You deserve a better mark

“Everyone should have his/her own opinion, don’t you agree?” This witticism, written on the blackboard by my Canadian literature professor, hit home. It seemed particularly relevant to student-instructor communication, especially since none of my classmates, of the forty in that lecture, had vocally disagreed with the professor all semester.

This is not to say that every professor discourages students from expressing their thoughts, or that every student should always have a chance to express themselves constantly— English majors are all too familiar with the lone speaker who insists on turning everything into a phallic symbol. Yet increasingly, my experience at U of T involves regurgitating my instructors’ opinions back to them, instead of articulating my own, whether in class discussion or in an assignment.

This year, I took a chance. I was inspired by the subject matter in one course, and thought thoroughly about the topic. Excited, I found myself starting the essay long before my usual night-before dash to the finish. When I turned it in, I felt a strange sensation not familiar to many procrastinators: pride. The result? I was slapped with a low mark and the comment that the paper didn’t adequately reflect the positions represented in the course.

My first instinct was, naturally, to sulk. I pouted my way across Sid Smith before I remembered something: a student can contest a grade on an assignment. After asking around, I was shocked to find that surprisingly few of my fellow students (myself included) had any knowledge of the actual details of this process. In my three years at U of T, no professor or teaching assistant had even mentioned it as an option, and heretofore I was resigned to harbouring quiet resentment towards my professors after a bad mark. But the method exists. There is another way.

Contesting a paper is done through the department that offers the course in question. Initially, they recommend that you attempt to discuss the paper with the person who marked it. I contacted my professor, wrote out a list of disagreements to her comments, and met with her in person. She stood by her mark. Next, go to the department with a copy of both your graded and ungraded papers, where they will be submitted along with your request to be reevaluated. If they find your reasons sensible, an impartial third party will re-mark your work without knowing your original grade.

But contesting a paper is a gamble. Once you ask for a re-mark, you must accept the grade your second marker awards, whether it is higher or lower than the original. While many papers I had written certainly had not been worth a re-mark, I had faith that this particular paper had been substantially undervalued. A month later, the department contacted me. They had raised my mark over 10 per cent, resulting in a completely different letter grade in the course.

This was satisfying, but more rewarding was the knowledge that my professor’s opinion was not the be-all and end-all of the university experience. Sure, profs and TAs are usually rather brilliant (that PhD has to be good for something) but they’re not almighty, and they can be challenged. The sad truth is that most students aren’t aware of the processes to defend their academic position. There’s no use for students to suffer in silence. If you think you’ve done good work, show that prof who’s boss.

Toronto’s Yonder bring country to the city on their impressive debut LP

The word “yonder” was once a cowboy expression that combined the Germanic “yon” (“that”) and the Dutch “ginder” (“over there”), and was usually accompanied by a sweeping or pointing gesture. “Just over them hills yonder,” they used to say.

Now the term has been refashioned into the moniker of Toronto’s newest alt-country posse, who are blazing a trail of buzz following the release of their first LP Skywalk to Crescent Town (Northern Dust Records) last Friday.

Yonder, lead by charismatic singer and guitarist Zach Bennett, have been slow-cooking their rootsy rock recipe to sweet perfection since 2003. First, the band holed up in a secluded cottage near Havelock, Ontario—the perfect setting to distil their rural influences—to record a demo EP with producer Dean Marino (Born Ruffians, Amy Milan, C’mon). Those songs were strong enough to shore up support from local indie imprint Northern Dust Records.

Their next task was to build on the EP’s strength, and deliver the aforementioned Skywalk. Opting again to trust the board to Marino, Yonder re-recorded three tracks from the cottage sessions and banged out 11 new ones at Toronto’s Chemical Sound. The result is an extremely well-crafted album that combines elements of Wilco’s alt-country and Arcade Fire’s anthemic indie-rock into a memorable and unpredictable 55 minutes.

Going beyond the usual guitar/ bass/drums/vocal rock setup, Bennett has mixed in every instrument short of the kitchen sink. Combinations of strings, horns, organ, banjos, saxophone, pedal steel, every kind of guitar, and a diverse array of percussion give each song a unique character— the album even kicks off with a mood-setting story told over the beginning of lead track “Juvenile Haul.”

Verses build into stomping choruses on their heavier material (“Let YouDown,” “If Only”) while their quieter, more introspective fare (“Wear a Frown,” “Autumn Eyes”) will have you ordering up three fingers of the good stuff to dull the heartache. Yonder’s songs also benefit from a slew of talented musicians but also from Bennett’s obvious attention to detail—there are no sloppy shortcuts here. Even the packaging is top notch.

Fans of rootsy, homegrown indierock like Ottawa’s The Acorn and our own Elliot Brood will find a lot to like on this debut. Coming off a recent gig opening for Bry Webb of the Constantines, Yonder are looking forward to showcasing songs off Skywalk at their Canadian Music Week showcase March 6 at the Cadillac Lounge. We predict that big things are just over the horizon for Yonder.

Listen to Yonder:


Is Black History Month necessary?

As the month of February comes to a close, how many are reflecting on Black History Month? I’d bet that there are more people pondering the events of Valentine’s Day and what they did over reading week. Chances are that many do not recognize what this month is supposed to celebrate.

Black history is certainly not irrelevant. Youth should have the resources to educate future generations about black contributions towards a better society for mankind as a whole. We should, nonetheless, remember that there are many events in the history of other cultures, forming the basis of Canadian society today, worth equal celebration and education.

But forget designating months for the history of other races. I’m not convinced that we benefit from Black History Month. While the purpose is supposed to be celebrating black history and educating others about it, can a significant amount of us claim we absorbed any information? How many of us, black or not, can honestly say they learned something about black history this month, beyond a few token pieces of information about the inventor of the 19th century’s most effective steam engine lubricant? (African-Canadian Elijah McCoy, don’t you know!)

Carter G. Woodson, director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and creator of Negro History Week—now expanded into an entire month—specifically reached out to both blacks and whites in his endeavour to improve race relations. Although the original motives were filled with good intentions and aimed to eliminate racial mistrust at the time, it now serves to make us all feel awful for the slavery committed by and inflicted upon ancestors none of us remember.

I don’t intend to say that the horrors of slavery were—and are—in any way acceptable. However, rather than have a month of looking back on a time when our generation wasn’t even thought of, let alone born, let’s move forward, taking steps towards a future of equality. Race-specific history months serve to promote segregation, instead of improving understanding between culture. If we wish to have a peaceful future for our children, acknowledgment and acceptance of all races, cultures, and ethnicities is required, not singling one particular group out.

OUA Championship Final

It was a case of “third time’s the charm” for the women’s basketball team in their OUA Eastern final showdown with York on Feb. 24. The Lions had eliminated the Blues from the playoffs the previous two seasons, but U of T was determined not to let that happen again.

“They’ve played the same system now for the last three years, so we were getting used to it, and the players are slowly realizing what [York] is doing,” said Blues head coach Michelle Belanger, following her team’s 99-91 victory over their cross-town rivals. “They’re a such a good team,” Belanger said of York. “They’ve got some great scorers, and I think the ability for us to host this game at home was huge, to be in front of our home crowd was magical for the girls. “

With the win, U of T now prepares to take on the McMaster Marauders in Saturday’s OUA championship, also to be played at home. In this battle of number-one seeds, Toronto (18-4 in the East) will play tough against the best from the West, as the Marauders finished the season with an impressive 21- 1 record. The Blues have not defeated McMaster in three years, and lost in their only meeting of the season, 66-58, on Nov. 15.

In that game, the Blues had the lead going into halftime 36-34, but were outdone by a combination of sloppy play and a strong Marauder defence, surrendering with a season-high 34 turnovers, compared to only 20 for their opponents. Fifth-year McMaster centre Chiara Rocca had a strong performance, finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Rocca, who is averaging 10 points and seven rebounds this season, is one of the Marauders top players, but has battled a foot injury all season, playing in only 11 games overall in 2007-08. She is one of the players U of T should keep an eye on if they want to take their first OUA title since 2001.

The key to this matchup will be strong guard play and good post defence from the Blues. After the 6’1” Rocca, four of McMaster’s other top five scorers are guards. Third-year point guard Taylor Smith, who didn’t play when the teams last met in November, is now averaging 12 points and four rebounds in 2007, while two-time West player of the year, Lindsay Degroot is averaging 19 points a game (third overall in the OUA).

“They’ve got a very good mix of players, and we’re going to have to force them to go to their bench, and see how deep they can really play,” Belanger said of McMaster. Both Toronto and McMaster are high-scoring teams, who can easily put the ball in the basket. The Blues are averaging 88 points a game this season, while the Marauders are right behind them at 87. The win will be determined by who can make the most defensive stops and limit the scoring opportunities of the other team’s star players. “We expect a similar game from Toronto as we saw in November,” said McMaster head coach Theresa Burns of their opponents. “Whoever makes the least mistakes and is most effective in creating chances for their top scorers will come out on top.”

“We will need to limit Christine Cho’s chances, as well as contain Alaine Hutton. They are both outstanding players and you generally can’t completely shut down that type of player. If we can limit them or keep them in check, we feel we can be successful.”

The Blues have a great deal of experience on their roster this season. This showed in their eastern final win over the York Lions, where the Blues trailed for most of the game and came back on the strength of their defensive play.

“I think we’re starting to find ourselves as a team and find our chemistry,” said forward Laila Bellony, following the game. “A lot of the time we were concentrating too much on what the other team was doing, instead of playing our game and finding each other.”

Bellony, who is one of five Toronto players in their fifth and final year of eligibility, led the Blues with 21 points and 14 rebounds against York. Her defence was equally important for Toronto, who had troubles containing York star forward Emily Van Hoof (25 points and 13 rebounds). Toronto trailed at the half 43-40.

“We had trouble getting our defence going, but when we started to play better defence it was outstanding,” said coach Belanger.

Belanger, who is currently in her 27th year at the helm, has seen her team grow over the span of a single season: “They really persevered, they’ve played outstanding all year round, and really bought into the system. I’m really proud of each and every one of them.”

When asked about how her team was able to make such a remarkable comeback, the coach said: “We never lost confidence in each other, we always knew there was an ability for us to pull it out of the bag, and I just said, ‘there’s four minutes left, we have to go hard here,’ and they did. And you know what, we made it happen.”

The key play of the game occurred with less than thirty seconds left. With her team trailing by three points, fifth-year guard Kyla Burwash hit a tying three-pointer to send the game into overtime, where the Blues would take over for good on the way to a 99-91 win.

“I think the turning point of the game was that threepoint shot,” said Bellony, who took home player honours. “I think that took the air out of York a little bit.”

“When the momentum shifted in our favour, I just said, ‘we’re not letting this go, this is ours now.”

Burwash, who finished the game with 20 points, showed veteran poise in making what was possibly the biggest shot of her career: “Honestly I didn’t think a whole lot about it, it was just automatic, like any other play in the game. The ball comes to you and you’re open; you’re going to take the shot.”

If the Blues are going to beat the McMaster Marauders this weekend, they will need one more inspired performance like the one they just had against York.


No sane reason not to recognize Kosovo

The anti-Kosovo backlash that has occurred in recent days is founded in irrational thinking. The idea that the Canadian government could somehow benefit from refusing to acknowledge an independent Kosovo, or would suffer for opposing that such a state ought to exist, is as illogical as it is unrealistic.

In attempting to prevent international diplomatic recognition of the newborn Republic of Kosovo, the Serbian government and its international allies have put forth the “secession precedent” argument: that recognizing Kosovo’s independence will lead to the independence of approximately every aspiring nation- state in the world, including Quebec. This argument stems from the triumph of ideology over reality, of an opinion held with much emotion and little thought. It blinds one to the facts of Kosovo’s situation, how it differs from the other countries on the wannabe seccessionist list, and the illegitimacy of Serbia’s claim to Kosovo.

Just as all countries are unique, so are all secession movements. They share the same desire for independence and their own identity—nothing more. To claim that all national independence movements are “the same” as Kosovo, that they are illegitimate, ignores the legitimacy of national independence movements entirely; as if the map of the world has never been changed, or that no country has ever rightfully broken from another in the past.

By this logic, the United States should still be under the control of the British Crown, and Serbia should by right be a province of the Ottoman Empire. To argue that Kosovo’s independence would lead to Quebec’s is not merely falseto- facts, but downright absurd. Kosovo is not Quebec. The differences between the territories are many, but most pertinent is that Quebec, unlike Kosovo, is a very large, prosperous and influential part of a larger polity, and Kosovo is not. In 1999, while the Canadian government was led by a Québécois Prime Minister, the Serbian government murdered Kosovars while simultaneously driving them from their homes. Even if the Serbian state did have a right to govern the Kosovars, its attempt to eradicate a population nine years ago is a clear indicator that they have no interest in doing so justly.

Serbs who oppose the secession are concerned with the land of Kosovo itself, not its people. The land has deep spiritual and cultural significance to Serbian Orthodox Christians, but individuals have more rights than states or churches. Serbs have, and should have, every right to visit Kosovo and worship freely there. But a divine mandate or appeal to history cannot overrule the mandate of a citizenry united in a just and democratic cause.

Protesting the hero

Some believe that children should not look to professional sports players for role models, and much of what’s occurred in Major League Baseball this year supports that view. Dozens of players, including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, have been implicated in the Mitchell Report examining steroid use in baseball. Clemens and Bonds were heroes a few years ago, some of the best players to step foot on a baseball field, and now villains who could face jail time for perjury.

One motivation for players to take steroids is the desire to win at all costs. This passion is often considered admirable, yet no one is applauding Bonds and Clemens for ingesting illegal substances.

It’s ironic that Mats Sundin, who has done nothing but meet or exceed expectations in his 13 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is vilified by some fans and members of the media for refusing to win by any means necessary. Sundin was asked by interim general manager Cliff Fletcher to waive his no-trade clause to go to a Stanley Cup contender in exchange for young players, prospects or draft picks. This trade would give Sundin a chance to win a championship with a talented team, and the chance for the Leafs to kick-start a badly needed rebuilding process. Sundin would likely have the opportunity to re-sign in the summer. But Sundin has continually stated his desire to retire, risking the chance that he may never win the Cup. He sees no honour in becoming a rental player. Spending only a few weeks with a new team before heading to the playoffs doesn’t sit well with him. He’d rather play for a team he truly feels a part of. Yet, Sundin’s loyalty is questioned for his refusal to allow himself to be traded for prospects, and his passion doubted for his loyalty to a losing team. He’s been called selfish by journalists and fans alike.

The notion that steroid use is cheating is widespread, and for many, it’s a cost of winning that they’re not willing to pay. We all draw the line somewhere. For Sundin, winning is not worth sacrificing his loyalty or compromising his concept of what makes a team. Sundin’s critics may not share his views, but the inability of so many fans and members of the media to do so is mind-boggling. Some people may, oddly enough, consider staying with a team a sign of disloyalty, but that doesn’t mean Sundin’s concept of loyalty is disingenuous.

While facing the difficult task of deciding whether or not to waive his no-trade clause, the legendary Phil Esposito called Sundin to offer advice. Esposito did not tell Sundin about the joy that comes with winning a Cup, but rather advised him to follow his heart. Esposito is known not only for his 717 NHL goals and 1590 points, but also for his inspirational leadership in the 1972 Summit Series. Sundin also sought Leaf hero Borje Salming, who expressed his regret at retiring with a team other than the Leafs. If two players as respected as Esposito and Salming understand Sundin’s position, why can’t fans? Salming’s opinion may not mean much to those who judge a player’s heart by his passport, but it’s difficult to argue that he should be evaluated according to a Don Cherry-like anti-European prejudice, and not a logical evaluation of whether their actions confirm what they say.

It is possible that Sundin is too comfortable in Toronto, and that he’s a selfish player who would rather make millions of dollars playing for a mediocre team, booking tee-times in mid-April while other teams are just starting the two-month playoff grind. But if that were true, it seems unlikely that he’d want to play in the biggest market in hockey. Sundin could surely live as comfortably in a number of American markets with a small chance of making the playoffs, where he would not have to deal with being lambasted by fans and writers on a regular basis. His reserved nature may give the impression that he lacks passion, but his coaches and teammates have never questioned his loyalty. While Sundin and Oscar may share a hair style, it seems doubtful that, if Sundin were as selfish as his critics suggest, he’d have the acting chops to maintain such a façade under the watchful eyes of the Toronto media and Leaf fanatics.

Yes, it may be difficult for the cynics among us to believe Sundin’s unwillingness to sacrifice his principles for the Stanley Cup. But to suggest that he doesn’t care about winning just because he’s loyal to the Leafs is a conclusion that the facts don’t warrant. Given Sundin’s behaviour in his long tenure as team captain and the testament to his character given by those who know him well, there is no reason not to take him at his word. There is, however, reason to question how fans who live and die with the Leafs can throw their captain under the bus for doing the same, and how parents who teach their children that winning at all costs is less important than sportsmanship can criticize Sundin for exemplifying that principle.

U of C’s accidental oil field

The University of Calgary has announced plans to use engineering students to search for oil or gas deposits on a small patch of land it owns in Spring Coulee, an oil-rich area near the American border.

Two questions still linger around the discovery: How did the university come to own the land (the paper trail leading to the previous owner seems to have vanished), and, more pressingly, is the land worth anything?

“There is a producing oil well nearby, so we too could have some black gold,” said Rob Steward, a geoscience professor at U of C.

If the land proves to have sufficient oil reserves to merit mining, U of C will most likely bring in an established oil company such as Trican or Shell, with which it has close relations, for the extraction process. This would not be a first for the university as it already receives money from oil production on land it has leased out.

Either way, the land will allow U of C students to try oil prospecting with the university’s newest gadgets. Last month, in surveying the land to assess resources, students got to test the university’s new seismic vibrator truck.

“This is a great treasure hunt that is going to provide real-world experience that might even result in a new source of revenue for the university,” said Stewart. “We are in the remarkable position of being able to do a lot of the exploration work ourselves, which is a wonderful way for everybody to learn. The data we acquired is a treasure trove of information that students are analyzing in class.”

The two patches of land, five square kilometres in total, will be the site of summer field courses organized by the geoscience department. Gathered data will be further analyzed by students from the Schulich School of Engineering, home to the new Trican Petroleum Engineering Laboratories. The new lab gives students access to equipment similar to that used by the oil industry.

The project is expected to expand and include students from the Haskayne School of Business and the environmental sciences department. “I think this is a real motivating opportunity for students, who can be involved in every step of the oil and gas development process,” said Dave Eaton, head of the geoscience department.

Steward expressed interest in using the potential revenue stream, which could be significant for U of C, to create new scholarships. The money could also be used to reduce the school’s tuition, one of the highest in the country and the object of lobbying efforts by U of C’s student union.

With increasing environmental concerns about Alberta’s oil sands development, U of C’s new land will also serve as a testing ground for the university’s commitment to reduce its impact on the environment.

Gee Gees bounce Blues from tournament

It wasn’t the way they envisioned their season’s end, but for the men’s basketball team, enjoying a surprising renaissance in 2007-08, it was a twist that was never unexpected. Despite dominating Ottawa during their season series, the Blues knew that facing a team as talented as the Gee-Gees in a single-game elimination would be a difficult challenge.

“It came down to a couple bounces at the end,” said Blues forward Nick Snow. “We played [Ottawa] three times this year, and we beat them two times, it could have gone either way.”

Both teams struggled shooting from the field, with Ottawa making 22 of 63 field goal attempts at 35 per cent. The Blues also had difficulty finding their range, shooting at a 36 per cent clip. Toronto player of the game Rob Paris led the team with 16 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Nick Snow posted a double-double with 13 rebounds and 12 points, while Mike DiGiorgio posted double digits with 13 points.

“We didn’t come up with big rebounds, they went to the glass, that was it,” said Blues head coach Mike Katz, following his team’s nail-biting 63-60 loss. “I’m disappointed in the outcome, but I’m really proud of our guys.”

The score remained tight, with Ottawa nursing a 23-18 advantage into the first break, which became a 31-31 deadlock by the halftime buzzer. The Blues maintained a lead through the third quarter, keeping the Gee-Gees off the scoreboard for the first fourand- a-half minutes, briefly holding a nine-point lead. Ottawa had shaved Toronto’s advantage to 45-43 by the final intermission. Trading the lead back and forth with their guests in the final frame, Toronto entered the final minute of play with a slim 60-59 advantage. The Gee-Gees claimed two pairs of free throws in the final minute—all successful—while the Blues were unable to find the net for the remainder, despite a pair of desperate three-point shots in the final five seconds of play.

The loss officially ended the Blues season, one in which they unseated Ottawa as the second overall seed with an impressive 17-5 record, two wins more than the previous year. But anything can happen in the playoffs, and with a trip to the National championships on the line, the team came up a little short.

“It put a little damper on the end of the night,” said Blues guard Sherri Pierce, whose women’s team had just clinched a berth in the finals with a win earlier in the day. “[The men’s team] had a real good season. They were the under dogs all year, and they really pulled it out. They won a lot along the way. But it’s still kind of heartbreaking.”