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Extraordinary Student of the Month: Ksenia Seliverstova

Seliverstova sought to provide fellow students with a helping hand

Extraordinary Student of the Month: Ksenia Seliverstova

Extraordinary Student of the Month is a monthly series in The Varsity’s Arts & Culture section that highlights the exceptional roles University of Toronto students play in making their community better.

Ksenia Seliverstova is a third-year Woodsworth College student majoring in Human Biology: Health and Disease and minoring in Russian Literature and Immunology, who prides herself on community service. “I’m not an exceptional student, but I’m a good student who tries to help out,” she said.

Silverstova began volunteering in high school at her local church by running food drives and helping out in homeless shelters. When she arrived at UTSG, she joined Woodsworth’s Community Outreach in hopes of continuing her work. Seliverstova ended up chairing the Community Outreach and received specialized training on how to approach someone who is homeless: sit with them, engage in conversation, or offer spare change.

In the summer between her first and second year, Seliverstova’s passion for helping others grew and her friends began to become involved as well. Alongside Seliverstova, Ahash Jeevakanthan, Amy Ly, Janaat Uthayakumaran, and Conrad Chow created Helping Hands of UofT, an organization that raises funds and awareness for various disabilities.

The group was created with the intention of giving funds raised to multiple causes. “We can do a bunch of things, like marathons or helping out hospitals or having more accessible needs for buildings,” said Seliverstova.

Last year, Seliverstova and the rest of Helping Hands hosted a bake sale to raise money and awareness for Reach for the Rainbow, a not-for-profit organization devoted to helping children with disabilities.

That same semester, Helping Hands collected donations for the Canadian Cancer Society. Seliverstova also pledged to cut off 14 inches of her hair for donation. “A lot of people donated because they wanted to see me with short hair, but I didn’t want people to associate [it] with that, so I kept telling them it’s for a good cause,” she told The Varsity.

As a result of all their efforts, Helping Hands quickly surpassed their goal of $500, donating around $1,300 to the Canadian Cancer Society. When asked why she decided to chop off her hair, Seliverstova said: “What is it to me if I can help one girl?… Take my hair, make a wig, be happy. I’m just happy with the amount of money we raised for cancer awareness.”

Seliverstova advises fellow students to: “do the little things to make other people’s days better,” like holding open a door for someone. “It’ll make you feel better about yourself… Once you build up enough confidence, you can do a lot more, you can volunteer and you’ll feel even better.”

If you know an extraordinary student on campus and wish to nominate them, email [email protected]; provide their name, email, and why they deserve to be featured.

Margin of Eras brings forth unseen talent

The event instills hope for a future of meritocracy within the art scene

Margin of Eras brings forth unseen talent

Between 2013–2015, only 11 per cent of artists featured in solo exhibitions in major art galleries across Canada were people of colour (POC), which reflects how the art world places POC at a systematic disadvantage. One possible solution to this problem is events like Margin of Eras, a multidisciplinary art exhibit founded by CUE. It seeks to remedy the epidemic of exclusivity experienced by many in Toronto’s art scene.

Margin of Eras opening night took place at Super Wonder Gallery on October 21. The space acted as a canvas for the artists’ eclectic and soulful displays. Photographer Jah Grey’s label read: “I’m working to redefine masculinity and embrace vulnerability.”

Other labels included Katelyn Gallucci’s investigation of one’s innate “desire to collapse time and create a clear path to the future” and Anthony Saracino’s exploration of “transgressions within institutions of control, and their effects on contemporary thinking.”

Jason Samilski, co-founder of CUE, spoke about Margin of Eras and how it aims to address and rectify the historical exclusion of marginalized Torontonians “in the context of modern capitalism.”

He emphasized how the exhibition fully funds those who value humanity over bureaucracy. “Some of the best art is happening on the margins,” Samilski told The Varsity. “All we need to do is shift our systems to support these folks and bring them into this cultural narrative, so that we see art and culture that accurately reflects the demographic makeup of our diverse city.”

The distinction of Margin of Eras comes from its political commitment to high access. Samilski noted that most art institutions have overly complicated, exclusive applications that are “in some ways antithetical to the artistic process itself.”

In understanding the lack of resources provided for marginalized people, CUE makes the application as accessible and simple as possible. Leading up to the event, the CUE team members reached out to their peers, providing “the support and encouragement they need to rise up and even start considering themselves as artists in the first place.” For instance, individuals lacking a strong suit in literacy can apply through a verbal interview or attend an in-person mentorship session to get direct help in the submission process.

With this event, CUE transcended the conventional approach of thematic curation and gave artists support to create with a liberated frame of mind.

A ubiquitous soundtrack

Like the sound itself, the history of white noise has largely gone unnoticed

A ubiquitous soundtrack

‘White noise’ is a random signal with equal intensity maintained at multiple frequencies; the sounds of a blow dryer, a dead channel, muffled voices, or a fan are all examples. If you pause for a moment and listen to the dull hum of the outside world, that is an example of white noise. It has a storied history in multiple disciplines, from music engineering to statistical forecasting. It has also been used as a tool for artists, activists, and those who desire a good night’s sleep.

On October 17, Merzbow’s album Pulse Demon, an example of noise music, was played to disrupt a rally on campus. The resulting effect was divisive: some supported the move and others found it offensive. It also left some wondering what constitutes the many ambiguous sounds that we recognize as white noise.

White noise, by nature, affects everyone differently. It’s also nothing new. Depending on what one considers white noise, like muffled voices, its origins date back to the beginning of humanity. Contemporary examples land around the rise of telecommunications and manufactured electronic signals, such as radio and television, which gained prominence in the mid to late nineteenth century.

When Marcel Duchamp signed ‘R.Mutt’ on a urinal in 1917 and called it art, he effectively ushered in the era of post-modernism and its use of ready-made items. White noise — and more specifically, white noise machines — gained popularity for their powerful metaphorical significance, which alludes to ideas surrounding the randomness of the world and the disconnect many experience from it.

Over the years, white noise has been anything but static and has evolved in unexpected ways. Noise music originated in Italy when Futurists composer Luigi Russolo published L’Arte dei Rumori or The Art of Noises in 1913. The manifesto discussed how the industrial revolution had allowed humans to distinguish, understand, appreciate, and utilize complex sounds. The result was a genre that creates experimental music by using non-musical vocal techniques and a variety of unconventional instruments, like sound machines that produce hisses, static, distortion, and feedback.

Using white noise as a protest is not unusual. Probably the most recognizable example of white noise is the dead channel, also known as a ‘broadcast signal intrusion.’ This happens when a satellite signal is disrupted, sometimes by technical difficulties, other times intentional. One famous example occurred in 1986, when a local hero calling himself ‘Captain Midnight’ hijacked HBO’s satellite feed in protest of their exorbitant fee of $12.95 per month.

Conversely, white noise is often cited as an effective sleep aid. Most high-end alarm clocks feature a ‘white noise mode’, and there are many videos around the web that play white noise for sleep. Baby monitors are fitted with white noise, the assumption being that the ambient background noise brings peace and calm.

Since white noise is essentially a distorted signal, it takes a physical form whenever a picture or electronic image is unable to stabilize — a grainy, black and white pixelated image or speckles on a screen. Considered to be one of the earliest surviving examples of a photograph, “View from the Window at Le Gras” (1827) contained mostly white noise since the technology to accurately capture and stabilize light was still developing.

White noise is often used as a trope throughout different media. Thriller movies, for example, often use white noise as a device to convey discomfort or agitation, like a dead television signal or an empty dial tone. Paranormal beings are usually only visible through a distorted screen, such as in The Ring. And sometimes it can become a character itself, like in Netflix’s Stranger Things when characters use ham radios that transmit high-frequency, crackling sound effects as they try to communicate with those stuck in the alternative reality called ‘The Upside Down.’

It is befitting that white noise has become a major part of pop culture without us even realizing it, since it does not desire centre stage. White noise is essentially humanity’s bass, forming the background beat that underscores our everyday lives.

Faith fuels art at St. Mike’s

College commissions first Artist-in-Residence in its 165-year history

Faith fuels art at St. Mike’s

This year, St. Michael’s College is hosting its first ever Artist-in-Residence: Farhad Nargol-O’Neill. Nargol-O’Neill is a Toronto-based sculptor who has worked on projects in different areas of the world, including Italy and Ireland.

He is currently working on sculptures for the north and south transept doors of St. Michael’s Cathedral. Each door will have 10 panels, each panel telling a different story. According to Nargol-O’Neill, “This is the first time that the rosary is being carved in its entirety.”

I walked into his studio and was greeted by eight large plaster blocks. Each block lay side-by-side on the table before me and had carvings of different figures in different settings. I looked at each panel one at a time, examining the intricate details and various depths-of-fields that they had. Awestruck, I asked him, “How does this all begin?”

“I’ve been working with the St. Michael’s Cathedral for three years… Father Michael Busch, the rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral… [gave me] two goals,” he said. His first goal was to follow the Gospel stories. The second was to find a way to make this art particularly special to St. Michael’s Cathedral. With this in mind, Nargol-O’Neill began planning the transept doors.

“The first step,” he said, “is the narrative — the Gospel story… This involves reading the stories, taking notes on each person — who they are, their relationships, what they feel. Father Michael Busch once told me to try to be present at the time of the story. Remember that they are normal people… with faults and vices.”

Nargol-O’Neill described using art to convey this: “The plaster is poured and left to dry, and then I begin carving directly into it… There’s no room for error!” He explained that the planning process is as meticulous as the carving itself. In one of his panels, for example, titled “The Third Glorious Mystery – The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” Nargol-O’Neill described the image by quoting the Bible: “‘Old men will dream and young men will prophesize’… I believe that, when they say elderly people are ‘fading,’ I question this. Are they fading? Or are they merely becoming closer to God? The figure on the bottom of my work illustrates this… It is an old man that is carved very shallow. The young man, however, appears more vivid.”



It’s this level of planning that goes into every single panel. “I do bas-relief, it’s a style of carving, carving out light and shadow,” he said. It involves imagining the position of each panel and understanding how it appears to the audience. Nargol-O’Neill noted that each panel appears differently every time one looks at it.

I gave it a try and saw exactly what he meant — each figure looked different. Some of them appeared flat while others appeared more three-dimensional. This changed perspective of the piece as a whole, helping to shift the focal point of each panel.

Finally, I asked, “How do these pieces relate to St. Michael’s Cathedral?” He showed me something I had not noticed upon my first glance. “These are Gospel stories that I’ve carved. Yet, I’ve allowed them to take place in the St. Michael’s Cathedral.” The first panel illustrates this, with the cathedral carved to accuracy — this includes the large stained glass windows and the pillars within.

Nargol-O’Neill added that of all the planning and sketching that goes in to this project, “faith is the ultimate tool.” He added, “I’m not saying this because I am being commissioned, but because I mean it.”

Science Around Town

Issue 8

Do #Vaccines work by magic or science?

With flu season around the corner, this talk features vaccine prevention expert Dr. Natasha S. Crowcroft. Come and learn how vaccines prevent diseases.

Date: Monday, October 31

Time: 4:00–5:00 pm 

Location: Medical Sciences Building

Room: 2170

Admission: Free

Hacklab Open House

Hacklab, a not-for-profit harbouring tech enthusiasts and DIY science projects, invites you to their open house every Tuesday starting November 1. Get a closer look at their laser cutter, 3D printer, labs, darkroom, and more! You can also bring your own projects to work on.

Date: Tuesdays

Time: 6:00–11:30 pm 

Location: 1266 Queen Street West  

Room: Suite 6

Admission: Free with registration

U of T AstroTour

The U of T astronomy and astrophysics department hosts a monthly public AstroTour on the first Thursday of the month. The planetarium shows will follow a brief presentation.

Date: Thursday, November 3

Talk time: 8:00–9:00 pm 

Planetarium showtimes: 9:15 pm, 9:30 pm, 9:45 pm, and 10:00 pm

Location: 50 St. George Street 

Room: Elevator lobby

Admission: Free with registration

MaRS EXCITE Info Session  

Have an idea for the next great innovation in health technology? MaRS EXCITE, a program aimed to help innovators evaluate their ideas in the health marketplace, is hosting an info session this week. Dr. Leslie Levin, Professor at the U of T Faculty of Medicine, and experienced strategy consultant Zayna Khayat will be speaking.

Date: Friday, November 4

Time: 12:00–1:30 pm 

Location: MaRS Discovery District

Room: Suite 100 

Admission: Free with registration

Father of Canadian computing passes away

Calvin Gotlieb was a U of T professor and key contributor to computer science

Father of Canadian computing passes away

The inaugural head of the University of Toronto’s Department of Computer Science passed away on October 16. Aged 95  and widely known as ‘the father of computing in Canada’, Professor Emeritus Calvin Carl ‘Kelly’ Gotlieb was renowned not only for his technical achievements but also for his study of the social effects of computers.

Gotlieb and his team contributed to the development of the Avro Arrow, the crown jewel of the Canadian aerospace industry in the 1950s. Leveraging U of T’s computing power, the team performed ‘flutter calculations’ to determine how the aircraft’s structure would react under different conditions. The cutting-edge design of the aircraft relied on Gotlieb’s computing expertise.

Gotlieb also applied U of T’s computing resources to the St. Lawrence Seaway, a proposed shipping route to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. Designed as a joint scheme between Canada and the United States, the US government initially declined to participate. Gotlieb created a computer model of the waterflow through an alternative, all-Canadian version of the Seaway, demonstrating its viability and prodding the US to join the project.

In addition to these contributions to Canadian engineering projects, Gotlieb also drove the adoption of computerized systems in airline reservations, traffic lights, and library catalogues. His simulations demonstrated their feasibility and led directly to widespread adoption.

Gotlieb was not only a talented computer scientist but also a visionary scholar studying the social impacts of computing. He was a key author of the United Nations’ Report on the Application of Computer Technology to Development, as well as a seminal text in the field, Social Issues in Computing. Professor Gotlieb also taught a U of T undergraduate course on these issues for more than 35 years, allowing students to learn from a world-renowned expert.

Both the University of Toronto and the broader computer science community will mourn the loss of a giant in both computing and its social impact.

Cough, cough

Canadian Arctic regions have the highest rates of infant lung infection in the world

Cough, cough

Scientists at the University of Toronto have found that infants born in some Canadian Arctic regions have the highest rates of respiratory infections globally.

A recent paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that the hospital admission rates for infants under 12 months old with lung infections in Nunavut and Nunavik, Quebec are the highest in the world. In the most affected areas of Nunavik, nearly half the infants born in the region had an infection.

Lead author Dr. Anna Banerji told The Varsity, “On average almost 50% of the babies born in Nunavik end up in the hospital in their first year of life.”

Most of the sick babies admitted were three months old with no underlying or pre-existing condition and still suffered from serious infections that landed them in the hospital.

Many were hooked up to breathing tubes and stayed in the intensive care unit (ICU) suffering longterm lung damage. They were often transported from their communities by air to regional hospitals hours away, needing intensive care and weeks to recover. Some were put on life support while some suffered from respiratory failure. Others passed away.

The study included five regional and four tertiary hospitals in major cities that treated these patients. Nearly six per cent of all babies enroled in the study had very severe infections and were transported to tertiary hospitals.

This high infection rate does not have a clear cause but, rather, points to underlying systemic problems in the northern communities, including overcrowding within communities and houses, cigarette smoking, and lack of proper nutrition.

Dr. Banerji and her colleagues have focused their research on pediatric lower respiratory tract infections (LRTI) in Indigenous populations of Northern Canada for almost two decades. They have consistently found the main cause of LRTIs to be the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

RSV infections were found in 40 per cent of the newborns, with these rates being higher than those for any other population world-wide. In other parts of North America, the rates of LRTIs range from one to three per cent. While fighting against this infection, the infants were often coinfected by other viruses, such as influenza, which further increased the severity of infection and the length of their hospital stay.

With longer hospital stays come larger costs. The researchers have found that it would be cheaper to treat all the infants in the affected areas with preventative medicines rather than to wait for them to be admitted.

The current medical treatment provided by the provincial government is palivizumab, a drug that is only administered to babies with pre-existing heart or lung defects and high risk of disease. Most infants do not meet the criteria. This study found that of nearly 300 newborns in 2009, only one received palivizumab treatment.

Giving the RSV antibody to all infants would decrease the high hospital admission rates for lung infections.

Banerji said, “The RSV antibody worked up to 96% in term infants so it would greatly reduce admissions for lung infections. 60% were not RSV so we need to address overcrowding, smoking, and poverty; increase breastfeeding; and improve nutrition.”

Researchers have also found that providing the antibody for all babies would save some hospitals in the region hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by cutting back costs of hospital stays and treatment in the ICU. They could save at least $36,000 per an avoided RSV infection.

The Nunavik office governs the region where hospital admissions caused by infections are the highest; it has recently announced that it will be giving palivizumab to every infant.

Incidences of hospital admission and severity of infection were 10 times higher in Nunavut and Nunavik than the Northwest Territories. Banerji was surprised by “the major difference among the populations.”

Although the reasons are not definitive, the study says this may be due to the higher per-capita income in the Northwest Territories leading to better nutrition and living conditions. It could also be because Nunavut and Nunavik have higher Inuit populations, which may be more genetically prone to these infections.

Banerji’s paper has been given to the Nunavut government and the authors are calling for this issue to be addressed as a major health priority in the Canadian Arctic regions. The regional disparity in this case is of utmost importance for a public health intervention to be made.

Red pill, blue pill — no pill?

A student’s perspective on antipsychiatry

Red pill, blue pill — no pill?

This year, the university’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education has brought forward a new scholarship: the Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry. This scholarship is for students who intend to study issues related to antipsychiatry. While psychology and psychiatry are fairly well known and understood, antipsychiatry may seem obscure to many.

Antipsychiatry is a field that views psychiatric treatments and the study of psychiatry as damaging to patients; it stems from the view that most illnesses treated in psychiatry are actually physician-created. This view has been popularized by psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who wrote a book in 1960 called The Myth of Mental Illness.

In the 1950s, the field went through a shift from psychiatrists who were dedicated followers of Sigmund Freud to new psychiatrists who were interested in a more biological approach to psychiatry. Freud, though influential for bringing popularity to the field, did not have much backing or scientific explanation for his writings — they were mostly observational and purely his own thought.

Biological psychiatrists were more interested in using new pharmacological advances to treat ailments of the mind. The two different viewpoints often clashed and, to the public, created a very divisive view of what psychiatry was. When Szasz released his book, it was another disruption to the field. This lead to some trouble accepting psychiatry as a way of treatment and people seeing it as a potential way for physicians to control society.

It is understandable that some believe that psychiatry is not a true medical field, but psychiatry is a field that is constantly evolving. Every few years, a new version of the manual that most psychiatrists use, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is released.

Those involved in psychiatry say this is to account for new progressions in the field, but updates made to new versions of the DSM are limited to only the ones that physicians are likely to use. If a new, better method to classify disorders is created, but it is thought to be too different than what was previously accepted, it will likely not be published in the new manual.

However, this does not make it impossible for the manual to include new additions: the first DSM had only 106 disorders, but the current one lists around 300. The number of disorders diagnosed each year has risen dramatically as well. Psychiatrists say that this is due to new discoveries in the field, while antipsychiatrists believe that this is due to over-diagnosis and over-classification.

I believe that we should be open to accepting and critically thinking about all fields. One of the basic tenets of publishing articles in the sciences is reproducibility: if you cannot recreate the outcomes of a study and prove that it is generalizable, the findings are taken with a grain of salt. Shouldn’t this be the case will all scientific fields of study?

The fact that there are scholars who want to research and further understand psychiatry and how we can improve the field should be welcome. I think the use of the term antipsychiatry does not recognize that the main goal of these studies is constructive: to further medicine and the understanding of how we treat mental illness.

There is a lack of opportunity for those in the antipsychiatry field, so this new scholarship will help to further understand antipsychiatry and its potential merits. Perhaps if the psychiatry and antipsychiatry departments communicated more often and worked past their differences to learn from each other, there would be mutual benefit.