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Governing Council approves Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

Opponents of the policy stage sit-in outside Council Chambers

Governing Council approves Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

Governing Council has voted to approve the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations.

Executives from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students (APUS), and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) came to the June 23 Governing Council meeting, imploring governors to vote down the policy.

Conversely, student leaders representing the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the Engineering Society, the University College Literary & Athletic Society, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, and the New College Student Council also attended to show their support for the policy.

After the vote, the detractors of the policy held a sit-in outside the Governing Council chambers; loud chanting could be heard from within the chamber as Governing Council proceeded to the next items on the agenda.

The new policy would create the University Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS) made up of one student from a representative student society, three students from other student societies, and one chair with experience in conflict resolution to hear grievances against student societies. Additionally, the policy provides definitions to what it means for student societies to act in a matter that is “open, accessible, and democratic.”

Under current policies, the provost has the unilateral authority to withhold fees from a student society acting undemocratically. With the new policy, the CRCSS can discuss resolutions before recommending the withholding of fees.

This policy was the results of negotiations between the university and students’ societies that occurred during the Student Societies Summit from 2013 to 2014.

Opponents of the policy argued that the policy violates student union autonomy and students already have the opportunity to challenge their unions through courts.

“The introduction with the appeals board provides the provost with a false sense of legitimacy,” argued UTGSU academics and funding commissioner Brieanne Berry-Crossfield.

According to the policy, it “does not provide any additional power to the Provost.” Supporters of the policy have also ridiculed the idea of students pursing litigation against student unions over grievances and praised the policy for encouraging student societies to act transparently.

“Student societies willing to conduct themselves in an open, accessible, and democratic manner have nothing to fear,” said UTSU vice-president internal & services Mathias Memmel.

Disclosure: The Varsity is a levy-collecting student society and would be affected by the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations

This story is developing, more to follow.

A commitment to reconciliation

Advocating for an Indigenous content requirement at U of T

A commitment to reconciliation

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he curriculum of British Columbia’s grade 11 social studies classes involves learning about Canada’s past relations with Indigenous peoples. A large segment of this topic is dedicated to the discussion of residential schools and their impacts on Indigenous people in Canada.

I grew up in BC and I very much recall this section of the course: my teacher told my class that residential schools had all closed by the seventies. Knowing this to be false — as the last school closed in 1997 — I corrected him. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, he qualified his statement by saying, “All of the bad ones closed well before then.”

This statement implies there was such thing as a ‘good’ residential school, which is clearly not the case. All residential schools removed children from their families, communities, culture, and languages. Indigenous people who did not attend residential schools are experiencing the lasting intergenerational impacts of this system, including poverty, alcoholism, family breakdown, and systemic violence.

This statement also illustrates the lack of knowledge that many high school teachers have about Indigenous issues; these misrepresentations of the truth only serve to perpetuate stereotypes about Indigenous peoples.

[pullquote-features]A mere 13 per cent of elementary schools and 38 per cent of secondary schools consult with Indigenous communities — Indigenous peoples have little influence on the information being taught about their cultures. [/pullquote-features]

According to the 2016 People for Education Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, only 31 per cent of elementary schools and 53 per cent of secondary schools provide professional development opportunities for staff in the area of Indigenous cultural issues — just under half of secondary school teachers are not provided with up to date information to adequately instruct their students on these topics.

Additionally, only 29 per cent of elementary schools and 49 per cent of secondary schools bring in Indigenous guest speakers. A mere 13 per cent of elementary schools and 38 per cent of secondary schools consult with Indigenous communities — Indigenous peoples have little influence on the information taught about their cultures.

Given the lack of meaningful Indigenous education at the high school level, education on Indigenous issues should be incorporated into every student’s university education. Several Canadian universities have already implemented an Indigenous content requirement in order to make up for these gaps and to introduce international students to the problems faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is now time for the University of Toronto to do the same.

In January 2016, the university announced it would convene a committee to review the recommendations made by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that they would implement any recommendations found relevant to the university. Through this commitment, U of T demonstrates an interest in reconciling with Indigenous peoples. In following through with this interest, the university should feel an obligation to ensure that all of its students understand the realities of colonization, residential schools, and the impacts that have followed for Indigenous peoples.

Although not expressly laid out as a recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, implementing a mandatory Indigenous content requirement would ensure that all U of T undergraduates have such an understanding upon completion of their degree. Then, students would be able to bring this understanding forward to enlighten other members of the population on these issues.

Some of those opposed to such a requirement suggest that this information should be taught in high school. The reality is that the majority of high school teachers do not have the knowledge to accurately teach about Indigenous issues, if they teach about Indigenous issues at all.

Many people in opposition to a mandatory Indigenous content requirement have a problem with any mandatory courses at all, arguing that university is a paid educational experience and students should be able to take what interests them. Rather than requiring specific courses like many other institutions though, U of T breadth requirements ensure that students are well rounded while still able to maintain their freedom of choice with respect to course selection.

U of T can simply implement this requirement in a similar way to the University of Winnipeg, which incorporated a multitude of Indigenous studies courses from which students can choose. Indigenous content could be fused with program objectives, which would allow students to learn how these issues impact all fields and ensure all students graduate with knowledge of such issues. Indigenous students could be included in designing and facilitating courses, ensuring accuracy and giving them influence on what is taught.

[pullquote-features]By implementing an Indigenous content requirement, U of T has the potential to effectively address the marginalization faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada.[/pullquote-features]

At U of T, this requirement could easily be incorporated into the current breadth requirement system, by designating any courses providing sufficient information on Indigenous issues as a breadth category and including completion of a credit in this category as a graduation requirement. The university can also avoid increasing the number of breadth courses students must take by granting credit for the Indigenous requirement in addition to any breadth categories the course currently fulfills.

By implementing an Indigenous content requirement, U of T has the potential to effectively address the marginalization faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. Prioritizing Indigenous content will empower students to understand their position in Indigenous matters and acknowledge any related privileges they may hold. It will also give Indigenous students the opportunity to see their culture embraced by the university, creating a more inclusive, engaging environment. This is an important step that the university should take, if it truly wants to commit to reconciliation.

Madeleine Freedman is a third-year Innis College student studying Canadian Studies.

Rest, relax, and read

From Greek myths to Moby Dick, here are our downtime picks

Rest, relax, and read

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ummer is a time for taking it easy, spending time with the people you love, and recovering from the trauma of exam season. It’s also a time for catching up on the things you love. For all of the bibliophiles out there, here are our required reading picks for this summer.

Fifteen Dogs

One book that I recently read and loved was André Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, which was recommended to me by my chiropractor. The plot starts with two Gods, Apollo and Hermes, who make a wager on whether or not animals, if given human intelligence, die happily. They decide to play out their bet by granting human consciousness to fifteen dogs in Toronto. The story follows the lives of these dogs, examining their emotions, decisions, and thoughts as they navigate their new reality. The book is described as an apologue – an allegorical story meant to convey a moral or lesson. Released last year, it won both the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The story was fairly short in length, but very engrossing.

—Linh Nguyen

Fates and Furies

Good summertime reads are often fluid, intense, and expertly crafted. If there is one book that embodies all of these qualities, it is Lauren Groff’s 2015 release and National Book Award finalist, Fates and Furies.

Lotto and Mathilde are young, daring, and complicated characters who fall deeply in love – fast. Fates and Furies is the story of Lotto’s rise and fall as an aspiring actor and playwright, with Mathilde standing fastidiously by his side at all times, doting on the genius of her husband. The first half of the book, told from Lotto’s point of view and entitled “Fates,” is intense, sensual, and moves at a rapid pace. Years pass, and Lotto and Mathilde weather their storm of a marriage.

The true power of the novel, however, lies in the second half, told from Mathilde’s perspective and entitled “Furies.” Suddenly, what appeared to be a rather wholesome marriage fraught with few cracks is split wide open, complicated by secrets and dramatic pasts. We are forced to question what is real and what is not, the nature of the personas we craft for ourselves, and whether or not an embodiment of such a personality is true.

Groff’s writing is elegant and intense; every scene she crafts is heavily laden with intent, and while at times she pushes the reader too forcefully towards a certain conclusion — especially when Groff writes with Mathilde as narrator — the novel is overall a seamless piece of art and well worth a read this summer.

—Hannah Lank

The Travises Series

It’s undeniable that romance as a genre leans heavily on the prospect of marriage at the end of the story. This doesn’t mean that romance novels can’t be page turners, but it does mean that a reader has a basic expectation of a happy ending. It’s precisely because of this that romance is a perfect addition to anyone’s summer reading list, so here’s a recommendation that I myself have returned to again and again.

Lisa Kleypas is a prolific romance writer who has written several book series, but my personal favourite will always be the one with the simple name: The Travises. Comprised of four books — Sugar Daddy, Blue-Eyed Devil, Smooth Talking Stranger, and Brown-Eyed Girl — the novels follow the four siblings of a powerful Texan family in search of love.

Against the backdrop of larger-than-life Houston, Kleypas makes subtle efforts to explore complex issues, such as race and class, through charming characters that she deftly steers towards the finish line. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself letting out more than one contented sigh, or flipping back to the beginning immediately after finishing a book. In the end, the journey is the destination, or something like that.

—Reut Cohen

Bonjour Tristesse

Lovers of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and other rich people shenanigans are sure to appreciate this book. François Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse revolves around a character named Cécile, who attempts to thwart the newly announced wedding of her womanizing father. It might just be the shallowest book of the twentieth century, with the most unlikeable character I have ever encountered in my literary career, but there is something in its ambience that attracts me to it.

Toward the end of the novel, I found myself even relating to Cécile. She is a teenager who is full of solipsistic nonsense and is obsessed with her relationships with the people around her. She is always striving for an ideal love that is only available to those who exist in the universe of romantic comedies, which is why she finds herself doomed to fail. Cécile is the dissolute anti-hero that we can all relate to, even though the novel was written in 1954.

You’ll feel three things at once upon finishing this book: shame, because you identify with the shallowest character of the twentieth century; guilt, because you secretly want to watch all these rich characters meet their end; and unaccomplished, because François Sagan was only eighteen when she published this classic.

—Alif Shahed

Moby Dick

“Call me Ishmael” — the first words in Herman Melville’s 1851 adventure-epic Moby Dick are regarded by many as one of the most memorable opening lines in classic literature.

Told from the perspective of a young sailor known as Ishmael, this American Renaissance novel centres on the exploits of the whaling ship Pequod and its captain’s relentless quest to seek and destroy Moby Dick, the great white whale. Hot at its heels, captain Ahab and his crew are led on a daring chase through the great oceans of the world. But, all that glitters isn’t gold, and soon enough, Starbuck, the good-natured chief mate begins to question Ahab’s state of mind. Is the captain’s extreme infatuation with the whale the characteristic of an experienced killer, or rather the sign of a tormented soul, pushed to the brink of self-destruction?

The story of Moby Dick is culturally significant because it epitomizes what was largely missing from the industrial societies of the nineteenth century: meaning in life and respect for nature. Staying true to the writing style of the times, Melville develops a rich, comprehensive account of the whaling industry that brilliantly complements the extraordinary adventures of the Pequod. Truly, Melville’s genius lies in his ability of giving the story an intimate feel despite its grand scale. Emerging from a tumultuous period in history, Moby Dick triumphs as one of the great novels of its time.

—Hugo Vieira

Artist, subject, narcissist?

U of T study examines public’s perception of selfies

Artist, subject, narcissist?

We’ve all seen a selfie being taken in the wild: carefully angling their heads, selfie takers adjust their hair, smiling to show just the right amount of teeth to capture with their awkwardly-stretched, phone-brandishing hand.

A recent study at the University of Toronto examined the social effects of taking selfies. “Finding subjects for the non-selfie taking population was quite difficult,” confessed Dr. Daniel Re, postdoctoral fellow in a social cognition lab of the psychology department at U of T. The study’s focus was about what goes on inside the heads of the selfie ‘artists’ and their target ‘audience.’

According to the study, the amount of effort needed to generate the perfect selfie is not as appreciated as subjects might think; it might actually make the recipients think negatively about the subject of the selfie.

This effect links to a concept known as ‘meta-perception,’ which refers to an individual’s knowledge of how others perceive them. “People’s meta-perception is usually quite accurate, with people’s view of themselves being similar enough to what others think of them,” Dr. Re explained. “Exceptions are present, for example, in people suffering from depression, who commonly view themselves more unfavourably in comparison to how others view them.” Quite the opposite effect is seen in people with narcissistic traits.

Meta-perception accuracy or ‘meta-accuracy’ was found to be reduced in individuals who frequently take selfies. The nature of the selfie forces the subject to see a static image of themselves literally in their own established ‘best light,’ leading them to perceive themselves as more attractive. According to Dr. Re, this engages in a “self-favouring bias.”

The recipients, however, are inclined to view the selfie taker as unknowingly exposing negative aspects of their personality such as vanity, narcissism, and a lack of likability, which creates unfavourable impressions about the subject.

The experimenters instructed two subject groups, selfie takers and non-selfie takers, to take a selfie of themselves similar in style to what they might post on social media. The subjects were then asked to pose for a photo taken by the experimenter in a manner they would adopt in front of a friend.

After they completed a test that measures their level of narcissism, the two groups were then asked to rate their photos based on attractiveness and likability. A group of external judges were also asked to rate the photos, which were distributed so that one judge would not see both photos of the same person.  

It was revealed that selfie takers rated their attractiveness and likability higher than the judges, but this did not extend to the non-selfie takers whose ratings coincided with the judges. Both selfie takers and non-selfie takers did not rate themselves as significantly narcissistic after looking at their own photos. The judges, however, rated the individuals in the presented selfies as more narcissistic, less attractive, and less likable.

Ironically, Dr. Re explained that selfie takers still perceive other selfie takers as vain and narcissistic when looking at their photos.

Although narcissists are more likely to be engaged in excessive selfie taking, moderate selfie taking does not reflect a narcissistic personality. “When we subjected selfie takers and non-selfie takers to a commonly used forty-question Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI) test, there was no apparent difference between the two populations,” said Dr. Re.

So, before you pose for that next selfie — and take the time to perfect the lighting, the filters, and your facial expressions — you should think twice about whether or not you want your narcissism to be captured as well.