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Theatre review: UC Follies’ Spring Awakening

The thrilling production runs until December 9

Theatre review: UC Follies’ <i loading=Spring Awakening"/>

It’s the ‘bitch of living’ for the teenage characters in the UC Follies’ production of Spring Awakening, which opened at Hart House Theatre on December 1. Set in 1891 Germany, the musical is a coming-of-age story that deals with mature themes encompassing sex, abortion, homosexuality, abuse, and suicide.

The production was directed by William Dao, a second-year theatre student. “I knew that this would be the first play I directed at U of T, so I wanted to choose something that was special to me and I’ve always loved this musical a lot. The music in it is beautiful and I think the story is beautiful so I wanted to choose something that I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

One of three worlds are usually emphasized in productions of Spring Awakening: religion, nature, or rock. Interestingly, Dao’s unique version of the show incorporates both the worlds of religion and nature. “I always believe that if you’re going to direct something, you should never do it the same way as anyone else. You should always put your own perspective on it and your own vision on it. The reason that I wanted to blend two was because those were two that spoke to me the most. I think it’s a fresh twist if you can take two things and blend them into one,” he explained.

The play has been adapted from the original production in a way that is thrilling and contemporary. It makes use of different levels of staging: the adult characters mainly appear on the balcony, while the kids stick to the lower platform. Multilevel choreography cleverly reflects the experiences and statuses of each character as they interact with the space.

In developing the play, Dao said, “I’ve taken the themes of the show that are about religion and kind of exploded them onstage. The set design mirrors what a church would look like and I played around with the world of nature in the play. In terms of the choreography, it’s very much movement based. I worked with my choreographer to create movement pieces based off of feelings and emotions.”

Spring Awakening is a timeless narrative with a sense of universality in its themes. While the subject matter is often dark and intense, the show featured some great scenes, underlining the teenage angst of the characters in songs like “Mama Who Bore Me,” and integrating comedic moments like in “The Bitch of Living.”

Standout performances were given by Amanda Gosio as Wendla Bergmann and Cole Currie in the role of Melchior Gabor. Dao also did an impressive job in his directorial debut. Strong elements of visuals, choreography, and choice of songs added to the show’s musical experience.

PHOTO COURTESY OF UC FOLLIES THEATRE COMPANY

In connection with the themes of Spring Awakening, the UC Follies are collaborating with Planned Parenthood, a non-profit organization that provides sexual health care in Toronto as well as internationally.

“When I first pitched the play, we were talking about how we can reach out to the greater community and how this play means more than just putting on a production. There are stories and messages in this play that are still relevant today,” said Dao.

“We reached out to Planned Parenthood because obviously we are speaking about stories and messages that are pro-choice. We wanted people to feel comfortable embracing their sexuality,” he added.

Spring Awakening will run at Hart House Theatre until December 9.

Disclosure: Cole Currie is The Varsity‘s Deputy News Editor.

Rising rickets and setting suns

Increase in childhood disease linked to decreased sunshine of climate cycle

Rising rickets and setting suns

Cloudy skies may be a harbinger of something more ominous than rain. In a recent study, researchers found a positive correlation between the rise of rickets in Britain and decreased sunlight due to natural periodic changes in climate.

The lead author, Haris Majeed, a U of T Master’s student in Medical Imaging, collaborated with professor G. W. K. Moore from the Department of Physics at U of T to research the relationship between climate patterns and human health.This study is unique in its multidisciplinary approach to determining the basis of disease.

Rickets is a childhood disease caused by severe vitamin D deficiency, resulting in a defective calcification of bones and consequently, bone deformities. Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium and inorganic phosphate, which aid in forming and maintaining bone mass and strength.

Around the mid-1990s, the UK saw a sudden increase in children suffering from rickets. The phenomenon led to theories about its probable causes, such as diet. Majeed proposed that the rise in rickets diagnoses was actually a result of “low-frequency variability” associated with the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO).

The AMO is the variation in sea surface temperatures that occurs naturally in the North Atlantic Ocean. Around six hours per month of sunlight exposure is crucial for proper vitamin D production, but a shift in the AMO results in a decrease of available sunlight.

The AMO goes through negative and positive phases. According to the paper, the negative phase is characterized by “high summer sea level pressures, reducing cloud cover and precipitation over the British Isles.”

As a result, there is less cloud cover over land and more available sunlight. In contrast, the positive phase involves a decrease in the duration of sunshine over Britain.

Each phase has a duration of approximately 60 to 80 years, and in the mid 1990s, the AMO shifted from its negative to positive phase. Cloud cover can inhibit up to 99 per cent of human vitamin D production.

According to Majeed’s research, because the positive phase of the AMO is expected to last for a few more decades, the UK will likely continue to see a sharp rise in rickets among children. Based on this multidisciplinary study, scientists can work on a solution that targets the high rate of childhood rickets that may be caused by the AMO’s positive phase.

An end-of-semester report

Journalism’s ethical principles aren’t always black and white

An end-of-semester report

Since starting my second term as Public Editor in May, readers have continued to reach out to me and other members of The Varsity masthead with their comments and criticisms. Though I respond directly to readers who email me, not all responses make it into the pages of the newspaper.

As we near the end of semester, I wanted to round up for you a few of the reader concerns that I left unaddressed in my column during the term, but that thoughtfully challenged some of The Varsity’s practices.

“Students with mental health issues may be subjected to mandatory leave”

In late October, The Varsity reported on the University of Toronto’s Governing Council’s proposed leave of absence policy, designed to support the university in placing students with mental health or other similar personal issues on mandatory leave.

Many of our readers commented on the story, disturbed by the scope of powers the university would be granting itself under the new policy.

But one of our readers wrote me out of concern that The Varsity’s story was misleading. He argued that the article’s headline, “Students with mental health issues may be subjected to mandatory leave,” implied that the ability to suspend students with mental health issues was a new university power. In fact, the university can already mandate leave under the Code of Student Conduct.

The Varsity’s initial coverage of the policy did in fact mention the university’s powers under the Code of Student Conduct, but only near the end of the story, where it states that, “In the past, U of T used the Code of Student Conduct to enforce the leave.”

I don’t think The Varsity’s story intended to be misleading, but I do think it downplayed a crucial detail of the proposed policy. The reader who wrote to me thought that others reading the story would misunderstand the scope of the policy. As someone who missed the detail about the university’s current powers under the Code of Student Conduct when I first saw the story — I can see his point.

Good news reporting is not just about adhering to core principles of journalistic ethics. It is also about clearly and concisely communicating the issues at stake to readers. On this story, we met the requirements for the former, but we could have done better on the latter.

Governing Council has since delayed voting on the policy.

“A New SMCSU?”

In September, The Varsity covered the move by the administration at St. Michael’s College to re-establish the St. Michael’s College Student Union, which had disbanded in December 2016. The story identified the union’s former Religious and Community Affairs Commissioner, Jeremy Hernandez-Lum Tong, as a prospective presidential candidate for the new union.

Fairness in reporting implores journalists to reach out to key subjects of their stories for comment. In The Varsity’s case, the reporter reached out to Hernandez-Lum Tong, but did not hear back. The Varsity ran the story with a concluding note that read: “Hernandez Lum-Tong did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.”

In doing so, the newspaper complied with basic practice in journalism. But good practice also dictates that a story should clearly explain why a subject chose not to respond. The Toronto Star’s journalistic standards guide for example, states that, “if an individual cannot be reached or refuses to comment, the story must state this and if applicable report any reasons why the opportunity to comment was refused.” The Globe and Mail’s Editorial Code of Conduct similarly requires that articles “explain what efforts were made to reach [the subject].”

In Hernandez Lum-Tong’s case, he says he did not respond because The Varsity’s reporter tried to contact him via Facebook Messenger. Since the reporter wasn’t in his friends list, he never saw the message.

The Varsity should have been clearer with readers about the process through which they reached out to Hernandez Lum-Tong. Facebook Messenger is far from an ideal platform for contacting subjects. As readers who use Facebook will know, messages that don’t come from friends are easily missed.

At the same time, Facebook is sometimes the only contact information accessible to The Varsity’s reporters. If — as a last resort — it is used, The Varsity should say so.

Varsity News live-tweets University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board Meeting

Shortly after the end of the last academic year, a Varsity reporter live-tweeted from a UTSU Board of Directors meeting using the @VarsityNewsUofT Twitter handle. Among the 90 tweets posted was one that read, “Yusra Khogali is criticizing The Varsity for ‘character assassination’ of Sandy Hudson.”

In response, a reader wrote to object that the comment had been attributed to Khogali rather than the U of T Black Liberation Collective, the group on whose behalf Khogali was speaking. In the reader’s view, identifying Khogali by name put her safety at risk.

Most key tenets of ethical journalism predate the internet, but it is often accepted that the same or similar principles should apply to a publication’s social media. The Varsity takes safety as seriously on social media as it does in print, and its code prevents it from publishing information that enables someone to “harass or persecute an individual or group.”

But as a founding member of the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, Khogali is a public figure, who made the choice to identify herself by going on record at a public UTSU meeting. The Varsity attributed the comments to Khogali as it would to any other politician or leader.

That said, the context of Khogali’s comments would have been clearer to readers if the reporter tweeting had identified not just Khogali, but also the organization she represented. In fact, The Varsity’s later live-tweeting of a subsequent UTSU meeting where Khogali spoke did exactly this.

I recognize that the limited character length of tweets can pose a challenge, but I hope to see this become more of a common practice going forward.

The broader point is that not all principles in journalistic ethics are clear-cut. In these examples, The Varsity met the minimum standards of ethical journalism, but I think they could have gone further to meet the spirit of these principles as well.

Our favourite athletes from childhood: the people who first taught us about the beauty and importance of sport

Four Varsity contributors look back on their favourite athletes from when they were young

Our favourite athletes from childhood: the people who first taught us about the beauty and importance of sport

Misty Copeland. GILDASQUIRE/CC WIKIMEDIA

MISTY COPELAND

The beauty of Misty Copeland is in her intersectionality — she combines art with athleticism and strength with grace unlike any other. She has overcome painfully real barriers, and when I was a competitive dancer in high school, she was a beacon of hope.

Copeland is known for being the first Black woman to be named a Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theater (ABT) in 2015, though she caught the public eye and my own attention before that.

The first time I saw a picture of her, I was stunned by her physique. There was something heartening in the broadness of shoulders and the fact that her thighs were actually wider than my forearms. She was a beautiful change of pace from the usual lily white, ultra-thin ballerinas who fill professional ballet companies.

Dancers’ athletic prowess tends to be overlooked or discounted more than that of athletes in other disciplines. Pointe — dancing on the tips of the toes in rock-hard shoes — is difficult, painful, and requires grueling work and dedication. You wouldn’t know it to watch Copeland, who performs effortlessly and with obvious joy. Still, she has been open about the bumpy road she traveled to achieve what she has.

Copeland struggled with an eating disorder when her body filled out, after suffering the ABT artistic staff’s not-so-subtle demands for her to lose weight. In an article she wrote for Self, she remembers being called in “for The Talk, and the bingeing began.” She endured a dark period in her life, but she eventually triumphed, emerging confident and unapologetic.

Subsequently, Copeland has become a pioneer: she looks strong in a crowd that leans toward looking sickly, and she has refused to let an unhealthy industry change her — instead, she is single-handedly changing the industry. She may be an outlier now, but the progress and hope that she embodies will inspire a new generation to follow in her steps.

— Blythe Hunter

 

Gianluigi Buffon. DUDEK1337/CC WIKIMEDIA

GIANLUIGI BUFFON

I have participated in dozens and dozens of sports throughout my life — everything from land-based to aquatic. However, one sport that was near and dear to my heart was soccer, especially as an Italian. I played soccer for the better half of a decade and loved every minute of it. There is one memory about soccer that vividly stands out in my youth, and that was the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

As an avid defender and goalkeeper myself, watching the impenetrable Italian defense was mesmerizing. They were legendary. During that World Cup in particular, they only conceded two goals, thanks in part to their incredible goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

He was 65 minutes shy of beating the World Cup record for the longest shutout streak, ironically held by another Italian goalkeeper, Walter Zenga, in 1990. Buffon was and still is at the root of Italy’s world-famous defense line. He is an inspiration and my role model.

Buffon is known by most as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, which only seems fitting because he currently holds numerous records at club level, including one for the longest streaks without conceding a goal.

Despite Italy’s failed attempt at qualifying for the World Cup this year, there is no denying Buffon’s sheer talent and skill. It is why he was named in FIFA 100’s list of the world’s greatest living players in 2004, won Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year award a record 12 times, and is the only goalkeeper ever to have won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year. As he once said in an interview, “If I do something, I do it with the idea to get to the top — without that, I would stop living.” It’s a motto I haven’t stopped living by.

— Jordan LoMonaco

  

Park Ji-Sung. CROPBOT/CC WIKIMEDIA

PARK JI-SUNG

As an Aston Villa fan from Ajax, I would often eschew the traditional Saturday morning cartoons in favour of low-resolution broadcasts from Birmingham, watching the rise of English stars Gareth Barry, James Milner, and Gary Cahill. Even when I played for my local club’s youth teams, I used to try to emulate my heroes, wondering if I could get the job done on a cold, rainy night in Stoke. But despite my loyalty to the claret and blue, I soon developed a soft spot for Manchester United, and that was all thanks to Park Ji-Sung.

The time of the classic English 4-4-2 was drawing to an end, and with it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. His fledglings of the Class of ’92 had moved on, save Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Gary Neville. Phil Neville moved to Everton, and Nicky Butt left for Newcastle, while David Beckham departed for Madrid. It was the Prem in the mid-noughties, and Sir Alex’s Red Devils sought aid for their thinning midfield, finding it in an up-and-coming South Korean midfielder from PSV Eindhoven.

In his playing days, Park was a hardworking and consistent midfielder with the ability — and willingness — to play whatever position he was asked. Be it in the wide midfield positions, or a more central role, Ferguson relied on him to put in a good effort for his side, particularly in big games against talented opposition.

Though he was technically unspectacular, Park always paired his otherworldly work ethic with intelligent movement off the ball, which ultimately led to him enjoying seven trophy-laden seasons in the red half of Manchester. His teammates and manager at United were always quick to sing his praises to the media, but no praise was higher than that of Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, who described Park as being “the first nuclear-powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about at the speed of an electron.” Poor Pirlo always had a rough night when his AC Milan came up against Fergie’s United, as Park Ji-Sung would be the man to mark the playmaker nearly out of existence. With versatility and work ethic not seen since Rinus Michels’ Total Football, Park was the ideal team player and the crutch that supported the world’s best club.

— Matthew Gene

 

Jonathan Toews. SECRETNAME101/CC WIKIMEDIA

JONATHAN TOEWS

Growing up in a no-Jets Winnipeg, there were few sporting events that inspired pride, happiness, or excitement. My family and I would go to Manitoba Moose hockey games and even attended a Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball game once, but the two minor league teams did little to build a potent sports atmosphere throughout the city. The Blue Bombers — Winnipeg’s CFL team — hadn’t won a cup since 1990, and overall, there was little to be excited about when it came to sports. The legacies of Bobby Hull and Dale Hawerchuk were all that was keeping any hockey spirit alive.

And then, in 2010, Jonathan Toews captained the Blackhawks to their fourth Stanley Cup — bringing victory to Chicago and pride to Winnipeg. It was an exciting moment. Raised in St. Vital — a neighbourhood 15 minutes away from the one I grew up in — Toews was Winnipeg’s proudest export: an athlete who represented the city on and off the ice. At 22, he already had a key to the city and a lake named after him — yes, in northwestern Manitoba exists Toews Lake.

I remember being confused about why my dad was so happy about the Blackhawks’ win. “Their captain is one of our own!” he explained. That was the moment I began to understand the importance of representation and inclusion in sports. We look and cheer for people who come from the same backgrounds as us — ones we can relate to. Toews’ French in bilingual interviews stands as a staunch reminder to Winnipeg’s often overlooked francophone community. He plays, speaks, and behaves like a Winnipegger, and when I think of childhood hockey heroes, Toews is the first to come to mind.

I now live in Toronto, and I am subsequently a diehard fan of all things Blue Jays, Raptors, and Maple Leafs. Living in a city where sport developments and teams are the definition of exciting, how much Toews meant to Winnipeg back in 2010 is put into perspective. We didn’t have young phenoms like Auston Matthews and Marcus Stroman playing for us — our own phenoms were playing across the border, but that didn’t stop us from cheering loudly and proudly.

— Michelle Krasovitski

Heading home for the holidays

Students share their winter break stories

Heading home for the holidays

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] find myself happiest around Christmas. Perhaps it’s because of the snow, which, despite the bitter wind, falls like a blanket around my shoulders and pinches my cheeks when I walk outside.

Or maybe it’s because I feel closest to my parents around Christmas. My parents divorced when I was young, but they maintained a close enough relationship for us to spend Christmas Day together each year. Since I was eight, at around 10:00 am on Christmas morning, my mom and I would pack her car with boxes and bags of gifts and make the trek to my father’s house. It’s not that far of a drive — six minutes, tops — but with the wicked weather that Winnipeg brings, the drive seems to get longer as I grow older.

It’s strange, going from the little girl who watched her parents add Bailey’s Irish Cream to their coffee on Christmas to the young adult who adds some herself. As I age, I find myself increasingly excited to eat the feast of a breakfast my dad prepares on Christmas morning, rather than sitting down and opening the presents. I think it’s because the best conversations I’ve had with my parents happened at the table; it’s at the old wooden table that I’ve learned the most from them.

For me, Christmas is a time of learning, laughing, and most importantly, indulging myself a little and enjoying some Irish Cream.

— Ava Truthwaite

 

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he break from school is a time when I travel to the US to visit my extended family. There’s something magical about packing up and leaving. The road trip is always one of the best parts of the break as we get to drive through different cities and states.

The break also allows me to spend time with my nieces and nephews. I have time to bake brownies or muffins with them, and if we’re lucky and there’s snow outside, it’s the perfect time to make snowmen and snow angels. I’ve realized that the colder it is, the better the hot chocolate tastes. During the break, I can transition from a stressed-out aunt to a semi-cool one. It is also a time when I can feel nostalgic for the late ’90s while watching Home Alone marathons with my family.

Like many other students, over the holidays, I can finally catch my breath. It’s the only time that we are truly free from school responsibilities. This provides an opportunity for me to focus on things that I would otherwise not have time for, including leisure reading, baking, crocheting, or just catching up on my TV shows. Since I am unable to see old friends during the school year, the break also gives me time to finally catch up with them.

During this time, I self-reflect, think about the past year, and set goals for the upcoming year. After living every day with a strict schedule, it is relaxing to not have to follow a routine for a while. I can clear my head, relax, and prepare for the upcoming semester.

— Aisha Malik

 

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring Christmas time, my family home, a 1930s mock Art Deco in South West London, smells glorious. The intermingling of pine and shortbread wafts past the fairy lights dotted around the ground floor. Among these storybook-esque delights, the house itself is incredibly cold. Every year, on October 15, my mum — she makes the rules — allows us to turn on the heating. It is usually slightly nippy by this point, and by mid-November we are all wearing multiple sweaters, socks and scarves.

Despite having grown up in a freezing house, my dad made winter as magical as he could for me and my younger sister. He loves Christmas with every inch of his being. He’s enthralled by it all: the tree, the turkey, the toys — you name it, and he will have planned how to execute it perfectly. My mum, on the other hand, tends to be slightly more British about the holiday season. She often jokes that, if she hadn’t married a Canadian, she would still be having daal and roti as her Christmas dinner.

Personally, I fall between them both: I find Christmas Day to be underwhelming, but I completely adore the build-up. This time last year, I was volunteering in the outskirts of Delhi. It was 20 degrees, vibrant, and colourful; I was exploring a new city and doing something stimulating every day, yet I still craved our familial Christmas routines.

This year is no different, except the weather is considerably cooler, of course. For me, the winter break is synonymous with my dad, and I am incredibly excited to see him at Heathrow Airport on December 20. Until then, I’ll be procrastinating in my warm room with a nice cup of tea.

— Kashi Syal

 

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ear after year, my family doesn’t really celebrate anything in December except my birthday — and Boxing Day if my mother wants to stock up on gifts for my relatives back home. I come from a Muslim family and country, and since Muslim celebrations are based on the lunar calendar and change dates every year, my family and I never learned to celebrate December with the same zeal as people in North America. By the time we immigrated to Canada, we were too set in our ways.

Nevertheless, the holiday season still holds a special place in my heart. Apart from finally celebrating my birthday after waiting all year, the December holidays are a chance for me to relax after a stressful semester and, best of all, reunite with my friends, many of whom I have not seen since last December.

If you have friends who go to different schools — or even friends who go to the same school — making plans that coordinate with everyone’s schedule can be harder than making ‘fetch’ happen. Since few of us have exams or midterms to study for during winter break, nothing — not my empty wallet, not the threat of hypothermia, and certainly not measly excuses like ‘I’m busy’ — can stop me from meeting my friends.

Over the break, as I sit laughing alongside people who willingly put up with me and my quirks, complain about my professors, and lament my poor GPA, it hits me that although I may not celebrate Christmas, I still make merry.

— Zeahaa Rehman

 

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]oliday season is the only time when my mind relaxes completely. It’s a strange in-between of school being over and the new year beginning. No one is in a hurry to ask you for anything.

My family has gone to the cottage for Christmas every year since I can remember. Driving to the cottage has become a sort of meditation: I download podcasts and pack my favourite pillow. We drive some, then we hit Barrie. The air is clearer, and the stress melts away like ice cream on a hot day.

Christmas Day? It’s my favourite. Nat King Cole is crooning in the background. A fire is crackling — it feels as though it may or may not burn my feet. My stomach is full of Christmas brunch, also of laughter, Christmas cookies, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey, and stuffing. I am smiling. Partly because any diet has been destroyed until January 1, and partly because I am with my favourite people in the world: my family. Cheesy holiday movies are on the television. Despite them being the same ones that played the year before, every year they’re new to me.

Advent has always been special to me. Before my family escapes to our cottage oasis, we go to church. We sing carols and listen to sermons. For the first time in months, I don’t feel like I have something else to do. My spirit is renewed. For me, Christmas is about reflection and hope, it is about spiritual awakening and relaxation. It is about getting drunk with sleep because I finally feel so peaceful. It is about catching up on those books I kept saying I would read. It is about the taste of apple cider and long walks in the woods. It is about talking to God and saying thank you for getting me through this year — thank you for making me a little bit better.

— Gabrielle Warren

 

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a student in my fourth and final year at U of T, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the excitement I feel when the holiday break approaches. Yes, there’s that sense of ‘finally, I get a break from school,’ but I also get excited about the prospect of going home and seeing my family. My parents live in Turkey, where I grew up.

For me, going home means re-grounding myself. The stress of the school year and any worries I have about my future seem to disappear the minute I get on the plane. It isn’t easy living away from my family. I feel extremely alone sometimes, and it feels as though I have grown up without them. The holidays give me a chance to ease my anxieties — and probably theirs as well — about if we did the right thing by sending me here for school.

The break is first and foremost an opportunity to spend time with my family, but it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how much I have grown as a person. Going back home every six months allows me to approach things differently and appreciate the people around me. I realize how fleeting time can be, and I understand that everything happens for a reason. It’s the ideal time to re-evaluate your priorities and set new goals. Ultimately, the break is a rollercoaster: you find yourself interacting with many people throughout your time at home, but if you take the opportunity to have some time to yourself, you reap the benefits.

I see the holidays as an opportunity to return to school recharged and optimistic, while still granting myself time to spend with the people I love. This in turn helps me appreciate the people I have in my second home: Toronto.

— Sila Naz Elgin

 

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]etting up my family’s Christmas tree has been my tradition for the past three years. This labourious task involves hauling plastic tree pieces stored in two giant cardboard boxes, a precarious cylindrical tub of baubles from Martha Stewart’s holiday collection, and flaking ropes of tinsel up from the depths of my basement. I spend a whole Saturday dancing around my living room listening to holiday albums while I stack tree segments together, marveling at their relative sturdiness given their nine-year lifespan.

After my family immigrated to Canada, there was no continuity in my winter breaks. One year we could be embarking on a 16-hour flight to Taiwan; the next we could be driving to New York City and staying in an Airbnb in our old Manhattan neighbourhood. I have never maintained meaningful traditions during the holidays, mostly due to the secular nature of my upbringing.

However, immigrating to North America at a young age makes you susceptible to the elusive ‘holiday spirit.’ I was jealous of raucous Christmas dinners, the pure belief in Santa my elementary school classmates possessed, and the overflow of presents everyone seemed to receive. The closest I came to a holiday tradition was the recurring desire to travel away from Canada because my best winter memories have always taken place elsewhere. Hearing saxophones playing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” down Manhattan streets or having the luxury of returning to fifth grade two weeks late in January after an extended trip were the highlights of my holiday breaks.

In recent years, I have tried to create my own tradition through decorating my family’s battered Christmas tree. Despite my determination to keep the remnants of Christmas alive in my household, I still associate the holidays with a sense of departure — away from schoolwork, replaced by the thrill of distance from the familiar. This December, I will not be putting up a Christmas tree. First year is a time for first traditions.

— Georgia Lin

 

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]nce you reach the point when ‘coming home from school’ no longer means getting on the bus, subway, or bike to make it home for dinner, it’s a big change. Leaving home for school in my first year of university meant a three-hour bus ride from Bristol to London, followed by eight hours of intercontinental flying, broken up by a not-so-brief layover in Iceland. It goes without saying that this was not a frequently made trip. To the large number of international students at U of T, I’m sure this is a familiar story. Living far away from home for the bulk of the year changes what it means to come home. It might even change what ‘home’ means, especially around the holidays.

I needed home when the winter break came around last year. My own country, and the people I had left behind, weren’t just the setting and characters of a bygone childhood. Coming home was a recognition of the fact that these things were as essential to me as the ambitions that had taken me away from them. One of the reasons we go away, I realized, is to come back home.

Winter break was a refresh, in every sense of the word. Last December, I saw the world I’d left behind only a few months earlier — somewhat comforting yet somewhat alien, I saw the changes that had occurred in me in such a short period and I saw a glimpse of how my life would take shape over the course of my university career. Sleeping in your own bed, enjoying that smell your house gives off that you didn’t even notice when you lived there, walking down the same streets as a different person — it gives perspective, it recharges, and it lets you stop and think for a little while about where everything is going for you.

As a Canadian, you don’t realize how nice of a feeling it can be to have air so cold it hurts your face and stings your lungs. Coming home might just be the first time I really stopped to inhale.

— Ronan Mallovy

 

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ecause I grew up as a third-culture kid, my friends and family live all over the world, so I look forward to winter break because it means that I get to go home. It’s a chance to reconnect with family and friends and spend time with some of the people who mean the most to me. I also don’t have to worry about cooking for a few weeks and I get to enjoy my mom’s food!

Luckily, because I get to fly back to Cairo or Abu Dhabi where it’s significantly warmer, winter break is also a break from the cold temperatures of Toronto at this time of year. I get to spend time outside — and that’s always refreshing! I also explore the new places that have popped up in either Cairo or Abu Dhabi since the last time I visited, so the break is particularly exciting because I get to explore and create new experiences.

However, the winter break also means long flights, layovers, jet lag, and spending a lot of time in airports. Flying for 12 to 14 hours can be a little much, but it does give me time to catch up on leisurely reading that I neglected during exam season. The six to nine-hour time difference means jet lag is inevitable, but it’s somewhat manageable if I sleep at the right times during my trip.

Winter break is also a time to reflect on the previous semester and prepare for the next one. It’s a much-needed break after a long semester and a stressful exam season because it’s a rare time where I have little responsibilities, so I can think about what I did well the previous semester and what I can improve on for the next. Because I have more free time, I can catch up on reading, writing, and movies or shows in addition to spending more time learning French.

— Farida Abdelmeguied

TCM constitutional amendment addresses clubs funding

Clubs with ties to Finance Committee receive up to three times more than those without

TCM constitutional amendment addresses clubs funding

Trinity College’s direct democracy student government will address potential conflicts of interest affecting club funding at their meeting on December 4.

A constitutional amendment is on its way to the floor of the Trinity College Meeting (TCM) regarding the correlation between the Trinity College Finance Committee’s (FC) allocation of club funding and its members’ affiliations with those clubs.

Trinity student Jessica Rapson proposed the amendment after calculating that, this fall, Trinity clubs with previous or current executives on the FC received on average over three times the amount of funding as clubs without executives on the FC.

The motion would amend the Conflict of Interest clause of the TCM’s constitution regarding procedures of the FC.

The altered clause would read: “No member of the FC shall vote on matters pertaining to the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers. Furthermore, no member of the FC shall be present during any in camera discussion of the budgets of levied or non-levied clubs of which they are current or previous executive members or signing officers.”

Rapson commenced her investigation after hearing that several well-established clubs, including two of which she is Treasurer, received “very little from the FC.” She used the publicly shared FC budget proposals to calculate the results.

Fellow Trinity student Luis Lopez ran a statistical regression on Rapson’s calculations through the system Stata and determined the relationship to be statistically significant with a 99 per cent confidence level. In his published report, Lopez cautioned against assuming a causal relationship.

“As I state in my research, the simple fact that the evidence seems to confirm a relationship could be problematic, since it could signal to Trinity students that there is preferential treatment in the FC — even if that is not the case,” wrote Lopez to The Varsity. “Perceptions in politics matter.”

While FC members must abstain from voting on their club’s received budget, Rapson believes this is inadequate in mitigating possible impartiality.

Rapson suggested that club executives sitting on the FC wield influence over budget allocation through their presence in the room. Their presence, said Rapson, pressures fellow committee members during voting. They are also able to answer questions about their clubs during discussion.

Rapson does not believe there is malicious intent on the part of the FC, or that members are actively misallocating funds to disproportionately benefit their clubs. However, she does think her numbers illuminate an issue that must be addressed.

“I think [the amendment] gives a better chance to people who are not really involved in student governance but who still want to have a Trinity club and make an impact on Trinity life,” said Rapson. “And it will also just level the playing field for everyone.”

TCM Chair Leila Martin confirmed that she received the amendment “about a month ago.” However, both Martin and the FC Chair Amanda Cutinha told The Varsity that Rapson had not presented her calculations to them prior to The Varsity’s request for comment. On November 26, Rapson posted her findings to a private Facebook event for fellow Trinity students. Martin was invited to the group. On November 30, Rapson also publicly posted her data to the TCM’s Facebook event, for all members of the college to review.

According to Cutinha and Martin, as of this academic year, no FC discussions occur in camera, so minutes are taken and available to the membership.

Both chairs believe Rapson is generating important discussion for Trinity’s direct democracy. However, both also told The Varsity that they will investigate the calculations further to see if other factors are at play before assuming a causal relationship between FC members’ involvement with clubs and the funding those clubs receive.

In order for the constitutional amendment to pass, there must be a two-thirds vote in favour of the motion both on the December 4 meeting as well as the subsequent meeting in January.

BSA organizes in response to racism in Faculty of Engineering

Town hall held November 28 after recent incidents of racial harassment

BSA organizes in response to racism in Faculty of Engineering

The Black Students’ Association (BSA) organized a town hall on November 28 in response to a recent series of racist incidents in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Dozens of students and faculty members gathered at the Sandford Fleming Building to share their experiences with anti-Black discrimination, find ways to eliminate racism on campus, and create a sense of community. U of T’s Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) attended and co-organized the event.

In September, an international student in her first year of engineering approached the BSA with screenshots of two group chats in which three non-Black students repeatedly used the n-word and sent a picture depicting blackface.

One of the group chats consisted mainly of engineering students attending an orientation for incoming international undergrads. The racist remarks were initiated by one of the orientation leaders. The other group chat was a first-year civil engineering group.

In response to an email from the BSA, BLC, and NSBE outlining the racist incidents, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Cristina Amon met with the respondents — the three students implicated in the anti-Black racism — to inform them that the incidents had been brought to her attention. Shortly after, an official investigation was initiated.

The email was also sent to Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh and the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.

According to BSA President Anyika Mark, the three investigated students subsequently reached out to several Black students in hopes of finding the student who filed the complaint. Mark said that she is concerned about the safety of the complainant, especially with the recent white supremacist posters on campus.

“We’ve literally had to create a safety plan for her,” she said. “She’s the only Black student in her class so, sometimes we walk with her from classes and tutorials.”

 

Criticism, calls to action from the BSA

The BSA called for the expulsion of the three respondents, in addition to a $500 fine and 25 hours of community service, which are stipulated as possible sanctions in the Code of Student Conduct. Mark believes that there must be serious consequences in order to set a precedent for anyone who thinks that racial harassment is acceptable.

Other demands include an independent Black studies department, funding an anti-Black racism campaign on campus, funding NSBE, and a higher recruitment of Black faculty and staff members in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Mark also added that they were told that the investigation may take up to a year. She believes that this process is long, bureaucratic, and intended to tire people out. “It’s meant to derail conversations about real social change,” she said.

The duration of Code of Student Conduct investigations varies on a case-by-case basis, according to U of T’s Director of Media Relations, Althea Blackburn-Evans. More complex cases may last up to 18 months, but resolutions are usually reached much sooner.

“The goal is to have a fair process in a timely manner if possible,” said Blackburn-Evans.

The BSA contested the language of the Code of Student Conduct, stating that the inclusion of specific terms such as “anti-Blackness” and “anti-Black racism” was crucial. U of T keeps its definition of discrimination very broad.

Blackburn-Evans emphasized that, because of the university’s diverse campus, its policies must remain broad in order to include all kinds of discrimination. “We make these broad references to ensure that our very diverse community is included in those policies.”

Another concern raised by Mark was the lack of policies that specifically address cyberbullying. U of T’s Code of Student Conduct does not include any mention of online harassment. Blackburns-Evans, however, stated that the legal terms used in the code may also cover online harassment.

Students at the town hall shared their experiences with anti-Blackness, expressed their frustration, and urged the university to support its Black students, faculty, and staff.

“Black representation in STEM matters,” said Mikhail Burke, a PhD candidate at U of T. He believes that anti-Blackness in the science community is due to a lack of representation. “We need to tackle one in order to tackle the other.”

Chimwemwe Alao, Vice-President Equity of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was present at the event, but not in his capacity as a representative of the union.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about racism on campus that I experience every single day,” said Alao. He said he was supporting his community and engaging in an “important conversation.” As a Black student, he said that racism is a daily experience and includes anything “from microaggression and small interactions to very overt incidents of anti-Blackness.”

Despite no official UTSU presence at the town hall, UTSU President Mathias Memmel said that anti-Blackness is a systemic problem. “The BSA’s efforts to counter anti-Black racism are important, and we support them.”

29 per cent of UTSU BoD missed enough meetings to effectively abandon office, according to union bylaws

Average attendance at board meetings is 55 per cent

29 per cent of UTSU BoD missed enough meetings to effectively abandon office, according to union bylaws

Fourteen of the 49 sitting members of the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Board of Directors have effectively abandoned office. There are 57 positions on the board, eight of which are unfilled.

According to Section 2 of the union’s Bylaw X, a Division I or II director “shall be deemed to have delivered their resignation, confirmed by a simple majority vote of the Board” whenever said member has failed to send regrets for two missed meetings, failed to attend three consecutive meetings or any four meetings regardless of sent regrets, or failed to attend any three committee meetings. Division I and II directors include everyone except University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union directors, General Equity directors, and members of the UTSU executive. At least one of the resignation conditions outlined in the bylaw has been met by approximately 29 per cent of the directors beholden to it: 14 people.

The Varsity’s attendance calculations are based on an attendance record spreadsheet supplied by UTSU executives. It includes board meeting attendance at six scheduled meetings and the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The attendance from the November meeting was not available. All absences at the AGM are recorded here as being with regrets.

The seven meetings have been attended by a rough average of 55 per cent of the board. Of these meetings, a director misses an average of three meetings. In addition, 22 people have missed at least four meetings this year.

Directors who have effectively abandoned office include New College Director Chengye Yang; St. Michael’s College Directors Myron Atta-Mensah and Garnet Ryu; Trinity College Director Nish Chankar; University College Director Anushka Kurian; Woodsworth College Directors Sara Zamani and Justin Zelnicker; At-Large Director Stephanie Hovdestadi; Faculty of Dentistry Director Joanna Man; Faculty of Music Director Rebekah Tam; Faculty of Pharmacy Director Jakov Krezic; Computer Sciences Director Lisa Guo; Rotman Commerce Director Kevin Wang; and Transitional Year Program Director Osman Osman, whose term ended in October but met the resignation benchmark prior to that.

When asked about the directors who have effectively abandoned office, UTSU President Mathias Memmel wrote, “The role of the board is to hold the executives accountable, so it would be inappropriate for us to start disciplining directors or trying to remove them from the board.”

UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh wrote that although “the Board has a lot more power and autonomy than previous years, this year’s Board faces the same issues that previous years have faced as there is a small group of very involved directors but a larger group of directors who are less involved.” Singh said that the board is “too large,” and because of its size, “it’s difficult for individual Directors to feel meaningfully engaged in the work of the organization.”

The UTSU attendance record occasionally differs from what is published in official meeting minutes. Aidan Fishman, Faculty of Law Director, is listed on the attendance record as being one absence away from a deemed resignation. His absence here is noted on June 20, despite him being marked in the meeting minutes as being present and even moving a motion. Conversely, Carol Yeung, At-Large Director, is marked present in the attendance record for June 20 but is not marked present in the meeting minutes.

“The minute-taker doesn’t always know who everyone is, and keeping track of fifty-seven people can be difficult,” said Memmel. “That’s why the speaker keeps a separate record, which is traditionally more accurate. We update the minutes later on.”

Two of the directors’ resignations — those of Chengye Yang and Nish Chankar — are determined by an absence without regrets at the first board meeting, which was held on April 29. The official attendance record notes that absences without regrets at the first meeting are considered absences with regrets — ‘freebies,’ if you will. This is not reflected in the bylaws, and it is not factored into The Varsity’s calculations.

Chankar told The Varsity that she moved to Germany for a couple of months, packing on April 29 and departing on April 30. She claimed that she notified the UTSU’s Speaker, Billy Graydon, and Memmel, and that her regrets should have been recorded. According to the bylaws, regrets must be sent to the Speaker and Vice-President Internal.

Resignations must be accepted by a motion put forth by a board member at a board meeting. According to Graydon, a motion to accept the resignation of a member has only happened once in the past three years.

If all the de facto resignations presented here were accepted, Canada’s largest student union by membership would lose almost one third of its representatives.