UTSC split in social justice squabble

Posters reading “Stephen Harper hates white people too” have reignited a running feud between student politicians at UTSC. The posters advertise eXpression Against Oppression, a week-long social justice event planned for Feb. 12.

At last Friday’s board of directors meeting, the Scarborough Campus Student Union voted to maintain an earlier decision not to endorse the week, which will involve a number of student groups on all three campuses. SCSU’s ire was raised when their logo appeared on XAO posters around campus, though the union had not actually endorsed the event.

During the three-hour discussion, the controversial poster campaign figured prominently. Some SCSU directors said that, while they were willing to provide tables, chairs and room space for the event, they thought the Harper posters could offend many members of the school community. They argued that since the SCSU’s mandate was to represent the needs of all students and this event confl icted with the opinions and ideologies of some, it would be best not to take a position at all.

While the 10 members of the board who voted in favour of official endorsement outnumbered the seven who voted against and two who abstained, the motion required 2/3 of the vote in order to pass. Consequently, the union neither supports nor opposes XAO.

At the head of the event is Alexandru Rascanu, a student who lost to current SCSU president Rob Wulkan in a bitterly divisive election held last year. He demanded that the SCSU support XAO, calling it “a slap in the face of students” for the union to do otherwise. However, there are other students involved in the event that disagree, saying that they feel the SCSU shouldn’t be taking a specific stance on the matter.

“If XAO takes any one side of a particular political issue, the SCSU, as representatives of the whole student body, can’t endorse that one side, and still claim to represent the entire student body,” said David Leaman, Coordinator for UTSC’s LGBTQ. His group is one of the many student groups participating in XAO.

The event will also take place on the St. George and Mississauga campuses, with the support of the University of Toronto Student Union. Sandy Hudson, VP equity at UTSU, said XAO was in line with the values of the SCSU.

“Student government is intrinsically centered around anti-oppression,” said Hudson. “The SCSU wants to remain politically neutral—but how can you be neutral about oppression?”

Wulkan pointed out that SCSU involvement could hamper XAO’s ability to act freely. “An endorsement from SCSU means that every piece of advertising on an event has to be personally approved by me,” said Wulkan. “XAO has a lot of manpower behind the organization. Do they really need the SCSU?”

With files from Maria Shibaeva

Shut out: Black players still a rarity in hockey

Barriers exist in many forms, sometimes they come in the form of a glass ceiling, other times they resemble a floor of ice. But the harder they are to see, the more difficult they can be to overcome. An old reminder of this came on Saturday night during a seemingly unimportant hockey game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers.

Prior to the opening faceoff, a well-dressed man walked along a black carpet towards centre ice. Clad in a well-tailored French suit, a pink dress-shirt, and a yellow rose in his chest pocket, he looked somewhat out of place among the players in uniform. But this man belonged on the ice as much as any player at the rink that day. It was a place he had known since he was two-years old, skating on a pond outside his native Fredericton, NB. Yet to the majority of spectators looking on, there was little to suggest that this now 72-year-old man had ever been a professional hockey player: least of all his colour.

In the NHL today there are only 14 players of African-American descent, in a game that is often termed pejoratively as a “white sport.” How much more difficult would it have been to imagine then, on January 18, 1958 at the old Forum in Montreal, the man they were now seeing became the first black player to lace up a pair of skates in an NHL game, when he donned the black and gold of the Boston Bruins.

On this night, at Madison Square Gardens he was no longer just the answer to a trivia question, but a man of flesh and blood, in attendance to receive an accolade that was long overdue. Willie O’Ree: hockey player, underdog, symbol.

New challenges

When Jackie Robinson broke the colour barrier in baseball, making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, it ushered in a new era. After Robinson, hundreds of thousands of black players would go on to have successful careers in the major leagues. Yet the concept of breaking down a colour barrier, something more abstract than tactile, often creates new challenges of its own. It’s the kind of barrier that becomes more unmoveable the more one thinks it no longer exists.

The Toronto Star, typically grounded in reality, was somewhat idealistic with its premature pronouncements. A 2003 article by Mike Morrison read: “Once an all white enclave in the world of sports, the face of professional hockey is changing.”

Sadly no one watching the National Hockey League today could possibly take this position. Consider that from O’Rees’s first game in 1958 to 1991 only 41 black players suited up for an NHL team. In fact, after O’Ree there was no other black player in the NHL until Mike Marson was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1974.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

“There are around 20 black players in the NHL now” said O’Ree during a recent interview. “There’s definitely going to be more in the future,” O’Ree currently works for the NHL as Director of Youth Development for the Hockey Diversity Task Force, so he has more than a vested interest in the outcome.

In reality there are only 14 black players on active rosters as of Jan 18, 2008 (less than one per cent of the league’s overall composition),

“I thought there would have been more minorities in the NHL by now, but I guess it’s slowly growing,” said Darren Lowe, in a 2003 interview with the Star. Lowe, the head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey team, was one of four black players in the 1983-84 NHL season when he played eight games with Pittsburgh.

A number of cultural factors have been suggested for the dearth in black hockey players.

African-Americans make up only two per cent of the Canadian Population and 12 per cent of the American. The United States contributes approximately 15 percent of the players in the NHL, while Canada produces close to 70 percent.

Still, that hasn’t stopped other professional leagues like the NBA, NFL, and MLB from having a visible black presence. The bottom line is one per cent in is unacceptable when considering how other leagues have embraced the diversity of it’s players.

A change for the better

The NHL needs to promote a more inclusive ideology in the sport. Hockey leagues can to often feature a countryclub mentality, denying membership to certain types of people. At some point one has to stop making excuses, cultural or otherwise, for a continuing problem .

Yet Ken Martin, an African-American, and senior director of community relations and diversity programs for the NHL, seems to do just that when he says: “Traditionally, black youths have turned to basketball, partly because some blacks in lower economic areas can’t afford the equipment and travel expenses of hockey”

It’s interesting that the NHL would use such an obvious stereotype to defend accusations of racial bias. But examples of it’s exclusionary culture continue to this day.

How about the story of Dallas defenseman Trevor Daley, who was the recipient of a racial slur from his own head coach with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck.

“Each black player has had to wage a personal battle for acceptance and respect,” said Cecil Harris, author of the book Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey. “Facing abuse that is verbal, physical or psychological because of their colour has been an unfortunate reality for almost all of them.”

It is perhaps the most compelling reason why there are so few black players in hockey. Many people caught in the same situation would simply quit rather than face the abuse. Not everyone has the strength to be the only black player or player of colour on an all-white team. That’s what makes players like Jackie Robinson and Willie O’Ree are a rarity.

The idea of breaking down barriers can often be misleading, since it suggests that there are no longer any obstacles to entry. In reality, the barriers never really go away, and they are even more dangerous because no one knows it except the people that have to fight through them.

Scarborough fair?

Crime-ridden, sprawling, and underserved—accurate or not, Scarborough has a bad reputation. City councillor Norm Kelly is out to change that, using research conducted by UTSC co-op students Kathy Chan and Dorinda So.

The 68-page Fair Share Scarborough took four months of full-time work to complete, and it’s attracting more attention than your average term paper. The report addresses the perception that the largest former city amalgamated into the City of Toronto 10 years ago “is not receiving its fair share of the City’s services.” Chan and So’s findings have been debated at a Scarborough Community Council meeting, and covered by the Toronto Star, as well as Scarborough’s community newspapers.

Assessing 10 city services, from libraries to policing, transit to wastewater services, Chan and So found that Scarborough receives its fair share of children’s services, long-term care, roads and transportation, and social housing, but classified Scarborough’s share of other services as neither fair or unfair, but “uncertain.”

A long-time supporter of amalgamation, Kelly was positively gleeful. While emphasizing that the report found no underfunded services, he also referred to “funding gaps” he blamed on pre-megacity councillors.

“The interesting thing that I found was where there were service gaps or funding gaps they were all in areas formerly controlled by the city of Scarborough,” he said. “So don’t point to the city and say, ‘We’re not getting our fair share.’ That’s what you brought to the city.”

Chan and So are both fourth-year management students with some background in statistical analysis and previous co-op experience. So has also worked for the federal government. Still, neither student had much practical knowledge of city government when they started.

“We had to learn everything from the basics,” Chan explained. “We had so many interviews with city staff, just to have an idea of what actual city operations are like on a daily basis, in order to get a feel for what it’s really like.”

Chan and So were supposed to compare pre- and post-amalgamation services, but that got complicated.

“We couldn’t do that because of the lack of data,” said So. “So we just did an overall snapshot of today, in comparison to the rest of Toronto.” Even within the snapshot, many services were rated uncertain—for example, Scarborough has fewer police officers per resident than the rest of the city, but it also has a lower crime rate. Scarborough has fewer community centres than the rest of Toronto, but they tend to be larger.

And like most reports, Fair Share Scarborough will soon be out of date. “There are so many plans on the way to improve the service level in Scarborough,” said Chan. “For example, they’re building a new library in the city centre, and they’re renovating other libraries.”

Looking out for number one

Women’s basketball head coach Michele Belanger got her players to crush the RMC Paladins 67-25 Friday night at the Athletic Centre the opportunity to see what work needs to be done during the final three weeks of the regular season before the OUA playoffs begin. Belanger was pleased with the results of her team’s latest victory,

“I think they’re working really hard,” she said. “I hope that we can get a little more communicative out on the court, that would be our biggest weakness right now.”

With three regulars, Alaine Hutton, Amanda Van Leeuwen and Jessica Hiew, sitting out the game to rest up for their Saturday tilt versus Queen’s, the Varsity Blues still had no trouble in building up a 36-17 halftime advantage. The Blues were led in scoring by cocaptain Christine Cho’s 13 points, while Cassandra White led RMC with five points at the half. In the second half Belanger started her bench players, and was rewarded with a stellar defensive performance. The Paladins shot only 16 per cent from the field in the second half, good for eight points.

Cho finished with a game-high 18 points in only 22 minutes, while Ilana Weissberger pulled down eight rebounds. White, despite getting no second-half points, still led her team with five points, while teammate Kalaneet Malik led the Paladins with seven rebounds. Rookie forward and player of the game, Allie Collyer, took advantage of her increased minutes by planting herself down low and posting up the Paladins for three straight field goals while her bench cheered her on. Cho saw the performance of the bench as a good indication of the skill level on her team.

“Our team is pretty deep and this proves it. Everyone contributed,” Cho said. “We really try and take it one game at a time, but it was good to get everybody into the game.”

Looking ahead after Saturday’s game versus Queen’s, the Blues have a tough schedule to close out the 2007-2008 regular season with four of their last six games coming against York and Laurentian, two teams battling it out with the Blues for the top spot in the OUA east. Coach Belanger sees next Saturday’s game at York University versus the Yeomen as their biggest test.

“We’re going through a stretch with four tough games (versus York and Laurentian), two of which are on the road,” Belanger said. “It’s a test to find out whether or not we’re strong enough mentally to go into someone else’s gym, particularly York […] and beat them.” Cho also sees York as the key matchup. “We know Laurentian and York are really good teams and York, they basically pride themselves on their defense and playing together as a team,” Cho said. “So it’s something that we recognize because it’s against a team we’ve played in the past.”

The Varsity Blues basketball coaches declared a “white-out” before the game, where all Varsity Blues fans were asked to wear white to support the Blues’ playoff bid. Clearly the message had not caught on yet, as few fans showed up and even fewer wore white. Cho believes that message will catch once Blues return for their final two regular season home games, on Feb. 8 and 9.

“Our next home game is in a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to get more fans out and plus they will be better games,” Cho laughed. “So as far as the white-out goes, it’ll happen when everybody knows more about it, especially the students, because there wasn’t a huge fan base tonight.”

CMSF DOA?

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation is facing strong opposition from the NDP’s post-secondary education critic, Denise Savoie, who stated in a letter to Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Monte Solberg that “the Millennium Foundation must be replaced by a publicly administered, federal system of upfront, non-repayable student grants.”

Lavoie suggested that in order to plug a $350-million gap in student funding, CMSF money should be available to all Canada Student Loan borrowers according to need.

A number of student groups, including the Canadian Association of Student Associations, the College Student Alliance and the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, are urging the government to extend the CMSF’s mandate, set to expire in 2009. The groups argue that the government should continue funding the organization, which since 2000 has disbursed over half a million bursaries and scholarships totaling about $2.2 billion and each year distributes roughly $325 million in student financial aid.

The Canadian Federation of Students has long opposed the CMSF, saying that the private foundation is not publicly accountable.

According to a paper published by the Education Policy Institute, the CMSF was responsible for 39 per cent of non-repayable need-based aid in Ontario, and close to half of such aid in Manitoba and the Maritimes. In 2005 the CMSF introduced a low-income bursary, which will, said the EPI, account for a higher proportion of needbased CMSF funding in some jurisdictions. Solberg’s office stated that no decisions have been made with regard to the CMSF. According to a government spokesperson, the spring budget will announce any changes from a review of the Canada Student Loan program.

‘How the other half dies’

“Don’t lose heart,” said Dr. Sarita Verma as she opened the 10th annual Health and Human Rights conference at the Medical Sciences building Friday night. Verma’s talk, “Health and Human Rights: how the other half dies,” opened the twoday conference. This year’s event, hosted by the U of T’s international health program, focused on health care disparities between urban and rural communities and international access to health services.

Verma was part of Canada’s foreign service and worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Sudan and Ethiopia. She set a grim tone for the conference with photographs of starving children she had cared for.

“Go and be a part of the global community instead of just sitting here and talking about it,” she told the audience.

Canada, said Verma, was poaching foreign health care workers from developing countries. She said students and scholars could do a great deal of good for international health care.

The conference’s keynote speech came from Dr. Peter Singer, a professor at U of T’s faculty of medicine. Singer is also co-director of the life sciences, ethics and policy program at the McLaughlin Rotman Centre for Global Health. The talk outlined Singer’s conception of the role of local manufacturing of health care products, and the resultant boost to local economies, as a key to bridging life expectancy.

“It is very important to create awareness on global health issues and to shed light on the disparities that exist,” said Farheen Shaikh, a fourth-year human biology and health tudent at U of T and chair of this year’s conference.

A black voice on blackface

Each semester, The Varsity publishes a satirical joke issue that contains no actual news content. Last semester’s joke issue (Nov. 19) included a story entitled “The new face of Charlie Brown” about a fictional avant-garde student production of the play You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Among other theatrical imagery depicted, students were described as using blackface makeup (a racist theatrical costume once popular in the U.S.) in the invented production. An image of an actor, digitally altered to make it appear he was in blackface, was also published. The Varsity was subsequently contacted by students representing the Black Students Association, Black Lawyers of Tomorrow, UTSU and other student groups who requested this space in the paper to express their belief that the Nov. 19 article was offensive to black students.

Just before winter exams, I received a call from a friend telling me about an article in the November 19, 2007 joke issue of The Varsity entitled “The New Face of Charlie Brown.” He and other black students had just come across this article, coupled with a large photo of the cast of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, with Charlie in blackface. They were furious. And after seeing it for myself, so was I.

We thought that maybe the authors of this article didn’t know the history of blackface. Maybe they didn’t understand that blackface is more than a “theatrical trope,” as described in the article.

I feel compelled to set the record straight, so here goes. Blackface began as a theatrical representation that depicted blacks in a racist and grotesque manner. Actors in blackface put on black makeup and enlarged the appearance of their lips in order to present a form of “pseudo-blackness.” These performers would also speak, sing, move, and dance in a way that was seen as a black “stylized manner.”

This misrepresentation of blacks was used to make them appear ugly, monstrous, and inhuman. This is exactly how Charlie Brown was depicted in the picture: as a buffoon.

Blackface has a long and troubling history. It first appeared in minstrel shows of the 19th century, where both white and black actors would perform onstage in blackface. At the turn of the century, theatrical performances of blackface declined as they began to appear onscreen, where they reached an even larger audience. Early films like D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation and The Jazz Singer depicted blacks as lazy and simple-minded. Blackface has and always will reinforce racist characterizations of blacks: Sambo, Coon, and Mammy come to mind.

After discussing this article, other black student leaders and I promptly requested a meeting with The Varsity. At the meeting we were shocked to learn that those who contributed to the article did in fact know the history of blackface. Despite their knowledge of the repugnant history of this racist imagery, the editor told us that the article was intended to be satirical. However, there was nothing humorous or satirical about the article and we demanded an apology. Instead, what we got was this space in the paper to voice our concerns. We are still waiting for an apology. We are not asking for censorship but rather demanding respect as human beings. This is our right.

Unfortunately, The Varsity article is not the only emergence of images of blackface on Canadian university campuses in recent years. In 2006, a number of students at Wilfrid Laurier University decided to dress up in blackface for the winter carnival. These students blackened their faces with makeup and wore upside-down KFC buckets on their heads. This incident was met with contempt and corrective action by the university.

There is a connection between the article published in The Varsity and the incident at Laurier. Both have shown a disregard for the painful history of blackface just to get a few laughs.

We’re not overreacting. What made this article disturbing was not that blackface was in the paper but how it was presented. The supposed satirical nature of the article is non-existent. Why was blackface not discussed in a regular edition of The Varsity but rather ridiculed in the joke edition of the paper? Only after we pressed for space is the issue being discussed seriously in this publication.

George Orwell once wrote, “The aim of a joke is not to degrade the human being, but to remind him that he is already degraded.” The Varsity did exactly that with their presentation of blackface. Those in power often decide what is humorous, never making themselves the butt of the joke, but rather targeting marginalized groups who are subjugated and underprivileged.

Those who wrote the article may not have intended to offend black people. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and what they did demonstrates how disrespected blacks are in society, that black history is only worthy to be discussed when it is time for a joke or Black History Month. We’re tired of having our history demeaned, ghettoized, and ridiculed. It’s not funny and we’re not laughing.

Is Sarkozy getting too cosy with the media?

From the ongoing Paris Hilton extravaganza to Britney’s painfully slow self-destruction, the North American media is always looking for something juicy to talk about in order to sell some magazines. But in Europe these days, the most exciting gossip concerns a certain politician: French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy is in a relationship only four months after divorcing his wife Cécilia. But what really puts the cream on this tabloid eclair is the choice he’s made in his new lover. While Cécilia Sarkozy was a woman the French population barely knew, Carla Bruni, the president’s new belle, is a former supermodel who has also become a famous singer over the last four years. Before she started dating the political elite of Europe, she was linked variously with Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Kevin Costner, and Donald Trump. In 2006 she was quoted as saying “I am faithful—to myself! I am bored to death by monogamy.”

These are not the characteristics usually seen in a First Lady, and for the last month the press has hounded the couple as they travel Europe, making them the most sensationalized European couple since Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Never before have the French people looked so closely into their president’s private life. Neither had they seen any former president pictured with two different women in less than a year.

While former French president François Mitterand hid the existence of a daughter he had outside of his marriage, and Jacques Chirac was also known to have extramarital affairs, Nicolas Sarkozy’s private life is very much more accessible to the public. This is probably because he likes to talk about it, and in accordance to the “transparency” he promised would characterize his presidency, he happily discloses many aspects of his private life. Transparency is a great characteristic for a leader to have when he’s talking about cabinet appointments or budget decisions, but does transparency mean that we should know everything?

Did the idea of “change” that Sarkozy campaigned under also include a change in how the president’s private life would be seen in the public arena?

Although a lot of people actually enjoy sneaking into the president’s private life and discovering his love stories, most people are now getting bored at all this media coverage, keeping in mind that he is their president and not a rock star. This is decline in the president’s popularity.

As the president is enjoys himself with his new friend, France is worried he’s put aside his role of world leader. After all, who couldn’t forgive the man for ducking out of a late meeting a little early to rush home to his supermodel girlfriend? According to French newspaper L’Est Républicain, “He forgot that he should have a romance with France and not with himself and his paramour.”

In fact, some French people are getting positively anxious. It is true that Sarkozy’s political projects seem to make sense and that he has many great ideas for France, but his over-activity is sometimes disturbing and his relationship with the media is a striking example of this excess.

France has teetered on the brink of socio-economic crisis in recent years, with riots in the immigrant enclaves of Paris becoming commonplace. There are major issues that need to be tackled, starting with the low standard of living many French citizens endure. This is an issue that Sarkozy has said is his priority, but he has yet to deal with. Fixing France’s problems is where Sarkozy should put his energy, not talking to the press. For gossip, we should always be able to rely on Paris—but only the heiress variety.