Bedour Alagraa, second year International relations, was one of many students that voiced their opinions about black identity at the Black Student Association’s “Black is, Black Ain’t” discussion on Tuesday. The event was part of a series of events marking Black History Month.What makes a person black? Is blackness just a skin colour, or is it an attitude, an ethnicity, a cultural history? These questions were discussed at “Politics of Black Identity: Black Is, Black Ain’t,” an open discussion held by the Black Students Association at Hart House as part of a series of BSA events marking Black History Month. The discussion asked whether the term “black”—commonly used as one ethnic or racial category, despite the diversity of cultures and experiences of the African Diaspora—is really useful as a descriptive term.Stan Doyle Wood, an Equity Studies TA, and UTSU president Sandy Hudson addressed the discusssion. Wood shared his experiences growing up biracial in England and Trinidad. In England, “anything to do with non-whiteness was something to be ashamed of,” said Wood. There he tried to “pass” as white. Conversely, while in Trinidad, Wood felt pressured to “prove” his blackness by emphasizing his African features. Hudson spoke about her role as Canadian Federation of Students’ Students Of Colour representative. She said she had seen administrative resistance to CFS’s efforts to be more inclusive to marginalized students: “Folks need to recognize privilege and make sure that people are not being marginalized.”To start discussion, organizers showed excerpts of the documentary Black Is… Black Ain’t. The film, directed by author and social commentator Marlin Riggs, explored constructions of black identity through interviews with Afican American scholars, artists, and religious leaders. BSA political director Vashti Boateng came across the film years ago and couldn’t forget it. “It was something that really stuck with me […] the themes in the film are things I find myself talking about with other black folks all the time.” She saw the film as a tool to dissect and disempower racism and other forms of oppression.In response to the film and with some prompting from Boateng, many students said they had experienced being seen as “not black enough” by black and non-black peers. Students cited restrictive stereotypes of blackness from media images of the “gangster.” For them, the expectation that religion is important in black communities, and thus “black” and “atheist” must be mutually exclusive.Homosexuality was a major topic of discussion throughout the night, particularly the statistic that 70 per cent of black Californians who voted on that state’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, supported the anti-gay measure.Also at the centre of debate were Eurocentric beauty ideals and their impact on black people, particularly for women. There was a general consensus that predominantly white North American culture and media perpetuate a European ideal of beauty, but also that many Africans and African North Americans internalize these ideals instead of challenging them. “That’s all conditioned, [the preference for] light skin over dark skin,” said fourth-year engineering student Sean Ashman. “Break down that barrier!”Join the BSA for V.I.B.E.’s production of Yellowman and open mic night tonight (Thursday Feb. 26) at the Poor Alex Theatre, 722A Dundas Street W. (upper floor), the door opens at 7 p.m. Also look our for Black Prom: Midnight Masquerade at UC’s Junior Common Room, March 14. Details on facebook.
What does it mean to be black?
Under the Knife
Surgery is something most people try to avoid at all costs. Yet we cannot resist watching someone else go under the knife. TV shows like Nip/Tuck have banked on this perverse fascination for years, happily satisfying our penchant for blood and guts. So when a friend and I were invited to see a live colorectal surgery, we couldn’t resist. It’s not every day you get to watch a man’s excretory system get entirely re-routed.Upon entering the hospital, a nurse points us towards a narrow corridor, where we fish disposable scrubs out of a cardboard box. We walk into a sterile white hall called the “aseptic core,” swathed in teal J-cloth from head to Keds—or in my friend’s case, three-inch heels, which the nurse frowns upon.Dr. Cohen, the surgeon leading the procedure, greets us warmly and quickly briefs us on the proceedings. Our patient, an elderly man suffering from rectal cancer, needs his sigmoid colon and rectum removed.A heavy set of doors reveal the operating room painted cool lavender, buzzing with activity. Generic pop hits hum from the radio. We are greeted by a pair of legs spread wide and supported by stirrups, a blue sheet dangling between them.In the centre of the room, three figures clad in surgical green lean over the patient. Between the hairnets and face masks, we make out their eyes by the white lights overhead, and they smile in acknowledgement. I am secretly thrilled to catch my first glimpse of blood on their gloves.We spend the next hour by the patient’s head, craning our necks over his covered face to peer into his abdomen. An opening in the blue cloth pinned to the body frames a rectangle of loose yellow skin. A bloodless cut the length of a pen runs towards the navel. As the skin rises and falls, the incision parts, revealing the red tissue beneath. Dr. Cohen reaches in and pulls out a wet pink tube, dangling with bulbs of orange fat.“See it moving?” he asks us. “That’s peristalsis.” My long-suppressed physiology lectures bubble back into consciousness. Peristalsis is the autonomic movement of intestinal smooth muscle to push food along. This man is digesting while his intestines are being held up half a foot over his body.Translucent webs of connective tissue between loops of intestine are pulled taut with forceps and examined in the body cavity. The senior resident strokes the tissue with a thin metal wand that crackles and sears through it, effortlessly sealing the ruptured blood vessels with intense heat. Wisps of smoke rise from the body as I slip my mask off to sneak a sniff. It smells like burnt hair.Behind us, beeps issue from the anesthetist’s gallery of screens. She is a relaxed woman who does not flinch when the patient’s heart becomes arrhythmic and his systolic blood pressure drops fourty units.“The patient’s blood pressure rose because he was in pain,” she explains later. “So I gave him some morphine to bring it back down.”They take turns feeling for the tumor—the rectal cancer we’ve spent the last hour unraveling bowels to find.“We’re gonna get this mother out!”A section of contracting intestine is laid on a device that looks suspiciously like a kitchen mandolin. With a swift slice, it is cut neatly in two, sealed on both sides with a row of staples. The blood-stained gloves are withdrawn, as the yellowed flaps of skin fall back into place and a white towel is laid over the incision.The entire party moves towards the patient’s elevated feet as everyone arches over Dr. Cohen’s shoulders to get a closer look. He sits facing the patient, as a beam of light from a vaguely orthodontic headpiece illuminates everything between the patient’s legs.I was worried that I would be struck with the juvenile urge to laugh inappropriately at moments like this. However, the thighs and buttocks, swabbed with yellow iodine, look more like scientific specimens than a man’s backside. A metal device exposes the anus as Dr. Cohen takes up the electrocautery once again.The room is hushed as he dexterously cuts through the layers of flesh around the opening. Blood pooling at the base of the incision drips into the pan on his knees. My back aches when the cautery is finally laid down an hour later.He reaches in with a pair of blunt forceps. With a gentle tug, the rectum slides out and slumps into a metal pan, bloated and slick with blood. One end is still stapled shut. I crouch over, incredulous, staring into the cavity. Distilled water, poured in from a perineal incision, rushes out, caught in a container labeled “biological waste.” Over the next half hour, the opening is meticulously cleaned and sealed with tiny stitches.There is now a quarter-sized hole on the left side of the patient’s abdomen. Reaching into the abdominal cavity, the senior resident threads the remaining intestine through, leaving the end protruding like a large red navel. He places a doughnut-shaped sticker over the stoma, the colon’s opening.“This part can get a bit messy,” he says mischievously as he snips off the staples, opening up the intestine. Finally, a plastic pouch is fastened to the sticker: the new endpoint for the patient’s excretory system.Only then does it occur to me that the patient will have to live with a colostomy pouch for the rest of his life. He will experience the emotional triumph of beating cancer, but will have to endure the consequences. Days after the surgery, I am still berating myself for getting swept away by the blood and gore, reducing the patient to a jumble of bloody organs and iodine-stained limbs. It is frighteningly easy to do, especially when you never see their face.The pressure on the surgeon—who personally meets with the patients and often, their families—is immense. The next time I see Dr. Cohen, I ask him how he deals with the anxiety that comes with so much responsibility.“You learn from your training and your mentors that you’re in charge in the operating room. You saw all the people milling around: nurses, anesthetists, visitors, residents. There are ten to twelve people out there.”For him, the patient is always at the heart of the experience. “If you lose control or get excited, everyone around you gets excited and you can never proceed. You’re the captain of the ship and you have to stay calm, even if you may be a little nervous. Mainly because when you get in a flap, you can’t do a good job with the patient.”
‘Outsider’ CRO has links to exec
UTSU’s elections committee hired their chief returning officer for her lack of connections to U of T, but she was contacted for the job through a friend of the current executive who chairs the elections committee.CRO Lydia Treadwell and Dave Scrivener, the chair of UTSU’s Elections and Referenda Committee and VP external, told The Varsity conflicting stories about her hiring. Scrivener denied soliciting any applications, but Treadwell said a mutual friend of her and Scrivener’s passed on her name. Scrivener said the ERC did not solicit applications, and that Treadwell probably surfaced in a stack of resumes. “We got enough by just putting it up on the Career [Centre] site and our own website,” Scrivener said, claiming that UTSU did not try to hand-pick anyone for the job. “We didn’t need to,” he added.The Career Centre website is only open to U of T students and alumna.Treadwell said she was contacted on Jan. 23, and that Scrivener got her name through a friend. She had met Scrivener earlier on a car trip. “Dave contacted the person from the trip to see if they knew anyone who would be a good CRO, and they mentioned my name,” she said.The CRO is hired to administer the election as a neutral third party. Treadwell’s job includes upholding the Elections Procedural Code, authorizing all election materials, and organizing an all-candidates meeting. She will count the votes with the chief deputy returning officer.The elections committee can overrule Treadwell’s decisions.Scrivener said Treadwell’s lack of connections to U of T makes her a neutral third party. Treadwell is not involved with any club or college, and has never been elected to any position at a university—qualities that Scrivener said make her a more neutral third party than the U of T students who were up for the job. Last year’s CRO Gail Alivio had also never attended U of T. She is a deputy returning officer this year and will assist Treadwell.Treadwell said her qualifications also include experience on three winning election campaigns, though she refused to identify these elections. “I don’t think it’s relevant and I’m not going to disclose,” she said. “I have a firm handle on elections, I know the process.” She added that she did not disclose the specifics of the campaigns when she was interviewed by Scrivener and UTSU director Angela Reginer. Treadwell works for the advocacy group Environmental Defence.Treadwell officially became CRO on Feb. 12, too late for her to approve election notices, which came out on Feb. 5. That notice, published on the UTSU website and in The Varsity, gave the incorrect numbers of board members for Woodsworth College, New College, and the engineering faculty. The error has since been corrected on the UTSU website.Scrivener estimated the ERC was struck in November or December. At press time, the meeting minutes with the exact date were not available online.According to UTSU bylaws, president Sandy Hudson, VP internal Adnan Najmi, and VP university affairs Adam Awad should sit on the ERC. Instead, UTSU execs are represented by Scrivener and Khota Aleer, VP equity. The other four seats are filled by UTSU directors Meghan McPhee, Sarah Ali, Maria Galvez, and Jacqui Wilson.With files from Naushad Ali Husein
A policy’s journey across Canada
Released December 3rd of last year, the latest guidelines for ethical research involving humans are now being submitted to the Canadian research community for review and consultation. These stipulations apply to any institute or researcher eligible to receive funding from the community and whose research involves humans.The updated version of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS) was drafted by the federal Interagency Panel on Research Ethics on behalf of Canada’s three federal funding agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.First published in 1998 and updated in 2000, 2002, and 2005, the TCPS has had a major overhaul to reflect the changing needs of researchers and 10 years of scientific advance.Research ethics is a relatively new field, tracing its origins to the Nuremberg Code and the 1947 Declaration of Helsinki. While it has evolved significantly over the last few decades, there is still a long way to go. Fundamental questions, like “does the TCPS improve the ethics of research?” remain unanswered, says panel member Dr. Jim Lavery, an assistant professor at U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health Sciences. “It is extremely difficult to study its impact precisely. However, the guidelines provide a crucial common starting place.”The process has not been without its challenges. “It’s been arduous,” says Lavery. The professor adds that it has been “an astonishing policy journey.”What makes the TCPS so unique, he says, is that it’s “a living document.” The official web-based version now allows for ongoing communication between the panel, the research community, and the public. “If a person wishes clarification on a certain issue, they can submit a query and the panel will return with an official interpretation,” Lavery explains.This characteristic distinguishes it from the U.S. research ethics model, based on a set of regulations called the Common Rule. The U.S. regulations are essentially law, making changes “very legalistic and complex, and the result is that it is very poorly responsive or non-responsive to rapid changes in the science,” says Lavery.The TCPS and the ethics review process have not been without their share of critics. At a recent U of T consultation session, a social science researcher complained that emphasis on consent forms in the 1998 version undermined the sense of trust between researcher and subject. Researchers, particularly in the social sciences and humanities, have noted that the ethics review process can be cumbersome, unhelpful, and at its worst, an obstacle to their work.According to Lavery, face-to-face consultation with the people involved in, and affected by, research is fundamental. “This [consultation tour] is where we’ll hear whether we’ve gotten close to something that resonates with the communities that we’re trying to respond to,” he says.Major changes to the TCPS include condensing the eight original guiding principles into three, and a more comprehensive section on research involving Aboriginal communities.Lavery emphasized that this document is not a how-to manual, but is designed to guide Research Ethics Boards (REBs) as they make difficult decisions. Ideally ethical decision-making should to be a part of everyday scientific practice.Lavery notes that accessibility and communication are the cornerstones of the document’s success. Making it available online and written in an understandable fashion will “set the tone about what [publicly funded] ethical commitments are about.”The TCPS consultation period ends March 31, 2009. The panel will then incorporate feedback from the consultations into a final draft, presented to the agencies by the end of June 2009. It is expected that the agencies will approve the new version by November 2009.For more information about the second draft of the TCPS document, and its contents and history, visit www.pre.ethics.gc.ca
Raising the stakes
How close, if at all, should UTSU be to the Canadian Federation of Students? Some praise the group for organizing mass advocacy on student issues, while others see them as power-hungry, careerist, wannabe-NDP hacks.
What commitment should UTSU have in campaigning to lower tuition and ancillary fees? Some support advocacy for cancelling or lowering tuition fees. Others want less secondary fees, such as for Hart House, textbooks, and campus media. Last year UTSU reps voted for the $18 Varsity Centre bubble levy after a heated referendum; now funding for the Centre for High Performance Sport, the Student Commons, and other projects may be raised.
Advocacy or service?
Should unions primarily campaign on student issues, or should their focus be on supplying services? UTSU has lost points with some students for its political slant, and for spending time on activism that doesn’t yield results. Many find class sizes and professor accessibility more important than Drop Fees protests.
How much should UTSU compromise for an annual Metropass built into the T-card? Should the union insist on an opt-out? Last fall, the TTC proposed a $480-per-year, non-transferable pass for September to April with no opt-out. The idea died before reaching a vote and UTSC’s referendums failed, although many are using public transit in the midst of the recession.
President David Naylor’s roadmap for the university advocates corporate research partnerships and hints at fee hikes. How should the plan be approached as it goes to Phase 2? An all-campus plebiscite by UTSU and GSU found 93 per cent against the removal of provincial regulations on tuition, which the plan is likely to ask for.
Who gets a say in how to run the upcoming student commons? The campus has crumbling infrastructure and few places to study and hang out. How effectively can UTSU advocate for more student space?
Last year, UTM’s union wanted its own budget for clubs, taking a chunk out of UTSU’s ability to fund over 350 recognized clubs. Clubs who do not receive official recognition face astronomical fees for space bookings. The Clubs Committee meets behind closed doors, and club leaders are outnumbered two to one. The committee chair is appointed, not elected.
Should UTSU’s relations with UTM and UTSC change? The Mississauga campus shares responsibilities between its union and UTSU. Scarborough has an independent union.
Students have made repeated efforts to make their union more transparent and accessible. Moves to have the board meeting minutes posted online were struck down at November’s annual general meeting, on the basis that campaign strategies would become available for admin to view.
Shame of the Yankees
It hardly seems possible that three weeks ago, Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees were fretting over something as meaningless as whether teammates called the star slugger “A-Fraud” behind his back.Former Yankees manager Joe Torre makes that assertion in his new tell-all book The Yankee Years, in which Torre and co-writer Tom Verducci craft an intriguing third-person narrative that reveals the juiciest gossip about the inner-workings of the Yankee clubhouse.But the most shocking details, the ones unbeknownst to Torre and the rest of the world, were revealed just days after the book’s release: Rodriguez tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2003.The test was initially implemented as a way to determine the extent to which steroids had permeated baseball, and it was supposed to be anonymous. Yet when results of Rodriguez’s positive test leaked to Sports Illustrated reporters, published February 7, the name-calling in Torre’s book was pushed out of the headlines.The results of the leak are yet another damning chapter of baseball’s steroids era. They cement the destruction of Rodriguez’s reputation as a natural talent who would erase the memory of steroid offender Barry Bonds and become the new home run king.As fans and the media point fingers at Rodriguez and commissioner Bud Selig for letting steroids take over the game under his watch, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Yankees. They’re already in dire straits, having missed the playoffs in 2008, the year after they fired Torre in favour of Joe Girardi.The Yankee Years follows Torre from his hiring as Yankee manager in 1996, through the team’s dynasty years, their decline and fall, closing with Torre’s inevitable dismissal.Along the way, Torre recounts the most famous moments of what he deems the “neo-Peloponnesian War” between the Yankees and Boston Red Sox. While it’s interesting for any baseball fan to revisit Torre’s in-game managerial decisions, the most salacious details are Torre’s personal opinions on players like the irresponsible David Wells, the mercurial Kevin Brown, and natural born leader Derek Jeter.It’s common knowledge that the Yankees’ questionable personnel decisions have been responsible for their demise, and the destruction of team chemistry is nowhere more evident than in chapter eight, “The Issues of Alex.”Torre chronicles the rift that developed between Rodriguez and Jeter, turning their friendship into a cold, unspoken feud. Rodriguez became obsessed with the public’s preference for the likable Jeter, despite Rodriguez being the far superior baseball player.But his self-esteem issues would have far greater consequences.Torre believes that Rodriguez’s problems stem from a fear of failure caused by his insatiable need to justify his outlandish contract and secure his place as one of the game’s all-time greats.Concerning Rodriguez’s struggles under pressure, Torre says, “He was hyperaware of how he looked to others and how he was perceived. It was a self-awareness that crept into his at-bats in clutch situations, causing performance anxiety, and his teammates knew it.” As far as public condemnations go, it doesn’t get more overt than that.In his emotional apology, Rodriguez cited these exact fears as the motivation that caused him to turn to performance-enhancing drugs.The media reaction has since been all over the map, with some calling for Rodriguez’s accomplishments to be stricken from the record. Others are more willing to forgive, since baseball had no formal rules against steroids use when the then Texas Rangers shortstop failed testing in 2003.Ultimately, the solution has yet to play out, as Rodriguez has at least a decade of his career ahead of him, which he’ll likely spend trying to make amends. It’s worth noting that no player identified in the Mitchell Report as having tested positive for banned substances has been elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame.Torre also vents his frustrations over the yearly player turnover that turned the Yankees from annual championship contenders to a mess of artificially inflated egos and biceps. He describes the ill-advised moves as “heading toward an abyss.”Yet even during this current off-season, the team has made alarmingly similar moves to the ones that dragged them down in the first place. They’ve once again attempted to bolster the pitching staff with high-priced signings, including a small-market star who seems unprepared for the New York microscope in C.C. Sabathia (whose potential issues resemble those of Randy Johnson and Javier Vazquez), and an unreliable, injury-prone starter in A.J. Burnett (shades of Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright).But Rodriguez’s poor play in the clutch and endless personal distractions are by far the team’s biggest problem. Fall out from the steroid scandal will undoubtedly make the 2009 season immeasurably difficult.In these times of crisis, the comments Rodriguez made on the day of his trade to the Yankees are particularly poignant: “I have seven years to play with Derek and set my legacy as far as being a part of Yankees history.”With a new reputation as a steroid user whose accomplishments are forever tainted, Rodriguez has succeeded in cementing his legacy. Now he’ll have to live with it.
UTSU CRO moves to stop rival debate
UTSU’s Chief Returning Officer has told a campus group to shut down their elections debate. The Varsity has obtained an email sent shortly after midnight on Feb. 26, in which CRO Lydia Treadwell asked the U of T NDP to cancel their event, saying it violates UTSU policy.U of T NDP’s debate is slated for Thursday, March 5, in conflict with an event that UTSU is co-hosting called “Taskforce on Racism.” The taskforce is being conducted by the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students. CFS is known for supporting slates in union elections and has in the past bussed in members from other schools to help campaign.“It has come to my attention that your organization is advertising an event entitled ‘UTSU All Candidates Summit,’ wrote Treadwell. “I am writing to inform you that this event is in violation of Section 2f. of the UTSU Elections Procedure Code which outlines that the role of the CRO is to organize and establish guidelines for ‘candidate forums.’” The rule Treadwell quotes is Article 4.2.f.“In order to ensure elections rules are upheld, I am requesting that you cancel this event at this time and cease organizing anymore campus wide ‘debates’ that are in contravention of UTSU Elections policies and procedures.”UTSU’s official all-candidates meeting, which Treadwell is required to organize and run under her contract, takes place Tues, March 3.
Black and Blues
On Saturday, February 21, the Varsity Blues took on the Ryerson Rams in the women’s basketball playoffs. The contest between the Toronto rivals was an intense affair, befitting a playoff game. However, this was not how the game started. Ryerson came to the Athletic Centre to harass the heavily-favoured Blues to stop them from progressing to the semifinals.The Rams used the full court press from the get go. But the Blues seemed to be the quicker and fresher of the two teams, managing to spring the traps, and find the open player at will. Blues point guard Sherri Pierce was a second faster than any of the Rams guards, leading the fast breaks to a deadly effect. To make matters worse for Ryerson, they were unable to cope with the height advantage of the Blues players. The Blues pulled down fifteen more rebounds than Ryerson in the first half, and completely dominated the low post.Blues player of the game Tara Kinnear converted lay-up after lay-up, as she shot an astounding seventy five per cent from the field. She ended the half with 17 points and nine boards. The presence of Toronto’s post players meant that points were hard to come by for Ryerson, relying on the erratic outside shooting of Lisa Goldring. The Rams were timid, and allowed themselves to be bullied by their much larger neighbours.Whatever Ryerson head coach Sandy Pothier told the girls at half-time motivated them, as a different team emerged from the dressing room. Maybe she pointed out the 41-24 score line and reminded the team that this was a playoff game. Suddenly, the Rams shined brighter and became aggressive. Lacey O’Sullivan’s hard foul on Toronto’s Pierce was an indication of what to expect in the second half. Ryerson packed the paint and forced Toronto’s guards to take shots. Any time Nicki Schutz or Kinnear touched the ball the Rams surrounded them, as they hacked and harassed the two down to a manageable size.The referees either forgot that basketball is a non-contact sport, or embraced the idea of a playoff game not for the fainthearted. The pace of the game slowed down, because of the foul trouble that had benched Toronto’s starting point guard. The Rams forced Toronto to play their style of hoops. The home fans, quiet for much of the night, began to get increasingly frustrated each time a body hit the floor, and no whistle followed.With 8:24 left in the third quarter, Blues player Nicki Schutz had her face squished into the ground and was lucky to escape with a cut on the bridge of her nose. A concerned mother in the crowd implored the referees to bring some order to the game. Along with the hard play, the Rams found their shooting. They hit five three pointers in the quarter, and one of them was a four point play. The quarter ended 59-53.The Blues were leading, but they had been outscored 29-18 in the third quarter.The Rams’ momentum did not stop in the fourth. The referees found their whistles and started calling fouls, but inconsistently. With six minutes and thirty seconds left in the game, the Rams took the lead for the first time since their first basket with a three pointer. The Rams shot an impressive 57 per cent from beyond the arc in the second half. That was when the Blues Nicki Schutz decided to take over the game.When asked what she did differently in the second half, Schutz replied, “I was being double and tripled team the whole game. In the first half, I think I had to try and find the open man. In the playoffs, it’s not going to be about the top two, it’s going to be about three, four, and five scoring those extra 10-20 points.”With four Blues starters in double digits, that plan was executed. In regards to her ten points in the final quarter, Schutz said, “I just got aggressive [and] took it to them.” With 2:53 on the clock, the Blues wrestled the lead back from the Rams, and Schutz made sure not to give it back. Toronto won the game 78-69.