Chaos theory

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is a play that explores the nature of order and chaos in the universe, the importance of academic pursuit, and the certainty of history and knowledge. Directed by Jeremy Hutton, Arcadia follows the quest of three academics to reveal the truth behind the mysterious events at English country house Sidley Park between 1809 and 1812.

The structure of the play follows two separate but parallel plotlines, slowly unravelling the three mysteries that drive the play: Bernard Nightingale’s search for the cause behind the death of amateur poet Ezra Chater, Hannah Jarvis’ quest to uncover the identity of the Sidley hermit, and Valentine Coverly’s study of a mathematical iterative algorithm that was first discovered by his brilliant ancestor, Thomasina Coverly. As these complex investigations progress, the mysteries of Sidley Park are revealed during a visit by the famous poet Lord Byron.

The first Hart House Theatre production with a cast made up exclusively of U of T students, the performances were nothing short of professional. Tyrone Savage’s charismatic and charming portrayal of tutor/poet Septimus Hodge made the play especially enjoyable to watch. Other memorable performances included Clara Pasieka’s innocent yet precocious Thomasina Coverly, Bil Antoniou’s pompous Bernard Nightingale, Anne Wiesen’s proud and slightly irritating Hannah Jarvis, and Evan O’Donnell’s socially awkward Augustus Coverly. The costumes were gorgeous, and the set well-crafted, as haunting piano music set the tone for a moving ending.

The complex subject matter and intellectual yet humorous dialogue of Stoppard’s script promised an intriguing show. The scholarly language lent the play substance, but was well balanced by the comedic dialogue, which kept the proceedings light. However, the actors’ fast-paced delivery and the rushed explanation of theoretical concepts left the audience’s minds spinning. Small bits of dialogue and important plot points were often lost, and too much time was spent trying to connect the dots. Complex details were mostly forgotten, but the laughs and emotions were effectively and skilfully delivered.

The end of the play’s first half focused too much on academic theory and debate, which caused the plotline to drag a little. But the charming and spirited dialogue came together much more comprehensively in the second half, with the witty banter between Wiesen’s Hannah Jarvis and Antoniou’s Bernard Nightingale. In the end, efforts put into the development of complex theories and plotlines throughout the play were nearly lost due to their anti-climactic outcomes.

The two timelines switch back and forth, presenting answers before questions, creating chaos throughout the progression of the play. But the timelines merge in a masterfully crafted ending, demonstrating that order can form amid chaos. The characters’ lives and pursuits make clear to the viewer that though times may change and science may progress, certain truths always remain constant. Culminating in a tender and beautiful scene performed passionately by Savage and Pasieka, Stoppard’s emotional ending reminds us of the finality of time, and the driving force behind all order and chaos—love and death.

Rating: VVVv

Arcadia runs until March 14th at Hart House Theatre. Tickets are $12 for U of T students.

Food researchers for a week

The University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences recently hosted two Aboriginal high school students, as part of the “Verna Kirkness Be a Food Researcher for a Week” program. Lindsay Bristow of Winnipeg, Manitoba and Shyanne Kinnowatner of Baker Lake, Nunavut visited Toronto for the first time from February 23 to 27, in an all-expenses-paid internship program organized by the Advanced Foods and Materials Network. Ten other Aboriginal students were also provided the opportunity to attend similar week-long internships at other participating Canadian universities.

The U of T branch of the program took place under the leadership of Dr. Ahmed El-Sohemy, an associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences. Leah Cahill and Karen Eny—two PhD students working in Dr. El-Sohemy’s lab—organized daily activities for Lindsay and Shyanne that introduced them to nutritional research and lab techniques.

For Lindsay, the internship program was an opportunity to further explore her post-secondary options. She plans to attend university in her home province of Manitoba next year, but is undecided about her career plan. After experiencing what it’s like to be a food researcher, Lindsay is “actually thinking about [becoming a food scientist] now. It’s pretty interesting stuff and I didn’t really know any of it existed before.” Lindsay enjoyed the variety of tasks the internship provided, with a new activity planned for each day. As for how the U of T campus compares to Winnipeg, Lindsay says that “Winnipeg’s a lot smaller, and we don’t have streetcars or subways and our downtown isn’t as safe—here there’s so much to see.”

Shyanne describes the town of Baker Lake as a community with a population of around 1,500 to 2,000 people. She feels that “Toronto has changed my life,” giving her a chance to explore what happens across Canada, and see the differences between the provinces and territories. Her favorite part of the week was performing DNA isolation, a technique commonly used in research labs. She enjoyed seeing how research equipment is used, something she had only read about in textbooks. Shyanne also enjoyed visiting Kensington and the St. Lawrence Market, where she had the chance to try various novel foods including sushi, kiwis, and pomegranates. She plans to share these new experiences with the youth in her community.

As part of the activities organized by Cahill and Eny, the students spent time in Dr. El-Sohemy’s lab, which specializes in nutrigenomics research, the branch of nutritional science that deals with the interaction between diet and genes. They had the opportunity to practice lab techniques, such as DNA isolation and genotyping. In order to show Lindsay and Shyanne additional aspects of food and nutrition research, Cahill and Eny arranged a visit to Dr. Richard Bazinet’s neuroscience lab, where the students took a tour of the animal facility and practiced lipid extraction. They also visited the Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital, and Dr. David Jenkin’s Glycemic Index lab. In addition to touring the U of T campus, the students had the opportunity to see the food production and development labs at George Brown College.

For Cahill and Eny, the internship program provided the opportunity to show students that research can be interesting and a potential career opportunity. Cahill wanted to teach the interns that “science is fun, and easy. There’s this preconception that scientists are mean, boring, and old. A lot of people, especially girls, don’t think of it as a career option. But lots of scientists are young women. [Shyanne and Lindsay] did a lot of the activities that we [regularly] do.”

Eny took part in a similar program when she was in high school. It ended up being the major reason she went into a career in research. For these more experienced students, spending time with the interns is an exciting mentoring opportunity and a chance to pass on their own knowledge to potential future food scientists. According to Cahill, “nutritional science is growing, and lots of people don’t know about the field, which is going to need more researchers in the future.”

Students caught green-handed

Two students were caught committing hundreds of acts of vandalism last Thursday to promote the upcoming EnviroFest, which kicks off Thursday, March 12.

Campus police spotted Leo Josephy, head coordinator of the event, and Lindsay Fischer using green paint to make handprints on campus property, including Robarts Library, the Galbraith Building, Hart House, and Sidney Smith.

“It was meant to be a viral marketing campaign,” said Josephy. “We thought, for one, it would be more effective to just have handprints instead of taping up posters.”

Campus police received complaints and responded. To assuage building administrators’ worries that the paint was permanent, Josephy had to show that it washed off easily using soap and water. He said the paint was non-toxic.

“We were not trying to be sneaky,” said Fischer. “It was the middle of the day. We sat and mixed paint in one spot for like half an hour. People were coming by and talking to us.”

Both students have turned themselves in, and said rain would wash off the paint.

Campus police acquiesced and said they would contact each student’s college dean to decide on repercussions. Josephy and Fischer could get a note on their transcripts.

“I think that was excessive,” said Josephy. “But I think that was because they got the [complaint] that it was non-washable.”

Although they were not asked to, Fischer and Josephy did wash off some of the handprints later. The rain on Saturday also removed a lot of paint.

“We didn’t want anybody to have to clean it up,” said Fischer.

“We thought people were actually really going to like to see this different form of advertising on campus because so much of it is so typical. It’s a university campus. It should be open to creativity.”

EnviroFest takes place March 12 to March 21. A Youtube video of the handprint guerrillas can be found with the search words “U of T Envirofest.”

Investigating chromosome evolution

Crowded in a small room in the Earth Sciences Building basement, students, researchers, and U of T faculty recently attended a seminar titled “Local Adaptation, Sexual Selection, and Chromosome Evolution.” Sponsored by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the talk was given by University of Texas at Austin geneticist Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick. He came to discuss new research findings concerning the relationship between local adaptation and chromosome inversions, and sexually antagonistic selection.

During the first half of the talk, Dr. Kirkpatrick spoke about the relationship between chromosome inversions and adaptation. An inversion is a type of mutation that occurs when a chromosome breaks in two locations and the region in between rotates 180 degrees before the pieces rejoin. Lethal gene mutations can occur when an inversion-induced chromosome break occurs in the middle of a gene. However, in diploid organisms—those with two sets of chromosomes—this mutation is not harmful as long as an identical, viable gene is present on its paired, or homologous, chromosome. Inversions generally do not have deleterious effects, as they do not cause the amount of genetic material to change. In fact, if an individual from one species who has experienced an inversion mates with members of a closely related species, within a few generations a large proportion of the latter species’ population will likely possess the chromosome inversion.

The inversion will spread, due to its effect on recombination, a process that involves the exchange of genetic information between homologous chromosomes during gamete formation. Chromosome inversions suppress recombination in heterozygotes—individuals possessing two different forms, or alleles, of a given gene. This is significant, as locally adapted genes give organisms an advantage in surviving and reproducing in their local environment. If at least two of these genes are found on either side of an inversion site, their alleles will rarely undergo recombination, remaining in that particular combination for generations. The accompanying inversions then spread through the population, remaining linked to genes that provide a reproductive advantage. “Inversions represent islands in the genome of local adaptation,” explained Kirkpatrick. “They are there to protect pieces of genome that interact well with each other or with the local environment.”

The second part of the seminar focused on sex chromosome evolution through sexually antagonistic selection. Sexual selection is a type of natural selection that acts on an individual’s ability to successfully mate and produce offspring. An allele having sexually antagonistic effects provides an advantage to one sex but not the other. These types of alleles can be found on sex chromosomes as well as non-sex chromosomes, known as autosomes.

Dr. Kirkpatrick presented a scenario in which an autosome containing an allele that makes an individual male successful develops a mutation that makes it male, regardless of what sex chromosomes it possesses. If this combination gives the mutant higher fitness—an advantage in terms of reproduction or survival over males who only carry the ancestral Y chromosome—this altered chromosome can spread through the population, “hijacking” the old Y chromosome by taking its place as the new sex-determining chromosome. A similar process can occur with X chromosomes. However, establishment of the new Y chromosome does not always result in replacement of the ancestral chromosome. There are also situations in which both the new and the old Y chromosomes contribute to sex determination.

So why don’t sex chromosomes in humans and other animals undergo the same changes? One reason is that the ancestral Y chromosome in these species contains genes necessary for male fertility and viability, and it is unlikely that every one of these essential genes would undergo a translocation to another chromosome.

The evolution of new X and Y chromosomes from autosomes is just one example of sex chromosome evolution. ZW sex chromosomes are found in birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Some species of fish possess Z, W, X, and Y sex chromosomes, and it is suspected that other species undergo frequent transitions between the ZW and XY chromosome systems.

These processes are part of what Dr. Kirkpatrick calls a “feedback loop” between sexual selection and local adaptation. It is common to think about the ways in which genes influence the appearance and behaviour of organisms. However, it is evident that the behaviour of individuals can also influence the evolution of the genome.

Analysis: Presidential debate

The Varsity: We have Jason coming in as the outsider, and Sandy, the insider, justifying why she should stay: who was more convincing?

Giorgio Traini: What I wanted to hear from [Jason] was that they need new blood, and I didn’t really hear that from him. He just tried to prove that he had some community knowledge, which I would assume you do; you’re running for student government.

Padraic Ryan: He specifically said the answer to one question: I don’t want to use the word change. Change is his slate label.

GT: Coming in, Sandy said the same thing every incumbent sells: I know the ins and outs of the area. She didn’t really say anything about herself that she brought.

Erin Fitzgerald: But that’s how she’s running, and she didn’t do it particularly well. But she did it, whereas Jason didn’t.

PR: I agree, he allowed it to be about experience, and incumbents are always going to win over challengers if it’s about providing more of the status quo.
TV: … Who would you say did a better job of recognizing the needs of their constituents?PR: One answer I would have liked to see to that question is what’s the disconnect between the 13 per cent of students who vote and what the students who don’t vote want. Certainly some demands in student politics are only reflected among the turnout rate. Something like tuition, I don’t think 100 per cent of students want lower tuition as a political matter.
TV: Jason did say briefly that some students who don’t vote maybe feel disconnected from the student union.GT: I don’t think he really said what issues he was bringing from that other 83 per cent, but I’m glad he mentioned the major disconnect and that was the group who needed to be represented now.EF: But I don’t know if we can give Jason credit for just mentioning there’s a disconnect, if he doesn’t say anything substantive about what that disconnect is and what he’s going to do to fix it.

TV: They both talked about engagement as something students want, do you think students care about that?EF: I don’t care about being engaged.

PR: The nature of politics is that you have to say that everyone wants to be engaged, but obviously not everyone does. Particularly commuter students who have less of an interest.

GT: Right, but I think it’s within their mandate that they should focus on trying to get people more engaged. At least, to get their views on issues, because otherwise it’s just a few people sitting around a table playing with each other.
TV: Another big divide between the two seemed to be tactics and fighting fees. What do you think Jason’s point about joining the admin [in the fight], was that naïve or a genuine point?GT: I think it was probably his best point through everything [Jason] said. I buy his “us vs. them” comment [that UTSU engenders an “us vs. them” atmosphere]. I definitely feel that in UTSU’s 2030 campaign, it was very much, “the administration is the devil, they could never possibly have any student interests at heart.”

TV: In light of Naylor’s Towards 2030 synthesis, which suggests deregulating fees, what do you think of Sandy’s point that Naylor has a totally different philosophy about fees?

GT: Sandy said Naylor suggested higher fees, and then subsidies to those who need it. That doesn’t seem ideologically opposed to what she’s saying—ideologically opposed would be let’s just raise fees. It seems Naylor still has a wish to make sure that students who want to come can come, and that seems like a view that you can work with.
TV: Jason also made a claim about a lack of grassroots at UTSU. Was that a convincing argument?

PR: In lots of political debates, there are process vs. substance debates. He’s saying there’s something wrong with the process—it’s not grassroots—but he’s not really telling us how would the substance change.

Those kinds of claims seem easy to refute when you don’t really have a concrete idea of how the drop fees campaign have been different.

I think Sandy sort of dealt with that by saying, look, this is the people we talked to, this is what they want.

If he made a more aggressive claim, such as “students they specifically don’t want this campaign, and if you had consulted them, you would have found that out,” I find that more convincing than just saying it’s procedurally flawed.

TV: Sandy had the difficult job of defending UTSU’s connection to the Canadian Federation of Students. How do you think she did in that?

EF: Very poorly.

PR: She made a gaffe. She said no one on the campus supports the CFS campaign, which obviously I don’t think she meant to claim, and so she had to backpedal. If this were a more sophisticated campaign we could get a viral video of just that clip again and again.

EF: Even at a deeper level, I think she had a hard time actually defending her involvement in CFS. She didn’t seem to have a sound philosophical underpinning for this and why this is a good thing for the student union to be involved in.

PR: This is a great debating mistake, is assuming your audience agrees with you. So she sort of assumed everyone thought the CFS is worthwhile, and that it’s worthwhile to have her work for the CFS. Why do you have these two jobs that may be conflicting, with UTSU and the CFS, but she didn’t feel the need to explain that.

GT: But in all honesty, for all that she slipped up there pretty bad, I would have liked Jason to jump on any one of those faults.He hit it a little bit by saying we’d be focusing on U of T issues first and foremost.

TV: Unlike Sandy, Jason was a whole lot more hesitant to have UTSU take any action on anything that’s not directly and locally affecting students. Which one do you think will appeal more to students?

GT: I think Sandy will be more appealing to those who have voted in the past, because that’s usually the group who gets out and votes.

But to the non-involved majority of U of T students, [Jason is] saying we’re going to spend your money on something that directly relates to you. I think he did a great job. This is his one highlight of his whole speech, where he said when you take a highly contentious political issue, and you fund it, your going to alienate certain students who disagree.

TV: How do you think they fared in talking about clubs?

EF: Jason’s ROCSI idea [Repository of Campus Space Information for student groups to be able to access complete room-booking information in an online system comparable to ROSI.] was a good point.GT: The kind of thing a new person should be coming in with.

EF: But he should have had more of that throughout.

TV: And of course, there was the funding question.

EF: Here is the incumbency advantage. Sandy said, “Guys, they’re going to cut auditing, you can’t do that.” And so she definitely won that point.PR: I think that Jason should have been more familiar with his budget. If his best example of trimming the fat is executive salaries, to me that doesn’t translate into a familiarity with how the union works.

TV: Talking about the salary cut itself, do you think it’s something that would win over some voters?

GT: I’m not swayed by salary cuts.

EF: Oh it’s charming in that I’m-going-to-take-one-for-the-team way, but Sandy came back with, you becomee a part-time student [when you take on office]. That’s $400 more in OSAP that you’re going to be paying.TV: He briefly mentioned that you could reduce budget on campaigns, but do you think he was too vague about that?

GT: Yes, again, I think that’s something he could have hit very hard on. I know a lot of students at U of T who are just thinking there’s a campaign every weekend, I don’t even know what these campaigns are for. There are a lot of signs everywhere. All these people’s faces that seem very angry.

PR: Yeah he didn’t say which [campaigns]. TV: Sandy was again in the difficult position of having to defend the decision at the Annual General Meeting of not putting minutes online. How convincing was she?EF: Very, very unconvincing.

PR: I think this is an example of when she was very, very process-heavy. Instead of just telling us straight-out whether or not she wanted to have the minutes online, it’s “well there’s a working group looking into that.”

And we’re talking about copy-pasting a word document onto a blog, this is not difficult. And so she—incumbents do it all the time—tried to rely on process.

GT: Pulled a Mackenzie King.

TV: She has talked about political feasibility of putting up campaign strategies.GT: The line’s been saying, what I’ve heard in the past, the administration is this strange spy organization, or fascist government that is going to infiltrate their minutes online and use it against them to undermine student government, and make sure we don’t have fun and enjoy ourselves at university, because that would be bad for them.

TV: Are you sold on their priorities?GT: Wonderful bywords. Open governments, inclusivity, and vibrant campus life vs. access, equity, agency and engagement.PR: I think that Jason can speak to openness, whereas the other five are just designed to evoke positive feelings.
TV: The winner?

PR: Sandy.EF: Sandy.

GT: Sandy.
TV: If one of you were to take Jason’s side, what would you give him?GT: Jason’s points about the political issues was very strong, and his focus on the need for clubs to be the main aspect of what UTSU should be doing, focusing on regional and local events.

His CFS talk, the idea that we should be focusing on U of T first.

Making sure clubs are funded, that they have space, making sure we deal with them first and foremost.

Israeli apartheid, Afghanistan—those are campaign you can bring to your MP, your MPP, we [Slate Change] just want to give you a good time on campus, that’s our job.

EF: It was good that he said, “we will alienate people if we take stances on these issues.”GT: Exactly, where he finally put up a kind of bulwark—“I’ll stand here for a few moments in defense.” And then he fell.

Calcium and Colon Cancer

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, widely known for its role as a neurotransmitter trigger, in muscle contraction, and normal bone growth and development. Studies indicate the mineral also helps to protect against colon cancer.

A study conducted by Denise Govers at the Netherlands Institute for Dairy Research looked at the importance of bile acids and their cytotoxicity in the colonic epithelium. Bile is secreted by the gall bladder into the small intestine between meals to aid the digestion of fat. Bile production increases according to dietary fat intake, and along with fatty acids, can act as wetting agents in the colonic lumen. It is believed that they stimulate crypt cell proliferation, increasing the risk of colon cancer.

Several studies have concluded that calcium interacts with bile and fatty acids in the intestinal lumen to form an insoluble complex, reducing their lytic activity. As a result, this calcium precipitate is flushed out of the system, as opposed to being absorbed or sticking to the colon epithelium. Gover’s study involved rats that were fed diets varying in calcium intake. The rats’ fecal water was added to isolated human red blood cells to determine haemolysis levels. Haemolysis, or red blood cell destruction, was inhibited in rat fecal water that contained the highest calcium levels. This test established calcium’s protective effect in reducing the cytolytic properties of intestinal contents, as well as the bile acid concentration of fecal water.

Several other human studies using dairy product calcium sources have reached similar conclusions, with milk providing the most significant benefits. It is suggested that bile acids may promote colon cancer through an indirect mechanism, potentially acting via a signal transduction pathway to increase production of a pro-inflammatory molecule involved in many illnesses. Bile acids could also make immature goblet cells resistant to cell death, crucial to maintaining normal physiologic function, as it ensures destruction of unwanted cells.

Calcium can be obtained from a wide variety of sources. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as turnips, broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts, and fortified soy milk are excellent sources. The daily calcium recommendation for a healthy adult is 1,000 mg. Vitamin D intake should also be maintained alongside calcium, as it significantly increases calcium absorption. Supplementation is only necessary for the elderly.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, although researchers believe it’s still too early to change the recommended dietary intake of calcium.

CRO stops UTSU elections debate

The UTSU elections officer has moved to shut down a candidates’ debate on the grounds that one of its organizers, Antonin Mongeau, is campaigning for the Change slate. Mongeau is president of EFUT (the French club), which teamed up with U of T NDP to run a March 10 elections town hall for UTSU and GC candidates. CRO Lydia Treadwell has previously stopped U of T NDP from hosting a March 5 debate.

Treadwell’s March 6 ruling leaves any attending candidate subject to penalty at her discretion.

“Within this campaign it has become public knowledge that the president of EFUT is campaigning against certain members of the Demand Access slate which deems the president of EFUT biased,” wrote Treadwell in CRO Ruling 006 on the UTSU website. She also cites instances of Mongeau allegedly intimidating and levelling false accusations against slate Access candidates.

Mongeau wrote Treadwell on March 6, denying the allegations and challenging the CRO to produce evidence.

Mongeau said he can back up his accusations that a paid assistant to one of the incumbents was campaigning full-time in Sidney Smith. He contends this violates Elections Procedure Code 6.1p, which states that candidates may not use any resources “conferred to them by virtue of holding a position in any campus organization […] (including) staff.”

“[The assistant] just happens to be a friend of ours as well,” said Adnan Najmi, running for a second term as VP internal as part of Access. He denied that any rule violations occurred. Najmi added that while he stands by the CRO’s decision, he is “not afraid of talking on any forum.”

Sally Elabasery, president of U of T NDP, is upset that the CRO has now moved to close two of their attempts to host a debate. “[We tried to] initiate discussion between executives of student groups, student members, and the UTSU candidates,” she said. In a statement, the NDP group said they strongly felt that “UTSU was being undemocratic in their move.”

Mongeau said the March 10 event will go ahead as planned, with some Governing Council and faculty candidates in attendance.

The CRO’s office could not be reached for comment over the weekend. According to the elections code, the CRO must respond to Mongeau’s letter by no later than 6 a.m. Monday morning.

Sports culture shock

Spending four months in another country will teach you a lot. In between pints of Stella on Friday nights in Brussels, my academic exchange in Belgium shed light on the cultural differences that make the world such an endlessly fascinating place. One such difference was sport.

I was in a peculiar situation. As one of the few Canadian exchange students at the University of Leuven, I tried to find my place amongst the native Belgians and the majority of Americans that comprised the program. When people found out where I was from, they would respond with a clichéd comment about how I was stuck somewhere in between Europe and North America. I initially reacted with my nationalist rhetoric, explaining that Canada shouldn’t always be compared to other cultures, and that we have many things that make us distinct and unique.

But after a couple of weeks, I came to realize they were kind of right. When it came to campus sports, Canada is caught in the tide somewhere between the Old and New World.

Canadian universities aren’t known for their athletic prowess. With the exception of Western and Laval around the Vanier Cup playoffs, Canadian university students are far too preoccupied with their studies and social melodramas to pay attention to athletics. Granted, U of T suffers from spectator fatigue more than most Canadian institutions. But let’s face it: when it comes to our own athletics, Canadian universities look the other way.

I learned from my American counterparts that it couldn’t be more different south of the border. American college students are obsessed with campus sports. The whole country goes crazy during football bowl season, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single college student in class during the Final Four. Witnessing the mania first-hand made me realize just how important sports are to the American college experience.

Living in my Belgian residence was fellow foreigner Patrick Buley, originally from Kentucky but attending Hanover College in Indiana. “Quite often support for collegiate sports easily surpasses that for professional divisions,” he said. I’ll never forget they day I heard an elated cheer resonate from his room at four in the morning as his basketball team hit a buzzer beater to win the quarterfinals in the Division III playoffs. He cheered for his beloved Panthers with the same gusto I do when the Leafs are in a game seven (if long memory serves me correctly).

Many American students value their campus athleticism as a matter of self-identification and pride. American colleges institutionally support campus sports, both for athletes and for fans. Millions of dollars go into athletic scholarships, training facilities, arenas, fields, and courts. Schools plan activities to make sure students support major rivalry games and turn it into a big event. It’s a whole culture down there, one that Canadians have never experienced at the post-secondary level.

Then there are the Belgians. Over 50 per cent of students at Leuven participate in sports. My old buddy Niels says, “Leuven has a university soccer team, a basketball team, an American football team, a field hockey team, a handball team, a volleyball team, and a gymnastics team.” On a participatory level, student involvement is quite high.

But on the spectator side of things, they show about as much enthusiasm for their teams as they do for Dutch beer. Even though there are many facilities where sporting activities take place, there are barely any places for spectators to watch. No bleachers, stands, or seats, and hardly any standing room.

I was perplexed by how students could be so involved in playing sports, yet so disinterested in watching them.

Unlike the Americans, who had their entire sense of school pride tied up in their Division III basketball team, Belgians had other priorities. Not a single one of my housemates could name a Varsity athlete or tell me the score of last night’s game unless they were playing in it. Their football team’s shameful losing record didn’t phase them one bit.

Canadian students are stuck somewhere in between. Our athletes aren’t celebrities, the Vanier Cup isn’t the holy grail, and a men’s hockey team first round exit doesn’t prompt students to toss themselves off the eleventh floor of Robarts. Most of us don’t obsess over the standings and stats, yet we care enough to notice when our football team wins a game for the first time in seven seasons. So I began to take those clichéd comments as compliments. We’re caught somewhere in between complete obsession and total apathy. A healthy medium, especially when it comes to sports, is a good thing.