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Openness is the theme at this year’s TEDxUofT conference

Toronto academics and performers comprise an engaging and immersive experience

Openness is the theme at this year’s TEDxUofT conference

U of T’s own TEDx Conference, an independently organized event licensed by the TEDx initiative, is most definitely a community-centred event. It comes with a sense of  familiarity, like seeing students whose faces you recognize from classes as conference coordinators or hearing professors you’ve admired silently from across a lecture hall speak about their passions.

The theme of the 2017 conference was OPEN, which was broad enough to encompass the wide variety of topics discussed by the speakers. Seven of the 12 speakers were academics at U of T, from graduate students to professors, giving attendees the opportunity to see what those in the offices around campus are up to.

In addition to academics from across the spectrum of breadth requirements, TEDxUofT also featured performing speakers from around Toronto and a variety of energetic musical acts.

A spotlight on academia

Many people in the audience recognized speaker and computer scientist Sanja Fidler from press coverage in outlets such as Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, and the Toronto Star on the algorithm she helped developed that evaluates fashion sense.

Fidler’s presentation, equipped with interactive displays and humorous graphics of a personified robot, was friendly even to those without any knowledge of her field, taking the audience through the many steps necessary to create a cognitive agent.

Other audience members cheered for Human Biology Professor Bill Ju. The reasons behind Ju’s popularity became clear when he explained his conscious effort to improve learning by connecting with his students through social media.

Computer Science Professor Raquel Urtasun explained to the crowd why self-driving cars are the future and outlined affordable solutions to mapping — the financial obstacle to self-driving transportation.

Urtasun suggested that self-driving cars would be incredibly beneficial to society, lowering the risk of accidents, decreasing pollution, and providing mobility for the elderly and disabled.

Organic chemist Patrick Gunning got the most laughs of the day with the line “biologists call us cooks.” This was an impressive feat considering Gunning’s attempt to guide the audience through the complicated process of building a cancer-killing molecule.

Going global

TEDxUofT also featured presentations geared towards provoking the audience into thinking about the roles they played in their local communities and on the global stage.

Joe Wong, the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs, brought the latter into perspective, with the clear message that we must reach out to those who are hardest to reach in our community. Explicitly, those who are born in city slums — the undocumented, the uneducated, the unvaccinated and the forgotten.

His talk was a call to action for the younger generation, which Wong hopes will use innovative thinking to overcome the obstacles that have faced previous generations.

Speaker Paul Hamel offered a local arena for change, proposing that the first stage of global health work is here in Toronto, where we can engage in strategies to end poverty, inequality, and ultimately, ill health.

He identified the stereotypical conceptions surrounding global health, a term that prompts images of far flung, impoverished villages and challenged them by arguing that we must think of issues of global health as transnational.

Photographer Yannis Guibinga turned his sights internationally as well, presenting his efforts to fight one-dimensional representations of Africa. Guibinga’s work seeks to highlight diversity and the intersections of gender, culture and socioeconomic status, in order to remind us that Africa and African identity are not monoliths.

Individual and artistic journeys

Another theme of the conference was individual journeys and choices. This was best underscored by actor Rajiv Surendra, beloved for his role as Kevin G in the cult classic Mean Girls.

Drawing on his personal six-year journey to become the protagonist of the film adaptation of Life of Pi, Surendra highlighted the importance of embracing the possibilities of success or failure. Surendra remarked that it is better to have embarked on a journey than to have played it safe.

Researcher Liza Futerman described the moment she showed old photos to her mother, who had been diagnosed with dementia, to trigger her memory. Instead of sparking her mother’s memory, it sparked her imagination, and she began to tell stories, opening her mind up to her daughter.

By connecting through storytelling, Futerman was able to find a way for her and her mother to transcend the ‘patient’ and ‘caregiver’ roles. This experience gave way to her work to create programs to improve the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The tiny houses movement is one of the trendiest alternative living choices, but Cristina D’Amico’s presentation explained why it only offers an individual, market-based solution to the systemic housing problem. Comparing it to renting an apartment, D’Amico stated that living in a tiny home is not a socially transformative act — though it may be an Instagrammable one — and that to make housing a social right, “we need to think bigger than tiny homes.”

Performing speakers also brought an artistic flair to the conference. Will and Matt, a duo of magicians, incorporated the audience into their masterful tricks all while exploring how to make a living doing what you love. Their secret comes from a combination of business sensibility, understanding the difference between customers and consumers, and never allowing something you love to become something you regret.

Finally, spoken word artist Tobi Ogude from Black Canvas Gallery painted a beautiful picture of the love and mutual respect that governs the underground community in Toronto, underlining the need for the city to work with communities where culture is built and crafted in order to allow them to flourish.

TEDxUofT aims to be an immersive experience, which entails a nine-hour day. Despite the long day, the event is structured to maximize the information audience members can absorb, with breaks occurring after every set of three speakers.

While not a seamless day, with technical glitches impacting almost every performer and a touch of corporatism provided by the tables of merchandise for sale, TEDxUofT remains a day that showcases remarkable talent and accomplishments that are meant to inspire rather than intimidate.

When art doesn’t imitate life

An investigation into tolerating unethical behaviour in art

When art doesn’t imitate life

During my first tours of campus, I was bombarded with promotional leaflets and explanations of U of T’s significance as a breeding ground for ideas. I came away with the impression that these intellectual grounds were sacred, and that it was our job as students to analyze and question, in order to dispel ignorance.

And so I continue to question: lately, the question has been how some elements of our courses can be allowed to be investigated within the ethical framework of our university.

Namely, why are students taught pieces of literature with depictions of morality that directly contradict the code of ethics enforced on our campus? In these circumstances, I find it difficult to reconcile our responsibilities as students with our moral duties as human beings.

As an English major, one of the most formative experiences of my university education occurred when I encountered the infamous Vladimir Nabokov text Lolita, which centres on a man who preys on a young girl after becoming her stepfather. Prior to entering university, I was aware of the novel but felt my experience with it had been compromised because of how I first encountered it in the 1997 film adaptation of the same name.

However, I still found the subject matter intriguing, and English 101 seemed my chance at last. What was disconcerting, however, was that instead of dealing with the moral implications of the novel’s content, I was told instead to respect its aims and the quality of its prose. My professor briefly concluded that the subject matter of the novel was indeed controversial, but could still be appreciated for its risqué nature.

As part of a course on postcolonial literature, I also read J. M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace. In the book, the character of Lucy, a rape survivor, expresses the view that she deserved to be violated, because she feels responsible for what she perceives as historical colonial injustices.

She and her father argue over the incident and whether or not Lucy’s rapist should be reported. Lucy’s father begs, “Lucy, Lucy, I plead with you! You want to make up for the past, but this is not the way you do it.”

Lucy muses in reply, “What if… what if that is the price one has to pay for staying on? Perhaps that is how they look at it; perhaps that is how I should look at it too. They see me as owing something… Why should I be allowed to live here without paying?”

A postcolonial reading of this text allows us to examine whether Lucy’s rape might be perceived as deserved in some way because of the atrocities committed by her ancestors. This question is able to be explored in a classroom because the crime takes place within a work of literature that is rife with complex themes and ideas.

But I cannot help but question how out of place this discussion seems, given the degree of sensitivity with which issues surrounding rape culture are handled in every other aspect of university life.

Should real victims of crimes such as these also intellectualize and rationalize their experiences in this way? Certainly we would not expect this. Perhaps it is dangerous to even entertain the idea that we are able to find any rationale for these acts of violence, even within the context of a novel.

Contextualizing art and morals

I spoke to U of T Philosophy Professor Dr. Devlin Russell about considerations surrounding ethics in literature. “The view that ethical flaws in an artwork can actually produce aesthetic merit shows the importance and consideration in participating in these kind of discussions about art,” Russell said. “If it is true that ethical flaws have aesthetic benefits than they should be read and considered in spite of them,” he added.

Russell argued that there must be a way to “contextualize” this kind of work, at least within a classroom, by giving proper warnings and discussing the issues inherent with the work in question.

Still, what I found problematic about my experiences with Lolita and Disgrace was that both novels contain content that contradicts the values and ethics taught by our university. The lewd acts, expressions, and modes of behaviour that are explored in these books would undoubtedly be deemed unacceptable by the Code of Student Behaviour.

The content of Lolita, especially, was regarded as ‘artistic,’ because it had been bestowed upon us by Nabokov, who is considered a true literary force.

I asked myself what my own moral responsibilities were as a student, especially when dealing with literature in murky moral ground.

A few years ago, a publishing company in Alabama made headlines by replacing all instances of the n-word in Huckleberry Finn with the word ‘slave.’ If this epithet shouldn’t be used in teaching of the novel, why should the actions of Humbert Humbert of Lolita be given a free pass? I did not understand who was responsible for this arbitration and where the lines should be drawn.

We must ask ourselves where the boundaries of acceptability are for texts that contain this morally questionable content. To investigate, I examined the kinds of literature that are not being taught in classrooms, in order to gain an understanding of how far is too far and who or what has the final say.

I consulted the Canadian Border Service Agency’s Policy on the Classification of Hate, Propaganda, Sedition, and Treason, the only legal guideline I could find regarding ethically inflammatory works of art. The policy is designed to limit potentially harmful, obscene, or seditious written properties from entering or being supported by our country.

The policy states that “expressive” materials have been found to be protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ guarantee of freedom of expression. However, infringement on this guarantee can be justified, because “the overriding objective of the law is the avoidance of harm to society… a sufficiently substantial concern to warrant a restriction on freedom of expression.

Among the literature currently prohibited by the CBSA’s policy is The Turner Diaries, a radical novel by William Luther Pierce that espouses a white supremacist ideology. The book presents an alternative future in which racial tensions in America have caused geographic divides, leading to a revolution that plunges the United States into a race war.

The book’s status is tainted, and it is considered abhorrent because it was used by domestic terrorists in order to ideologically justify racially motivated attacks and bombings. A copy of The Turner Diaries was found in the possession of Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing attacks of 1995. David Copeland, a British neo-Nazi responsible for a racially motivated bombing campaign in 1999 that killed three, cited the book as inspiration.

Moreover, the policy also prohibited this book’s import to Canada, because of its blatant advocacy for illegal hate crimes, which was predicated upon the perspectives of its morally twisted main characters.

And while it seems reasonable to ban this work, the question becomes: why stop there? If it is justifiable to censor some potentially harmful literature, we must return to the previous question and ask whether or not this policy should apply to other controversial works of literature, including books like Lolita and Disgrace.

Is it the quality of the latter books’ prose that sets them apart and nullifies any immoral content contained in them? It is troubling to think that if something is well written, it becomes exempt from charges of immorality.

Whatever the reason, these texts seem immune to the prohibitive effects of the CBSA’s policy, and teaching them in a classroom is considered justified. Even if we can view ‘dangerous’ literature within a certain context in order to confront or bypass their immoral aspects, ought the university to teach them?

While Professor Russell’s view offers a reasonable way to engage with ethically flawed literary works, this approach would still directly conflict with the CBSA’s policy. If we allow works like The Turner Diaries to be taught according to this contextualized approach, we risk breaking the law and endangering the safety of students that is protected by the university’s Code of Student Behaviour.

The reality is that books like The Turner Diaries will probably never be taught in schools because they’re already prohibited. Despite whatever context or disclaimer is applied, the reality is that The Turner Diaries itself will not be released and will never be contextualized like Lolita or Disgrace.

Here, distinguishing between art and life becomes murky. If we accept some forms of expression that propagate rape culture and otherwise offensive subject matter, how can we be as active in fighting these offences on campus? And if everyone recognizes that it’s wrong to support abusive or racist words and actions, we must reckon with the ability of writers to use this unacceptable language and behavior freely in a fictional setting.

When entering university, we’re taught to engage with challenging material by questioning its intentions. At the same time we ourselves are being carefully instructed as to how we ourselves are allowed to speak, write and behave. It is my opinion that we need consistency in the way that we address the characters of our literary texts, and the characters in our own student body. We should at least attempt to recognize, and perhaps even reconcile, the disparity between the theory and practice in these matters.

Torontonians, hold on to your music venues

A spate of closures underscores the need to preserve the city’s nightlife

Torontonians, hold on to your music venues

It has not been a good year for Toronto’s live music lovers. Since January, the city has said goodbye to venues such as The Hoxton, Hugh’s Room, Soy Bomb HQ, and The Central. The alarming rate of closures has caused anxiety in fans and musicians alike regarding the future of Toronto’s music scene, and the city must respond to their concerns.

Toronto continues to expand outwards and upwards, showing no signs of slowing down. Property values increase while rents skyrocket. Students are well aware of the increasingly high cost of living, and fewer of them can afford to live downtown. This applies not only to students, but to young people in general, as well as Toronto’s artistic community.

People are searching for alternative, affordable housing, and the downtown core of Toronto is losing a degree of excitement.

Toronto’s music venues are scattered around its downtown core, where condominiums are rising, along with rental prices. The fewer the number of young people living downtown, the harder it becomes to get anyone into these venues, and the more difficult it becomes for these places to occupy their expensive real estate. It is clear that the forces of commercial gentrification are putting significant pressure on our local music community.

Things may seem bleak, however, many might argue these are growing pains in the natural development of a city. The population of the Greater Toronto Area is six million, and it continues to grow. While more people want to live here, the supply of houses is low, rendering condo development necessary.

However, Mayor John Tory and city councillors must remember that an abundance of visible skyscrapers does not equal a thriving city. It is the people inside these buildings that comprise a city’s culture. The ‘buy local’ movement needs an artistic equivalent: we must start getting out to support our local musicians.

Musician Jacob Switzer of the bands Goodbye Honolulu and Headspace has been performing live for seven years. Along with band mates Emmett Webb and Fox Martindale, he also founded the independent record label Fried Records.

“When I first started playing live music, I was an underage high school student… Quite limited when it came to opportunities and venues willing to allow my band to play. We also would try to find venues that allowed us to play for free, like The Central… and The Cavern,” said Switzer.

Switzer also commented on the pressure on artists and venues to draw crowds to maintain Toronto’s artistic scene.

“Everyone in the arts is competing for eyeballs… People getting out and supporting local live music is really important, and means a lot to the bands, and lets venues continue to operate and want to put on shows,” Switzer said.

“It’s unfortunate when venues close down, especially for ugly condos, but it’s just part of city development, and as long as people support live music, venues will continue opening. It just sucks to lose all that history,” he added.

Recently there has been speculation surrounding the closure of cultural landmark The Silver Dollar Room. After a string of venue closures, the announcement of the Silver Dollar’s impending shutdown seemed to awaken protests, and city hall was soon called upon to address the closures.

A joint message from Tory and Councillor Josh Colle, the Chair of the Toronto Music Advisory Council, described their concern and shared disappointment in the city’s dwindling supply of live music venues.

In early February, it was announced that although the Silver Dollar will be closing temporarily for development of a neighbouring student residence, it will indeed reopen once construction is over. This is good news for local music fans, given the venue’s historic cultural significance, as well as its iconic signage that alone is worth preserving.

Toronto is a growing city, and rents can be expected to continue to rise, contributing to increased pressure on the local music scene. However, people can also take action to support our local artists, and demand that the city attempts to as well.

Sounding the alarm

Shocked responses to hatred are understandable, but we should take care that they are productive

Sounding the alarm

Our jaws often drop in the face of discriminatory conduct that surfaces on campus, in politics, and in the media. Yet for communities that are constantly plagued by prejudice, resurgences of hatred are hardly surprising. Particularly in the midst of the dramaticism that has pervaded the current political climate, hatred in its less blatant forms often slips by unnoticed — but we should not lose sight of the systemic factors that underlie shocks to the public conscience.

Shock has a productive role to play in the fight against hatred. Instead of dwelling on surprise, we ought to heed isolated instances of extreme hatred as warning signs — encouraging us to come to terms with the pervasive ignorance around us. Ultimately, it is in our best interest to utilize reactionary responses in a more productive manner.

Blunt and overt hatred is becoming the new normal in political environments across the globe. In the US, Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by labelling Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and criminals. In Europe, Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, has suggested that Europe is facing an “Islamic invasion” and has been charged with inciting hatred for making racist comments about Moroccans. And with the notoriously anti-Muslim Marine Le Pen preparing a bid for the French presidency, the Western world is witnessing a campaign of open hatred that is incomparable to mainstream political behaviour in recent years.

Perhaps it is due to this newfound blatancy that many remain in sheer disbelief that hateful sentiments continue to pervade political discussions. Regrettably, this may delay or interfere with confronting them directly. Canadians are certainly not exempt from such phenomena, and we see examples of this on campus as well.

For instance, some critics of The Algenheimer’s recent conclusion that U of T is the “third worst university in North America for Jewish students” were based on the erroneous proposition that campuses are now entirely free of anti-Semitism. This is ignorant of instances of anti-Semitism that occurred this very academic year, such as the defacement of campus signage with swastikas.

Meanwhile, classroom conversations about politics are often riddled with expressions of surprise at the experiences of victims of injustice — including fellow students — on the parts of those who do not regularly experience marginalization.

The reactionary dog-whistling of bigotry has been an effective and long-standing tactic in response to unseeming policies targeted at marginalized groups. At the same time, we should not lose sight of our top priority when calling these instances out: investigating potential solutions.

There is another sense of urgency associated with this, in that students are among the most affected by politics. Long-term shifts that we have only just begun to observe will eventually take their toll on our generation, and it will be up to us to make sense of what we are now witnessing.

Students also have a unique ability to address hatred where it lives. Our position at the epicentre of the university, a locus of political conversation, grants us enormous advantages in terms of organizing for social change. Our education trains us to be more critical and discerning in what is now so popularly referred to as a ‘post-truth’ world. Considering the institutional resources we have at our disposal, it is difficult to imagine a time in our lives when the same quantity and quality of information will be so readily available.

Therefore, we must collectively take advantage of the opportunities at our disposal to equip ourselves with facts and logic. Doing so will allow us to dispel the myths and falsehoods that appear so often in political demagoguery.

Once armed with the facts, we can initiate more conversations about the true pervasiveness of bigotry when it arises in the form of isolated incidents.

The hope is that the existence of bigotry will eventually come as less of a surprise to all of us, having developed a better understanding of why and how it spreads. At the same time, veering from shock to more nuanced understanding should not be done in the name of desensitizing ourselves to the often traumatic effects of hatred, nor dilute the condemnation we ought to express in its face.

If anything, urgency should be accompanied by a collective acknowledgement of how much work there is to be done before systemic issues are truly eradicated. Such a pairing is optimal, and ought only to spur us forward.

Violent suppression of speech sets a dangerous precedent

Protesters at U of T, Berkeley should be condemned

Violent suppression of speech sets a dangerous precedent

Recent and notable cases of self-proclaimed ‘anti-fascist’ demonstrators forcibly disrupting campus events are cause for concern with respect to both public safety and freedom of speech. As a University of Toronto student, I am deeply concerned about the events that have transpired both at U of T and the University of California, Berkeley over the past weeks.

At Berkeley, in response to the announcement that right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was slated to speak on campus, masked protesters set fire to public property, smashed windows and doors with crowd-control barricades, and assaulted and pepper-sprayed both bystanders and Yiannopoulos supporters. This culminated in Yiannopoulos being escorted off campus in a bulletproof vest.

While the protests were comparatively tame here at U of T, campus and city police were called in response to protesters at the Toronto Action Forum, a conference featuring speakers such as Ezra Levant and Jordan Peterson.

One protester attempted to lunge past an officer, as The Varsity reported in its news coverage of the incident. The event was ultimately derailed when someone pulled a fire alarm —  a violation of Section 437 of the Criminal Code of Canada — which resulted in chaos and forced security to shut down the event. 

Among other motives, these criminal activities were targeted towards fighting against hate speech. Yet perhaps we will have a better idea of whether the rhetoric of Yiannopoulos, Levant, and Peterson truly represent hate speech if they are actually allowed to speak first.

The ability to voice your opinions, no matter how controversial or unpopular they may be, is one of the cornerstones of a functioning democracy. It disturbs me greatly that suppression of these opinions occurred on university campuses, places that traditionally facilitate and encourage the unfettered exchange of knowledge and ideas.

I am fully aware that there are necessary contextual restrictions on all freedoms, freedom of speech included. Laws against hate speech exist to protect our most vulnerable and to maintain the civility of our society. As of late, however, the term ‘hate speech’ has been hijacked by various groups to describe any opinion that does not conform to one’s own, sometimes with bizarre results.

For instance, the prospect of Yiannopoulos — a gay, Jewish immigrant — advocating hate against people like himself is absurd, and yet he has been accused of being homophobic, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic by many who disagree with his opinions.

It is easy to avoid controversy, ignore differing opinions, or slap a label on someone because their views are offensive.  Yet, as intellectuals and future leaders of society, we cannot in good conscience declare one opinion to be superior when we have not given any others a fair chance.

The violent shutdown of speech on campus is ironic, particularly when supporters allege it to be in the name of preserving a safe space on campus. If someone’s views are truly hateful, they should be defeated with reason and logic, not intimidation and censorship.

Everybody has the right to protest, and I imagine that the majority of those involved in the protests were only there to represent their views and not incite violence. What is troubling, however, is the muted response by authorities against those who did carry out violent acts.

The U of T administration has yet to issue any official statements regarding the protests against the Toronto Action Forum. South of the border, the mayor of the city of Berkeley took the time to tweet that “Hate speech isn’t welcome in [the] community,” and only added his disapproval of the violence used to shut it down as an afterthought.

While the protests at Berkeley were indeed more violent than the protests at U of T, both shared the common goal of shutting down free speech — a goal that should be treated with the same level of condemnation.

We are living in an age where individuals are condoning the use of physical violence to express disapproval, and descending a slippery slope where crime is being normalized, as long as it is committed from a misguided moral high ground. The right to peaceful protest should be protected, but smashing doors and windows should not.

Violence is never justified, and it is important to condemn it when it is carried out to silence others. Yet, in a gross display of cowardice, universities have stayed quiet on this issue, or have even taken the side of violent perpetrators.

U of T ought to loudly and publicly denounce the individuals who disrupted the Toronto Action Forum for what they are: anti-democratic, dangerous, and criminal. What the university should also do is invite speakers like Yiannopoulos, Levant, and Peterson to the university — demonstrating that we value free speech and polite debate, and that we will not be intimidated by extremists who resort to violence to silence opposing views.

Robert Zhang is an Industrial Engineering student currently completing his professional experience year.

Are unpaid internships fair?

Two contributors spar over concerns about unpaid internships

Are unpaid internships fair?

Debate Club is a column that pits writers head-to-head on questions that matter to students. Though it lacks the shaky knees and microphone feedback screeches that typically accompany any oratory competition, rest assured that Debate Club is not for the faint of heart.


Resolution: “Be it resolved that unpaid internships are fair.”

In favour: Zach Rosen (ZR), first-year History and Philosophy student at Trinity College

Opposed: Avneet Sharma (AS), second-year English and Cinema Studies student at Trinity College

ZR: It’s nearly spring, and for many of us, the changing of the seasons is accompanied by a realization: in six short weeks, we will be free from schoolwork, with little else to occupy our newly emancipated time. Unpaid internships are one way to fill the vacuum in our hearts that papers, assignments, and midterms can no longer occupy.

The issue at hand today comes down to whether a distinction can be drawn between an intern and an employee, and my position is in the affirmative. Fundamentally, interns are not at work to contribute or help out in meaningful ways. Instead, an intern is there to observe, learn, and make connections. An intern is working for their own benefit, and should be compensated as such — which is to say, not at all.

AS: Unpaid internships are inherently unfair. They may offer learning experiences in a student’s prospective field, as well as the opportunity to make connections. Yet, such opportunities are only accessible to those who have the financial means to support themselves. Should a student lack a steady income, they may be forced to seek part-time jobs, which they may find unsustainable in regards to time management and mental health.

Ultimately, unpaid internships are for the benefit of employers and the upper class while putting those without similar resources at a disadvantage. It is crucial to view unpaid internships as a method for corporations to exploit students, cut the costs of paid labour, and alleviate their legal obligations and potential liabilities.

ZR: Let’s not kid ourselves here: anything an unpaid intern can do, a current staff member is already doing the other nine months of the year. Anyone can get coffee, make copies, or take notes or messages. An unpaid intern is, by nature, expendable. Unpaid internships are not intended to replace part-time jobs; they simply exist to allow students to gain meaningful experience.

Furthermore, it’s absolutely true that not everyone can afford to do unpaid work. But similarly, not everyone can afford to go to university, and of those of us who can, not all of us can live on campus. It is an unfortunate and problematic fact that the road to achievement is bumpier for some than it is for others, yet condemning unpaid internships — which are beneficial to those do who engage in them — is not a comprehensive solution.

AS: We shouldn’t minimize the contributions that interns make to their respective corporations. Getting coffee, making copies, taking notes and messages may be mundane, but they are tasks that keep a business afloat and organized. Additionally, this scenario suggests that unpaid interns are performing tasks that other employees are paid to do, revealing concerns about exploitation.

I don’t disagree that university itself is unfair — students from lower income households are put at a disadvantage when burdened with tuition, textbook costs, and living expenses. Yet these inequalities are exacerbated when some students can afford to spend their summers working for free, while others are forced to turn down such opportunities in favour of financially feasible, but potentially less meaningful work. This point reveals a more widespread issue of putting students without financial means at a disadvantage, and unpaid internships are clearly part of the problem.

Are unpaid internships unfair?

Yes
No

Poll Maker

Why students should vote in the 2018 Ontario election

From tuition costs to financial deficits, the economic interests of student voters are on the line

Why students should vote in the 2018 Ontario election

Ontario’s forty-second general election was recently called for June 7, 2018. On this day, students will be among those heading to the polls to elect the government that will lead our province for the next four years.

The person who is elected, or reelected, Premier of Ontario will inherit a problematic situation; they will have to balance Ontario’s growing fiscal deficit and the need for massive infrastructure expansion, and handle concerns specific to students such as the desire for affordable post-secondary education and job growth.

Ontario requires prudent and innovative leadership to navigate the novel socioeconomic challenges of the twenty-first century.

Undergraduate education can be a financial burden on families, especially when considering rising costs of living and stagnant wages. Students alarmed about the soaring costs of undergraduate education and about Ontario’s financial situation in general should voice their concerns at the 2018 polls.

The incumbent provincial Liberal government has tried to make undergraduate education more accessible with the Ontario Student Grant, a reformation of OSAP that will offer substantial grants to eligible students.

Unfortunately, these changes will also involve the elimination of government tax credits, and professional education programs — which are usually more expensive, do not qualify for federal grants, and are typically subsidized by tax credits — will miss out.

Students planning on attending graduate school or professional studies should be especially concerned about this redistribution of government resources, as it can put Ontario students at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive job market that demands highly specialized skills.

Students, along with the general population, have also long demanded an expansion of our subway lines and roads in order to shorten rush hours and reduce traffic congestion. The Ontario Liberals hope to satisfy these demands by spending an additional $160 billion over the next 12 years on subway infrastructure.

Although this initiative will add 31,000 jobs to our economy, it will also increase Ontario’s provincial debt by an additional $50 billion, which ought to be cause for concern.

The Financial Post describes Ontario as being the “world’s most indebted sub-sovereign borrower,” having accumulated a provincial debt of over $300 billion. To put this into context, Ontario contains a third of the population of the state of California, but has accumulated twice the debt.

A recent report by Ontario’s auditor general Bonnie Lysyk indicated that our provincial budget allocates more financial resources towards interest payments on existing debt — totaling approximately $350 million per year — in comparison to the resources allocated to post-secondary education. Lysyk also predicts that Ontario will need to cut funding from additional government programs in the future in order to compensate for high borrowing costs.

Current students should be worried about the future stability of Ontario’s economy as the province’s credit rating declines and the interest rate on its debt increases. This is all the more significant considering the concerns with how money is presently being managed in the province, which will play a part in determining how financially secure students will be once they enter the workforce and have to start paying back debts.

The Wynne government recently launched privatization of 60 per cent of Hydro One in order to fund infrastructure projects. Consequently, Ontario is expected to lose $500 million per year in the long run due to a loss in profitable dividend payments. Energy bills are also expected to rise in 2017, while Ontario has failed to determine a long-term solution to our energy crisis.

The Ontario Liberal Party currently holds a majority in Queen’s Park with an aggregate of 57 seats. Yet Wynne has seen her party’s popularity hit historic lows after being plagued by multiple scandals stretching back to the McGuinty era.

In contrast, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario — currently the official opposition with 29 seats — has seen a revival. This reversal of fortune can be attributed to its charismatic new leader Patrick Brown. CBC’s Éric Gernier indicated that the Progressive Conservatives were currently out-polling the Liberals by a staggering margin of 15 per cent, suggesting that we may see a leadership change come 2018.

Ultimately, it is critical that U of T students — and students across the province — closely follow the campaign promises and platforms of all political parties contesting in the forty-second Ontario election in order to determine which platform most closely aligns with their needs. Student voters have the ability to exercise control over the election’s outcome — and it is in the best interests of all Ontario citizens that students make informed decisions at the polls.

Abishnan Ravi is a third-year student at UTSC studying Human Biology and Political Science.

Violent suppression of speech sets a dangerous precedent

Protesters at U of T, Berkeley should be condemned

Violent suppression of speech sets a dangerous precedent

Recent and notable cases of self-proclaimed ‘anti-fascist’ demonstrators forcibly disrupting campus events are cause for concern with respect to both public safety and freedom of speech. As a University of Toronto student, I am deeply concerned about the events that have transpired both at U of T and the University of California, Berkeley over the past weeks.

At Berkeley, in response to the announcement that right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was slated to speak on campus, masked protesters set fire to public property, smashed windows and doors with crowd-control barricades, and assaulted and pepper-sprayed both bystanders and Yiannopoulos supporters. This culminated in Yiannopoulos being escorted off campus in a bulletproof vest.

While the protests were comparatively tame here at U of T, campus and city police were called in response to protesters at the Toronto Action Forum, a conference featuring speakers such as Ezra Levant and Jordan Peterson.

One protester attempted to lunge past an officer, as The Varsity reported in its news coverage of the incident. The event was ultimately derailed when someone pulled a fire alarm —  a violation of Section 437 of the Criminal Code of Canada — which resulted in chaos and forced security to shut down the event. 

Among other motives, these criminal activities were targeted towards fighting against hate speech. Yet perhaps we will have a better idea of whether the rhetoric of Yiannopoulos, Levant, and Peterson truly represent hate speech if they are actually allowed to speak first.

The ability to voice your opinions, no matter how controversial or unpopular they may be, is one of the cornerstones of a functioning democracy. It disturbs me greatly that suppression of these opinions occurred on university campuses, places that traditionally facilitate and encourage the unfettered exchange of knowledge and ideas.

I am fully aware that there are necessary contextual restrictions on all freedoms, freedom of speech included. Laws against hate speech exist to protect our most vulnerable and to maintain the civility of our society. As of late, however, the term ‘hate speech’ has been hijacked by various groups to describe any opinion that does not conform to one’s own, sometimes with bizarre results.

For instance, the prospect of Yiannopoulos — a gay, Jewish immigrant — advocating hate against people like himself is absurd, and yet he has been accused of being homophobic, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic by many who disagree with his opinions.

It is easy to avoid controversy, ignore differing opinions, or slap a label on someone because their views are offensive.  Yet, as intellectuals and future leaders of society, we cannot in good conscience declare one opinion to be superior when we have not given any others a fair chance.

The violent shutdown of speech on campus is ironic, particularly when supporters allege it to be in the name of preserving a safe space on campus. If someone’s views are truly hateful, they should be defeated with reason and logic, not intimidation and censorship.

Everybody has the right to protest, and I imagine that the majority of those involved in the protests were only there to represent their views and not incite violence. What is troubling, however, is the muted response by authorities against those who did carry out violent acts.

The U of T administration has yet to issue any official statements regarding the protests against the Toronto Action Forum. South of the border, the mayor of the city of Berkeley took the time to tweet that “Hate speech isn’t welcome in [the] community,” and only added his disapproval of the violence used to shut it down as an afterthought.

While the protests at Berkeley were indeed more violent than the protests at U of T, both shared the common goal of shutting down free speech — a goal that should be treated with the same level of condemnation.

We are living in an age where individuals are condoning the use of physical violence to express disapproval, and descending a slippery slope where crime is being normalized, as long as it is committed from a misguided moral high ground. The right to peaceful protest should be protected, but smashing doors and windows should not.

Violence is never justified, and it is important to condemn it when it is carried out to silence others. Yet, in a gross display of cowardice, universities have stayed quiet on this issue, or have even taken the side of violent perpetrators.

U of T ought to loudly and publicly denounce the individuals who disrupted the Toronto Action Forum for what they are: anti-democratic, dangerous, and criminal. What the university should also do is invite speakers like Yiannopoulos, Levant, and Peterson to the university — demonstrating that we value free speech and polite debate, and that we will not be intimidated by extremists who resort to violence to silence opposing views.

Robert Zhang is an Industrial Engineering student currently completing his professional experience year.