A mental meet-up

Rendezvous with Madness' program aims to use art to educate and raise awareness about mental health issues

A mental meet-up

One in five children under the age of 18 have a diagnosable mental health issue. 70 to 75 percent of mental illnesses appear before the age of 20. Only one in six have access to the treatment they might need.



All of these are reasons that youth mental health is an important topic of discussion, according to child psychologist Dr. Marshall Korenblum. He was speaking at the Youth Mental Health Symposium on the last day of Rendezvous with Madness, a six day festival showcasing films from Canada and abroad with a focus on mental health.

“The goal of the festival is to sort of expose people to mental health and to decrease stigma, eliminate discrimination and prejudice that goes toward a lot of people with mental illness and addiction,” said program manager Jeff Wright in an interview with The Varsity. The festival is presented by Workman Arts, a local organization that provides training and opportunities for artists with mental illnesses.

While the festival explored a variety of angles and perspectives on mental health, it was bookended by art representing the experiences of children and adolescents.

The opening night was a screening of Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12, a startling and engrossing film about a foster care facility. The main character, Grace (Brie Larson), herself a survivor of abuse and her own mental health challenges, sees much of herself in new charge, Jadeyn, and goes to great lengths to reach out to her. The talented ensemble cast brings each characters’ story to life, creating a highly relatable and human portrayal.

Saturday afternoon’s symposium featured a pair of films, both documentaries, of treatment facilities and the experiences of the young people who go through them. Echoes of Short Term 12 were apparent in Allan King’s Warrendale, despite the latter having been made almost 50 years prior. A documentary filmed for the
CBC — which for decades refused to air it ­—  Warrendale is an observational look at the treatment centre in Etobicoke, showing reactions of the children and the attempts of the staff to restrain and console them. In a subsequent discussion, Korenblum  pointed out that it shares many themes with Short Term 12, and the other films show “how much has changed and how little has changed” in the field of mental health in the past 50 years. The second film, Nuria Ibañez’s The Naked Room, continues with the theme of emotional realism by presenting a series of interviews with children in a mental health facility in Mexico. The camera remains trained on each child’s face, even when their parents are the ones speaking, revealing every reaction and creating an remarkable amount of empathy.

The whole festival aimed to instill empathy in its audience members, as emphasized in the panel discussions following each screening designed to create conversations about mental health. “If people aren’t that familiar with mental health issues to come see a film, they might have thoughts or questions they might want to ask, and we sort of give that platform for them to ask and we have people there who can answer better than going home and googling,” said Wright.

Rendezvous with Madness certainly succeeded in making me think more consciously about mental health. Statistically, six of the 30 people on the streetcar ride home with me deal with these kinds of issues on a daily basis. I thought about what Wright said about what he learned while programming the festival: “You see people in the street and it’s a lot more evident how many people are affected by it, and that’s just visibly. And to think that so many people are suffering from mental illness without it being a visible thing, and maybe the stigma or prejudice that goes towards people with mental illness, not being able to speak about it or get help.”

A needle in the stacks

Elizabeth Rynecki discovers her great-grandfather’s lost paintings in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

A needle in the stacks

In Poland, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Moshe Rynecki was an artist who painted the day-to-day activities of the Polish-Jewish community in colourful, impressionistic scenes. When the Nazis invaded the country in 1939, Rynecki’s art reflected the tragic turn that the community suddenly faced, switching to a muted palette featuring little or no colour and depicting Jews struggling in forced labour. Many of his works, like those of many other Jewish artists, were lost in the course of the Holocaust.

Dr. Barry Walfish shows Elizabeth Rynecki the Otto Schneid Archives. PHOTO COURTESY F.S.

Dr. Barry Walfish shows Elizabeth Rynecki the Otto Schneid Archives. PHOTO COURTESY F.S.

Many years later, Moshe’s great-granddaughter Elizabeth Rynecki came to Toronto to meet a man who owns four of her grandfather’s lost paintings. The man’s parents were Polish partisan fighters in Russia who purchased a bundle of Moshe Rynecki’s paintings from a farmer while walking back to Poland after the war.

Moshe painted as many as 800 works, but Rynecki is only aware of 120 that have survived to this day.

Rynecki does not expect to find all of these paintings: “I know the collection will never be whole again, but I feel compelled to search for the lost and missing pieces because as the fragments come together they tell a larger story — a story of a community destroyed by the Holocaust and of the life of my great-grandfather,” she said.

Rynecki gave a public lecture at an event hosted by the Centre for Jewish Studies at U of T. During the question period, Barry
Walfish, Judaica and Theology Specialist at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, stood up to ask whether Rynecki was aware that the library’s archives held photographs of many of the works she described.

Rynecki recalls feeling chills when Walfish made his comment. Following the lecture, they immediately headed over to the library. Reflecting on this experience, she notes “I learned of photographs of paintings, newspaper articles, and handwritten letters by my great-grandfather that I never knew existed… I had never before seen my great-grandfather’s handwriting. The letters in Polish are beautiful in and of themselves. His cursive was gorgeous. I don’t know what the letters say. I’m in the process of getting someone to translate them for me.”

The archive also held a clipping from a German newspaper article about Moshe and his artwork as well as several envelopes addressed to the artist.

These pieces are part of the Otto Schneid Archive, which is held by the University of Toronto. Schneid was an artist and historian who was working on a monograph on twentieth century Jewish art in the early 1930s. He corresponded with Moshe and other Jewish artists. After Nazis confiscated the printing plates for his book, he managed to bring his manuscript — along with various photos of artwork and other relics — from Poland to Israel, and then to the United States before finally bringing it to Toronto. An artist himself, Schneid’s paintings are held by the Royal Ontario Museum and by University of Toronto Art Centre, among other institutions.

Years later, Schneid’s wife donated his collection — which includes over 5,000 items such as manuscripts, correspondences with artists and public figures, photographs of lost artwork from Jewish artists, and many of their autobiographies — to the university.

Rynecki muses: “It’s like she knew that someday, someone would come along, and care about her husband’s work. That his work was not just lost in time, that the things he saved — my great-grandfather’s photos of his paintings, letters he wrote, articles about him — and his own manuscript, would someday be useful to someone… There’s something profound about an actual physical link to the past ­— the things my great-grandfather
touched and created.”

Rynecki adds that her findings at U of T are worth far more than their physical sum: “We are very much related to and impacted by the past… It’s all a series of interconnections that have the power to change and shape our worlds. So I guess what I found are “things,” but that the bigger picture really is that I found more fragments to a larger story that I’m really still trying to assemble and understand.”

Danielle Klein is a work-study student at the Centre for Jewish Studies.









Images courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

The latest in ceramics from the Gardiner Museum

The latest in ceramics from the Gardiner Museum

Whether they are the magical creatures of bedtime stories or the strangely patterned zebras of the savannah, animals have long been a great source of wonder and artistic inspiration. The Gardiner Museum’s newest exhibit, Animal Stories, delves into the curious relationship between man and beast, tracking its evolution through time, as interpreted through European ceramics dating from the sixteenth century to the modern day.

Historical and contemporary works are juxtaposed to showcase the evolution of thought and representation as well as to observe how historical ideas about animals are used in modern works to address contemporary concerns.

Lining the perimeter of the large room, the ceramic artifacts are presented on open tables and in glass vitrines and curios, echoing the historical style of displaying such objects. Completing the illusion of having stepped into a zoology aficionado’s study, the works are displayed against a backdrop of illustrations taken from one of the most important works published in France in the eighteenth century — Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière. “These illustrations are different from what was the norm for animal representations at the time, as here they are set in their natural habitats or in a social context, so that Buffon creates his own stories about where the animal lives, even resulting in some interesting contradictions,” remarked curator Karine Tsoumis.

The first section explores how humans see and interact with the natural world, with particular emphasis on the fondness for hunting, and the effects of environmental degradation on the animals themselves. Pointing out a large boar’s head among a number of other animal-shaped tureens, Tsoumis noted the great attention that is paid to flourish the theatricality of hunting. “When I was looking through our own collections for pieces to display,” exclaimed Tsoumis, “I was actually surprised to see how much hunting was represented throughout!” This fact emphasized the importance that this pastime was once given. The next work depicts a city squirrel in an aggressive stance wielding a blowtorch, making a poignant statement regarding the ways humans have forced animals to adapt to their new concrete surroundings.

The next segment addresses animals as objects of curiosity and wonder, with several artifacts speaking to the burgeoning interest in zoos and menageries of the era. Tsoumis explained that: “From the Renaissance to the late eighteenth century, the established gentility would keep their own collections of living animals and these would be used for artists to study,” providing living models for a few of the works displayed. Among these are representations of Jumbo the elephant, and Clara the rhinoceros, animal celebrities who were toured across Europe by their owners in the late nineteenth century. Placed strategically across from these effigies is a modern work featuring two pandas, demonstrating the continued modern day interest and fascination for exotic creatures — described by Tsoumis as a “continuation of animal portraiture.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the following section addresses the emergence of the domestication of animals — particularly cats and dogs, as well as works by modern day artists with a fascination for a specific kind of animal.

The final two sections are intertwined, showcasing examples of animal-humanism as well as the allure of magical creatures for humans. Tsoumis highlighted the importance of Peter Rabbit, Where the Wild Things Are, Alice in Wonderland, and the Franklin the Turtle series, among others, which contributed to the legacy of fascination for animals, by giving them completely human characteristics. This theme is reflected through many of the other pieces including a trio of rodents dressed as humans and a play on Manet’s famous painting “Olympia,” which substitutes the woman’s head for a dog with a benign smile.

The exhibit ends with contemporary pottery detailing dragons, one of the most ancient examples illustrating the human desire to create something fantastic out of the animals of everyday life. However, if Animal Stories drives home a message, it is this: animals have pervaded almost every aspect of our world, causing humans to shape cultures, histories, and art around them.

Carbon 14: Climate is Culture

ROM exhibit presents a new way of engaging with climate change

Carbon 14: Climate is Culture

The newest exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (rom), Carbon 14: Climate is Culture aims to provide a new platform for the discussion and thoughts on climate change. Curated by David Buckland and Claire Sykes, the exhibit is a result of a partnership between the rom Contemporary Culture collections team and the Cape Farewell Foundation, which was founded by Buckland.

Cape Farewell’s objective is global teamwork — bringing together artists and scientists in order to gain insight into the effects of climate change. The foundation’s goal is unique:  seeking to find artistic expressions for scientific phenomena, and educating in a way that is emotionally engaging.

climateisculture3-LauraWittmannThe exhibit encourages visitors to decide for themselves what its environmental, social, and cultural implications are. This is an all-encompassing look at climate change, from the practical and factual to the theoretical and ethical. Carbon 14 functions as an art installation, which, as Buckland describes, can inform through inspiration and emotional engagement. It is all about “reframing the message” of climate change.

Carbon 14 consists of 13 separate installments and is the result of two years of work, involving the cooperation of professionals ranging from filmmakers to economists. A variety of global perspectives were compiled to create the exhibit, but the voices of Inuit people and communities are especially important in the Canadian perspective on climate change, and in general because they are direct witnesses to the effects of global warming. As Buckland says, this is very much a “First Nations dialogue.”

A variety of media materials and tools are used within the exhibit, ranging from a soapstone and walrus bone sculpture to videos, photographs, mannequins, an iPad presentation, harvested tweets, and more. Carbon 14 intertwines themes of modern technology, religion, economy, global relations, community and tradition.


A unique feature of the gallery is the commentary that goes on beside each piece. As usual in galleries and museums, each installation is paired with a descriptive plaque, but what is different about those of Carbon 14 is that they also feature a blurb about the piece from another artist involved in the project. Even the most basic and neutral of fixtures is used to promote discussion and highlight the importance of different opinions.

As Sykes says, the ultimate measure of people’s reactions to the exhibit is “goosebumps.” While Carbon 14’s overall investigation is of a physical and scientific phenomenon, its results are meant to capture thoughts and feelings, presenting a multifaceted view of climate change and limitless openings for thought and discussion. The exhibit will be at the rom until February 2, 2014, and is an absolute must-see for science and art enthusiasts alike.

Chess pieces and paper cranes

REBECCA OSTROFF explores some samples from U of T’s plethora of clubs

Chess pieces and paper cranes

During the clamor of Clubs Fair, it’s difficult to focus on any one group, as an endless mass of enthusiastic faces throw flyers, free pens, and sign-up sheets into your arms. Navigating the Ulife directory of clubs online is a similar undertaking, presenting an overwhelming variety of groups to explore. The Aquarium Club meets to “discuss the hobby of fish keeping.” The Yo-Yo Club gathers monthly to hone its members’ skills, while the Writers of Controversial Philosophy debate and discuss at the Mississauga campus. “We ParTea” meets to drink and discuss tea, aiming to spread awareness of tea around campus. Although confusing to navigate, U of T’s variety of clubs is an excess of riches that satisfy every niche of our diverse student body — and when they don’t, there are ample ways to start one up to fill the gap.

Everyone has quirky passions and interests, and while those may seem to set people apart from one another, the diversity of the U of T student population allows for the growth of niche communities with similar interests through clubs. In spite of their great variation, U of T’s clubs collectively bring students together and create small, warm collectives within the university.

Hart House Chess Club

ChessThe Hart House Chess Club was established in 1895, beginning as a small but skilled group of mostly male chess players. This year, however, the majority of executive members are women — an especially significant feat considering that, prior to the year 2000, there were no women in any  Hart House chess tournaments. President Sanja Vukosavljevic notes that the club is now decidedly inclusive, although they are often quite boisterous — constantly laughing and trash-talking one another. She adds that: “there are more chess variations than atoms in the earth,” giving players plenty of reasons to criticize and analyze one another throughout the game. This also means that there is always a lot left to learn for beginners and experts alike.



The club meets from 4:00–11:00 pm on Friday nights — a slot reserved for partying for many students. Nonetheless, Vukosavljevic contends without hesitation: “Honestly, I have more fun at the chess club. It’s the best part of my week.”


U of T Naginata Club (UTNC)


Before joining the club, president Tomas Almonte had a negative impression of the practice because of how useless Naginata swords were designed to be in his favourite video games. Before I met Almonte, I had absolutely no idea what a Naginata sword was. Both of these forms of ignorance about Naginata are quite common, Almonte explains. Many of the club’s members had never tried the martial art prior to joining, he among them: “I had my Star Wars phase, but never actually used a sword until I joined Naginata.” He was compelled to continue attending practices by the emphasis on teamwork.


Naginata consists of “choreographed encounters,” making it a discipline that is only possible to practice with others. As a result of the necessity of teamwork, members of the club are very social with one another. The club hosts events outside of practice, like karaoke nights, to confront the pleasant problem of too much chatting among friends that has become disruptive in practices.


Fly with Origami, Learn to Dream (FOLD)

OrigamiThe FOLD office at 21 Sussex is whimsically decorated with an abundance of paper ornaments. Colourful cranes, flowers, and Angry Birds origami projects fill the room, while even more spill out of full storage boxes on the floor. “We’ve been raffling these off regularly, and we still need more space in here,” comments FOLD president Qingda Hu. In addition to these lotteries, the club also donates a lot of their projects to hospitals in the area. Off-campus volunteer projects have always been a facet of FOLD, which has also participated in teaching origami at Sick Kids and Relay For Life.


In addition to the joy that comes with a finished origami product, the act of learning to fold is relaxing and enjoyable, with an emphasis on thinking geometrically and following instructions closely. Teaching others how to fold origami requires a measure of skill, but proves very rewarding for the club’s students.


African Cuisine Club (The Afriks)


When Sandrine Uwimana and Taiwo Idris came to U of T from Rwanda and Nigeria, respectively, they had the idea to publish an African Cuisine cookbook. They started writing down recipes and established an on-campus club dedicated to planning, shopping, and cooking their favourite dishes in 2011. The two take turns teaching different western and eastern styles of cooking, and sessions are often thematically focused on one African country. Sandrine notes that the club’s most treasured dishes are its plantains, soft but crunchy sweet potato cookies, and spicy vegetarian stews. The group now aims to get fresh, healthy dishes into the campus dining halls at affordable prices.

Uwimana and Idris are particular about their idea of “fresh”— refusing to cook with ingredients that haven’t been purchased that same day. The two refuse to discuss the difference between plantains and bananas, insisting that it must be experienced rather than described.


Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX)

StarsYou don’t need to know a lot about astronomy and space exploration to join ASX, nor should you expect to spend meetings lying in the grass and staring at the sky. Although, says new member Zack Zajac with a smile, “I do that anyways, multiple times a day.” Ammar Javed, the president of ASX, envisions making the potentially intimidating subject of astronomy accessible to students of all backgrounds, noting that astronoomy is essentially, “…the study of everything.”


Starry-eyed students learn about life beyond Earth, the environment on Mars, and contact with outer space. These quite romantic practices inspire some high-quality pick-up lines, as Javed adds that there is nothing that sweeps someone off their feet like learning astronomy under the stars.


U of T Beekeeping Education Enthusiast Society (BEES)

BeeCute is not the adjective most students would associate with bees, but Theresa Reichlin, secretary of BEES, gushes: “I love bees! They’re just so cute.” The term “enthusiast” is used quite literally in the title of U of T’s beekeeping club, which is made up of students who are truly passionate about bees. Pointing out that bees, unlike wasps, are not dangerous, Reichlin hands me a full-on protective suit and instructed me to climb onto the roof of Trinity College to observe the group’s beloved bees. Ironically, many of the club’s executive members have suffered childhood traumas involving bee stings. Being a part of the club has not only helped members to get over their fears, but has made them appreciate the measures that bees take to protect their hives.


Reichlin described the importance of bees to our planet, a timely warning given the current threats to the bee species. Apart from being an educational experience, being a beekeeper at U of T can also be both sweet and therapeutic. Reichlin notes: “The pure honey we extract is so healthy… I even use it to heal my skin burns”.


U of T Culinary Arts Club


Shari Li, co-president of the Culinary Arts Club, says that in her club, “We make everything from scratch.” Members of the Culinary Arts Club have varying levels of cooking skill. Both students who don’t know how to cook and those with a passion for culinary arts are welcome to attend events, where different culinary skills are taught. Both a social and educational experience, these often include multiple course meals, testing out recipes, and enjoying the experience and the food together. The club focuses both on the art of food presentation and on various advanced culinary methods. A particularly special event, as Li describes, was the club’s venture to make, “rum baba, a French pastry with real rum.”

Alice, you’ve gone far

What Alice Munro's recent Nobel Prize win means for Canadian writers

Alice, you’ve gone far

Last Thursday, celebrated Canadian author Alice Munro was declared winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. She is the first-ever female Canadian to win the award, and only the 13th woman to do so since the prize’s founding in 1901. Upon hearing the news, she said she was “delighted” and “terribly surprised.” At least, that was her reaction when the Swedish Academy finally got hold of her.

As the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel prize, Munro opens the door for others. DEREK SHAPTON/MEDIA PHOTO

As the first Canadian woman to win the Nobel prize, Munro opens the door for others. DEREK SHAPTON/MEDIA PHOTO

Munro is hailed as the master of the contemporary short story, and has indeed almost exclusively stuck to the genre; all of her collections — apart from Lives of Girls and Women — are part of this genre. From the Governor General’s Award in 1968 to the Man Booker Prize in 2009, the list of accolades to Munro’s name continues to grow. In the past half-century, Munro has been a perennial presence on both the Canadian and international literary scenes.

Most of her stories are set in the small towns of Huron County, Ontario, where she was born. While her writing has a local focus, Munro’s complex characters, ambiguous plot, and often disconcerting depictions of human tensions and relationships transcend regional associations. She has captivated an international audience with her unapologetically revealing portrayal of everyday life.

Nicknamed the “Canadian Chekhov,” Munro scrutinizes the small-town life of seemingly ordinary characters, gradually peeling back layers of outward domestic bliss. She gives readers a glimpse into a world that is intensely private.

Though Munro has written extensively about domestic life, she was once told that her work was not serious enough to merit consideration. When first establishing herself as a writer, she faced much condescension, and was dismissed as a housewife whose material was domestic and boring. She was encroaching upon male-dominated territory — criticized by an overwhelmingly male audience — and wrote stories that showed her deep frustration with society’s restrictive gender norms. In her writing, the tension between male and female characters continues to be central to much of her portrayal of familial strife.

Now that a Canadian has reached the pinnacle of literary achievement, some questions are raised as to the overall quality of Canadian literature and how other Canadians may fare in the future. Revered for novels like Surfacing and The Year of the Flood, Victoria College alumna and long-time friend of Munro, Margaret Atwood touches on similar issues of gender dynamics and the volatile relationships people have with nature in her work. Ann-Marie MacDonald, author of the Governor General’s Award-winning, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) or Yann Martel — best known for his novel-gone-blockbuster Life of Pi, and his frostily received allegory, Beatrice and Virgil — are also possible contenders. It would appear to be a bright new day for Canadian writers, but, I suppose only time will tell. For now, congratulations Alice.


Sonia Liang is a second-year student studying English and political science.

In good faith

Exploring interfaith dialogue on campus and the importance of forgiveness

In good faith

Although U of T is an academic institution, spirituality plays an important role in the lives of many of its students. Accordingly, attempting to accommodate the spiritual and religious needs of students is an important value at the university. U of T hosts a number of faith communities including Aboriginal spiritual groups, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, and more. With such a variety of backgrounds coming to the institution, meeting the needs of every spiritual background becomes a challenge.

This concern is relatively novel; the university has a strong history of Christian presence on campus, exemplified by its historically Christian colleges. In the late 90s, a group of students, with the support of the Students’ Administrative Council — the precursor to the University of Toronto Students’ Union — approached Simcoe Hall, contending that Christian students were privileged on campus, while students of other faiths were not given similar access to freedom of religion.

Multi-Faith Centre director Richard Chambers

Multi-Faith Centre director Richard Chambers. AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

The university was hesitant to respond to these criticisms, due to the trend of increasing secularization in society and at the school. Following ten years of contemplation and discussion, the Multi-Faith Centre (MFC) was established as the solution to this issue. The building of the centre was contested by the Secular Alliance as compromising the secular nature of the university.

Richard Chambers, director of the MFC, points out that the philosophy of the centre accounted for Canada’s emphasis on the tenet of multiculturalism: “Canadian society is a secular society, in the sense that religion is not given any privilege in society… In English-speaking Canada though, there is an understanding about the freedom of religious expression in civil society… The university realized [that] it should actually be educating students to be able to go out and navigate that religious diversity in society, and in fact, there’s a great ready-made classroom in the experience of U of T.”


Multi-Faith Space
Muffin Madness is a popular event hosted at the Multi-Faith Centre. AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

Muffin Madness is a popular event hosted at the Multi-Faith Centre. AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

The MFC was opened in 2006 on this basis, and has since served as a hub for interfaith dialogue and faith-based activities on campus, coupled with new multi-faith space in other campus buildings. Multi-faith space refers to flexible, bookable spaces designed to both accommodate various faiths and to encourage dialogue between students of different backgrounds.

Sonya Krause, former co-chair of Faiths Act — a student group dedicated to preventing deaths from malaria through interfaith action — describes how her group used multi-faith space: “Faiths Act used the MFC for meeting and event space and… the administration for help in planning events and dealing with the larger U of T administration. We also attended Muffin Madness at the MFC to recruit and to network with other faith-based clubs to collaborate on events.”

Fareedah Abdulqadir of the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) concurs that her favourite weekly activity is the popular “Muffin Madness,” a casual weekly interfaith drop-in, but adds that her group also uses the space for prayer, meetings, and social events.

While groups use multi-faith space for their own operations, interfaith dialogue, such as “Muffin Madness,” also takes place there. Along with social activities, interfaith activities are often related to social justice.

“Interfaith dialogue at the University of Toronto doesn’t all look like one might imagine in terms of a formal dialogue, with three people sitting around a table talking about what prayer looks like,” Chambers describes. “A lot of our programming is around social justice and community service work, because we find that there is a cohort of students interested in … theological questions, but more students are interested in making a difference for good in the world, and they’re motivated … by their beliefs.”


In multi-faith space, interfaith dialogue in the form of a social justice project is often paired with a discussion of faith-based motivations for participating. “Muslim students will reference the Qur’an; Jewish students may reference the Torah; Christian students may reference the Bible; secular students may talk about their own values … but we find that interfaith dialogue at the university often revolves around really hands-on projects about making a difference in the world. At the end of the day, it’s about mutual respect and understanding,”  says Chambers.


Campus Chaplains

Campus chaplains are tasked with fostering interfaith dialogue on campus as well as serving the spiritual needs of students. They meet monthly to discuss spiritual issues and events on campus.

Ecumenical chaplain Reverend Ralph Wushke comments, “As a chaplain, my role is in one sense religious and spiritual care and supporting spiritual lives of students, and at the same time I see it as building inter-religious harmony and respect… I believe firmly that when people of different faiths come together and share experiences that are based on their faith, each partner comes into a deeper understanding of their own faith.”


In contrast to some students’ concerns that participating in interfaith dialogue is a threat to their own faith commitments, the campus chaplains contend that students often find these dialogues enriching and that participating in them serves to reinforce their own beliefs.

Jewish chaplain Rabbi Aaron Katchen sees equipping students for interfaith dialogue as a critical point in the process: “By conversation, we better understand each other. We also better understand ourselves … but it also has to come from a place of knowledge. I try and work with the students … to help them better understand what does their tradition and history have to say, so first of all when they show up at the table, they have something to say. That’s not just people speaking at them … it’s helping build up a relationship of meaning.”


“A good, sincere conversation”
A student enjoying the Multi-Faith Centre. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY

A student enjoying the Multi-Faith Centre. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY

Many students who have participated in interfaith dialogue on campus contend that the practice builds strong bonds among people of different faiths and strengthens their own self-understanding.

Gianni Castiglione, president of the U of T Secular Alliance (UTSA), recalls: “The UTSA has participated in multiple productive interfaith dialogues, yet the one that sticks out in my own mind was a debate/seminar we helped host on human nature. There were three speakers — one Catholic, a Sikh, and a clinical psychologist who was the UTSA’s representative… There were several occasions in which the views shared both content and outlook… During these moments, there was a palpable realization in the audience and among the speakers that these geographically and culturally separate worldviews had arrived at similar conclusions, carrying with it very interesting and deep implications.”

Jacob Liao of the Light House Christian Community worked on the Common Ground Project, a Canadian civic engagement initiative of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) with support from Citizen and Immigration Canada: “…because we have worked together for the past year, there was just an overflow of heartfelt sharing and deep respect for one another’s beliefs and traditions. The best dialogue is not that of a panel of distinguished guest speakers… but the genuine expression of the self through one’s life and one’s giving.”

Some other examples of programming include group gardening at the Ecology and Spirituality Garden at New College, participating in the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean Up, the Tzedakah-Sadaqah Project of bringing Jewish and Muslim students together to work at a soup kitchen, and Religious Diversity Dialogue Certificate Training.


Qu(e)erying Religion, a program for queer students of faith, has included presentations by interfaith queer couples, spiritual leaders of different religions discussing and reclaiming relevant scripture with queer students, and social outings such as Hart House Theatre productions.

Abdulqadir describes: “Interfaith dialogue to me is any attempt to engage sincerely with a person or group of another faith with the explicit understanding that the purpose of the interaction is to engage our different sacred traditions. This doesn’t have to be in a formal program or with recognized institutions. It could just be a good, sincere conversation with a fellow student.”


The Role of Forgiveness

This year, Hart House — in combination with the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARDCO), Hillel of Toronto, Ask Big Questions, and the Multi-Faith Centre — is presenting a series entitled Wounds into Wisdom — The Practice of Forgiveness: In Pursuit of Reconciliation and Justice.

Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, anti-racism and cultural diversity officer, notes that the program is not entirely focused on interfaith dialogue, but also on individual and structural forgiveness: “There is a broad diversity of faith and ethical clubs on campus and interfaith dialogue can provide a space for the clubs to participate in open dialogue and engage with their multiple identities, across differences on complex issues and themes that are, at times, conflicting. The Wounds into Wisdom program is not specifically designed as an interfaith dialogue, however, we anticipate that it will appeal to faith and ethical communities, together with the broadly diverse constituencies that make up the
U of T community.”


Forgiveness nonetheless plays an important role in interfaith dialogue, such as when sensitive political issues arise in conversation. In Canada, the example of residential schools is pertinent; although sending Aboriginal children to residential schools was government policy, the schools themselves were Christian. These schools are now associated with a legacy of abuse and trauma. Addressing these deep divides and bringing victims and perpetrators, as well as their later generations,  together is a difficult challenge in interfaith dialogue.

The Forgiveness series brings historical injustices such as this, as well as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Canadians to the forefront. Carnegie-Douglas describes: “In planning this year’s program, we interpreted forgiveness to include the related concepts of restorative justice, apology, redress, and reparation to incorporate stories that range from the interpersonal to historical injustices.” The F-Word photography project is particularly engaging in addressing these tensions, as it contains anecdotal examples of interfaith dialogue and forgiveness in extreme circumstances.

Carnegie-Douglas acknowledges the difficulty of engaging in these dialogues: “Conversations on race, faith, and cultural diversity (areas of focus for the ARCDO) are often met with silence and resistance. Enabling spaces for open dialogue helps to break down the silence, promote understanding, and build community.”

Chambers brings up the example of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a point of contention between Jewish and Muslim students. He uses the strategy of acknowledging the obvious differences in the room while trying to direct the focus onto collective activity, such as charitable projects. The Multi-Faith Centre offers conflict resolution for when such dialogue becomes hostile, but Chambers notes that he has only had to intervene a handful of times. Admitting the different perspectives of students of different faiths serves to create an atmosphere of respect in interfaith dialogue that allows for a productive conversation to ensue. Students of different backgrounds need to be able to bring their unique viewpoints into the dialogue without fear of backlash.


Rev. Wushke notes that forgiveness can be a source of common ground for students of different faiths, since it is incorporated into the doctrine of many spiritual groups.

Rabbi Katchen, who is involved with the Forgiveness project through Hillel, comments: “…Forgiveness is really about a human experience… Each of us come to it in very different ways… One of the goals of the Forgiveness project is not about saying that forgiveness is always the answer, that forgiveness is always the stated goal, or that we all forgive in the same way… but rather, it’s something we all struggle through as part of interacting as
humans — and that’s all interfaith dialogue is. It’s about humans coming together, and we’re including our religious self in that conversation, as opposed to leaving it at the door.”

U of T has a number of faith-based clubs and student organizations. We talked to students involved with some of them about why interfaith dialogue matters.

Hart House celebrates new installation and updated art collection

New exhibit includes installation by Céline Condorelli, works chosen to reflect the merging of old with new

Hart House celebrates new installation and updated art collection

Last Thursday, Hart House held an event  in the Music Room celebrating the latest additions to the Hart House Art Collection. This year’s collection includes a greater variety of art than those of previous years; the integration of more Aboriginal art was something the curatorial team had been striving towards. The night was also dedicated to celebrating the launch of artist and architect Céline Condorelli’s commissioned installation, “The Company We Keep.”

I arrived to see a room of people enjoying drinks and conversation, awaiting an introduction to the night. With a backdrop of glowing red light, Hart House warden Bruce Kidd made opening comments about the history of the building. Curator-in-Residence Wanda Nanibush spoke about the collective effort to incorporate a wider spectrum of art to accurately realize Canadian identities within Hart House. She explained that each space is uniquely curated with thoughts and themes, marrying artists with activists.

As everyone split to explore the works, the rich juxtaposition of old and new was hard to ignore. Seeing contemporary art hanging within Hart  House’s historic architecture offered a visual narrative of Canada’s cultural history. The pieces in the collection demonstrate how that history can be expressed in various forms, then understood collectively.

Céline Condorelli’s new installation at Hart House, "The Company We Keep."

Céline Condorelli’s new installation at Hart House, “The Company We Keep.”

“The Company We Keep” is composed of 20 light bulbs scattered throughout the building, all holding fragments of a phrase exploring the support structure of friendships — specifically female friendships. Condorelli says that the installation “has to do with practicalities, things as simple as having a friend to lean on, all the things we normally don’t think about that help your everyday life.” The project refers to the historical absence of women from Hart House. When thinking of the shadows that the words create, we’re also thinking about women “in the shadows” of Hart House. Condorelli continued to explain her interest in creating something that could be integrated into the daily life of Hart House, taking elements of the architecture and intervening without imposing.

I walked back into the Music Room, and noticed the lights had been dimmed to near extinction. Toronto-based music collective LAL’s live performance caressed the room. Rosina Kazi sang barefoot and beautifully, Nicholas Murray was huddled over his turntable.

BarnickeGallery98-Julia Malowany

Goosebumps covered more of my skin than all my layers of clothes, and I was brought back to the theme of new merging old. As Kazi sang about topics of social justice and politics — mentioning “Idle No More” — I considered how the contemporary is motivated by the historical. As the Art Committee has expanded its focus to include various types of art and various Canadian identities, LAL closed the night addressing our own history, exemplifying how art can help influence and improve today.