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Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

Re: “New city proposals to tackle issues with Greek life residences”

Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

There are safety risks in the Greek life community that must be resolved. After years of unsafe practices at fraternities and sororities, and numerous complaints from their neighbours, recent proposals by the City of Toronto aim to resolve these safety concerns and help rebuild bridges between the two parties. Three of the six proposed solutions involve establishing open dialogue between Greek life community members and their neighbours, including holding meet-and-greets and assembling call lists of influential Greek life community members whom the public can contact.

These proposals are the result of an open letter penned by Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy that suggested that Greek houses should be shut down if they fail to secure multi-tenant housing licenses. Concerns voiced by individuals and their respective resident housing associations are at the forefront of this inquiry.

Incidents over the years have become increasingly hard to ignore, from drug busts and house fires to stabbings and sexual assaults, as previously reported by The Varsity.

Many people likely assume that Greek houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but they typically operate with minimal supervision and without any formal ties to the university. The activities at these houses, however, do affect the university, including the student residents of these houses and the many students their events attract. As such, it is vital that student safety be secured.

One solution, it seems, is to increase by-law officer patrols and thereby upgrade supervision during peak hours in the community. However it is not clear if the city can afford to reallocate resources to monitoring these parties. Moreover, residents of Greek houses should not have to passively accept inappropriate or dangerous behaviour from their peers.

The conflict appears to have been exacerbated by a lack of communication; the Interfraternity Council, which represents a majority of the fraternities on campus, has voted that no individual house may speak to the press, preventing members from publicly making or defending themselves against complaints. While Greek communities may be valued by students and help them feel like they belong at the university, the behaviour of certain members of Greek organizations, as well as the safety risks associated with their housing situations, cannot be ignored.

Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.

Let’s get STEAM-y

U of T student Jennifer Ma blends art and science in her STEAMotype lettering challenge

Let’s get STEAM-y

Jennifer Ma, a PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering, had always been intrigued by both arts and science, but she never thought she could pursue both. This changed when she joined the hand-lettering community on Instagram in 2016.

The community consists of artists who host and participate in hand-lettering challenges, such as creating theme-based lettering art. Casual calligraphy enthusiasts and experts alike take part.

Shortly after Ma got involved, Melissa Nguyen, a fellow calligrapher on Instagram, reached out to her about starting a new science-based lettering challenge — from there, STEAMotype was created.

STEAMotype is an Instagram-based lettering challenge inspired by science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). The goal of the project is to engage people, especially those who do not have science backgrounds, with STEM topics and bring awareness to those fields through art.

“We really enjoy science, or STEAM, in general and really enjoy doing these challenges, so why don’t we do one that combines both?” asked Ma. She believes that the STEAM angle brings a unique dimension to the project because art gives a human touch to the scientific topics that it depicts. “It reminds people that science, or STEM, or technology, is not just some cold, heartless thing… It’s actually real people who have real talents and passions, and creativity, making things to make people’s lives better.”

The STEAMotype Instagram account posts challenge prompts covering an array of science topics, from astronomy to zoology. Those interested in participating can submit their work by posting with the hashtag #STEAMotype. Featured submissions are given captions containing more information about the science behind the art.

“When [our followers] see something interesting, we hope that the first reaction would be ‘Oh wow, that’s really cool!’ and then they would follow up with ‘I wonder what’s the story behind it?’ and they would read the caption [to find out],” said Ma.

“If you’re somebody who’s not looking for [STEM content], then you’ll never get exposed to it,” explained Ma. “So what we’re hoping to do is basically use the art to attract people who are not specifically looking for this content and use that to make them stay for the science.”

Occasionally, the Instagram account will be taken over by guest experts who help curate specific, science-related themes.

Moving forward, STEAMotype will work to further expand its team, which now consists of Mindy Baumgartner, Wei-Li Huang, Karen Joy Salvador, Melissa Nguyen, and Jennifer Ma — calligraphers who share a passion for science. The combination of both science and art backgrounds creates opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.

The project has not only taught Ma about science, but it has opened her eyes to a new realm of possibility. She no longer feels she has to choose between arts and science — she has realized that perhaps there is something in between.

STEAMotype can be found on Instagram under the handle @steamotype.

Flu vaccine under scrutiny

Rising number of flu cases raises concerns over vaccine’s effectiveness

Flu vaccine under scrutiny

Each year, the arrival of cold weather brings with it two constants: holiday cheer and the flu vaccine. Chances are you’ve seen one advertisement or another around Toronto urging residents to get their annual flu shot.

The growing number of flu cases around the country this season are bringing the contents of the flu shot and their effectiveness into question.

Cases of influenza A and B, the two main strains of the virus, have been rising across Canada. Influenza B cases appeared earlier this season and in greater numbers than seen in previous years. The most common strains of influenza A are H1N1 and H3N2. The majority of influenza cases are being caused by the H3N2 virus strain, which is included in the current flu vaccine.

According to Dr. Allison McGeer, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Director of Infection Control at Mount Sinai Hospital, flu vaccines work better against the H1N1 strain than H3N2 because the H3N2 virus evolves more quickly.

Flu vaccines contain small amounts of egg, which is used to grow the virus. With the H3N2 virus, the egg base used to produce the vaccine may have caused minor mutations that reduced the vaccine’s overall effectiveness.

Similar cases have been reported around the world. In fact, a study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the flu vaccine in Australia was only 10 per cent effective against the H3N2 strain.

McGeer advised that data used to determine the Australian flu vaccine’s efficacy needed to be interpreted carefully. “Every estimate of vaccine efficacy comes with what are called confidence limits. Their confidence limits go as high as 45 per cent, so really what they’re saying is that in their estimate, the efficacy ranged somewhere between zero and 45 per cent.”

McGreer also noted that more time is needed to make any definite conclusions about the flu vaccine’s effectiveness. In the future, McGeer said that researchers will start to grow viral strains in cell cultures instead of in egg bases, because egg bases tend to induce small mutations and take more time to grow.

Despite the inadequacies of this year’s flu vaccine, McGeer highly recommended getting it.

McGeer recognized that some people may decide against getting vaccinated because they question its effectiveness. “So, let me ask you a question, if I offered you an intervention… that reduced your chances of being in a car accident by 50 per cent, would you take it?”