted by a faculty member.

“I hope that McGill and campuses across Canada can [improve] the mechanisms of justice and accountability. We know it’s going to take more than a policy to combat sexualized and gendered violence on university campuses.”

Spencer referred to the risks of conflating sexual assault with academic infractions, as academic officers are not trained with dealing with sexual assault, “[The policy] refers to the code of student conduct, which means that the same people that are doing the discipline for academic infractions, are […] reviewing sexual violence cases, and that the sexual violence cases are going through a document that was written specifically for academic infractions, which is the code of student conduct” said Spencer.

The conversation then turned to the broad mandate of Our Turn, and the work being done to combat gendered and sexual violence. “We really want to work on continuity so being able to have a […] an action plan in place that can be used to process and function in different cities on different campuses,” said Caitlyn.

The discussion ended on a positive note, with the speakers looking forward to positive change in the future – “All students deserve to feel safe on their campus and all students have a right to a campus free from sexual violence.”

Mental health panel adresses power structures Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:56:28 +0000 On October 3, a panel on mental health was hosted by the Social Equity & Diversity Education Office (SEDE) and McGill Counselling Services. The panel featured three speakers: Marianne Chivi, a graduate of masters in counselling psychology at McGill, Florise Boyard, a couples and family psychotherapist, and Jessica Bleuer, a lecturer in drama therapy. Panelists discussed mental health, oppression, and power structures, followed by a group activity on power structures. The discussion was moderated by Malek Yalaoui, a community projects manager at the SEDE.

Support group for racialized and ethnic minority students

The event launched a new Support Group for Racialized and Ethnic Minority Students; the support group aimed to create a facilitated space for racialized and marginalized students, as well as provide a non-judgemental environment where students can reflect on their identities and share their experience on campus. The theme of conversation in the group’s weekly meeting would be based on the needs of the group present that week. Students who identify as Black, as Indigenous, as people of Colour, or members of a racialized minority may access the group through McGill Counselling website.

“I think [the support group] is a very important safe space for students where they can come to talk about their experiences […] of microaggressions, […] feeling invisible, […] feeling denied, or feeling frustrated, […] whether it is from faculty, or their experience of the institution as a whole, or from classmates. It’s not about a fight or rebellion, it is about taking the time to stop and talk about how it has affected people and relations with each other. […] I can attest to the power of being witnessed, of being heard, of being able to understand and identify the oppression coming from outside. This can be very empowering versus internalizing it, and feeling very distraught inside.” said Boyard.

“It’s not about a fight or rebellion, it is about taking the time to stop and talk about how it has affected people and relations with each other. […] I can attest to the power of being witnessed, of being heard, of being able to understand and identify the oppression coming from outside. This can be very empowering versus internalizing it, and feeling very distraught inside.”

Boyard told The Daily that the support group is “part of an ongoing process” to address mental health for marginalized and racialized students at McGill saying that, “[the support group] addresses the issues related to the system and the structure that we have right now, which is meant to protect the privileged. […] I think up until now, there hasn’t be a space in this institution where they have a chance to do that.”

Power structure activity

After the panel discussion, the facilitators led a power structure activity where participants created a sculpture with objects in the room. The structure depicted a situation where one object had more “power” than others; one chair was placed above a table with five chairs on the floor surrounding one water bottle. Participants then reflected on which object had the most power and construed a definition of power based on the structure. One participant named the sculpture “Power Struggles”, as it represents a hierarchy with “no competition that contains “the power in structure.”

Delali Egyima, a psychology student in her third year at McGill commented on the parallels between “Power Struggles” and the McGill power structure. “I found the power structure to be very telling of […] the structure we all see of marginalized people and the different ways in which we are marginalized. […] With the McGill structure, there are some power structures that we can’t see and we aren’t told about such as the SSMU [Judiciary] board.”

While participants were encouraged to reflect on power structures, they were also directed to move the objects in such a way that represents the changes that would make the McGill community more inclusive. The participants placed all six chairs in a circle surrounding the water bottle, with the table flattened on the floor. The first set of changes were described as “equality”, “reform”, and “reparation” by the audience.

“I found the power structure to be very telling of […] the structure we all see of marginalized people and the different ways in which we are marginalized. […] With the McGill structure, there are some power structures that we can’t see and we aren’t told about such as the SSMU [Judiciary] board.”

Yasmin Beydoun, a student in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill, spoke about the importance of improving inclusivity at McGill, “I think [reforms on the sculpture] symbolize progress but also resilience […] I think it’s a start but I also acknowledge a lot of the work is on these […] Black Indigenous racialized folks, also folks who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, disabled communities. […] We’re still the ones doing the work. It is being pushed forward by us, for us.”

“I think [reforms on the sculpture] symbolize progress but also resilience […] I think it’s a start but I also acknowledge a lot of the work is on these […] Black Indigenous racialized folks, also folks who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, disabled communities. […] We’re still the ones doing the work. It is being pushed forward by us, for us.”

She also relayed the importance of acknowledging how more support for students is needed, “The system is still not doing all that it can to support and to further our mental health and wellbeing in general.”

“Systems are everywhere whether or not they are apparent to us or whether they are implicit. We live in a society that is structured, so […] McGill is a structure within itself, and these […] oppressive layers do exist, and in different ways […] To be able to have this space where we can visually dissect a power structure was […] powerful to see.”

Thrival over survival

The final sculpture was a circle shaped system with the chairs turned every other way, and the water bottle placed in the middle. The table was removed from the sculpture. Participants described the last sculpture as “community”, “peace” and “reconciliation”. One noted that the word “safety” comes to mind.

Shanice Yarde, the equity educational advisor at the SEDE told The Daily, “Through my work as an equity advisor, I see creating spaces for students of color, […] for racialized communities, […] as part of the work […] to not only speak their truth but to be validated, affirmed, and to feel that this is a place where […] they can be well in, and thrive.”

Yarde described “thinking about thrival beyond surviving” as a key part of a “cultural shift at McGill”.

“I think a lot of people are just fighting to survive at McGill,” continued Yarde. “I am interested in what the shifts should be in order to thrive, and to be well and happy. […] I think about Alice Walker quote, ‘the most common way people give up power is by thinking they don’t have any.’ […] An activity such as this, in a space such as this, affirms that we do have power even if it feels like we don’t […] The specific power activity […] was an opportunity to move a chair, to move a table, and to […] make the shift. […] This day is one piece of that.. [….] It means to recognize the power, to use it in ways that will enable our thrival.”

SSMU Council sees lengthy debate over AVEQ affiliation Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:44:34 +0000 On October 12, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Legislative Council met for over five hours of heated debate, covering nearly a dozen motions and a broad range of controversial subjects.

Question period

Council began with a lively question period, during which SSMU executives addressed several hot-button campus issues. Notably, when asked by The Daily why the upcoming closure of the SSMU building had effectively been announced to the public via a Facebook event, eliciting dozens of confused and outraged posts by students, VP Student Life Jemark Earle issued an apology.

“First off, the executive and SSMU would like to apologize for any disturbance or confusion that may have arisen from being notified [of the building closure] by a Facebook event,” said Earle. “We released a notification to all the building tenants, with a link to the Facebook event, so […] while it was open to the general public, it was meant for the building tenants.”
In response to a question from Arts Representative Corinne Bulger, executives also addressed their decision not to elect a new VP Operations and Sustainability following Anuradha Mallik’s resignation in August, and to eliminate the position entirely.

“First off, the executive and SSMU would like to apologize for any disturbance or confusion that may have arisen from being notified [of the building closure] by a Facebook event.”

“The executives ourselves have the right not to ask for a by-election,” explained VP Finance Arisha Khan, “and so we’ve decided we’ll just split the work up amongst ourselves, but in terms of the long-term, […] the role that the VP Operations has is traditionally more suited for a full-time staff member […] and so what we will be doing is bringing a constitutional amendment forward. So that would be a motion at Council, coming up probably in the next few weeks, and then that would go to online ratification.”

Senate Caucus Representative Isabella Anderson suggested that the proposed amendment could be submitted for consideration during the fall referendum session, which will take place in early November. However, Earle replied that this will likely be impossible. The responsibilities of the VP Operations portfolio are far-reaching and diverse, he explained, and it will probably take months to rework the Constitution and SSMU Internal Regulations in order to properly redistribute them.

The Daily also asked for an update on the constitutional reforms promised at the SSMU Board of Directors (BoD) meeting that took place on September 24. Currently, section 6.2 of the SSMU Constitution contains a significant ambiguity: it states that the BoD should be composed of 12 voting members, with four seats reserved for SSMU executives, but also allows for extra members-at-large to be appointed if, as occurred earlier this year, an executive resigns. In effect, the Constitution contradicts itself, and it remains unclear whether the composition of the BoD was strictly constitutional during September.

“Basically we’re still deciding on the format of how we’re going to structure the reforms of the Constitution,” said SSMU President Muna Tojiboeva, “so probably there’s going to be a committee struck in order to actually address that issue, […] and also get lawyers’ input on it, just to make sure that the language itself is sound, and it all makes sense.”

She added that there is no timeframe set for these reforms yet, explaining that the timeline will likely be decided at the next BoD meeting, a date which has also not been determined.

In response to a further question from The Daily, Tojiboeva confirmed that no effort has yet been made to publicize information on how students can write and submit motions to the SSMU Fall General Assembly (GA), which will take place on October 23. Traditionally, it is the President’s responsibility to promote the GA, but this year’s official deadline for submitting motions by petition passed with no public informational campaign. While a Facebook event for the GA has now been created, it does not provide guidelines for submitting motions from the floor.

Debate on AVEQ affiliation

The most contentious issue raised in Council was the prospect of SSMU affiliating with the Association for the Voice of Education in Quebec (AVEQ). AVEQ is a provincial student association, uniting the student unions of several Quebec universities to better advocate for their interests at the governmental level. In contrast to other such associations, AVEQ emphasizes anglophone participation as well as francophone, advocating for international students’ specific needs. AVEQ holds political positions on various issues – from climate justice, to sexual violence, to accessibility – which align closely with SSMU’s own. This is partly because SSMU representatives have played a significant role in building the organization since its inception in early 2015.

Despite SSMU’s involvement with AVEQ, however, SSMU only maintains observer status because members voted against affiliating with the association in the spring of 2016. In fact, SSMU is currently unaffiliated with any student association, provincial or federal, which severely limits the political power of McGill student voices. In light of this situation, last year’s Council mandated VP External Connor Spencer to bring this issue back for further consideration during the upcoming fall referendum period.

Spencer presented Council with a motion creating a referendum question which would ask students to approve a non-opt-outable $3.50 fee, paid every semester and adjusted annually for inflation, to allow SSMU to join AVEQ. Heated debate ensued, with several councillors speaking strongly against the idea of AVEQ affiliation.

Education Representative Josephine O’Manique read a prepared statement from her faculty’s executive council criticising AVEQ. For example, she argued that the association’s “one school, one vote” policy would place SSMU at a disadvantage, because as the largest member, it would receive the same representation as other unions while contributing more student fees. However, this policy protects smaller unions from having their voices subsumed by larger ones, allowing different schools to participate in decision-making on an equal footing.

The proxy councillor standing in for Law Representative Melisa Demir asked Spencer why the proposed question didn’t present alternative student associations, such as the Quebec Student Union (UEQ), expressing concern that if SSMU had not considered UEQ, “this would not be an informed decision […] for the student body.” Spencer explained that during the 2015-2016 academic year, then-VP External Emily Boytinck had attended meetings at both AVEQ and UEQ to observe their operations, reporting regularly to Council. Both associations had also made presentations to Council, and based on the sum of this information, Council had opted to seek affiliation with AVEQ.

Senate Caucus Representative Tre Mansdoerfer also expressed opposition to the motion, despite having been mandated by his faculty to support it. He alleged that throughout the above process of observation and reporting, SSMU executives had been unfairly biased toward AVEQ. Arts Representative Jennifer Chan, however, criticised the last-minute nature of such objections.

“I think it’s fair to remind everyone that we did have a notice of motion at the last Council meeting,” said Chan, “and we also had a presentation from AVEQ, at which I feel like some of these questions could have been addressed, and that if there was action we wanted to take in terms of contacting other student federations, that could have been done. These genuine concerns are fair, but at the same time, if councillors were motivated enough, the change they are wishing to enact now could have been enacted. I think at this point this motion is in front of us to give an opportunity to students to make a decision for themselves.”

“If councillors were motivated enough, the change they are wishing to enact now could have been enacted. I think at this point this motion is in front of us to give an opportunity to students to make a decision for themselves.”

“It just seems disingenuous to not also give UEQ another chance to present to Council,” countered Senate Representative Anderson, “when the last time this went to a referendum they were also given that chance to present. Just because if we’re going to have students decide, […] they shouldn’t just be presented with AVEQ as the only thing.”

Social Work Representative Matthew Savage echoed Anderson’s view that SSMU should hear from UEQ again, but also emphasized the importance of affiliating with one provincial association or another as soon as possible.

“I think that SSMU would benefit from being part of a larger union; whether it’s AVEQ or not, I’m not so sure,” he said. “The reality of it is, there are forces in our government that want to privatize our education more and more. So as someone who is from Quebec, I really value the fact that we have people who are willing to stand up to make sure that our government’s held accountable. […] McGill kind of has its own bubble around it in the Quebec school system, and we really need to kind of put our foot forward […] and show some leadership towards equality and justice in our education.”

“The reality of it is, there are forces in our government that want to privatize our education more and more. So as someone who is from Quebec, I really value the fact that we have people who are willing to stand up to make sure that our government’s held accountable. […] McGill kind of has its own bubble around it in the Quebec school system, and we really need to kind of put our foot forward […] and show some leadership towards equality and justice in our education.”

Ultimately, councillors voted to have Spencer arrange a presentation from UEQ at next week’s Council meeting, with the motion itself postponed until next week.

A longer version of this article has been published online, at

Montreal’s municipal government must take action to end homelessness Mon, 16 Oct 2017 15:41:20 +0000 As Montreal’s municipal election draws closer, incumbent candidate Denis Coderre has made a point of addressing the topic of homelessness at length. While Coderre’s emphasis on the topic is laudable, his political posturing must be backed up by transparent and concrete policies to improve existing shelters and eliminate law enforcement’s targeting of those experiencing homelessness.

A 2015 study commissioned by Coderre found that over 3,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Montreal (this particular study doesn’t account for those who lack a permanent address; for example, those living in hotels or with friends). Coderre has worked with the Movement to End Homelessness in Montreal (MMFIM) to create an action plan that aims to eliminate homelessness in the city by 2020. He has supported the MMFIM by granting the organization $140,000 annually over a five-year period starting in 2015; however, this sum of money is negligible compared to the $39.5 million the combined federal and municipal governments invested in lighting the Jacques Cartier Bridge for Montreal’s 375th anniversary. We must challenge the city of Montreal to invest in its people rather than the colonial celebration its anniversary represents, especially since Indigenous people are over-represented within the homeless population in Montreal.

While there have been other initiatives to address homelessness in Montreal, they are not enough. In 2016, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) announced service points in five metro stations to give shelter to people experiencing homelessness. In 2014, Coderre called for the removal of “anti-homeless” spikes placed in store windows to prevent people from sitting and sleeping in front of the stores. Last week, as part of his electoral campaign, he announced plans to implement wet shelters, which are spaces where people experiencing both homelessness and alcohol dependency can receive care from health professionals. While city officials have taken steps to improve living conditions for those experiencing homelessness, many community organizations have criticized Coderre for only combatting these conditions just before the mayoral elections. For example, the city’s existing shelters have been in disrepair and often dangerous for those who need them, yet nothing has been done to address this during Coderre’s term of office.

Coderre had also previously both allowed and implemented policies that criminalize homelessness. In 2015, the city closed Parc Émilie-Gamelin and la Place de la Paix, which resulted in the displacement of homeless populations who were accustomed to sleeping in these places. The enactment of closing hours in parks, typically from 11p.m. to 6a.m., also enables arbitrary policing of these spaces, which usually affects marginalized communities, especially those experiencing homelessness. The municipal government has ticketed 65,000 homeless people over the last 15 years, including 30,000 in the last five years, for jaywalking, for sitting in parks, or for other minor offences. This relentless ticketing effectively traps homeless people in a vicious circle of debt.

We call on Coderre and the other candidates to tackle the issue of homelessness beyond pre-electoral tactics. They must take action against the harassment perpetrated by the police, change bylaws that criminalize homelessness, improve existing shelters, and substantially increase the funding dedicated to ending homelessness in Montreal.

The McGill Daily editorial board

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The NGO-ization of resistance Mon, 16 Oct 2017 14:14:29 +0000 By the end of September, every McGill student has been visited at least once by some non-profit organization (X) claiming to perform a vital service (Y) for some “third-world” country (Z).

“Join X for an unforgettable experience helping the people of Z by doing Y! Come to our first meeting next week, where you can learn how to get involved.”
I arrived at one such meeting earlier this year, feeling unsure about what to expect. I had a general sense of unease, which I naively hoped would be put to rest by the forthcoming presentation. I patiently listened to five students describe the work their organization did internationally. As a student from Pakistan, a country rife with suffering and corrupted by the West, I hoped the meeting would tell me how I could do some unproblematic, effective work for countries struggling similarly. Within the first ten minutes it was apparent that this would not happen. Each sentence reminded me of NGO racism in Pakistan, or of aid agencies doing counterfeit, impractical work. Each PowerPoint slide made it clearer that the organization was more concerned with appearance than long-term change.

There are at least twenty-two clubs at McGill that represent non-profit organizations worldwide. Many of these clubs organize trips to “third world” countries (which I will refer to as the Majority World), trying to get the McGill student body involved in hands-on work. I am in no way attempting to indict all of these clubs; I simply want to call attention to a recent rise in NGO culture and discuss its effects, both on and off campus.

Arundhati Roy’s increasingly relevant essay “The NGO-ization of resistance” evaluated the ways in which non-governmental organizations are influencing resistance and altering the public psyche. NGO-ization refers to the recent flourish of non-profits throughout the Minority World, each with a different humanitarian mission. To some, non-governmental organizations are filling the gap created by a retreating state, and while some NGOs do provide real, material change, multinational non-profits are helping create a culture in which resistance itself is being redefined. NGOs now make up the fifth largest economy in the world, with the number of NGOs worldwide increasing by a factor of 280 in the last decade. This incredible rise is often cited as indicative of a rise in philanthropy. However, philanthropy and NGOs are in no way analogous.

First and foremost, vetting an NGO has become astronomically difficult. Reports on the corruption of non-profits in the Minority World continue to surface, while an estimated 77 per cent of fraud investigations never reach mainstream media. By receiving foreign aid and having to maintain appearances, accounts of corruption remain undisclosed in many cases. As a McGill student, joining a chapter of an international organization is often unnerving, as the money you help raise is arbitrarily sent to the organization with an expectation of unwavering trust as to where and how the money is used. The murky waters of NGOs arranged to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges becomes even less clear when it takes on the form of a university club.

McGill has notoriously used funds in irresponsible and damaging ways. Voluntourism at McGill results in a perpetuation of the White Saviour complex and often does more harm than good for the communities it seeks to aid. By acting in short-term, self-serving ways, Western students are often doing no more than satiating a need to be viewed as philanthropic. The money used on these volunteers could have been given to local, vetted businesses; simultaneously boosting the economy and recruiting professional, reliable work.

Even “reliable” NGOs that are not participating in voluntourism are frequently contributing to a reinforcement of racist and classist stereotypes. In simply describing a community, NGOs are often problematically condescending, painting a picture of utter powerlessness.

Students proudly presenting the work their organization does glorifies this behaviour, giving out what people ought to have by right and calling it “benevolence.” Students now feel superior by helping communities gain what they should already have, and regularly use a community’s struggles as padding for a resume. Talking to McGill students, club leaders, and even faculty, it’s apparent that the Western model of the Majority World is twisted and ubiquitous. As a non-Western student who regularly visits a Majority World country, reconciling my experiences with the perception perpetuated by NGO clubs is disconcerting at best.

Students now feel superior by helping communities gain what they should already have, and regularly use a community’s struggles as padding for a resume.

Even those who have heartfelt intentions often view the Majority World as a stagnant mass, devoid of any nuance or agency. By turning people into dependent victims, NGOs and NGO clubs create an image in which the Majority World is helpless: just waiting for an undergraduate student from PSYC 100 to help them out of their misery. This fosters a culture in which it is acceptable to respond with a look of pity, bewilderment, or fear when someone mentions their non-Western/non-rich/non-White home country or birthplace. With no recognition for the autonomy and diversity of more than half the countries in the world, it’s easy to see how NGOs have contributed to the normalization of these reactions. It’s easy to see how the flyer of an impoverished community or the face of a sad child helps to underscore racist and classist stereotypes, and how McGill students are made to feel like nothing can be done without their help.

Multinational non-profit organization boards have been consistently shown to lack representation and diversity, further perpetuating these stereotypes. Of the governing boards of this year’s top 100 NGOs (most of which conduct work in non-European countries), 67 per cent are of European descent, and less than 1 per cent are Indigenous. This lack of intersectionality is continually reproduced in the activities of the NGOs. Clubs proudly claim their aid is given “regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation,” but projects focused on alleviating racism occasionally exclude or further oppress women of colour, disabled people of colour, LGBTQ+ people of colour, and more, by neglecting to recognize the intersectionality of experiences and identities. Similarly, NGOs focused on “women’s movements” often try to engineer a “single organizational expression” of their cause which can lack a diversity of interests and spatial locations.

Being a gay, racialized student, I couldn’t help but wonder if providing support “regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation” was really the best solution. In a country struggling with state-sanctioned homophobia, was ignoring sexual orientation better than openly fighting for queer liberation alongside the NGO mission? Wouldn’t this simply allow homophobia to flourish, despite any necessary work the NGO did? Taking a political stance against acts of oppression seems crucial to provide any real change. Declining to mention the political climate of a country inevitably leads to an incomplete representation of a community’s needs and struggles.
By depoliticizing issues that are political by nature, NGO clubs can unintentionally transfer blame to the community itself. Self-described “apolitical” organizations may neglect to acknowledge the origin of a community’s suffering, and by doing so, imply that it is somehow the community’s fault.

By depoliticizing issues that are political by nature, NGO clubs can unintentionally transfer blame to the community itself.

Often, it is the community itself that can most effectively target its own issues. NGOs end up interfering with local resistance groups by dictating the agenda of support and employing local activists in the communities they wish to aid. Activism becomes an employable skill, and resistance becomes a career. While providing jobs, NGOs are also neutralizing the radical resistance movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. Local activism and grassroots movements are being submerged in a sea of well-intentioned but ultimately less effective NGOs. By better understanding the community and providing relief from the bottom up, grassroots movements are more likely than big charities to provide real, long-term change. Rather than signing up to join an unvetted NGO, supporting local activism is often the best route to make a difference. Grassroots groups also employ definitional intersectionality, recognizing that providing help for racialized communities is not independent from providing help for women or LGBTQ communities, and vice versa.

In this way, local/grassroots activism can provide help without alienating or neglecting oppressed groups. Many activists who would be otherwise involved in local resistance are now being employed by NGOs and can feel they are doing immediate, creative good. Arundhati Roy cogently argues: “Real political resistance offers no such short cuts. The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.”

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The miscommunication of science in mainstream media Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:30:35 +0000 Content warning: discussion of PTSD and its effects

Research done by Ramón y Cajal, Donald Hebb, and David Marr introduced the idea that memory is being encoded in the patterns of synaptic connectivity between neurons in the brain. Our understanding of memory has since become more nuanced: there is evidence that memory can be altered in several ways. Karim Nader, a McGill neuroscientist reported that when previously consolidated memories are recalled, they return to a labile state-they become unstable and susceptible to change. This makes the recalled memories vulnerable to alteration after drug administration. Protein synthesis is required for the reconsolidation of recalled memory. When drugs that inhibit protein synthesis, such as propranolol or anisomycin, are administered within a particular time frame after recall, the emotional valence (the emotional value, positive or negative, that is associated with a stimulus) of the memory can be altered. Experiments on mice suggest that memory “impairment observed after propranolol administration may result from a modification of the emotional valence” of memory, as opposed to disruption of the contextual component of a memory.

Members of the scientific community have proposed the use of memory-altering drugs to treat disorders like PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). PTSD is a mental illness that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a stressful event, like military combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault. Patients often suffer from sleeplessness, nightmares, comorbidities, and interpersonal problems. Scientists have hypothesized that memory-altering drugs can eliminate fearful responses to traumatic memories in PTSD patients, and hence alleviate symptoms.

Advancements in neuroscience technology offer unique opportunities to treat resilient illnesses. Yet many people are alarmed by this prospect. As far back as 2003, the US President’s Council on Bioethics issued a report that largely decried the use of such drugs. The council argued that memories are associated with our sense of self, so any form of memory manipulation can affect a person’s individuality. In this case, to treat severe memory-related disorders like PTSD by using memory-altering drugs is claimed to fundamentally change who we are.

Memories form a mental schema which helps us avoid making mistakes of the past. When the emotional valence of a memory is altered to treat PTSD, it can be argued that a person rebuilds his or her life on a facade. But the dampening of emotional salience of memory does not undermine our sense of self or personal identity. Using combination therapy, drug administration in conjunction with counselling, may actually speed up the healing process. Disorders like PTSD which often accompany severely traumatic experiences can alter everyday functioning of individuals. Consequently, pharmacology could transform living conditions for those with PTSD into healthier ones, in which individuals are no longer consumed by overwhelming emotions from recalling traumatizing memory.

Media reports on memory alteration and memory-altering drugs

The media often mischaracterizes neuroscience technology, making it partly responsible for the misconceptions about the effectiveness of memory-altering pharmacology and its treatment of PTSD. The media overexaggerates the effectiveness of the memory-altering drug, propranolol. These inaccuracies in reporting could lead readers to believe that one of the highest priorities of medical professionals is to implement treatment options for PTSD that involve complete erasure of consolidated traumatic memories-the introduction of a “memory-wiping pill.” Propranolol does not allow neuroscientists to erase the contextual content of memories that have been consolidated. Yet several media articles claimed that scientists can already pinpoint and erase any specific memory by using propranolol, and if not for ethical restrictions, this technique would be implemented to treat PTSD. In fact, as opposed to popular media reports, most scientific publications conclude that there is “promise to reducing subsequent memory for new or recalled emotional material,” but that extensive clinical research is needed before emotional-memory-altering pharmacology is available for widespread use.

This misinformation needs to be challenged to curb the growing public perception that neuroscientists seek to completely erase painful memories. Media titles often include phrases like “Scientists erasing memory with light,” or “Would you erase your ex? Bad memories could soon be DELETED from our minds for good.” Headlines claimed there was a  “drug helps erase fearful memories”, the Daily Mail talked about a “pill to erase bad memories”. These are sure to grab readers’ attention but these titles, like many others, are dishonest. These media outlets are using catchy headlines to gain readership, making it difficult for those who might benefit from this pharmacology to make informed decisions about using drugs to treat symptoms of psychological trauma. There are some articles that have worked to advance the public’s understanding of neuroscientific technology but others facilitate misunderstanding and violate public trust. These media headlines obscure the interpretation of scientific data about memory consolidation, reconsolidation, and pharmacological alteration of the emotional valence of memories.

Charles R. Marmar of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center confirmed that there is an unfortunate misconception that technology can blot out memories. He believes that drugs such as propranolol simply adjust memories so that they can become tolerable to people with PTSD. In clinical trials, propranolol made it easier for individuals to cope with the traumatic stress of an incident; patients had fewer physiological symptoms of PTSD when measured at a later date. Joseph E. LeDoux,, a memory researcher at New York University, said that the use of drugs like propranolol is not a radical surgery on memory: “all [scientists] like to do is help people have better control of the memories they want, or prevent intrusive memories from resurfacing coming into their minds when they don’t want them.”

Kolber, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and editor of the Neuroethics & Law blog, writes that “drugs are viewed as special, like magic potions that can be used for good or evil. In reality, though, our memories are constantly being erased and modified over time. . . For some reason, though, we are more accepting of memory modification when it happens without pharmaceutical intervention,” such as in talk therapy.

Fake news is not a new phenomenon. There is false celebrity gossip, fabricated stories of political figures, and in this case, miscommunication about scientific research. At times it is not that the published information is apparently wrong, there can be subtle deceptions in the descriptions of the significance of scientific findings. It is up to readers to check the most suspect stories and subtleties in wording. The International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), a branch of the Florida-based journalism think tank Poynter, was recently enlisted for this purpose. This has allowed Facebook users to flag articles they believe to be deliberately false, and to use thirdparty fact checkers with the IFCN to confirm or deny claims. As a reader  of news articles, take everything that you read with a grain of salt. Follow the linked sites in articles to confirm information from primary sources. We need to be critical of what we read and develop informed opinions about important issues that are being covered in popular media.

The media has wrongfully influenced public perception about the goals of neuroscientists, the biological mechanisms of propranolol, and its medical applications. For memory-altering drugs, there need to be more standardized clinical trials so that we have a better understanding of the effects, and their ability to treat severe cases  of PTSD. Erroneous claims of intent and ability to use this medication to completely wipe memory of human patients should not be promoted.


Exploring alternative causes of Alzheimer’s Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:30:31 +0000 What do Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1), Chlamydia and Syphilis have to do with Alzheimer’s disease? Clinicians and researchers around the world who investigate the cause of Alzheimer’s have been asking this question for a long time. In a recent review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, 31 scientists from various laboratories around the world express their concern over a theory that has been overlooked in research pertaining to Alzheimer’s – the role of fungal infection and the microbiome as a root cause for Alzheimer’s.

While the cause for Alzheimer’s is poorly understood, according to the National Institutes of Aging, studies have shown that there is a genetic risk factor involved in some cases of early onset of the disease, whereas lifestyle, genetic, and environmental triggers are associated with the late stages. Once the disease begins to progress, the subsequent neuronal loss and changes to the brain are irreversible. These changes result in cognitive dysfunction like memory loss, impairment in the ability to think, and executing simple tasks. Most symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear when someone is in their 60s, and in 2015, this disease was found to be the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. Understanding the cause of Alzheimer’s and the progressive loss of nerve cells associated with the disease is extremely important.

Most researchers believe that the buildup of amyloid-beta proteins and tau tangles inside the brains of those with Alzheimer’s is the primary cause of this disease and cell death. However, the researchers who subscribe to the pathogen hypothesis believe that pathogens cause the brain cells to produce the amyloid-beta proteins, or that nerve cells that have been infected produce these proteins as a result of an inflammatory response. Brian Balin, a co-author on the review and the director of the Center for Chronic Disorders of Aging at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a statement to Scientific American, “We think the amyloid story does come into play, but it’s secondary to the initial inflammation.”

Furthermore, individuals with a variant to their APOE 4 gene, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s, are vulnerable to common microbial infections such as HSV-1, chlamydia, and even the bacteria that cause pneumonia and Lyme disease. One hypothesis, published in The Lancet in 1997, is that the variant of the gene makes it easier for infections to specifically target the brain cells.

Given the consistent failure to develop effective drugs, Rudolph Tanzi told The Scientist in a statement that “Any hypothesis about Alzheimer’s disease must include amyloid plaques, tangles,  inflammation—and, I believe, infection.”

Like all science theories that are initially hypothesized, this has been met with its fair share of criticism. Judith Miklossy from the International Alzheimer’s Research Center recalled being dismissed and denied funding for pursuing the role of spirochetes as an important factor in Alzheimer’s disease. One reason for skepticism, as John Hardy from the University College London told The Scientist that there is a lack of convincing evidence that links the distribution of amyloid plaques with infection. He further believes that the pathogen hypothesis “doesn’t fit the epidemiology, the neuropathology, or the genetics.”

The often overlooked role of microbes and fungi played in the onset of Alzheimer’s has been noted to be implicated with neurological conditions in several scientific journals. In a recent study published in Cell, researchers found that gut microbiota regulates movement disorders in mice and that alterations to the human gut microbiome places individuals at a risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In a review published in Nature, scientists implore other researchers to investigate the role of microbes in mental health and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Plotless renditions Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:00:55 +0000 Dawson College’s Tsinema Club recently screened Sinophone filmmaker Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 movie In the Mood for Love. The film is about two married individuals, Mr. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Mrs. Chan/Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) who discover that their spouses are cheating on them with the other’s spouse. To understand how the affair may have developed, Mo-wan and Su decide to role play as the other’s spouse. Eventually, the two develop feelings for each other but are unable to express them in fear of societal obligations and their personal moral high grounds. The narrative follows their fate through a series of unspoken yearnings and missed connections. The film foregrounds a unique storytelling technique for period melodramas. The breadth of history and emotion come together in a minimal interior space through sound and visuals.

Set in 1960s Hong Kong, the plot is propelled by the socio-economic conditions of the newly middle class. The city is experiencing rapid urbanization and immigration resulting in cramped accommodation where families share private space. This creates a forced intimacy between the tenants in the same apartment building, such as the protagonists. The two couples – the Chans and the Chows – move into adjacent apartments on the same day. The fate of the couple is foreshadowed early in the film when their belongings keep ending up in the wrong apartment. The incident also establishes the central role commodities will play later in the film.

Hong Kong’s mercantile culture is heavily responsible for creating an organic association for the two protagonists. Over the course of the movie, Mo-wan (Leung) and Su (Cheung) unceremoniously run into each other borrowing books, taking out food from the noodle shop or requesting the other to order a rice cooker from Japan. Their interactions are limited to the functionality of these objects, until one day, when Mo-wan notices Su’s handbag. They realize that this handbag and Mo-wan’s tie were gifts from their spouses but were also owned by the other’s spouse. This prompts Mo-wan to take Su out to a diner where they discover that their spouses are cheating on them with the other’s spouse. Again, the importance of commodities in Hong Kong’s social life is signified with how these props determine the fate of the narrative.

As the movie progresses, we witness the two protagonists falling in love with each other. “We won’t be like them,” Mo-wan keeps reminding Su. The courtship barely has any dialogue. Instead, Wong Kar-wai delivers to us a brutal meditation on melodrama; the film is melodramatic because of its emotionally powerful content and brutal because of the script’s failure to recognize the heavy emotion of the affair. Wong Kar-wai documents this conflict with a combination of slow waltz music and intricate set designs. The repetition of the signature theme song and use of bold colours embody the rapture at hand for a love affair bred out of another love affair. The characters’ lack of visible emotions is substituted with sensuous shots taken mid-height or focusing on a singular body part such as the hand.  It makes one think of only one thing: the film is purposely repressive in form and in content. The audience observes Mo-wan and Su through mirrors, windows, and door frames; sometimes separated by walls, sometimes separated by the curve at the end of a staircase. We never even get to see the face of the spouses. The film’s form is just as fragmented as the nature of the affair. While the characters experience emotional constraints, spectators feel this through narrative and visual constraints.

The latter part of the affair between Chow Mo-wan and Su Li-zhen becomes rather gendered. Su must sneak around to avoid gossip. Her landlord advises her against frequently staying out of the house until late. The situation escalates when Mo-wan and Su start meeting at a hotel room to collaborate on a martial arts serial and they realize their desires for the other. Even this confrontation is explored through Su breaking into tears while Chow maintains an emotionally indifferent stance on the affair. Finally, when Chow confronts the affair, he does so by offering to run away from gossip. Su declines, citing her moral obligations as a family maker. At the end, we observe Su still holding onto her unrequited love for Mo-wan and yet unable to change her situation. She remains in her relationship with her cheating husband and has a son with him as well. This twist in the affair focuses on the predicament of women in taking agency of her own fate.

The complexity with which Wong Kar-wai weaves conflict and history makes In the Mood for Love a remarkable study of style and form even seventeen years after its release. It captures the human condition in an extraordinarily limited interior space. Rarely does one come across a movie title that says so much about the experience of film watching. In this film, the director is straightforward in his mission to  give viewers a mood instead of a plot – and that is what makes it so memorable.  

Showcasing characters that speak up Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:00:43 +0000 I had the wonderful opportunity to attend 2017’s Montreal International Black Film Festival, and had high expectations as it was my first film festival. The purpose of this festival goes beyond simply displaying films of all lengths and types; It illuminates a cultural heritage that is often silenced during the struggle against injustice. As a black woman, I find no difficulty in relating to these topics but also welcome those who don’t experience these struggles to at least sympathize and realize their privilege in contemporary society. The festival’s  theme this year was Speak up/Exprime-toi. In other words, the founders of the festival selected films that  showcased a character, story, or movement that is not afraid to speak up and take a stand. I watched both the opening film, Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu, as well as Black Lives Matter.

The opening film, Kalushi: the Story of Solomon Mahlangu, is based on the true story of the nineteen-year old hero Solomon Mahlangu. From his humble community in Mamelodi, South Africa to his execution by the state in 1976, this narrative feature film touches on the treatment of Black men in South Africa and their loss of individualism. Mahlangu’s decision to join the liberation movement results from an incident in which he was brutally beaten by the police. On top of a physical beating, spectators also witness  emotional humiliation as the police officer pees on Solomon’s beaten body. The camerawork makes the act seem almost casual – it didn’t do any sensationalist close-up, that would’ve proven unnecessary. For this reason, the scene holds a heavy weight as it represents the condition of Black people in South Africa. The scene vividly depicts disgusting and base treatment of the Black body, to the extent that the audience (from the individual spectator to the rest of the population in South Africa) is desensitized. It is just another day, not much different from another.

Following the bloodshed of the 1976 Soweto uprisings, that saw black school children in South Africa protesting the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in local schools, Solomon began rigorous military training with a rebellion regime. After his friend Mondy shoots two innocent white men in Johannesburg, Solomon stands trial under the common purpose doctrine which essentially says that Mondy’s crime is equally his own. The unfairness of this law is obvious as Solomon faces punishment for another Black man’s crime while corruption freely runs throughout the law force. Even Solomon’s older brother, an officer, experiences police brutality when other policemen question him.

The state ultimately demands death by hanging as punishment, and the film ends with one more battle cry from Solomon, a hero of the rebellion. This is not a cry of hope but rather a cry of constant, demanding efforts. It is through this persistence that battles against injustice are won.

Joseph Oesi, in his film Black Lives Matter, highlights the exploitation of South Africa’s greatest resource – its minerals. This documentary draws in the audience as it bluntly explains the struggle between the owners of the land and foreign exploitation and indulgence.

Corruption and a hunger for wealth soon followed after South Africa’s African National Congress came to power. What people hoped would be an end to inequality turned into a deeper dive into exploitation. These political and social inequalities demanded attention, particularly after 34 mineworkers were massacred at Marinkana. The ease with which these workers were killed is unsettling. In response to demanding a livable wage, they were forcefully silenced. The movie displays the exploitation of native people in all of its horror. The workers make only 10 USD a day, making their working condition close to slavery; yet, international mining companies have a net worth in the billions. I continue to be shocked at the greed of predominantly white countries.

The quote “Africa feeds the world but the world eats without Africa” came to mind halfway through the film. Capitalist interest takes the food out of the mouths of native communities without remorse. Unofficial contracts are made between mining companies and traditional leaders whose legitimacy is questioned. Community Chiefs are arbitrarily chosen without evidence of their lineage. Mining companies place these pawns in communities to facilitate their  guise of working amicably with the populations near the mining sites. Naturally, foreign companies, all at the cost of their brethren, pay these false chiefs a hefty stipend each month. Tension exists three ways between mineworkers, mining companies, and traditional leaders in Mokopane.

The audience is introduced to three rural communities: the Mogales, the Kekanas, and the Mapelas, all who are facing pressure from foreign companies. The latter stood out as one of the inhabitants who courageously challenged the companies was a young woman. She stressed that the land that she is on is her birthright, it was passed down from generation to generation, as her community lived and died. There are ancestral gravesites that face the danger of being desecrated as mining companies infringe on the area to exploit its resources and peoples. It becomes clear that, at the expense of the country and through the division of  local communities, a small elite holds wine glasses that overflow with the blood of a nation.

While the documentary felt overextended in some areas, it succeeded in exploring how South Africa’s resources and inhabitants are exploited by a powerful elite.The unethical and forcible mining of a major resource strips the power of the majority of the South African population. No other place in the world has such a bountiful quantity of platinum and other minerals, and still it stands that South Africans are prevented from keeping their wealth or enjoy the fruits of their labour by neocolonial greed and exploitation.

Becoming a cyborg Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:00:29 +0000 On camera, Donna Haraway looks like the cool aunt everyone wishes they had. She is wearing a deep red shirt and has a silver bob, glasses, and a glint in her eyes while her dog, Cayenne Pepper, dozes off in the background. Belgian filmmaker Fabrizio Terranova spent weeks with her and Cayenne in southern California, capturing them in their natural habitat.

If all documentaries are fiction to some extent, the film titled Donna Haraway: Storytelling for Earthly Survival readily presents itself as a creative endeavour. Through fragmented interviews, archival materials, and animation sequences, it shows Donna Haraway narrating her family history and combing through three-decades worth of scholarship. On September 28, the film was screened at an event organized by Media@McGill, a cultural and media studies research group that offers grants for graduate students and organizes public events throughout the year.

Listening to Dr. Haraway talk is similar to watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos while high. Her playfulness and brilliant imagination allow her to spin a web of tales about her dog and childhood into theoretical models for surviving environmental devastation. You might expect her wit to be intimidating but she, like many of us, is also prone to rambling and has a quirky sense of humour, as most hippies do.

In 1984, Haraway published the text that canonized her in feminist scholarship, in which she famously declared, “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.” Her interest in cyborgs comes from her love for science fiction, specifically alternative worlds as imagined by women. In the 2016 film, Haraway reaffirms her desire to privilege “other women’s ideas, originality, and importance,” citing an indebtedness to Octavia Butler, Joanna Russ, and Ursula Le Guin.

Like a game of cat’s cradle, science fiction is built on giving and receiving patterns, making string figures of possible worlds and possible times, a form of storytelling that is itself a theoretical practice. Anticipating the future is a way of surviving the here and now – sometimes called anthropocene, the epoch in which human activity continues to significantly alter ecological conditions. The anthropocene is, as Haraway writes in her latest book, a time of “great mass death and extinction; of onrushing disasters,” a “muddle of messy living and dying.”

Storytelling was an essential part of Haraway’s childhood, “especially over dinner.” Her abundant use of metaphors in speech and writing affects how her arguments are read – like a story. A trained biologist, Haraway writes fluidly in an obscure tongue, delivering a weird, psychedelic blend of bacteria-laden scientific facts and poetic analogies about our relationship to earth. She has a way of describing the most minute natural processes that change profoundly how we envision our place in the world.

Formally, interview segments are interspersed among static long takes of scenes of nature, rejecting a coherent narrative structure. The nature shots, many taken in Haraway’s backyard, filled entirely with diegetic, or within-film sound, allow the audience to take in each shot in a suspended temporal realm. At one point, a voice-over sequence by Haraway’s partner compares versions of bird songs played at different speed, revealing a music that the human ear, in most circumstances, is unable to appreciate. In a parallel move, still shots of nature disrupt narrative flow to remind us to engage with what we often dismiss as background noise.

Perceptual tricks like these are played throughout the film, which recycles analogue footage from Haraway’s 1987 television appearance and shows her reacting to this footage in 2016. This doubling of figures is a recurring visual motif, with different shots of Haraway stitched together in a single frame, creating the illusion of spatial containment. These layering effects begin subtly and eventually escalate. In a particularly flamboyant moment, a majestic octopus emerges from Haraway’s desk while she sits, talking, and eventually fills up her room as if it were a cave in the deep sea.

Making kin and companions across species is an essential component of Haraway’s philosophy. For her and many other feminists, the cyborg imagery was useful for deconstructing mythic ideas of mind/body, human/machine, and human/monster binaries. As a materialist historian, Haraway remains dedicated to the very stuff that makes up this earth, speaking of cells and bacteria like a loving observer. The film ends with Haraway describing through voice-over a world where we live in organized communities with alternative family structures and collective child-rearing, hinting at more equitable futures. She too participates in the tradition of science fiction, of telling stories about surviving in turbulent, scary times.

Art as a gift Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:00:28 +0000 To celebrate its 10th anniversary, one of North America’s most renowned contemporary art galleries, the DHC/ART located in Old Montreal, is launching a new exhibit called “L’Offre.”  “L’Offre” looks at the perceptible weight of gifts and exchanges in regards to how the acts of giving, receiving, and transmitting a present influence our everyday lives in ways we might not expect.

“Our mission is to break down the idea perpetuated by certain institutions that contemporary art is inaccessible. We need to remind ourselves that contemporary artists are artists of our time and are concerned with what we’re concerned with. We read the same news and are moved, touched and afraid of all the same things. This common ground is expressed in stuff or nothing or ideas: this is all art. When you look at art this way, it’s almost like going to the movies: you don’t need to have read all the books to be moved by a piece and ask questions,” said Cheryl Sim, the curator of the DHC since 2014.

To do so, the DHC brought together nine different artists, including Sonny Assu, Lee Ming Wei, and photographer Phil Collins whose works touch on the concept of giving in ways that are aesthetically interesting while also inviting the spectator to reflect, relate, and develop their own ideas. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to join the curator along with the artists mentioned on the first press tour of the new exhibit. The interactive artwork along with the unique use of the gallery’s space, such as a lack of didactic panels to push spectator’s to draw their own meaning from pieces, and the personal description of the pieces at the exhibit launch by Sonny Assu, Phil Collins and Lee Mingwei was nothing less than exhilarating. Many of the artists would allow the audience to take a piece of their work back home with them. For example, in Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled (Blue Placebo Pill),” spectators could take home one of the blue candies that the installation was made of. The exhibit invited the audience to interact with the artwork, making the spectatorship much more personal.

The individual and collective ways in which each piece described the meaning behind giving, receiving, and transmitting gifts provoked questions about the variability of value. On the first floor, Sonny Assu’s “Silent Burning” is comprised of a collection of painted drums placed on the floor. The image gives homage to his grandfather who had to burn these ceremonial materials before a potlatch to prevent their theft by an agent of the Canadian government seeking to uphold the violent Indian Act by surveilling Assu’s grandfather’s reserve and selling his possessions on the black market. “By burning these ceremonial drums,” Sonny Assu explains, “my grandfather showed that materials are better off being given back to their ancestors than to be used as inanimate objects.” This memory of his grandfather conveyed through these replicas of ceremonial drums, as described by Cheryl Sim, “is really important for the notion of gift exchange as opposed to market exchange” and invites the audience not only to admire the detail put into Assu’s works, but the question of what is valuable depending on your community. Assu’s works often reveal the suppression of the Kwakwaka’wakw culture by the Canadian government and hopes to shed light on the “dark, hidden history behind Canada’s actions/inactions against Indigenous peoples.” His piece in the exhibit, “Silent Burning,” contrasts the spiritual value behind giving in his community with the materialistic value behind giving in Western society.

On the third floor, in a spacious dark room, Phil Collins’ “Free Photo Lab” installed a projector with 80 different photographs, each taken by people who made a deal with Phil Collins. He said “I would offer to develop 35 mm film for free on the understanding (there was a contract) that they be used, distributed or exploited by me.” Phil Collins further elaborated that the piece allowed him to explore how a gift could equal a threat: on one hand the installation allows spectators to see life documented through someone else’s eyes, via the perspective of the photographer, but it also shows how you could trust someone with a personal, valued piece of work that becomes appropriated and exploited by someone else.

In addition to these pieces that express the unique, sometimes disturbing implications a gift can have, the exhibit’s interactive pieces allowed for particularly poignant reflection. Dora Garcia’s “Steal This Book exemplifies this: In the reading room of the gallery found in the basement of the first building, a table is covered with multiple copies of a small compilation of stories and interviews. The piece invites the audience to follow its title’s instructions and “Steal This Book,” which is part of the gallery’s installation and also sold in the bookstore. Daniel Fiset, one of the four Educators for the DHC, describes the work by saying, “It is a book that has a use value but also a sculpture that has an aesthetic value which makes the viewer question what they should or shouldn’t do: is it okay to steal the book if the artist tells you to do so?” I stole a copy, and it was an enthralling read.

Another work found in the exhibit that centres on the direct reception and transmission of gifts is “Sonic Blossom” by Lee Ming Wei. The performance features 5 opera singers walking around the fourth floor and inviting a random viewer to take a seat and listen to the entirety a live performance of one of 5 of Schubert’s Lieders. The piece is in homage to his mother, who he was taking care of during the piece’s conception, who listened to Schubert frequently with Lee Ming Wei. The installation thus seems to be a very intimate, personal interpretation of what it means to receive a gift. The performers are in the exhibit every weekend, and will invite whoever’s willing to listen to participate in the piece.

The DHC’s objective is to make contemporary art by important living artists available to whoever is intrigued and willing to learn. “The mandate of the DHC”, as explained by Daniel Fiset, “is to provide an exhibition space for contemporary artists, [the DHC] has to make sure the work is seen in a local context and that it resonates with Montreal, Québec, and Canada.”

One last gift: admission is free.

“L’offre” runs from October 5th to 25 October.

Ollivier Dyens has failed you Tue, 03 Oct 2017 13:43:00 +0000 Content warning: mental illness, eating disorders, sexual assault

Ollivier Dyens was appointed as McGill’s Deputy Provost for Student Life and Learning (DPSLL) in September 2013 for a five-year term, ending in July 2018. The DPSLL plays a crucial role in university affairs, from enrolment to athletics, with the broad mandate of improving the “quality of student life.” However, multiple facets of student life have been detrimentally impacted by Dyens’ actions, particularly for students affected by mental illness and sexual violence. Leading up to his possible reappointment, McGill’s Advisory Committee is accepting comments on Dyens’ leadership by members of the university community. Students must seize this opportunity to emphasize the ways in which Dyens has continuously failed them.

During his term as DPSLL, Dyens has supervised portfolios vital to the well-being of students, particularly through Student Services, which includes Counselling and Psychiatric Services and the Office for Students with Disabilities. Between 2011 and 2016, McGill saw a 35 per cent increase in students seeking mental health services. However, over $2.5 million has been cut from Student Services’ overhead finances in the past seven years. The Stepped Care program was introduced in 2016 in response to these cuts, often pushing students in need of one-on-one therapy towards resources like online self-help literature, deemed “unlikely to be highly valuable on their own” by former McGill Mental Health Director Norman Hoffman. While Dyens claimed that Stepped Care eliminated wait list times for over 100 students, it did so by making one-on-one counselling less accessible. Students have reported being turned away from counselling for being “too high functioning” to warrant help. The most recent reforms to campus mental health services prevent students from seeing a psychiatrist unless the student has a referral from a general practitioner or a McGill counselor. Mental health care remains even less accessible for trans students, who continue to face barriers due to inadequate staff training, and for students experiencing eating disorders, whose services were recently scaled down.

Dyens also supervises Athletics and Recreation, a department notorious for its culture of sexual violence and misconduct. Between 2011 and 2013, three McGill R*dmen team members were charged with and investigated for the sexual assault of a Concordia student. Despite being arrested in 2012, the players continued to play for the McGill team in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Reports indicate that both their coach and Dyens himself were notified of the investigation and arrest, but Dyens refused to take action, stating that alleged sexual assault neither warrants disciplinary measures nor violates the McGill Code of Rights and Responsibilities if it takes place outside of campus and “the McGill context.” Pressured by public outcry that threatened to damage McGill’s reputation, Dyens promised to implement a better system of protection and accountability without compromising the security and well-being of assault survivors. However, earlier this year, Dyens once again publicly absolved himself of any responsibility to McGill students who have experienced assault by another student. In 2015, Kathryn Leci (now a McGill graduate) was physically assaulted by another student, Conrad Gaysford. Gaysford was found guilty of the crime in 2016, but completed his classes and graduated on time, as no disciplinary action was taken against him at McGill. Seemingly having learned nothing—nor having made significant improvements—since the 2011 incident, Dyens once again cited the lack of a “McGill context,” sparking anger from many on campus.

In short, Dyens has clearly failed to fulfil his mandate of “ensuring the best student experience.” The McGill community must express its opposition during the reappointment period—Dyens must be held accountable for the harm done by himself and the offices he supervises. Students wishing to leave comments or forward this editorial should contact

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Apples, honey, and radical Jewishness Mon, 02 Oct 2017 14:29:05 +0000 Independent Jewish Voices, or IJV, is an organization that gives a voice to Jews who refuse complicity in Israel’s continued disregard for and violence committed against Palestinians within Israel and Palestine. According to their website, IJV Canada is “a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.” Rosh HaShanah, literally “head of the year,” signifies the beginning of the year according to the ancient Jewish calendar. It marks the beginning of ten days of penitence, but it also allows Jews to reflect on how to make positive change during the upcoming year. I’d been searching for outlets and organizations in which I could use my Jewishness towards both celebration and change, so I gladly attended a radical Rosh HaShanah celebration hosted by IJV McGill.

One of the most grounding aspects of the celebration was the presence of different generations of Jewish activists. Although most of the individuals present were students, younger and older adults alike shared their backgrounds and their roots in Jewish activism and social justice. Never before had I been in a space where I related to Jews from older generations, in terms of my politics. Much of my conversation with older Jews, including with my parents and grandparents, has centered around how they believe Zionism is an integral part of a global Jewish identity. However, I felt as if everyone at the celebration, regardless of age, was working toward the same goals of advocating for the liberation of marginalized groups, specifically those Palestinians who are targeted by Israeli occupation.

Because IJV is a radical organization with an anti-oppressive mandate, the organizers of the dinner felt it appropriate to alter the brachot, or blessings, over wine, bread, and other items to make them as egalitarian as possible. Gendered language was neutralized, and patriarchal phrases were altered or left out completely.

Following blessings, guests of the potluck-style celebration were invited to choose from a large selection of homemade dishes, with both Sephardic and Ashkenazi origins. Many of the items were vegan and vegetarian, including stuffed cabbage, vegan brisket, assorted salads, and lokshen kugel, which is a traditional noodle pudding served throughout the year in Ashkenazi Jewish homes.

Schmoozing, feasting, and discussion ensued throughout the evening. Some folks discussed the importance of learning Yiddish as a means of reclaiming an ever-fading Yiddishkeit identity, another discussion centered around Jews originating from Northern and Eastern Europe. Others played Jewish geography, a game common amongst North American Jews, to see how many mutual acquaintances were had. General themes of the evening emphasized cooperation, personal growth, and organizing for the upcoming year.

The existence of anti-Zionist Jews necessitates a conversation surrounding the importance of Zionist ideology to a greater Jewish identity. Hani Abramson, a Jewish activist, Jewish Studies major at McGill, and member of IJV, explains how religious aspects of the Jewish New Year tie in with a radical, anti-Zionist Jewish identity: “Rosh HaShanah is a time for reflection and spiritual renewal. Many of us view our activism as a deeply spiritual activity informed by our connections to our Jewish identities. By fostering a Jewish space to celebrate Jewish custom and tradition that stands for justice in Palestine, we are defying decades of effort by the Zionist project to intrinsically marry Jewishness with the state of Israel.”

Although Israel was founded in the name of the survival of the Jewish people, speaking out against Israelís atrocities does not undermine one’s identity as a Jew. Israel’s founders were ethnically Jewish, but they were not necessarily religious Jews. In fact, being critical of Zionism perpetuates secular Jewish values of social, racial, and economic justice found amongst progressive Jewish communities worldwide. It seems pointless to embrace oneís identity as a Jew without continuously advocating for and empowering marginalized groups, including Palestinians.

This year, Rosh HaShanah coincided with a defeat for anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine groups on campus. Earlier in the week, the SSMU Board of Directors voted Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) unconstitutional according to the SSMU’s constitution and equity policies. The decision cites the existence of BDS as inconsistent with the their policy against discrimination based on national origin. The decision perpetuates the falsehood that BDS wholly advocates for the abolition of the state of Israel. BDS seeks to end international complicity in Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land. Speaking out against a state’s colonial atrocities is not equal to speaking out against students from that state.

What does this decision on behalf of the SSMU Board of Directors in ruling BDS unconstitutional mean for IJV and SSMU services that exist to support marginalized folks, including those marginalized at the hands of colonial states? Hani expresses her distaste for SSMU’s decision: “The recent dealings regarding BDS at SSMU are not grounded in fact or reason. A small group cannot decide that violence is not ‘extreme enough’ to warrant political action. Also, as an Israeli national who does support BDS, I find the Justice Board’s logic to be incredibly problematic.” This decision not only engenders feelings of disenfranchisement amongst Palestinian students, but it also invalidates the hard work that has been done on behalf of anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine organizations in promoting the rights of those victims of Israeli occupation. Priority must shift to the recognition of Palestinian voices which are not only present within the state of Israel, but must be heard in order to shift the debate over Zionism away from Judaism.

IJV looks forward to hosting many upcoming events in Montreal to celebrate Jewish identity and to advocate for Palestinian justice. Look out for a radical Tashlich to celebrate the 5778 High Holidays, general meetings, and a talk in October with Rabbi David Mivasair on Jewish identity, Zionisms, and BDS. For more information on IJV, contact, or check out their Facebook page! L’shanah tova, and cheers to a sweet and active new year.

Back to my roots Mon, 02 Oct 2017 14:17:52 +0000 East Asian Studies is a very broad academic field as one that is built on ideas from both the communities of the Asian diaspora and those who are are native to countries in East Asia. In the classrooms where everyone shared a tie to Asia, but still came from a unique background, the opinions on some of the contentious topics that fall under the study of the East Asian community had never been more sporadic or even “diasporic.”

Interestingly, an East Asian student’s criticism of their native culture through the new lens of post-colonialist theory has become widespread among international students who have been extensively immersed in critical theory during their time at McGill.  The criticism manifested itself through students re-examining societal issues of their country of origin under the scrutinizing new light of cultural studies. Even students who did not specifically identify with being East Asian, but were still part of the Asian diaspora, were pushed to reconsider their previous pre-conceived ideas of their culture.  

Alexandra, who is originally from Bangladesh, had attended a local international high school prior to coming to McGill. She said, “Bangladesh has a very homogenous population, and I belonged to the majority ethnicity and religion as well. There was not enough attention paid to minority ethnic population and religious groups. [Only after moving abroad for education,] I was introduced to postcolonial theories.” She said this area of study specifically addressed the importance of communalism and rights for indigenous groups in South Asia. In this way, she felt that “there was an intangible knowledge gap in [her] knowledge that was fulfilled by the education [she] received abroad at McGill.” Alexandra’s account gives a good example of how multicultural education can help one to recontextualize domestic social issues.

As a descendant of a generation that was both economically empowered and culturally influenced by the “West” in mainland China, I relate to Alexandra’s experience. Indeed, pursuing knowledge about one’s native cultural societal issues always calls into question knowledge gained at home. Such a transformation is always embedded in the pressing questions about cultural identities that one will face overseas. Ashley, an Honours history graduate student, said she had initially dismantled various Western interpretations of Confucianism that she encountered in a class, but later found them credible. She gradually removed herself from the previous perception that Confucianism is a homogenous term and began to consider its various implications. Similar to Ashley experiencing this clash of cultural perspectives on Confucianism, pursuing East Asian Studies particularly helped me question my perspective on China’s social issues. Either way, it highlighted the importance of trying to accept different, sometimes contradictory perspectives in the process of understanding one’s origins.

There seems to be two ways through which China self-reflects. There is the nationalistic stance, which acts as the institutional voice, and the unofficial, more liberal criticism, which is fueled by Chinese scholars adopting a Western perspective. Through both of these viewpoints, the historical narrative tends to characterize modern China as a backward, isolated, degenerated “Other” to the modern, industrialized, “progressive” Western “Self.” Therefore, only by re-examining the different facts and local narratives of Chinese history can one develop a rich understanding of it. The dismantling of the “East-backwards, West-progressive” concept is the best possible way to fix the clear-cut political binaries.

Being educated abroad also allows for pre-conceived notions, which have been naturalized as “common sense” in one’s previous domestic space, to be re-examined. Alexandra also reiterated this point by saying, “I think that going abroad helped me decolonize my thoughts and refresh my perspective, which would be hard to imagine if I were back home.” One example of this is the idea of English being considered as a “more civilized, even ‘superior’ language in Bangladesh,” which is not true. She states, “removing myself from that comfort zone helped me understand and question the status quo.”

This is also evident in my case. As a student at McGill, I was exposed to the underlying Western ideals of the critical approach I used to endorse in China. For example, a popular linguistic viewpoint adopted by Chinese scholars in the 1930s argues that usage of the Chinese language contributes to the “backwardness” of Chinese culture. Feeling “enlightened” by the Western scholarship’s branding, I had personally accepted theories like these for many years. Not until I re-educated myself through courses on Chinese linguistics was I able to tease out the boundaries between “progressive” and “backwards”; “Native” and “Western,” which eventually helped me work toward a less biased view of Chinese language.

While being exposed to multiple, often clashing perspectives in the academic world of East Asian Studies can be a little overwhelming, the immersive process of contextualizing and recontextualizing subject matters specific to Asia is ultimately cathartic.


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