U of T athlete walks for Africa

During the month of July, Mila Miguel, a three-time first-team OUA volleyball all-star for the Varsity Blues, walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, a small town of less than 1,500 people in the south of France, across the entire northern coast of Spain, ending her journey in Cape Finisterre. The distance covered 870 kilometres and took Miguel 34 days to complete.

For the first 780 km, her trip followed a historic pilgrim route, the El Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James). She then continued for another 90 km to the aforementioned Cape Finisterre, which in ancient times was considered to be the end of the flat world.

Miguel’s pilgrimage aimed to raise money and awareness for Athletes For Africa, a campaign committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. The organization works to provide education and opportunities to empower youth in Africa. Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and WNBA all-star Tammy Sutton-Brown are among those already on board besides Miguel.

Only a few days after returning from her trip, which included stops in London, England and her home town of Victoria, B.C., I had a chance to speak with her about her experience.

THE VARSITY: You left for London, England only a few days after finishing up your first year nursing exams. Why did you start in your trip there?

MILA MIGUEL: London was a place between the old, comfortable surroundings of home and the new, exciting adventures of my upcoming pilgrimage. It was a great buffer zone. I had a good friend and old teammate at my side and we saw everything there is to see in London.

TV: Why did you want to be an Athlete for Africa?

MM: Volleyball was a huge part of everything in university for me. But after five years I had a volleyball void to fill. The values instilled in me from sports are the same ones Athletes For Africa look for, which makes it a wonderful fit.

TV: How bad were the blisters on your trip?

MM: Everyone had blisters. The climb up the first day was 1200 meters, followed by an 800 m drop the second day. Your feet swell up in your shoes and by the end of the first week I had blisters on four toes and my heels burned with the heat. The people were so helpful. Everyone kind of had their own home remedies to help cure the blisters. One of them was to have a thread running in and out of the blister so that it would absorb everything and you wouldn’t have to remove the skin.

TV: What about snoring? Some of hostels you stayed in must have had quite a few snorers.

MM: The hostels had anywhere from five or six beds to a couple hundred. I didn’t have earplugs at first, but quickly got them. The snoring was like a symphony: there would be like three people snoring, four people laughing. One German man named Paul told me about his desperate attempt to make earplugs in the dark with toilet paper and Vaseline. [The snoring] ended up being really funny.

TV: You mentioned how hard the walk was on your feet several times in your blog (http://asmallwalkforabigcause.blogspot.com/). Did you ever consider biking the route at all?

MM: Well, the bikers could do the route in eight to 12 days. But I realized how happy I was to do the Camino by foot instead of bike. These two Americans [who biked] had been on the road for eight days, traveled the same distance, and had not met nearly the same number of people nor did they have as many stories to share.

TV: What were your favourite moments?

MM: The people made it worthwhile; the camaraderie and support from strangers. There were so many stories of people wanting to give up, but it wasn’t like you were seen as a big failure. We would support people as far as they could make it and if they felt they couldn’t go any further there would be no pressure on them to continue on.

Everyone had their own reasons for the pilgrimage: [to give] thanks for life, or they once were ill, badly injured, or for soul-searching, religious reasons, etc. We always were of the attitude of whatever you decide to do on the journey, don’t stress over it. You’ve come as far as you can. You should be proud of the journey you’ve completed.

[One woman who contemplated quitting] went with me and some other friends I had made for a bit, but we lost her and thought she was done. One day I was making CDs so I could exchange photos with someone else and she walked through the doors! I wanted her to make it so badly. That showed me how useful friendship is to people. Sometimes you need a reminder of how important friendship is.

TV: So how do plan on filling the volleyball void now?

MM: After I complete my Nursing degree I’d love to go to Africa and help out. I also want to complete my Master’s in International Global Health.

That’s the ticket

Say what you will about “tradition” and “academic excellence”—one of the greatest reasons to attend the University of Toronto is the location. Toronto is the only city in Canada (and one of only fourteen in North America) to feature a team from all of the big four sports: baseball, hockey, basketball, and football. Perhaps that last statement was exaggerated; Toronto technically has three teams from the four major professional sports: the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Bills, plus the Maple Leafs. The St. George campus is located close to all of the major stadiums. University of Toronto sports fans, especially those that hail from a city outside of Toronto, have the opportunity to see a game live and up close. The problem is that major league teams do not offer discounts to students on a minor league budget. But just because tickets are not priced appropriately does not mean that students should give up trying to see a game this year. Here are some tips for students trying to obtain cheap tickets. U of T students should be able to take themselves out to a ballgame without being taken for all of their money.

Toronto Blue Jays

It looks like the Blue Jays are going to miss the playoffs for the fifteenth consecutive season. Yet this does not mean that tickets are discounted at the end of the season. In fact, September visits by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are classified as super premium games, (as opposed to regular premium games), and each ticket costs more than a game against any other opponent. This is understandable, as Red Sox and Yankees fans usually make the trek to the Rogers Centre and fill the seats. But if you’re looking for value in September, you should try the series against the Orioles on September 16th to 18th. These tickets are classified as regular games and are significantly cheaper and easier to obtain than their premium counterparts. Also, students should not underestimate the appeal of seeing two teams that are out of the playoffs. In these cases, the Jays offer more specials, and batting practice is sparsely attended. Plus, the possibility of scoring a ball or an autograph is greater, and there is plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the game. Games against lower ranked teams are always great opportunities to bring a large group of friends and be able to sit together.

If you still want to see the Red Sox and Yankees on the cheap, there are a number of possible strategies. Even during sold-out games, you can get tickets simply by showing up to the stadium. Ticket holders who cannot attend the game will stand outside the Rogers Centre offering their unused tickets to fans in need. Another strategy is to search craigslist. Corporate sponsors, who get free or cheap tickets, use the site to sell their seats way below face value. Plus, someone may have bought tickets to the game and then realized that they cannot make it. Happy hunting, but watch out for the scams.

When the Jays return next April, they’ll offer a promotion called “Toonie Tuesdays” where tickets cost a mere $2. This promotion could be discontinued because of rowdy fans and drunkenness, so if you managed to score cheap tickets, celebrate by quietly rejoicing.

Toronto Raptors

For a team that has not found much post-season success, Raptors seats are surprisingly difficult to come by. Single game tickets can easily run into the three digits for unspectacular views. For this reason, try to take advantage of team-run promotions. Most seats in the Air Canada Centre offer decent views of the action. The worst place to see a game is in the box seats, which are located somewhere in the sky. For Raptors fans on a budget, I offer three possibly unknown bits of wisdom:

  1. For whatever reason, the Raptors tend to attract a lot of fans on the outskirts of Toronto, in places like Maple and Woodbridge. Perhaps you can find someone with an extra ticket from these places and you can offer them access to a bed or parking space downtown.

  2. Basketball, as opposed to other sports, has every team play against every other team each year. As such, the Raptors play relatively few games against the Celtics and Knicks. Teams from the West often have less of a local fan base than teams from the East. Forget the highly overrated Lakers and Suns, and focus on acquiring seats to see the Portland Trailblazers, the L.A. Clippers, or the brand new Oklahoma City Thunder. One of those teams could surprise, and you’ll have paid a lot less than it cost to see the 76ers or Nets.

  3. The Raptors are the only team in the NBA to play (almost) every Sunday, and mainly at 1 p.m. This can work to a cheap fan’s advantage. I imagine that some ticket holders like to stay up late on Saturdays and the early bird catches the worm.

Check out next Thursday’s paper to find out how to score tickets to Toronto hockey, football, and soccer games.

Editorial: Welcome back new and returning students

We were smoking cigarettes outside The Varsity tent at Clubs Day, observing fresh-faced frosh flock to the annual parade, their faces glowing with school spirit (amplified by Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway”) when it hit me: at 21, I’ve become the old guy. Entering my victory lap during what my parents pray is my last leg at the University of Toronto, I no longer feel that warm and fuzzy back-to-school feeling that makes one dream of cable neck sweaters and unlined Hilroy notebooks. While the idea of a Whole New Year of pseudo post-modernist lectures, student council hypocrisy and crushworthy Diablos baristas should fill me with glee, I mostly feel nonplussed. For all those students edging their way onto senior year and beyond, I have one question: if it’s a victory lap, what exactly are we celebrating?

The university experience contains multitudes, and carries no guarantees. As much as I would love to, I can’t promise you, dear reader, that the co-ed of your dreams will ask to borrow your pen in Art History class, or that your kooky roommate won’t have sex on your bed without asking permission first. There’s no assurance that you will graduate from this fabled institution with a 4.0 GPA and several offers to American graduate schools, or even that your ANT 100 professor will know your name by the end of first semester. Truth be told, you probably won’t graduate without a debt of several thousand dollars, and even if you occupy the President’s office you might end up in jail. This university has many deeply rooted systemic problems on top of a boatload of bureaucracy, and even for those who stay behind, it’s hard to feel that the real world is any kinder.

But don’t jump off the top of Robarts just yet, for I have a novel solution—write for The Varsity. Sure, multitudes of inferior publications across campus are offering you the same dazzling opportunity, but what they don’t know is that we matter. In attendance at a Governing Council meeting (mostly for the oatmeal cookies), I ran into President Naylor, who assured me that he makes his way through the paper every Monday and Thursday. “While I found it really hard to get through before, now I make a point to read it,” he boasted. While I’m fairly certain our content is on par with a Grade 9 reading level, I did appreciate the vote of confidence.

Think your $5,000 tuition fee is bullshit? Write an editorial. Hate the fact that your residence makes you attend Hawaiian-themed suite events just to get back in? We want to know. Ever feel prejudice because of your skin colour, sexual orientation, class background, or the way you look? We’re here for you. At The Varsity, we’re bored as hell and we just can’t take it anymore. Complacency might be rampant at U of T, but it sure as hell isn’t here. With the same student politicians running the show for years now, this publication might provide the only opportunity for an honest dialogue on how things really work around here. And if something in this paper makes you feel impassioned, for better or for worse, write me a letter at editor@thevarsity.ca

You’re paying $1.25 of your tuition fees to fund this historic, and, let’s face it, ego-inflated publication, so it might as well be yours. State your views in The Varsity and state them often. And quit smoking while you’re at it.

Yours truly,

Chandler Levack

Editor In Chief

The Varsity Newspaper


UTSU exec calls it quits

Binish Ahmed has packed up her desk and handed over her keys. Elected as vice president of university affairs at the University of Toronto Students’ Union this spring, Ahmed is resigning as of Sept. 8, the fi rst day of school.

Ahmed cited personal and academic reasons. “It was a really hard decision to make, but in the end I had to look after myself,” she said.

UTSU will not be holding elections to replace Ahmed. VP External Dave Scrivener cited UTSU by-laws, which require elections to be held to fi ll vacancies occurring in May, June, July or August but not after September 1.

Ahmed gave notice of her resignation on August 22. The succeeding VP of university affairs will be hired internally, in a procedure similar to the hiring of the VP of campus life, said Scrivener.

UTSU bylaws do not lay out a specific procedure for dealing with vacancies occuring after September 1 and before fall general elections have begun. At press time, UTSU VP internal Adnan Najmi could not immediately clarify what bylaws would be followed

The position entails working with admin and college councils. This year, the University Affairs Commission will be working extensively on the Code of Student Conduct, which has been under UTSU scrutiny since several students were charged for a protest in March. Another project is David Naylor’s planning document Towards 2030, which the university will vote on adopting as a guiding principle during the first round of Governing Council meetings this fall.

UTSU will decide on hiring specifics at their next exec meeting, scheduled for this Tuesday. According to Scrivener, the procedure will be according to precedents set by the last such resignation in 2006, where Emily Shelton was hired to replace Paul Bretscher.

As her biggest accomplishment over the summer, Ahmed named the Student Rights Handbook, which she said UTSU has been trying to complete for the past two years. Scrivener said the handbook is now almost complete, with UTSU officials working to make it more readable.

She also recalls her work organizing Frosh Week, especially the parade. “I have been working on Frosh for the last three years, so it’s something I love doing.”—

Average Joe

With his easy smile, golden tan and silver hair, Joe Biden boasts the congenial appeal of a classic game show host. Instead, the 65-year-old veteran senator from Delaware will try to make history by helping Barack Obama become America’s first black President.

In a campaign where the Democrats are making the need for change a major theme—employing slogans like “McBush” and “More of the Same” to attack Republican candidate John McCain—Obama’s choice for running mate is telling. First, by stressing Biden’s foreign policy experience—he played a key role in passing legislation endorsing the air raid in Kosovo in 1999—Obama aims to neutralize his own lack of experience in the same field. Second, by emphasizing Biden’s working-class roots, Obama is implicitly acknowledging the Republicans’ and right-wing media’s criticism of him as an elitist celebrity, and seeks to counter that perception by painting Biden as an “Average Joe.” When introducing his running mate for the first time, Obama gushed that Biden “is still that scrappy kid from Scranton [Pennsylvania] who beat the odds.”

Lastly, Obama’s choice of a white male Washington insider panders to independents and conservative democrats who find Obama unappealing. This is where the choice of Biden could backfire. It is unlikely that anyone who is uneasy about a Black president would vote for Obama anyway. And while Obama’s fresh, Oprah-approved face is integral to the Democratic Party’s theme of change, doesn’t Biden, who has been a member of Congress since 1972, represent more of the same? The sobering reality is that Obama’s choice of a white male Washington power player as vice president was a no-brainer. Selecting a black running mate would have been political suicide. Selecting a woman would have been too. Ironically, McCain, in what many view as a desperate attempt to pull even odds with Obama in the polls and win over Hillary Clinton supporters, has selected little-known Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience and rapidly increasing celebrity status—her designer specs are all the rage amongst political geeks—should take some of the pressure off of Obama.

Now that Obama has won the Democratic nomination, it’s crucial that he moves towards the centre of American politics, attracting those much-coveted mainstream voters. This means abandoning the idealistic rhetoric that attracted so many during the early days of Obama mania; that image of the charming senator from Illinois single-handedly transforming Washington politics. By appealing to urban intellectuals and blue-collar workers, the Obama-Biden ticket is designed for mass appeal. Biden is a hard-nosed veteran who knows his way around the halls of Congress and the corridors of power. Only time will tell whether that proves to be an asset or a liability to those clamouring for genuine change.

GC doctored minutes, says student union

The University of Toronto Students’ Union has called into question the validity of the Governing Council meeting that approved tuition fee hikes for 2008-2009. UTSU also questions the accuracy and objectivity of minutes from that meeting.

After fee hike protesters shouted down governors at the April 10 meeting, the chair moved the council meetings behind closed doors. UTSU says the move makes the meeting and the motions approved, including the tuition fee schedule, out of order.

UTSU argues that GC Chair Jack Petch didn’t follow steps listed in the Policy on the Disruption of Meetings. UTSU president Sandy Hudson, who was there to protest, says that Petch never informed them of the policy and the penalties for breaching it, and did not ask them to leave.

Petch recalled it differently in a letter to GC members. Citing an obligation to protect the freedom of speech of council members, he said he moved the meeting, instead of attempting to eject protestors, because of safety concerns after police removed demonstrators from Simcoe Hall in late March.

Neither side has yet made reference to a caveat found near the end of the policy document stating, “It is recognized that in extraordinary circumstances it may be necessary for the University administration to take immediate action without the possibility of following the sequence of steps outlined.”

The minutes from the meeting make no mention of the policy and refer instead to the broad discretion of the chair granted by a bylaw that allows the chair to “exclude or cause to be removed from the meetings” any disruptive persons.

Hudson and other student leaders have requested a number of amendments to the meeting minutes. They include the removal of statements that say protestors would be diffi cult to remove, and addition of a clause that makes it clear allstudents were barred from the reconvened meeting.

“I don’t understand why a group of people think they can shut down a meeting and then complain after that they didn’t like the procedure for shutting it down,” Petch said in an interview this summer. Students did disrupt the meeting, Hudson admitted, but only out of “an act of desperation.” She argues the minutes use suggestive language: where students “alleged,” the chair “explained.”

Alex Kenjeev, a graduate student who sat on Governing Council last year, agreed that from the way the minutes read, it seems the chair followed the steps outlined in the procedure. He said it’s hard to remember whether the chair did ask protestors to leave, but that something had to be done.

“It was a real atmosphere of chaos. One of the student members was trying to speak, and nobody could hear what he was saying. […] The chairperson had to make a decision about how to restore order in the room.”

Bureaucracy has blocked UTSU’s attempts to get tapes of the April 10 meeting. After the GC secretariat was told the tapes were destroyed, they found out from Information Services that the tapes were there and open to the public. By the time UTSU made an appointment to listen to them, the rules had mysteriously changed. When The Varsity asked for them at Information Services, no one seemed to know what we were talking about.

As a governor, Rascanu could listen to the tapes, but he can’t make copies. He said the tapes confirmed the chair did not inform student representatives of the policy or its penalties, nor did he ask them to leave.

Hudson’s requested amendments to the minutes were ultimately denied. Minor changes made, said Hudson, were an attempt to avoid litigation. UTSU considered seeking an injunction on tuition fee collection because of the questioned legality of the April 10 meeting, but decided not to pursue legal action.

Council secretary Louis Charpentier said allegations of doctored minutes are completely false. “One would consider that offensive,” he said, adding the minutes are intended solely to provide a record of decisions and a general summary of the meeting. “They are never intended to be a verbatim transcript.”

Pressed on how he thinks this will look to students, Petch responded that he was put in a difficult position by people who didn’t want the meeting to continue. “Let’s look at the step before that: how did we end up in that position?” he asks. “If I’m a student, who do I want to have represent me?”

Grand Old Party makes a grand old mistake

As we discussed last week, the evening of August 28th, 2008 marked a historic moment in American history, as Barack Obama delivered his acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. An overcrowded football stadium in Denver, along with 40 million viewers across the country, watched the junior senator from Illinois outline his plan for rebuilding a fragmented nation that has suffered from severe cynicism and cultural disunity over the past eight years. The very next morning, Republican John McCain announced his running mate at the rally in Ohio. Onlookers were puzzled, and the media didn‘t know what to make of the story.

The choice was an unexpected one. Most political insiders had made their assessments of potential candidates and settled on a few safe choices, such as former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney. Out of sheer political desperation, the campaign selected the rookie Governor from Alaska (and one-time beauty queen) Sarah Palin.

A relative newcomer to the national stage, Sarah Palin was a well-known figure in her home state. Her career began with a brief stint as a sports broadcaster; from there, she claimed victory as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, a small town with roughly 8,500 residents. Local notoriety inspired her to run for governor, and she landed the gubernatorial position in 2006. So far, her political ideology and unusually large household (five kids) has attracted more attention than her executive experience. She touts herself as a staunch social conservative; opposed to abortion in any circumstance, against sex education and a proponent of abstinence-only programs. Furthermore, she believes Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution in science classes, and is reluctant to attribute global warming to human activity. In other words, she’s an ideal poster child for the extreme right-wing.

The first several days of campaigning have been a whirlwind, as scandal after scandal has been revealed. Aside from her out-of-touch social conservatism, Sarah Palin is currently under investigation in Alaska for unethical use of executive power. She’s had ties to the corrupt senator Ted Stevens in the past, and her lack of experience has sent accusations flying. The icing on the cake, however, was the revelation that her 17-year old daughter is five months pregnant.

Sarah Palin’s selection exposes three weaknesses in the McCain campaign. First, McCain has struggled to solidify support from the ultra-conservative base of the party. Though his selection was hardly reasonable, Palin was meant to reassure voters that McCain would be their “pro-life” warrior through thick and thin. Next, his team has done a terrible job of investigating this woman and her personal life. No one is criticizing her choice to have five children, but when you base your career on religious values and your teenage daughter gets pregnant, your ability to help run the country (let alone your own family) must be addressed. The last weakness involves the media, for allowing the right-wing to get away with such blatant hypocrisy. Imagine if one of Barack Obama’s daughters were to get pregnant at 17; would the Republican reaction be just as tepid? The media would have a field day, and he’d most likely be stripped of his nomination. John McCain may boast about putting the country first, but this move reveals it’s always the same old politics.

Sex ed program gets turned on

If your degree just isn’t doing it for you anymore, don’t despair. This fall, U of T introduces the fi rst sexual diversity studies graduate program in Canada.

Students who want a Master’s or Ph.D in SDS have to register in one of the 25 Arts and Science departments associated with the program.

“The time is now for a program like this,” said Scott Rayter, Acting Director of the Mark S. Bonham Center for Sexual Diversity. The SDS centre was initially self funded with donations as its primary source of revenue. It’s now funded by University College and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“The university recognized student demand and innovation in the field by quite a number of faculty and wanted to be leading the way in promoting and advancing the area of Sexual Diversity Studies,” Rayter said.

So far 12 graduate students have signed up, including the renowned Canadian filmmaker John Greyson. They’ll study issues ranging from queer theatre in Canada to contemporary gay identity in China, sexuality and colonialism, and sex education in the school curriculum.

“One of the huge attractions of the program is that it encourages you to range widely across the university,” Greyson said. “Your coursework and the work you do with faculty could include someone in Humanities, someone in English and someone in Drama Studies, as I’m doing, and someone in physics.”

The scholarly support that the program offers is another huge benefit, added Greyson, whose research is usually solitary work. U of T was recently named by MediaCorp as one of Canada’s top 25 diversity employers for 2008.

For Rayter, the creation of the new graduate program in SDS shows that U of T is “putting its money where its mouth is.”