The 100 Series: Meet Shawn Lehman

Lehman recalls that his first time teaching the course was an overwhelming experience.

Behind a door plastered with anthropology-related jokes, Professor Lehman sits in his office with a friendly smile on his face. He is the lecturer for ANT101 and has been teaching the course for 10 years in Convocation Hall.

When asked about what really happens during his long Con Hall lectures, Lehman gives a mysterious answer.

“It’s gotten pretty crazy sometimes in that big space, and we’ll just leave it at that,” he says. ANT101, he explains, is a basic, broad introduction to anthropology. The course teaches everything from the earliest primate origins to modern humans and forensics.

“As opposed to the upper year courses that I teach, which are highly specialized, this is a sample course where I’m able to teach a broad spectrum of topics. It’s cool and I like it,” Lehman says.

His love for anthropology is something that helps him tackle the unique challenges of teaching in Con Hall, like relating to so many students and being enthusiastic and energetic while he’s at it.

At first, it was daunting. I had never stood up in front of so many people on a stage with a microphone”

Lehman recalls that his first time teaching the course was an overwhelming experience.

“At first, it was daunting. I had never stood up in front of so many people on a stage with a microphone,” he remembers. “It took me a while to figure out what worked, and I still tinker my lectures to make them better. I get an immediate response from students, from which I am able to change my lecture material.”

Lehman’s teaching strategies mainly involve using humour and personal experiences, which he claims help with memorization. When a joke is told, the idea is solidified regardless of whether or not the joke is funny.

WYATT CLOUGH/THE VARSITY

By sharing jokes and personal anecdotes, Lehman tries to establish himself not as an unapproachable authority figure but rather as a resource that students can come to with questions.

“Students pay a lot of money to come to these lectures, so they most definitely should be able to talk to their professors. It’s just like if you’re discontent with a $5 coffee ­— surely you would want your money back,” he says.

Lehman also emphasizes to his students the importance of keeping up with the readings in order to avoid an all-too-familiar situation of cramming right before tests.

In an attempt to make his classes more fun, Lehman wrote the course textbook, in which he incorporates humour and his own experiences at the beginning of each chapter.

To improve his teaching style, he looks back to his time as an undergrad at the University of Calgary.

One professor in particular, who was a good public speaker and worked hard to make the class more personal, has served as Lehman’s inspiration through the years.

“I remember when I went to go talk to my first professor as a student, my hands were all clammy and I was really nervous. But now I look back at those times and laugh. Students need to realize that professors are just like everybody else, but maybe a little clumsier and socially challenged,” he says, laughing.

Though now a seasoned professor, Lehman mentions that it was in his earlier years in university that he realized he wanted to pursue anthropology.

“Anthropology actually picked me. When I was a student and signing up for courses, one of my friends told me to take a monkey course that included trips to the zoo. I thought it sounded interesting and realized by the second class that it was what I wanted to do,” he says.

In addition to teaching classes at U of T, Lehman has spent the last 13 years studying lemur conservation biology in Madagascar.

Suburbia: I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing

by The Wonder Years

Released June 14, 2011

When South Philly’s The Wonder Years dropped The Upsides in January 2010, its warm and tightly woven pop-punk sound was refreshing and unexpected. It was earnest and vitriolic, and vocalist Daniel Campbell’s repetitious utterance of the words “I’m not sad anymore” were uplifting. Nearly two years later, the Alan Ginsberg inspired storytelling in Suburbia is significantly darker and wearier — a rumination to the key of pop-inspired hardcore, where dueling guitars shine in major keys atop pounding drums.

Suburbia tones down its mosh-pop demeanor in favour of striking an emotional chord. An immediate response to its forward-looking prequel (the bouncier “Local Man Ruins Everything” features a lyric that states, “what I learned was it’s not about forcing happiness/It’s about not letting sadness win”), Suburbia is for 2011 what The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good was for 1997: a poppy, melodic, but ultimately depressive album yearning for and lamenting smalltown suburban home.

Stand up with Steve

Canadian comic Steve Patterson hosts the Just For Laughs Comedy Tour: British Edition

Stand up with Steve

Steve Patterson, a proud Canadian stand-up comic and best male stand-up winner at this year’s Canadian Comedy Awards, is touring Canada as the host of Just For Laughs Comedy Tour: British Edition, making its Toronto stop on November 4 at Massey Hall.

The all-British line-up is a first for the Just For Laughs franchise, so it only seems appropriate to broach the uniqueness of British humour. What is the tradition of British humour and why is it unique?

“[The British] have a longer tradition of comedy because they have a longer tradition of everything; they’ve been around longer,” explains Patterson. “I don’t know where British stand-up comedy first started but it was probably in front of the Romans for some reason, if any of the Monty Python movies are any indication.” He adds that “British stand-up comedy tends to have a lot of word-smithing; it’s very intense on the language — a different beat than Canadian comedy — I wouldn’t say that it’s better, but it’s different.”

On the flip-side, for Patterson, an integral part of Canadian humour lies in the audience.

“My favourite thing about Canadian audiences is they are willing to be self-deprecating… I love audiences that can laugh at themselves, and Canadian audiences are definitely like that. That’s why Canada’s comedians are pretty much always considered among the top ones in the world because we are used to doing shows for Canadian crowds that can laugh.”

Although Canadian audiences are known to be able to take a joke, there are always individuals who will refuse to laugh. When it comes to offending people, Patterson has a keen insight.

“You’re always going to offend somebody in the audience and you can’t worry about it, but what you can try to do, as a comic, is to bring your writing to a level where you’re at least being clever and you’re not just being mean. Comedy should be truthful, it should be funny, but [it] shouldn’t just be anger and mean because there are lots of other places in the world to go for that than comedy.”

For all of the insights and laughs that comedy can provide, it is often not classified as performance art in the calibre of theatre or dance, which is more than a mild annoyance for Patterson.

“There is nothing more performance based than stand-up. It’s one person engaged in public speaking — if you can’t call that performance art then you can’t call anything a performance art.” He adds that the misconception might stem from the fact that comedy is made to seem effortless by those who are masters of the art.

“Maybe everyone can be funny for a minute or two, but try sustaining that for 45 minutes or an hour and a half. I could probably make an incision, but I don’t think I could perform the whole operation… I don’t think stand-up gets the respect as an art form [that] it should … very rarely does someone show up at a ballet and yell ‘Hey, is that a plié?’”

Shifting gears from stand-up, Patterson is also the host of CBC Radio One’s The Debaters which has made its way onto CBC television on Tuesday evenings at 9:30 pm. The format of The Debaters is deceptively simple: two comedians duke it out on topics ranging from “Should Communism Make a Come-Back?’ to ‘Beer vs. Wine’ — all moderated by Patterson himself. For Patterson, the format of The Debaters allows for serious dialogue to take place behind the guise of humour.

“When people start doing stand-up, they inevitably talk about what they know, and because they don’t know a heck of a lot, that generally boils down to [talk of] bodily fluids and too often, in the comedy club environment, that is what people keep doing. Whereas on The Debaters you get to talk about things people care about, that are relevant… The fact that you can be smart and funny is the kind of comedy that appeals to me.”

The Debaters is distinctly different from any other comedy show on television today in Canada. When talking about the reason for the lack of original programming found at home — as opposed to our neighbours down south or across the pond — Patterson focuses in on the lack of risk-taking in the Canadian broadcasting world.

“Anything that inevitably becomes successful goes through trial and error, and I think we don’t have that attitude in Canadian entertainment… I can’t even describe the number of things that die in development in Canada without ever seeing the light of day because someone just gave up on it… That fear of not taking a chance on something new means nothing new will ever happen… They definitely have more resources in the States; everything is multiplied by ten. That certainly helps, but creativity doesn’t necessarily come down to dollars and cents. I used to work in advertising, and the easiest thing in the world would be to cast a celebrity in an ad. The hardest would be to make an ad without a celebrity that would just be a great ad, for a tenth of the cost … We’re all part of the problem, I guess, but the decision makers in Canada have to make some bolder decisions. Hopefully it’s starting to turn around, but it’s all up for debate!”

A Creature I Don’t Know

by Laura Marling

Released on September 9, 2011

Laura Marling’s third album, A Creature I Don’t Know, reveals the young musician’s upbeat side and strays from her signature melancholic folk sound. Tracks like “I Was Just a Card” have ‘90s soft rock influences, warming her sound and making the album a little more accessible for anyone that found her previous two albums a little too morbid. However, for fans of her earlier work, tracks like “Night after Night” will somewhat satiate any desire for soft acoustic guitar and sobering lyrics.

Upon hearing her first album, it’s easy to assume Laura Marling is a seasoned musician, maybe around her ‘40s, because of the intense emotional depth and maturity of her lyrics. Musically, the same could be said for A Creature I Don’t Know, but much of the album’s lyrical content is comparatively abstract, lacking that emotionally charged Marling from earlier work. It is a pleasant album to listen to, but as a collective piece of work, not especially memorable.

For better or for worse?

Drugs can alter your personality, science says

For better or for worse?

A study in the September issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that high doses of the hallucinogen psilocybin, the main psychoactive ingredient in “magic mushrooms” or “shrooms” led to a stable increase in Openness in personality. This may not come as a shock to people familiar with hallucinogens, but it is quite the eye-opener for personality theorists. Many personality theorists believe that personality traits are stable and unlikely to change after adulthood. Since psilocybin mushrooms are known to trigger life-altering changes in behaviours, beliefs, and values, the researchers used it to see if it could change the Openness personality trait in adult participants between the ages of 24 to 64.

Participants were given multiple sessions over the course of a few weeks and had changes in their personality measured using the NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI). Researchers assessed the participants’ levels of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (abbreviated OCEAN). The double-blind study divided participants into moderate and high doses and issued questionnaires afterwards to gather information regarding the participants’ altered state of consciousness and level of mystical experience. Interestingly, there was also a scale called APZ that was designed to include states of consciousness that arise from hallucinogen use.

All participants reported feeling as though they had a “mystical” experience throughout the session, referring to the extraordinary psychical effects of the drug. When researchers followed up on high dose participants a year later, they found that Openness, the criteria that describes tendency towards creativity, imagination, curiosity, and intelligence, remained higher than initially reported. Cheesy as it sounds, psilocybin seems to deliver the infamous sense of “oneness.”

This observation of psilocybin influence on the mind is not the first of its kind. A study published in the same journal in May also found a strong reaction amongst participants. Similarly, when these researchers followed up a little more than a year later, all but two participants reported experiencing improved social relationships, increased physical and psychological self-care, and increased spiritual practice.

The idea that personality may be more malleable than we think makes some consider the idea that there is a mental universe that can only be accessed with hallucinogens like psilocybin. Is it silly to think that a person needs to take these “mind-blowing” substances to make absurd observations about an already absurd world? Or even if you have mystical experiences while sober, how would you know when you’ve reached the limit? Could altered states of consciousness really help you get over hardships in your life or overcome unrequited love?

When all is said and done, is it really the best way? Some philosophers might argue that hallucinogens are just another vice that impairs a person’s true connection to reality. It could be the case that a person loses virtue by relying on a hallucinogenic crutch for introspection. Then again, this judgement could be short-sighted. The morality behind the use of psilocybin is complex. But if studies like these reveal how mystical experiences can bring you closer to who you are, then maybe signing up for these supervised studies might not be such a bad idea.

Expression Against Oppression zooms in on female injustice

Headline event teaches self-defence to assert women’s rights

On October 17–20, UTSU brought to light several equity concerns with their semi-annual Expression Against Oppression week (XAO), this year focusing on women’s issues.

Created to serve as a forum for students to discuss and challenge issues of oppression and discrimination, XAO events help empower marginalized voices and include them in a broader dialogue, according to UTSU President Danielle Sandhu.

“We need to … create new norms wherein women are encouraged to speak up instead of subjecting themselves to uncomfortable and unwanted situations,” said third-year student Sana Ali. “We think that if we don’t make a big deal, we won’t expose our vulnerabilities, and instead we [blame ourselves].”

And as one of this year’s XAO highlights, a drop-in Wen-Do women’s self-defence class aimed to do just that, said instructor Denise Handlarski.

“Taking self-defence classes is an opportunity for women to step into the power we already all possess,” she said. “We still live in a world [where] women are perceived as weak … and are actively discouraged from fighting back.”

Third-year student and Wen-Do student Stephanie Abrahams agreed.

“We have been socialized to feel inferior and to be submissive,” she said.

She mentioned that it’s important for women to understand that they can assert their rights, make choices, and take control of unwanted situations, something that is ingrained in the three A’s of Wen-Do: awareness, avoidance, and action.

In the classes, students were taught to be alert of their surroundings, avoid potentially dangerous situations, and act when necessary, be it through physical resistance or accessing support systems like U of T’s Community Safety Office and Campus Police, to name a few.

“We need to … create new norms wherein women are encouraged to speak up instead of subjecting themselves to uncomfortable and unwanted situations,” said third-year student Sana Ali. “We think that if we don’t make a big deal, we won’t expose our vulnerabilities, and instead we [blame ourselves].”

During her Wen-Do class, instructor Handlarski explained that self-blame is one of the biggest problems that lead women to succumb to oppression.

She told her students that women often blame themselves in an effort to explain or defend their attacker’s actions, highlighting that a large percentage of aggressors are usually people known to and trusted by their victims.

“There are so many pervasive myths about violence against women,” she said. “It is easier to talk about stranger attackers out on the street than the much more likely reality of our attackers being partners or family members. But we have known for decades that we are most likely to need to defend ourselves against loved ones.”

After studying Wen-Do, Abrahams, who admitted to not knowing that she has a choice in unwanted situations, has developed a firmer grasp on her rights as a woman.

“Prior to Wen-Do class I was oblivious to the difference knowledge of choice can make, [but] now I don’t feel as powerless. I have options other than simply being submissive.”

No rose for the Arab Spring?

The history of institutions in the Middle East causes skepticism about whether the Arab Spring will lead to true democracy

No rose for the Arab Spring?

You don’t have to study authoritarianism to realize there’s something fishy about the concept of the “great people’s struggle” during the Arab Spring. In fact, with an understanding of authoritarian regime dynamics and the civil–military legacy within the Middle East, the idea that the Arab Spring was the overcoming of authoritarianism by the people leads to much more cynicism. In the beginning of 2011, when Tunisians and Egyptians rose up in massive protest against their authoritarian rulers, it seemed as if the likes of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak fell after only two weeks of rioting and chanting. But with a deeper understanding of the exceptionalism that Middle Eastern autocracies have experienced, it is clear that more is at play in these revolutions and revolts then simply the power of an angry populace.

The Middle East since 1972 is the only region of the world that has not experienced widespread democratization. Freedom House reports that the Middle East today is less democratic than it was 30 years ago. What accounts for this exceptionalism? Eva Bellin, a scholar on authoritarian persistency in the Middle East, explains that the reasoning lies in a variety of factors ranging from the legacy of a Cold War patronage to the level of institutionalization held by the regime’s security apparatus. Despite all of the reasons for the sturdiness of autocratic states, the factor that explains the simultaneous fall of the Egyptian and Tunisian leadership lies not only in the actions of the masses of Tunisia and Egypt. Those in Bahrain and Syria are being killed in the streets while protesting en masse, there are key differences in the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries that have allowed for what may appear to be a sweeping people-led revolution.

Looking into the different models of the military-regime relationship within Arab states experiencing unrest, we see key contrasts. Countries such as Bahrain and Syria, which experienced significant anti-regime protests, and in turn, considerable repression and lack of reform, bolster considerably fragmented military leaderships that tie their survival to that of the regime. The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has implemented an equilibrium of varying societal sects (Sunni, Alawi, Christian) throughout the military structure to ensure that no single subset is able to attain enough power to challenge the regime. Bahrain utilizes different, yet similar means of maintaining the ascendancy of the regime over the security apparatus. During the brutal crackdown on Shia protesters in February and March, 2011, Bahrain employed foreign mercenaries (from both southeast Asia and eventually Saudi Arabia) to protect the interests of the ruling Sunni elite.

The structures of the regime-military dynamics of Egypt and Tunisia are also different. Both militaries are considered to be highly institutionalized power-players, enough so that the survival of the military in Tunisia and Egypt was never tied to the survival of the regimes. Furthermore, the Egyptian military is seen within civil society as becoming increasingly separated from the regime’s dynamic. While the Egyptian army has historically played a powerful political role (In 1952, Colonel Gamal Nasser overthrew the Egyptian monarchy, instituting a military dictatorship), scholars like Mark N. Cooper have argued that since the 1970s Egyptian politics has experienced “demilitarization,” as the military has receded into primarily economic and civil roles. Similarly, the Tunisian military holds many of the same characteristics, and the decision not to fire on protesters during demonstrations in 2010/2011 proves that it remains firmly tied to the civil structure, while remaining removed from the regime. Therefore, in terms of the Egyptian and Tunisian militaries, when the survival of Ben Ali and Mubarak came into question, the armies looked to maintain the status quo, not the regime.

So, what does this mean within the theme of the Arab Spring as being a grassroots, people-led movement of democratization? For instance, the widespread acquiescence experienced within the military structure, following massive repression of popular demonstration throughout Syria and Bahrain, becomes less of an issue of pro-regime/anti-regime. What becomes an issue is the interlocking of the regime-military structures within certain Arab regimes quelling unrest, and the concern the militaries have for their own believed survival. In another instance, the issue of the important role that the military is playing in the Egyptian and Tunisian “road to democracy” is becoming considerably more suspect, especially as continued discontent by both Tunisians and Egyptians is being met with deaf ears and further repression from military leadership.

Matthew or Samir: who would you hire?

New study says job applicants with “foreign-sounding” names receive fewer call backs

Matthew or Samir: who would you hire?

According to a new U of T research study called “Why Do Some Employers Prefer To Interview Matthew, and Not Samir?,” job applicants with English-sounding names are more likely to receive call backs from employers than those with foreign-sounding names.

In their study, U of T researchers Philip Oreopoulos and Diane Dechief found that regardless of language proficiency, experience, or education, people with Anglophone names get the bulk of call backs compared to their counterparts with Chinese, Indian, or Greek-sounding names. The research explores why Canadian immigrants struggle in the labour market and is a continuation of a similar Toronto-based study conducted by Oreopoulos in 2009.

To come up with the figures for their research, Oreopoulos and Dechief sent out roughly 8000 fake resumes online to different job offers in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Each business, with few exceptions, received four types of resumes that had: 1. an Anglophone name with experience and an undergraduate degree obtained in Canada, 2. a foreign name with Canadian experience and education, 3. a foreign name with an international degree and Canadian experience, and 4. a foreign name with international credentials.

When the results came back, Oreopoulos and Dechief found that job hopefuls with English names are 47 per cent more likely to get call backs in Toronto but only have a 39 per cent advantage in Montreal and a 20 per cent one in Vancouver.

Oreopoulos said that the results were a reflection of the Canadian immigration point system, which “lets in individuals based on their ability to assimilate.”

According to Dechief, a common explanation recruiters offered was that to employers, a name can signal a possible lack of language and communication skills that might not be apparent on a resume.

“Most suggested that the bias was conscious and was out of concern for language problems and applicants potentially not fitting in,” Dechief said.

Oreopoulos said, however, that they observed a different form of discrimination in the study. He suggested the discrimination is “implicit” and done at a subconscious level.

“Someone who is going through resumes very quickly, without looking farther [than the name], gets an initial reaction. They immediately enforce a stereotype about social skills, no matter what else is on that resume that would address that concern,” said Oreopoulos.

“We suggest that for some people, the initial first reaction they get from the name drives that behaviour … and for some people it makes the difference between getting an interview or not.”

Dechief and Oreopoulos recommended that firms and businesses should mask the names of applicants before the initial interview selection process. They suggested hiding names on online applications and asking for them to be written on a separate sheet attached to a hard copy of a resume.

“Given the results of the study, it seems that firms and businesses are likely missing out on some great talent,” commented Dechief. “It would not be difficult to explore this practice on a trial basis, to determine whether such practice leads to better hiring.”