Extraordinary Student of the Month: Alyy Patel

Patel is on a mission to make the campus a safer space

Extraordinary Student of the Month: Alyy Patel

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.

Alyy Patel is a third-year Woodsworth College student who is pursuing a major in Sociology and Sexual Diversity studies and a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She’s also the Co-President of Woodsworth Inclusive (WiNC) and has previously served as Associate Vice-President of Internal Services for the UTSU. She is passionate about activism, equity work, and social justice.

Patel has been devoted to LGBTQ+ issues since high school and her developing expertise in this field has helped her reach new heights at U of T. During high school, Patel ran her school’s Gay Straight Alliance, where she successfully organized a campaign for gender-neutral washrooms. The work she did before university earned her the Harmony Movement Canada Award, in recognition of her efforts to implement equitable changes and enhance the diversity in Canada.

For Patel, LGBTQ+ issues are of personal importance. “As a queer woman of colour, I’ve personally felt unsafe in some spaces and recognize that these spaces don’t always make room for folks like myself,” she told The Varsity. “The reason I do activism is because I want to give voice to these folks that are very marginalized, that… are not often represented.”

In addition to WiNC and the UTSU, Patel has also been a member of Woodsworth College Student Association, and one of the Orientation Coordinator’s for Orientation Week. In her positions, she has continuously striven to make the university  experience safer for all students on campus, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community.

Some of Patel’s achievements include implementing gender-neutral washrooms in the Woodsworth Residence Building and temporary gender-neutral washrooms during Orientation Week. She’s also worked with LGBTQ+ youth on addressing mental health issues, with an emphasis on understanding that mental health issues affect everyone differently. She has presented her findings to professors, teachers, and medical professionals during the Rainbow Health Ontario’s National LGBTQ Health Conference earlier this year.

Patel’s next goal is to continue to advance in leadership positions on campus so she can help more people. “I’ve implemented many equity changes at Woodsworth, now I want to move to U of T as a whole,” she said. “Go beyond advocacy and actually ensure accessibility needs are met. [Consent] at U of T is a big issue and needs to be properly addressed. I want these changes to be made on a broader scale… and from there I can hope to move on to Toronto as a whole. I strongly believe U of T has a lot of potential.”

When asked what advice she would give to fellow students, Patel said that the key is to take baby steps, work your way up to bigger causes, and do not feel discouraged if things don’t work out immediately. “I think social justice is something we need everyone to advocate for. If you believe in it, go for it, strive for it, make a positive change,” she explained.

If you know an extraordinary student on campus and wish to nominate them, email arts@thevarsity.ca; provide their name, email, and why they deserve to be featured.

Horror is relative at Toronto’s Indie Horror Festival

The short film festival opted for suspense and thrills over guts and gore

Horror is relative at Toronto’s Indie Horror Festival

Toronto’s Indie Horror Fest was held from November 9–12 and showcased a wide range of interesting short films. Of the eight shown, I was lucky enough to catch a couple films myself. The free festival took place in D-Beatstro, located at 1292 Bloor Street West, which prides itself on being “a community driven vegan cafe and DIY/DIT event space” that offers “art, music, food, treats and coffee.”

The aroma of fresh popcorn and baked treats greeted me at the door of the cinema and provided a cozy and welcoming environment to watch the films. It almost felt like I was at home. The cafe had rows of chairs set facing a projector where the movie was displayed. My friend noted that it definitely had a ‘hipster’ vibe.

The first film I caught was called Good Tidings. Luckily, the friends I was meeting with managed to secure three chairs together near the back. Straining our eyes to see the projector screen, we watched the film which is about three psychopaths who, dressed in Santa suits, decide to wreak havoc on a homeless community in an abandoned courthouse.

The trio use the courthouse for a sadistic game bent on hunting homeless residents down and slaughtering them. A war veteran who had been living on the streets is thrust into the chaos and forced to muster up the courage he had kept buried inside.

I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack throughout the film, especially the ’80s synth-pop reminiscent of indie ’80s Troma films. Pairing holiday cheer with a trio of psychotic slasher-Santas had me merrily shaken to the bone.

I had the opportunity to chat with the film’s writer, Stu Jopia, who also played Curly, one of the three psycho Santas. Jopia chose to create a holiday horror film because “I love the thought of there being an evil Santa Claus,” he said. “And to be honest, there’s something a little weird and terrifying about Santa Claus. He sits off all year deciding who gets presents and who doesn’t. A bit cruel really.”

Jopia was also inspired by the fact that there is just something about that time of year that “makes people want to watch a good horror movie.” I couldn’t have agreed more. The coziness of the holidays mixed with a truly unsettling horror film on the television spelled perfection.

On the overarching theme, Jopia explained that it touches on a deeper issue that plagues our nation today: that of rampant homelessness in our cities during the holidays. “All around the world people suffer at this festive time,” he said. “It’s not all smiles, family, and presents and we in the UK totally understand this and I wanted to weave this story into our own.”

The theme of marginalized individuals during the holidays is prevalent throughout the film. The homeless are seen struggling to defend themselves against the twisted manifestations of holiday cheer.

The next film I saw, Cage, was thrilling and suspenseful. The plot centres on a call-girl who wakes up to find that a client has locked her in a cage. It felt like more of a psychological thriller rather than a traditional horror film but it was terrifying nonetheless.

The premise had me sitting on the edge of my seat for the entire viewing. I especially loved that this was a single-cast film. This kind of approach can sometimes be intimidating for viewers, but Cage pulled it off. There was never a moment when I felt there should have been additional roles. The film and story were presented beautifully.

Speaking with director Warren Dudley, he said that his inspiration came from “wanting to create something cinematic and beautiful” despite their small budget. On the creative process of the film, he said: “Initially the girl was going to be held captive in a basement room but quite late in the day we came up with the idea of a cage [which] made lighting and camera work so much more interesting.”

Dudley agreed that the film does not fit into the stereotypical horror movie mould. “I’m not sure Cage is really a horror film,” he said. “I think a viewer expecting blood, guts, and jump-scares may be disappointed.” Instead, the effect is that the viewer feels deeply disturbed as the film attempts to infiltrate their psyche using suspenseful tactics.

Due to its success in drawing interest, Toronto Indie Horror Fest will continue being hosted annually. It will also host monthly screenings at D-Beatstro called “Horror Night” which will premiere one feature film and one to two shorts.

Honest Reviews (part two)

The second installment of candor is here

Honest Reviews (part two)

When I first went to Doomie’s, one of Toronto’s greasiest vegan restaurants, arranging a time that worked for my party of three was a nightmare. I was warned by friends to expect long wait times. Although the place wasn’t spacious, I didn’t have to wait to be seated. Doomie’s opened in late April of this year, and since then, they have smoothed out many of the bumps from the first few months.

I’m not vegetarian, but my friend was. The menu doesn’t list the ingredients used in the dishes, so it was strange to hear my friend order a “BBQ pulled-pork burger.” She found it even more strange to bite into, marvelling at how “meat-like” the food tasted. They offer all kinds of ‘meat’ mains, from burgers to hot dogs.

My favourite part of the menu was the wide selection of fun fries. Our group ordered three types to share, with a general consensus that the pesto fries were the best. I would return just to have them again. The portion sizes were gigantic, and all of us ended up taking sizable chunks of our meal home.

Doomie's 1263 Queen Street West. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Doomie’s 1263 Queen Street West. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Doomie’s is a great restaurant to go to for meat-lovers and vegans alike. It has definitely changed my perception of how diverse vegan food can be. Now, when I talk to people who deride the limitations of a vegan diet, I send them to Doomie’s.

It’s not somewhere I would go often, however, since with drinks in addition to food, the meal can get a bit pricey for anyone on a student budget. And while it is vegan, it’s far from healthy. I left feeling as bloated as I would be after eating a regular burger or poutine. If that’s the kind of meal you’re looking for, this makes for a great alternative with the same after-effect.

— Linh Nguyen, Varsity Staff

Varsity restaurant is an interesting place. It boasts a fusion-style menu that may not suit everyone’s tastes. The first time I went was in a moment of desperation near the end of last year, around mid-March. I had heard mixed things: many people were aware of its long-time presence on campus, some told me they were too intimidated by it, sticking instead to old favourites like New Ho King and Canton Chilli.

I was hungry, cold, and tired from studying at Robarts all day though, and I wanted something more for myself than a sandwich from G’s Fine Foods.

The interior of the restaurant felt old and the menu signs were faded, so the pictures of the dishes looked less than appetizing. I ordered the slightly overpriced beef and rice, sat down, and waited. The space was busy; groups of people chatted about their courses while others hastily shovelled large helpings of rice into their mouths. The aroma of oil hung in the air above everyone.

My order arrived and I was disappointed to see that the portion was smaller than I was used to. But as I went back, each time I become more and more familiar, figuring the place out and getting to know the servers and cooks. After a while, I felt more comfortable, staying for longer periods of time, getting larger portions, and feeling like I was a part of the campus community.

I’m glad I decided to do something different that day because it was definitely worth it.

— Lisa Power, A&C Editor

7-Eleven, 260 College Street. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

7-Eleven, 260 College Street. NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

Let me start by saying: no one willingly eats at 7-Eleven. It’s never anyone’s first choice. Some people don’t even know they serve food or how far their hot food menu has extended in recent months. And certainly no one feels good after waking up from a night of drinking to find a half-eaten meatball sub in their coat pocket.

That being said, I tried out some of their food for the purposes of this piece and because I only had fifteen minutes in between appointments.

I had the salt and pepper chicken wings, which are a mere $0.75 each, or 10 for $7.00. As I bit into the thickly coated, greasy, slightly overcooked meat, I had a flashback to a moment in time when I was a small girl and my grandmother would take me to The Ex at the end of each summer. I could see the food stalls bustling with patrons, engulfed in clouds of steam. The sizzle of the oil rang in my ears. When I was transported back to the present, I stood on the corner of Spadina Avenue and College Street, feeling slightly disgusted with myself for having broken my pledge to eat heathier this week.

The next item I tried was the pepperoni pizza. The slice was tiny but suspiciously cheap. I soon realized why: it tasted more like a frozen Pizza Pop than a fresh meal, except with gooier cheese. It was predictably cardboard-ish, but I was reminded of my first kiss. It was Pizza Day at my elementary school when my crush, Logan, led me behind a tree. With our eyes closed and sauce on our faces, he gave me a smooch. When I opened my eyes, I found myself halfway down Bloor Street with a slice of pizza dangling from my mouth.

Overall, 7-Eleven food is great if you’re in a rush but don’t expect much else.

— Lisa Power, A&C Editor

Championship soccer coming to Canada

Toronto FC cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals

Championship soccer coming to Canada

For Toronto Football Club (TFC), this has been a playoff run full of firsts: first postseason home game ­— check; first postseason win — check; first Eastern Conference Semifinal win and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals — yeah, you can check that off too.

The road to redemption

On October 26, after nine long years, suffering TFC fans were finally able to cheer for a championship contending team. The Reds beat Philadelphia Union handily, by a score of 3–1 thanks to goals from Sebastian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio, and Jozy Altidore. With this win, TFC advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Toronto FC faced New York City FC in the semis. And again they won, beating the second seeded team 2–0 at BMO Field. TFC took a 2–0 aggregate lead with them to Yankee Stadium for the second leg of the matchup. On November 6, TFC slaughtered New York 5–0, paving their way to Montreal and the conference finals.

Montreal, here we come

TFC hold home field advantage for the series, and they will travel to Montreal to face the Impact on November 22 to start the series. These two teams have a history though, and this series will surely be the most heated games of their rivalry to date.

It seems fitting that TFC will play the Impact for a chance to go to the League Championships, because the Impact were the team that — quickly and succinctly — ended the former’s postseason run last year. In the teams’ three regular season matchups this year, there was almost nothing to split the two sides: both teams won a game, lost a game, and tied a game with the TFC holding a slight offensive edge, scoring four goals whilst conceding just three overall.

The playoffs, of course, are another story entirely. TFC has scored 10 goals in three games, conceding only one; they are playing, arguably, the best soccer in team history. Montreal is looking good too. They have found the back of the net seven times in three games and have given up three goals. Game two of the series will be played at BMO on November 30. Kick-off is at 7:00 pm.

Players without accolades

On November 1, Major League Soccer (MLS) announced the finalists for the league’s MVP awards. Despite scoring 17 goals and 15 assists in only 28 games, TFC star forward Sebastian Giovinco was not one of the finalists.

Giovinco had more combined goals than all of the nominees in fewer games played and is the reigning MLS MVP. He was robbed of the chance to be the first player in league history to win back-to-back MVP honours and would have only been the second to win it twice.

Whether or not Giovinco was fuelled by the snub is unknown, but he certainly played like he had something to prove; he wanted to showcase what a true MVP does: take the game by the throat. Giovinco scored a hat trick and assisted another goal, contributing to four of the five goals Toronto scored against New York.

Giovinco has been sensational throughout his tenure at Toronto, scoring a combined 70 goals and assists in 61 regular season games. In the playoffs this year, he’s taken his game and his team to another level entirely. In three playoff games, he has four goals and two assists — a remarkable output that has been instrumental to the team’s playoff success.

Blues fall 4–2 to Voyageurs

Men’s hockey team winless in first 11 games

Blues fall 4–2 to Voyageurs

The woes continue for the Varsity Blues men’s ice hockey team after losing a spirited, physical contest to the Laurentian Voyageurs 4–2 on November 13 at Varsity Arena.

Despite leading in shots on goal for the entirety of the game, the Blues (1–10–2) never gained a lead over the Voyageurs (7–6–1). The Blues surrendered the first goal 13 seconds into the game. A turnover in the Blues’ end allowed Voyageurs forward Chris Smith to bank the puck off teammate Nick Esposto’s skate and into the Blues’ net to take the early 1–0 lead.

A high-sticking penalty to Laurentian forward Graham Yeo at 13:17 of the first period allowed the Blues’ powerplay unit to respond. The Blues gained the offensive zone, and after receiving a pass from teammate Matt Campagna, forward Russell Turner fired a blistering snapshot over the glove hand of Voyageurs goaltender Charlie Millen to tie the game. Only a minute and a half later, the Voyageurs answered back making the score 2–1. Defenseman Vincent Llorca tallied a shorthanded goal, outflanking the Toronto defenders in a 2-on-1 rush with teammate Brent Pedersen, who earned the assist.

The game took a more physical turn in the second period. The game-winning goal was scored at 9:12 during another Toronto power play, the seconded shorthanded goal Toronto allowed. Later in the period, after the Blues gained the offensive zone, a turnover at the blue line allowed Smith to skate in alone and beat Blues’ goaltender Evan Howard with a backhand into the top corner rounding out the score at 3–1.

At 15:08 in the second period, the home team cut the deficit to one when Turner scored his second goal of the game during a goalmouth scramble at the Voyageurs’ net. The score was 3–2 for the Voyageurs going into the second intermission.

After producing the previously game-tying goal in the first period, the Blues’ powerplay unit was stymied for the rest of the game — including during two lengthy 5-on-3 opportunities in the third period — and went 1-for-9 with the man-advantage. While blocked and missed shots contributed to the lack of goal production, the main factor was the superb goaltending by Millen, who had one of the top save percentages (.925) in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) entering Sunday’s match. He stopped 29 of 31 shots, including several key saves in the last minutes of the game as the Blues pressed for the tying goal. At the other end of the ice, Howard made 27 saves in his first OUA career start, including a sprawling stick save late in the third period to rob Voyageur forward Pedersen, who found the puck on his stick in front of a gaping net. An empty-net goal at 19:27 sealed the Voyageurs’ 4–2 victory.

Winning their following game on November 19 and losing the next one after that on November 20, Toronto’s four points in 13 games set them firmly in last place in the OUA standings, with 15 games remaining on the 2016–2017 schedule.

The Blues face off next against Ryerson University in Toronto on November 23.

What activities define you?

U of T professor studies the physical diversity of Toronto, from dragon boats to martial arts, dance, and beyond

What activities define you?

When acting Vice Dean at the Faculty of Kinesiology Professor Peter Donnelly found himself teaching in London, England’s East End in the 1980s, the area’s cultural diversity was new to him. Growing up in what he called “a white-bread town” in Northwest England, there was little in the way of diversity. “My parents always brought up the ‘Jewish dentist,’” explains Donnelly. “That was the diversity.”

In college, Donnelly became fascinated with cultural diversity. It wasn’t until Donnelly accepted a teaching position at McMaster University that he was able to advance his interest in this area.

“I asked students to find a sport from their own ethnocultural background,” he says. “[Then] I came to Toronto in 1998 and kept the assignment going.” What he learned was astounding.

Today, when people think of physical activity, running or going to the gym are often the only things that come to mind. “If we don’t know the full repertoire of physical activity in the city, we make a lot of stupid assumptions,” Donnelly reports. “That leaves us ignorant to the possibilities out there.”

Donnelly now catalogues physical activities throughout the city, as “this is a public service and will be a resource for the future.”

Asking Donnelly about the project’s beginnings woke his inner researcher. “My goal at the time was to go back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries of science, where botanists and geologists would go into an area and collect information about everything there, [then] classify and categorize them,” he states.

His website, GTActiviy, categorizes hundreds of physical activities, most of which are more than just sports ­— according to the website, they’re forms of physical culture. In fact, GTActivity is broken down into six segments: sport, physical game, dance, exercise system, martial arts, and other.

Donnelly is the first to admit that it’s not an exhaustive collection: “That’s an initial  classification. What we’re coming up against is deviations and developments of physical activities. Capoeira is both martial arts and dance. These modifications take place all the time. And you have new additions like bicycle jousting and hacky sack.”

Still, Donnelly and his team have defined research questions. Having received funding from the City of Toronto, his focus is directed at three areas.

First, “What’s the lifecycle? What comes to Canada? What gets left behind in the old country? When it gets to Canada, what lasts past the first generation? Why is that?”

Second, “How did these activities play out in integrating between cultures?”

And finally, “What is the place of the three levels of governments in supporting physical activity?”

Currently, Donnelly’s findings are mostly qualitative. “Activities are [more likely to] die off than to survive. The most long lasting activities in general are dances. You learn them as a kid, there may be a cultural schooling or other influences. Pretty much everything dies out after the first generation. What mom and dad did seems old-fashioned.”

The ones that do survive are nearly always integrated. “Activities that survive connect communities. Using a cultural forum to connect with others drives behaviour,” Donnelly describes.

Donnelly gives one example of how the integration of activities can work. He speaks of how “mainland Chinese immigrants had a volleyball league where the game became attractive to other cultures. Slowly, they integrated into other cultures. Then they expanded to East-Asians. It stayed within a larger community but ultimately connected across cultures.”

Some activities become deeply integrated. Dragon boating is a perfect example. The activity has become completely integrated into Canadian culture and has somewhat changed from the traditional Chinese form of the activity. “Breast cancer survivors… do it as a fundraising, solidarity, and self-developing initiative,” Donnelly notes.

Apart from his findings, Donnelly’s hopes for GTActivity are also sentimental. “We’re hoping for a revival. People may look back at tradition and may reinvent games.” He explains, “More than anything, GTActivity is a citizen’s science project; it’s open. People can add and edit activities to better the database and capture cultural diversity.”

Donnelly continues, “We talk about fashion, we talk about food, language, and religion. This is more important than people are giving it [credit] for.” In fact, GTActivity is picking up more and more traction, and Donnelly reports an uptick in visits.

“I hate to see anything die out,” he explains. “Even if two people speak a particular language in Canada, I’d love them to teach others. Diversity is really important in every possible way, and this is a part of it for me. Survival is important, but understanding it at a scientific level is what we strive to do.”

Where speech roams free

A look inside the online Students In Support of Free Speech community

Where speech roams free

On a cold and grey afternoon in late October, a small group of protesters stand huddled outside Simcoe Hall, the ink on their cardboard picket signs smudged by the rain. Chad Hallman, a second-year Philosophy and Law student, stands atop the steps with a megaphone.

He’s doing what many protesters came out to support: he’s condemning  student activists for participating in what he sees as suppression of speech, and singing praise for Jordan Peterson, a U of T Psychology Professor who became the centre of controversy after posting a video on his YouTube channel decrying “political correctness” and non-binary gender identities.

“What we’d like to call for is an end to these identity politics,” Hallman proclaims to the raincoat-clad group. “We believe that arguments should be judged based on the content of the actual argument, based on the evidence and the persuasions presented. We don’t think that someone simply has a monopoly on saying what’s racist, what’s not, and what’s valid and what’s not.”

The premise of the rally is rather simple: free speech is a guaranteed right for all, and it shouldn’t be taken away, no matter what that speech may be. Is free speech actually in danger? According to the protesters, yes it is. They feel that certain people are trying to silence them, specifically the people they refer to as ‘social justice warriors’ (SJWs) — student activists of a radical left mentality.

Passersby pay little attention to the rally. A rally held a few weeks earlier appeared to have a significantly larger turnout, which was further escalated by the arrival of a swath of counter-protesters. This one is less exciting, though. The protest lacks fervent dissent, and the poor weather situation isn’t helping. After about an hour of open-mic discussion, the protesters casually disperse.

Open a laptop, though, and it is as if the protest never really ended, but instead grew larger. In a Facebook group that, until recently, was labelled ‘Students in Support of Free Speech’ (SSFS), over a thousand accounts’ worth of students, non-students, and Internet trolls comprise a broad coalition of free speech supporters.

Anyone can request to join this group — admission is then subject to the approval of an administrator — and once inside, members are welcome to discuss whatever thought the mind conjures up, so long as it does not incite violence, aim to harass others, or blatantly spam. Failure to comply after three warnings means an administrator will banish you from the group.

For those whose Facebook newsfeeds are filled by posts from liberally-inclined friends about the dangers of President-elect Donald Trump, the inside of SSFS’ Facebook group is similar to visiting the ‘Upside Down’ in Stranger Things. Mostly, the comment threads act as outlets for members to vent their displeasure for SJWs, ‘trigger warnings,’ ‘safe spaces,’ or feminism.

To many of them, the left is the ‘regressive left:’ control-freak ideologues intent on regulating a person’s every move until society resembles something similar to George Orwell’s 1984, but maybe with more pronouns. Dystopian imagery of an Orwellian, totalitarian state is often invoked by the anti-‘regressive left’ contingency, followed by warnings to fellow members regarding the socialist hell that will be unleashed upon them should these radical student-activists have their way.

And then there are the trolls. In one thread, a member posts an animated video created by alt-right journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. It depicts the heads of crying, Democratic celebrities being shipped away in a school bus following Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections. Driving the bus is ‘Pepe the Frog,’ an Internet meme taken hostage by the alt-right.

In spite of the trolls, the group still has room for intellectual, productive discussion, according to the administrators.

“I would disagree that the group has become an echo-chamber,” replies group administrator Geoffrey Liew, when asked. “I have never really questioned my beliefs or been more uncomfortable with the way I see things than in the last couple of months. A lot of people who follow this group have never really thought about gender expression or American politics or any of these controversial topics more than ever now. They’re being confronted by a whole variety of things they’ve never seen or heard occur before.”

The SSFS leaders aren’t particularly concerned about the trolls, either. Mari Jang, one of the group’s administrators, admits she would have removed some of these comments had she seen them, but to them, the nastier posts — called ‘shitposting,’ as per online diction — are a reflection of society; a minor inconvenience to necessary democratic fundamentals.

To suppress these comments, the admins hold, would be worse than to let them loose. To bury them would be to let them fester. “There are people who will say awful, terrible, counter-productive things,” admits Liew. “But for me, and for many others, this has been a very valuable opportunity to examine our ideology and really put it to the test.”

Some members acknowledge the group’s virtues, while others disavow them, ditching the group out of frustration with its direction. Before jumping ship, one member writes, “With the growth of the group, and I suppose the election of Trump, this has become less about freedom of speech and more about personal agendas and libel and hatred and racism… The name should not be students in support of free speech, it should be People in support of hate towards those who are different.”

Someone replies, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Another follows with, “Back in the safe space.”

Inner factionalism amongst the members has occasionally plagued the group, too; their differences unearthed by varying understandings of where free speech ends and hate speech begins. Some argue that hate speech is the incitement of violence — no more and no less — while others don’t believe in hate speech at all, advocating instead for a totally unfiltered, laissez-faire freedom to speak.

In early November, some members defected from the group to join ‘Students Against Political Correctness,’ priding the newfound group on using as little moderation as conceivably possible.

Similar movements have emerged at other universities, where students — fearing that their ability to speak freely is threatened by oppositional ideologues — have erected free speech organizations in an effort to maintain autonomy.

But the partisan nature of some has only served to feed into other students’ suspicions of these groups’ intentions: that, in some cases, perhaps the free speech supporters do not truly fear that their free speech is at risk, but instead are searching for their own SJW-free echo chamber.

The most prominent example of this is the University of British Columbia’s Free Speech Club, a group of Trump supporters who converge to vocalize their support and don ‘Make America Great Again’ hats under the guise of supporting free speech. This group’s choice to use ‘free speech’ as a title for a pro-Trump group is precisely what can cause oppositional groups to question the validity of free speech groups that claim to promote fruitful discussion.

On the other hand, SSFS executives are insistent that their group is apolitical. The executives have varying political ideologies — they are not by any means just a group of Trump supporters — but they are connected by their shared support of free speech, and, more precisely, a shared belief that someone is trying to take it from them.

“Everyone’s got their own personal opinions, and everyone is free to act on their own motivations in a personal capacity, but the group, in and of itself, is here to support free speech for everyone in principle,” notes Hallman, also an SSFS executive.

Since their initial start-up, SSFS received ULife recognition, changed the Facebook group’s name to Students in Support of Free Discourse, and opened a separate online forum outside of Facebook — a change that some members took well and others not so much. The decision, says Jang, was “more of a rebranding thing than any kind of issue that arose,” but admittedly, through this process, they might “lose the trolls.”

So far, that seems to have been working. The new forum is neatly categorized by topic — “Campus Freedom”, “Social Justice”, and so on — in an effort to encourage fruitful discussion. And naturally, some of the same sentiments from the Facebook group transfer over.

Under “Campus Freedom,” one thread begins by posing, rather gingerly, a question that many are quick to try and answer: “How do we convince SJWs of our cause?” Some commenters reply hopefully, others with despair. Jang writes that she “won’t stop trying” but has yet to find any “common ground” with those who she perceives to be SJWs.

In person, though, Jang acknowledges that perhaps this isn’t entirely true. The labels — ‘social justice warriors’ and ‘free speech warriors’ — are vastly misleading; they only serve to polarize groups whose values, in many cases, overlap. “It’s easy to think of people in groups when you’re divided into your own Internet bubbles,” she tells me at the Bahen Centre, away from the on-goings of the Internet world. “In person, it’s much easier to reach agreements.”

“Ice, Ice Baby”

UTM Associate Professor Jochen Halfar ventures out to the Arctic to conduct geology research

“Ice, Ice Baby”

The Arctic is one of the least explored landscapes in the world. Due to the Arctic’s cold temperatures, conducting expeditions there has been difficult. However, Jochen Halfar, an Associate Professor of Geology at UTM has joined the ranks of those who have accomplished this feat.

Halfar has conducted two expeditions to the Arctic over the summer. The first expedition went above the Arctic Circle near Spitsbergen, Norway. Halfar then boarded a sailboat for three weeks in Canada’s north.

First, Halfar travelled north to Spitsbergen from Reykjavik, Iceland. To collect algae samples, he had to travel for three hours by submarine underneath the ocean’s icy surface. The submarine had an arm to collect the samples. Postdoctoral student Steffen Hetzingerm assisted in the work.

Halfar then flew to Greenland where he travelled on a boat called the ‘Vagabond’ for three weeks. Finally, he travelled by boat from Greenland to Canada where he sailed along the northern part of Baffin Island. Alicia Hou, a graduate student, continued Halfar’s research by travelling through the Gulf of Boothia to Goose Bay, Labrador.

Halfar and his team set out to collect samples of coralline algae. Coralline algae are a rock-like red algae that play an integral part in a coral reef’s ecology. Coralline red algae deposit mineral calcite crusts on underwater rocks. They provide shelter for fish larvae and other organisms, when they collect to form maerl beds. However, due to ocean acidification — the decreasing pH in oceans because of the increased carbon dioxide in the air — the coralline algae’s skeletal structure has become brittle, making it more vulnerable to wave movement.

Coralline samples can provide insight into climate change and how sea ice has behaved over past centuries. Human impacts on the climate are hard to track so climate models are constructed from skeletons of the coralline samples to make sense of records in space and time.

The skeletons are laid out in growth increments like tree rings. This geochemical analysis of coralline algae has allowed Halfar and his associates to understand other climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the El Nino Southern Oscillation, and the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Halfar and his team are currently focusing on how sea ice cover has shrunk over the past 150 years. Satellite technology was only able to begin tracking the sea ice shrinkage starting in the early 1970s. Halfar and his associates discovered a new paleoclimate proxy in coralline called Clathomorphum compactum. This is the oldest algal crust dated 646 years back measured by carbon dating. The alga can live for hundreds of years. Its age can be determined by measuring the thickness of its layers.

In an interview with Live Science in 2013, Halfar suggested that the alga’s lifespan is unlimited. “Much longer records are possible, and in fact, during an expedition this past summer, our group sampled some specimens off Labrador that, based on their thickness, are well over 1,000 years old.”

Calcium and magnesium are measured in the alga, which give information on the water temperature and how much light the alga has received. This can place patterns of sea ice cover on a much longer timescale. The alga’s ring’s thickness is correlated with past climate conditions. The alga’s thickness narrowed during the Little Ice Age, when volcanoes and sun cycle variations caused the earth to cool. This suggests high sea ice coverage and short summers. However, during the Industrial Revolution in 1850, the alga began to thicken. Data from coralline algae have revealed a startling decline in sea ice cover.

Halfar’s samples can help predict climate change patterns in the future. In a statement to UTM News, Halfar said, “This data can be used by climate physicists to create models that project climate into the future… If we understand the past better, we can predict the future of the ice in the Arctic.”

Halfar’s expeditions have provided new information on climate change and can give researchers the information they need not only to predict future climate changes but to present the information to the public. This way, preventive actions can be taken so climate change can be monitored more carefully. Water ecosystems in which the coralline algae exist can in turn continue to thrive and support all the organisms within the ecosystems.

The work of Halfar and his associates has emphasized that climate change is an important problem and that it is everyone’s job as stewards of the Earth to protect what is left of our planet and make a conscious effort to reduce climate change.