Responsible reporting on sexual violence

Robyn Doolittle, Shannon Giannitsopoulou, and Lauren McKeon joined The Varsity to discuss responsible journalism for difficult subject matter

Responsible reporting on sexual violence

At the end of the last academic year, my friend Tamsyn Riddle announced she was filing a human rights complaint against U of T and Trinity College for their handling of her sexual violence complaint. Shortly after, I was elected as The Varsity’s Features Editor. Throughout the summer, while working a nine-to-five job, I began preparing potential feature stories for this year. Following the aftermath of ex-CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi’s sexual assault acquittal, I was adamant that the issue of sexual violence needed to be covered in-depth in my section — I just didn’t know how.

It was sometime during my two-hour commute to work that I came up with the idea for a series on the subject. I wasn’t entirely sure how it would look, but I knew it would be a multifaceted endeavor.

In the middle of the summer I caught up with Riddle in a small Annex diner. I wanted to get her opinion on the potential series. She liked the idea, agreed the issue should be covered, and expressed interest in writing a feature on her experience reporting her assault to the university.

Her article was published on September 25. In the process of editing the story, I had multiple conversations with the Editor-in-Chief and Riddle herself on whether to name faculty and staff members relevant to her story. Because the story was a first-person narrative, it didn’t make sense to reach out to those mentioned for comment. Instead, with Riddle’s permission, we included an editor’s note at the top of the article explaining that “allegations made toward the faculty members and staff members identified in this article are unproven in court;” Riddle could write an open account of her experience, and The Varsity could protect itself legally.

The conversations we had in the newsroom regarding this article were crucial. We all recognized the importance of publishing the story, but the path to doing so was not clear-cut. I wanted Riddle’s story published, but I also wanted to ensure I was being fair to all those involved. Ultimately, the topic of the Responsible Reporting on Sexual Violence panel, hosted at The Varsity on November 15, stemmed from this tension: how should journalists cover stories of sexual violence in a respectful and responsible way?

I had the privilege of hosting this panel discussion and moderating it with Riddle. The Varsity collaborated on the event with a sexual violence activist organization at U of T that Riddle is a member of called Silence is Violence. The panelists came from an array of backgrounds and spoke from varying perspectives. Shannon Giannitsopoulou is the co-founder of femifesto, a feminist organization based in Toronto. She is also a contributing writer for “Use the Right Words: Media Reporting on Sexual Violence in Canada,” a guide for the media when covering issues concerning sexual violence. Her perspective was valuable at the panel because it is not from inside the media itself, but rather from working to educate those who work in the media and how they should cover the subject.

Lauren McKeon, our second panelist, has primarily worked in magazines. She is currently the digital editor at The Walrus and a contributing editor at Toronto Life. McKeon also taught at Humber College and is the author of F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism. Her article for Toronto Life, “Fifteen years of silence: I was raped three times in less than 10 years. I knew all of my attackers. This is my story,” was an honest and raw portrayal of the experiences of a sexual violence survivor. I was grateful to have her speak at the event.

Our final panelist, Robyn Doolittle, broke one of the largest stories in recent Canadian history on police treatment of those who formally report their sexual assaults. Her investigation took approximately 20 months, during which she explored instances of police dismissing sexual assault cases as “unfounded” — essentially, when police believed the assault never occurred. Before this “Unfounded,” article, Doolittle wrote for the Toronto Star covering former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Given the breadth of her coverage and implications it has had on policy, we were happy to have her attend the panel.

With the unique experiences of these three women, the conversation was extremely insightful. It explored questions that I had as a student journalist who has covered this topic, and it showcased perspectives I hadn’t considered. In this vein, I thought it was fitting to break down the key issues discussed at the event — for the public, for journalists, and for myself.

We need to take this moment now as journalists to look at what stories aren’t being told…what we’re missing, what we’re going to tell, and how we’re going to tell it.


Over the last few weeks, the outcry of sexual assault allegations against multiple men in Hollywood has been astonishing. Riddle asked the panelists how these stories and similar ones impacted conversations about sexual violence and its media coverage.

Giannitsopoulou began by mentioning that, when working on femifesto’s guide in 2011, a lot of these large stories were not yet published. She’s pleased that the guide was created before the Ghomeshi case and the Harvey Weinstein scandal because it’s readily available at a time when reporters need it.

Giannitsopoulou also discussed the importance of diversity of stories, paying particular attention to whose stories are told and which stories garner attention and space. She said, “Indigenous women from Saskatchewan that were missing… have 3.5 times less coverage than women in Ontario that were also murdered and missing. And they were less likely to have images of the women.” Giannitsopoulou continued by pointing out that Indigenous women who are shown in newspapers are more likely to be “on the corner of the page and not on the front page.”

McKeon agreed with Giannitsopoulou, saying, “I think we need to take this moment now as journalists to look at what stories aren’t being told… what we’re missing, what we’re going to tell, and how we’re going to tell it.” Given the increasing coverage of this subject, McKeon said that “now’s the time that there is this appetite for [sexual violence coverage] and people are really listening… which is both encouraging and a little depressing.”

Doolittle discussed the impact these stories have had on policy given the increased attention. She specifically spoke about the implications of her Unfounded series: “since Unfounded ran in February… something like half of the police services in this country have reviewed thousands of sexual assault cases, they’re passing policies around having supervisors involved in decisions, they’re doing a training overhaul that takes the neurobiology of trauma into account, the federal government has committed a hundred million dollars to address violence against women.”



Language was, unsurprisingly, discussed at length. I asked the panelists what process journalists should follow when choosing language and phrasing about sexual violence. The question stemmed from my understanding of sexual violence terminology, specifically the common use of the term ‘survivor’ over ‘victim.’

Acknowledging that wording can be “tricky,” Giannitsopoulou stressed the importance of ensuring the consent of a source when deciding how they will be identified in a story: “I personally prefer the word ‘survivor.’ I think it underlines resilience. But some people don’t like the word ‘survivor’, some people prefer the word ‘victim’ because it speaks to their experience of healing.”

While objectivity is key when reporting, Giannitsopoulou mentioned that all language has connotations and that “no language is neutral.”

Doolittle mentioned that the “Use the Right Words” campaign Giannitsopoulou has worked on in femifesto has taught her a lot as a journalist. “What it’s really taught me is that journalists are very careful about some of the language they use around sexual assault allegations and not careful around allegations for other crimes.”

Instead of removing the term ‘allegedly’ when reporting on sexual violence, Doolittle suggested that news reporters and investigative journalists actively include the term when referring to other types of crime. In doing so, the term ‘allegedly’ is no longer associated with sexual violence but rather all unproven crimes. Additionally, Doolittle doesn’t use the terms ‘survivor’ or ‘victim’ in her reporting unless a court ruling is made — she often uses the term ‘complainant’ instead.

“If I say someone was a victim of sexual assault, I am saying it happened. If I say they were a victim, I am saying it happened. And, it’s not that I don’t believe them… but I do the story a disservice by not being as objective as possible,” said Doolittle.

McKeon spoke on the relationship between language, communication, and trust, saying that once trust is broken between a reporter and their source there’s little way to reclaim it. Because sexual violence survivors already face high rates of skepticism, confidence in a reporter for accurately sharing their stories is imperative, McKeon added.


Given the virality of the #MeToo campaign following Weinstein’s coverage and the popularity of the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported a few years earlier, I was interested in what the panelists thought about social media activism, if it has helped progress conversations, and if it has influenced their work.

McKeon said that social media activism encouraged her to come forward with her own story, and that online activism and hashtags have the potential to build a community. However, she said that journalists should use online sexual violence trends as “a launching off point.”

“What we have to do though is find a way to move beyond those hashtags in our reporting, because they don’t tell the whole story,” said McKeon.

Doolittle expressed that the power of #MeToo was in demonstrating both explicit instances of sexual violence and injustices that women face on a daily basis.

Giannitsopoulou discussed the subject of social media activism and the #MeToo campaign as requiring nuance: “I’m glad that people are sharing their stories, but I don’t want survivors to feel like if they’re not feeling safe or if they don’t want to share their stories that their experience as a survivor is not valid.

“I would also not like to put the onus on survivors to have to keep telling our stories when we know one in three women, one in six men have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, and [for] trans and non-binary folks it’s disproportionately higher than that,” said Giannitsopoulou.

Throughout my process of organizing and moderating this panel, one common theme stood out: consent in reporting. While there are a variety of considerations to take into account when reporting on issues of sexual violence — and I definitely learned a lot — it’s important to remember that, as McKeon stated, “No survivor owes you their story.”

It is crucial for us as journalists to ensure open communication, respect, and to uphold the consent of survivors in each step of the publishing process. This includes consent with terminology, consent to going on record, and consent to sharing their story.

— With files from Priyanka Sharma.


Watch the full livestream on the panel on Facebook.

Jeska Eedens leads a bright future for Blues women’s lacrosse

The head coach earned bronze and OUA coach of the year honours in 2017

Jeska Eedens leads a bright future for Blues women’s lacrosse

After a transformative sophomore season coaching the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s lacrosse team, head coach Jeska Eedens is heading back to her family home in St. Catharines. On a Friday morning, a few hours before she’s scheduled to depart Toronto, Eedens, alongside co-captain Sarah Jamieson, recounts the year-long journey the team underwent following their second consecutive seventh-place finish in 2016.

It was not a fluke that just a week prior, the Blues defeated Wilfrid Laurier University to earn bronze at the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championships.

“At the end of last season it was very clear afterwards that we are better than this and we have the talent, the systems, and everything in place that we shouldn’t be in seventh anymore,” says Eedens. “This time last year, literally a week after OUAs, I was getting messages from our girls being like, ‘Hey, when are we lifting, when are starting the offseason, when are we going?’ And so we spent a year working towards it, and our goal was a gold medal, a championship.”

Jamieson believes Eedens has provided Toronto with an outline for success, one that begins with her constant effort to reinforce a strong team culture. She expresses that prior to Eedens’ hiring, the team lacked cohesion and the ability to set an overall goal.

“Since Jess has taken over we’ve been able to see that we, as players, have such an impact on how we play on the field and also what we put into our offseason,” says Jamieson. “Our goal-setting, our working out really dictates what’s going to happen… She’s given us a vision [and] the girls have grasped it.”

“It was important to me to make sure the girls always knew that I 100 per cent believed that they can do it,” adds Eedens.

As the Blues enter the offseason with a plethora of graduating players, Eedens is excited by the challenge of rebuilding the team. She spent last summer tinkering with different lineups and shift changes, scheduling when and where each player was subject to play depending on the various game situation, but without last season’s veteran squad, she no longer has the luxury of knowing her entire lineup.

“Going into next year is going to be a lot of fun because everything is going to be so different, we’re going to be seeing new players really stepping into roles that they were just starting to get into at the end of this season,” says Eedens.

A self-described lacrosse nerd, Eedens appears jovial. Earlier in the morning she provided Edmonton’s Vimy Ridge Academy lacrosse team with a campus tour, where she highlighted the campus and facilities as well as the benefits of competing at a Canadian university.

“A lot of players look to the States, but… more and more girls are starting to stay in Canada to play as the OUA becomes more competitive,” explains Eedens. “It’s really nice to outline for them: you can have this really competitive varsity experience and this great student athlete experience while coming to this amazing university.”

“I hope we can do more stuff like that because they were really engaged,” she says.

Eedens wants to build a program that can rival the Western Mustangs, the “perennial powerhouse” and side that defeated Toronto 10–4 in the semifinals, a match she admits felt a lot closer than the final score suggests. Eedens notes the Blues had a tough time finding the back of the net in the match and were unable to stop the Mustangs. Western went on to win the championship, their sixth title in the past seven seasons.

“The girls on the Western team said we gave them a battle… despite it being a loss, we were still proud of our efforts in that game,” Eedens says. “We gave them a run for their money.”


The offseason, which began unofficially with lifting sessions that will go until Christmas, ramps up in January with three lift days per week and one weekly practice and scrimmage. Last year, the Blues went to the US and faced Williams College in an exhibition match during the offseason, and they are looking to do something similar in the coming months, as well as play in a tournament. Eedens utilizes the offseason as a period of time to break down mechanics and focus on the little things with each player. Graduating players will also participate in workouts to help bridge the gap and better prepare next year’s team.

“That was something that during the season our players were really good about. They understand that some of the newer girls need some playing time in games, trying to set them up, and trying to teach them, so that when it’s their turn next year they’re a little more prepared,” explains Eedens. “We still have some great leaders returning and it’s going to be up to them to step up and were really going to be looking towards them.”

She also makes a candid pitch for other athletes around campus to participate in lacrosse.

“Female athletes who are looking for something new and have played a lot of sports should play intramural lacrosse hands down,” she says. “I played for a year and I became a captain, the government paid my tuition, I played for Team Scotland, [and] I’m the head coach now. It’s an easy sport to learn because it uses so many skills from other sports.”

Through Eedens’ meticulous preparation and vocal leadership, it’s easy to see why she was selected OUA lacrosse coach of the year by her peers. Describing the magnitude of the award and her immediate thoughts upon receiving the achievement briefly stagnates the well-versed coach.

“To know that people you have a lot of respect for wanted to recognize me is a great honour,” explains Eedens. “I was really surprised, pleasantly surprised.”

“I think that she deserved it more than anyone else…We implemented certain systems that wouldn’t have been able to be implemented without her,” adds Jamieson. “We are so lucky to have her.”

Eedens first picked up a lacrosse stick at 17, before she entered U of T about a decade ago. She knew she wanted to play on a Blues team but was unsure which one. She considered volleyball, soccer, and rowing, but her path was ultimately dictated by her love for lacrosse. After spending her rookie season as a bench-warmer, Eedens blossomed as a key defender for Toronto under the guidance of Blues assistant coach Jamine Aponte. She earned the OUA most valuable defensive player award and all-star honours in 2009.

The following season, Eedens’ playing career was halted by a concussion, and she dropped out of school that same year. She came back to school for a fifth year, but she didn’t play, then she became a part-time student and soon found a full-time job. She suggests that over the course of her four year-layoff, she likely earned only “a credit and a half.”

In 2015, Eedens made a return to lacrosse, even though she hadn’t touched a stick in three or four years and wasn’t in shape.

“I was working full-time and was not super happy,” admits Eedens. “I had this dream job, amazing life in Toronto, but I was like, ‘I’ll take a step back to go forwards and finish my degree.’ I came back and the coach at that point said they were short on girls, so I thought, well if I’m taking a step back to my undergrad, I guess I should go back and play lacrosse too.”

“I was not a star player that year… Coming back was really me trying to finish off my degree. I got my concussion at my peak: I just had the best season of my life and I got knocked out of it, so I wanted a bit of closure.”

The following January, then-head coach Taryn Grieder needed help to run the offseason and hired Eedens as an assistant coach. When Grieder resigned, Eedens decided the most natural thing would be to apply for the vacant position. She knew the program, the girls, and she was confident she would be the best person for the job.

“I got the phone call on my convocation day, so that was a good day,” remembers Eedens.

Jamieson has had the best vantage point to view Eedens’ growth. Their relationship began when Jamieson was 14. A hockey player, Jameison was instructed to play lacrosse over the summer, and the following season Eedens was at the helm of her local team.

“It was funny coming back because I coached Sarah… this young woman with all these leadership skills and everything, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m so old,’” laughs Eedens.

“The year that [she] coached me with Jamine was actually my first year with a real coach and I was kind of like, ‘Oh, this is what lacrosse is like,’” says Jamieson.

“And it was my first time coaching, so I was like, ‘Oh this is what coaching is,’” laughs Eedens again. “Sarah will be our assistant coach next year, when she graduates.”

“Full circle,” replies Jamieson.

Varsity Blues women’s cross country team win U SPORTS championship

Sasha Gollish wins gold while Lucia Stafford places sixth

Varsity Blues women’s cross country team win U SPORTS championship

The Varsity Blues women’s cross country team won the U SPORTS Cross Country Championships in Victoria, BC last weekend, defeating the 13-year running champion Guelph Gryphons. The victory marked the first time in 15 years that the Blues have won.

On a rainy day, the Blues were pitted against top universities from across the country — their main opponents were the Queen’s Gaels and the Gryphons. It was through the Blues’ consistency in remaining in the top five that let them inch closer and closer to the front of the pack, finally leading to a first-place win.

Sasha Gollish, the oldest member of the Varsity Blues team, placed first overall with a time of 27 minutes and 37 seconds. This feat earned her the title of U SPORTS Athlete of the Year and a position with the U SPORTS First Team All-Canadians.

Blues member Lucia Stafford, who ran at 28 minutes and 18 seconds, also qualified for U SPORTS First Team All-Canadians honours. “Due to the fact that it isn’t the most spectator friendly sport, many students at U of T don’t even know that their women’s team just won the national championships – breaking Guelph’s 13 year winning streak and making history,” said Stafford in an email.

Stafford represented Team Canada at the 2016 Under-20 World Track and Field championships, and she was named 2017 Rookie of the Year. She also competed for Canada at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. “We truly became a team this year. Every workout we’d be working together, having fun along the way. We all believed in each other, especially our captain Maddy and coaches Terry and Ross. We knew we had something special and so for what felt like the first time for me, we ran for each other with the title in mind.”

The second-year engineering student beat out many veteran runners in BC and will likely continue to be a strong contender in future races as she continues both her educational and athletic careers at the University of Toronto. “This year has been very exciting and telling for our future,” said Stafford. “The Toronto team has now established itself as a serious and talented program, and intends to keep up this trend. With amazing coaches, training, and facilities, I hope that will continue.”

Starting in 1963 with the men’s competition and continuing with the 1980 women’s competition, the U SPORTS Cross Country Championships honour the best running teams in the country at the national meet. Teams from all over Canada qualified for this year’s race, with an overall participation of about 151 members.

The average time for the meet was 31 minutes and 24 seconds over a distance of eight kilometres, which was changed from the previous six-kilometre race that took place last year. Looking forward, Stafford explained her wariness of the increasing race length moving up another two kilometres from eight kilometres to the male distance of 10 kilometres.

“As a middle distance track athlete with a team mainly consisting of middle distance specialists, it won’t make sense to train for 10km cross country when our main focus is track and the shorter events,” said Stafford. Though she may have few doubts, she seems confident in her team and their abilities.

The women’s team continue to look to lengthen their winning streak and continue to build on their strong foundation.

What you need to know about circuit training

The popular and highly debated workout regiment aims to improve flexibility and coordination

What you need to know about circuit training

Circuit training has always been a hot topic within the fitness world, and it may just be worth sweating over. Circuit training is a rotation of repeated movements that maximizes cardio and strengthens muscle through sets and reps. The objective of circuit training is to train endurance as well as to strengthen and target muscles in order to improve an individual’s flexibility and coordination. Each training session typically includes a combination of both aerobic exercise and strength training.

The debate surrounding circuit training

Arguments against circuit training claim that it can limit the ability to increase strength and power, but it can also be interpreted as a workout that challenges the whole body. What you get out of your training depends on how you choose to structure it.

Circuits are designed to fit at least eight repetitions per exercise and per station. Because circuit training consists of various exercises and stations, each targeting different muscle groups, it may decrease the gains you would earn from a more specific muscle training workout.

Despite that, it is possible to do low-repetition, high-weight exercises during a circuit to include the strengthening component. The purpose of a circuit is repetition to increase endurance. Hardcore weightlifting exercises within a circuit can be too exhausting to complete in multiple rounds, especially when performed with little rest or recovery time.

How to effectively circuit train

While circuits can be tiring, an individual’s pace is important. People should be wary of the tendency to work harder and push themselves in the beginning, only to give in by the end.

This is a common mistake partly because participants may minimize or eliminate rest between stations. Participants are most effective when they use a work-rest ratio of at least 1:1. One good example is 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest.

To help avoid fast muscle fatigue, you can structure circuits for strength training by alternating between low-rep strength and high-rep endurance exercises. You can also vary the muscles each station intends on targeting, which may allow you to have a more balanced full-body workout.

Research shows that this type of training is more effective than a regular workout. You can burn up to 10 calories per minute, and the afterburn effect will have you burning off calories for up to 48 hours after your workout ends. For those who lift weights, circuit training burns 30 per cent more calories than your typical weight workout and offers more cardio benefits.

The stations associated with circuit training also provide a way to organize an individual workout plan within a tighter period of time. Another point in favour of circuit training: you can do it at the gym or at home. By participating in a circuit, you’re guaranteed to hit every major and minor muscle group.

How to create your own circuit

First, create your own circuit by deciding how long you want your workout to be. Challenge yourself by taking part in this type of training two to three times a week by completing a full circuit of four to eight exercises.

Next, create your stations. You can start with upper body then work your way to muscles in the lower body. My personal favourites for upper body exercise are ab twists, pushups, or bicep and tricep curls with handheld weights. When selecting a lower body workout, you can include lunges, calf raises, or sumo squats.

The next exercise should be compound, combining upper and lower body. Some exercises can include jumping lunges, mountain climbers, and burpees. Keep each exercise on a 30-second rotation between performance and rest. Remember the 1:1 ratio of performance and rest.

Conclude the circuit with a one-minute cardio set. Your exercise choices can be jump rope, high knees, or stair climbing. Once completed, allow yourself one minute of rest as you gear up to work through another repetition of the circuit.

Like with any workout, you get out what you put in. In the end, it is up to you to give your best 30 seconds or let the 30 seconds get the best of you.

US Ambassador to Canada hosts students, educators at US Consulate General

Kelly Knight Craft: “the cool thing about Canada and the US is that we don’t really have a border”

US Ambassador to Canada hosts students, educators at US Consulate General

As part of one of her first functions in Toronto since taking office in October, US Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft hosted students and educators from various colleges and universities on November 15. 

The event, a part of International Education Week, was a joint initiative from the US Department of Education and the US State Department in an effort to encourage more international students to consider studying in the US. Among the two dozen attendees included nine U of T students, all from the Rotman MBA program.

In her speech, Craft discussed how US President Donald Trump’s administration has been committed to STEM education, and also that “the cool thing about Canada and the US is that we don’t really have a border.”

“That is so important now. I really stressed that to my children — we are global, we are no longer just Kentucky, or just California,” she continued.

Although the Trump administration announced millions of dollars in funding for STEM education in public schools in September, the Trump administration has also proposed billions of dollars in cuts to science research & development in his proposed 2018 budget.

In addition, while Craft has praised this lack of a border between the US and Canada, it remains to be seen if this will last. Trump has campaigned to strengthen the US borders and Craft’s comments also come in the midst of ongoing negotiations for NAFTA, an agreement that Trump has been critical of and has floated the idea of ending.

Prior to the event, consulate staff told The Varsity that the paper would have an opportunity to ask the Ambassador some questions. However, Craft’s speech went overtime and she left the event without taking questions. Consulate staff then asked The Varsity to send in questions via email. As of press time, the US Consulate in Toronto and the US Embassy in Ottawa did not respond to request for comment.

Craft was appointed by Trump in June and was sworn in last month. Prior to becoming ambassador, she served on the Board of Trustees for the University of Kentucky and was a prominent fundraiser for the Republican Party.

Op-ed: What does OPIRG even do with $147K?

Why you should vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum to defund the Ontario Public Interest Research Group

Op-ed: What does OPIRG even do with $147K?

For the first time in years, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) has been forced to justify its existence — because of a referendum I initiated challenging its purpose. With an annual budget of over $147,000, OPIRG claims that its purpose is to facilitate meaningful advocacy work. The reality is that OPIRG does very little meaningful work. Undergraduate students should take the opportunity on November 20, 21, and 22 to vote ‘Yes’ to stopping their financial support for OPIRG.

One of OPIRG’s main claims to fame is that it runs training workshops for activists. At first glance, the workshops appear to be great resources for students to learn about and engage in activism. However, digging deeper into their programming, I learned that virtually all workshops are actually run through an organization called “Tools For Change.” While this group is said to be a project of OPIRG, Tools for Change’s website presents itself as a separate organization. The reality is that the program is mostly funded by groups like the U of T Student Initiative Fund. OPIRG’s support entails paying the group so that OPIRG’s members don’t have to pay the nominal attendance fees, which range from $20 to $90.

To say that Tools for Change is a project of OPIRG is grossly overstating the impact that OPIRG has. It would be akin to the UTSU buying donuts for students, then claiming that it baked the donuts. Anyone can buy donuts — we don’t need a public interest research group to do so.

Another justification for its continued existence is that it produces a bi-annual newsletter, called Action Speaks Louder, which is intended for OPIRG members to write about pressing issues faced in their communities. The newsletter typically contains around seven works, such as “How sex lost its steam” and “Eclectic vultures go on a wine-tasting spree.” Sadly, the newsletter has not been updated since September 2016, so even though OPIRG has mentioned this newsletter many times, it effectively no longer exists.

OPIRG prides itself on the fact that it provides funding to other groups, but their website has stated that they are unable to provide funding for over a year now. Perhaps that’s because they only budgeted $21,000 for programming in 2016, up from $8,000 in 2015. Perhaps that’s also because they pay over $6,000 to be part of the Ontario PIRG network, which helps subsidize the existence of other PIRGs — such as Kingston PIRG — which have been defunded by their respective student bodies. Most of all, perhaps it’s because they pay over $100,000 on staff salaries and benefits.

For a group that calls itself a research group, OPIRG’s TracX research symposium would be their most important event of the year. However, the event schedule shows that describing it as a research symposium is extremely misleading. The majority of the sessions are run by activist organizations from outside the U of T community, and are presented as workshops rather than research presentations. In 2017, OPIRG actually had the audacity to claim that they only had $500 in funding for this symposium, and ask for the community to fundraise over $4000 for the event.

Undergraduate students, myself included, have lost faith that their student fees are being used appropriately. Undergraduates paying $38,000 to OPIRG should expect value for our money, and OPIRG is not providing that value. Funding for actually meaningful activist work can easily be distributed through existing frameworks, saving students money by eliminating duplicated overhead costs, and ultimately resulting in more financial support for those causes.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an organization mandated to provide support for activist communities. It is, however, disingenuous to claim to be a research group but in reality run activist workshops. It is useless to provide services that are poorly run or have little benefit to students. And it is wasteful to spend so much on overhead costs that there is no money left to fund the groups you support. For all of these reasons, I encourage eligible students to vote ‘Yes’ on November 20, 21, and 22.

Christopher Dryden is a second-year Computer Engineering student and the Engineering Director on the University of Toronto Students’ Union Board of Directors. He initiated the referendum to defund the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Toronto.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article was removed from The Varsity’s website after it was discovered that substantial changes — including a factual inaccuracy — were included in this op-ed during a stage in the editing process. The Varsity regrets the error. 

Beyond résumé padding

One student explains how her passion project turned into an incredible academic opportunity

Beyond résumé padding

During my first year of university, I saw a small announcement on Blackboard for one of the anthropology courses I was taking, advertising the Richard Charles Lee Insights through Asia Challenge (ITAC).

ITAC is a competition run by the Munk School of Global Affairs that gives winners the opportunity to conduct an independent research project on the topic of their choice, related to an Asian issue. Winning projects are allocated up to $7,000 in funding, making it possible for students to travel and conduct original research in Asia. The competition is open to all U of T students in the Faculty of Arts & Science, both undergraduate and graduate, including those unaffiliated with the Munk School.

Taking on an independent project did not sound realistic with my existing workload, especially knowing it was entirely possible I wouldn’t win. Still, I was inspired to partake in the competition, perhaps because of my passion for the issues of slums and inequality in India, which I had touched upon in some of my other courses.

Feeling as though I couldn’t tackle the project all by myself, I approached my friend Amanda McKinley about joining me. Amanda also introduced me to Alexandre Gignac and Siddhartha Sengupta, two of her classmates at UTM, both third-year Political Science specialists. The Munk School had encouraged students from different academic backgrounds to collaborate on projects. With my background in Anthropology and Marketing combined with my group members’ backgrounds in Political Science, Psychology, and History, we managed to articulate our ideas and come up with a unique research idea for the competition.

The Munk School provided us with a great deal of support in the process. Before our team submitted our application, we attended a writing proposal workshop, which gave us essential guidelines and information. It also boosted our confidence in the possibility of actually winning the competition.

This was also when I started to realize that participation itself was providing our team with such valuable experience that we would not have been able to gain in the classroom. “I figured that even if we didn’t win, I would have learnt how to write a proper research proposal and I would get to meet other students who were interested in the same things as myself,” said Amanda.

We were surprised by the small number of students participating in the competition, particularly because of its broad criteria for eligibility. When I spoke to other friends from university about it, they hadn’t even heard of such an opportunity. Even after we discussed it, many did not apply because they believed they didn’t have a chance at winning.

Before our team discovered that we were one of the winners, we felt exactly the same way. “I, and I think all four of us, didn’t actually think we were going to win. We put our best effort into it but it was still the Munk School of Global Affairs. Schools like Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson balk at some of the research Munk does,” said Siddhartha.

“It seemed too good to be true,” added Amanda.

But here we are eight months later: our team won the competition, traveled independently to India, spent four weeks in Mumbai doing preliminary research in one of the biggest slums in Asia, and now we’re in the process of writing an academic paper and getting published. I also now work as a research facilitator for the student-run conference InDePth: Asian Cities, hosted by the Munk School’s Asian Institute.

This is my second time doing an undergraduate degree, so I am learning from the mistakes I made during my first one, when I never got involved in an extracurricular activity unless it promised to add value to my resume. ITAC was different: I got involved because it was something I was passionate about. Winning the competition did provide us with an invaluable life experience, and also added value to our resumes, but this was never the goal. I believe it was our team’s passion that led us to success.

“People volunteer for the sake of volunteering and at the expense of their passion. There is always something at U of T for one’s passion. It is just a question of finding who is offering it, not whether it is being offered,” said Siddhartha.

University life offers an incredible amount of opportunities. Every day, different departments at U of T offer discussions on various topics, so many of which are free. Perhaps there is a problem with advertising, leaving many students unaware of these opportunities, but it is important to take matters in your own hands and get involved anyway.

“I think other students are not aware of how easy it is to get involved. They think, as I did, that every club on campus is very serious and time consuming. That there are set structures in place, and things can only get done by a certain type of people… not true!” said Alexandra.

He admitted that taking on the ITAC was initially intimidating, but the key is to stop looking at things from afar and get involved. When you’re immersed in the process and making your way through one step at a time, it no longer seems as immense or terrifying, and most importantly, you’ll be able to enjoy it. ITAC is now open for submissions for 2017-18 — if you’re passionate about exploring a topic it covers, who knows where the experience might take you.

How will we judge creators accused of sexual misconduct?

Reflecting on the legacies of Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and more

How will we judge creators accused of sexual misconduct?

Calculated. Callous. Corrupt. It is difficult to think of positive adjectives to describe Frank Underwood, the Machiavellian anti-hero of the Netflix Originals drama House of Cards. Had the events of the past few months not unfolded as they did, it might have been equally difficult to think of negative adjectives to describe Underwood’s actor, Kevin Spacey, and the other formerly esteemed men now accused of sexual misconduct.

Our society’s reliance on social media is growing. We now know so much about famous artists that it is becoming more challenging to separate the artist from their art. Many millennials, including myself, will choose to boycott certain works, brands, or people because of their reputation, but taking this stance only leads to frustration when problematic creators produce content that is actually good.

Is it only the bodies of work of obvious villains that we are quick to dismiss? In 2014, it was revealed to the British public that the BBC and other institutions had protected, hidden, and therefore condoned the abusive behaviour of Jimmy Savile from the 1960s to his death in 2011. Savile was an English television and radio personality who had also founded and worked with many children’s charities.

After his death, there were hundreds of allegations made that Savile had molested and raped hundreds of children over the course of his career. Despite there having been numerous opportunities to halt his abuse, he was permitted to continue because of his status.

My mum never liked Savile, so I had never been subjected to any of his shows. I’m not sure I even knew who he was until his sexual abuse scandal surfaced. Celebrities and newspapers were quick to come forward with support for the victims and to condemn the hidden actions of yet another privileged white man. This made it incredibly easy for me to categorize Savile: ‘bad man, bad content, do not endorse.’

These cases become even more morally repugnant when the actions of alleged sexual abusers are essentially condoned by allowing them to continue with their art. In Savile’s case, the accounts of his abusive crimes were buried until his death. Today, despite Hollywood’s current attempts to irrevocably remove predators from the community, Woody Allen’s new film Wonder Wheel will still be released this December.

Despite being married to his former wife’s adopted daughter and being investigated for the sexual abuse of his own daughter Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen is still as successful as he was when he made Annie Hall in 1977. Similarly, Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl in 1977, but he won an Academy Award for The Pianist in 2003, premiered Based on a True Story at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and was honoured at the Cinémathèque Française in October.

Bill Cosby was first charged with sexual misconduct years ago, but he still has an abundance of supporters. Previously a hero to a marginalized community, some argue that continued support for Cosby is a result of discourse on racism in the United States. The Cosby case highlighted the belief of people of minority groups that their cultural icons were being unfairly targeted by the media — but perhaps these people were trying to justify his actions because they had invested themselves in Cosby’s legacy.

Coupling admission of his unacceptable behaviour making sexual advances on a teenager with his coming out, Spacey was trying to encourage an emotional dilemma. How could we not rationalize his behaviour upon learning he’s gay?

Cutting off our emotional attachment to the content produced by these individuals proves difficult, especially when popular media outlets are quick to praise them and the academy celebrates their work.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, and now House of Cards were fictional stories that I adored. I savoured the whimsical yet poignant romantic moments that Owen Wilson shared with some of my favourite artists in a spellbinding city. I was haunted by Adrian Brody’s gripping portrayal of a talented Polish-Jewish pianist in Nazi Germany. I was delighted by Robin Wright’s unapologetic hunger for power in a world dominated by men. While my fondness for the performances of these actors remains intact, I am not sure that I can show any allegiance to the show and films they appear in due to the conduct of their creators.

Over the past month, I have been satisfied to read about Harvey Weinstein’s career crumbling around him. In a recent interview with BBC Two’s Newsnight, actress Emma Thompson stated that Weinstein was just one predator among many in an exploitative industry. As it turns out, she was right.

Hollywood’s own house of cards is falling, and we’re simply waiting to see who’s left with the highest hand. The formerly renowned reputations of these men — Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Johnny Depp, Casey Affleck, Louis CK, Jeffrey Tambor, James Toback, and more — demonstrates how those accused of sexual intimidation and harassment have been protected by powerful institutions and the influential.

We are finally beginning to recognize that these moral transgressions are the result of an abuse of power at the expense of the vulnerable. Having been axed from House of Cards, disassociated from the London theatre The Old Vic, and being roundly criticized for using the allegations as a platform to come out, Spacey and his future in Hollywood look just about as fruitful as — spoilers — Frank Underwood’s career at the end of season five.

We need to start paying attention to the details, listening to the unheard, and supporting those who have been hurt. So, when the lights are turned on and the monsters are exposed from the shadows, we won’t be left wondering why we didn’t see them coming out from under our own beds.