Changes in CIUT’s electoral process are long overdue

“Re: Campus radio station faces criticism for ‘undemocratic’ elections process”

Changes in CIUT’s electoral process are long overdue

According to two of its former Board of Directors members, Anne Boucher and Stuart Norton, U of T radio station CIUT 89.5 has an undemocratic executive electoral process and the most recent CIUT election was conducted hastily. CIUT President Steve Fruitman reportedly asked the room who wanted the executive positions, and candidates appear to have been chosen with little chance given for others to challenge them.

Fruitman, who has been with CIUT since 1988, has stated that the station has been electing executives this way since he began there. However, it is apparent from reading about the electoral process alone that this method lacks transparency and structure and therefore warrants reform.

Electing members as executives based on whoever sticks their hand up first is strange; winners’ ability to handle the responsibilities assigned to them must first be properly gauged. 

At present, only board members can vote for and elect other executives. But university students cannot run to be an executive — let alone receive notice of CIUT meetings, attend meetings, or vote in the elections — unless they have paid a general membership fee of $89.50. This price seems steep; comparatively, the UTSU’s insurance plan costs less. Moreover, the general membership fee is in addition to the levy fee full-time undergraduate students already pay to CIUT.

This levy — $3.75 for UTSG students and $0.50 for UTM and UTSC respectively — constituted 59 per cent of the CIUT’s revenue last year. Having to pay an additional membership fee to attend meetings and participate in the electoral process seems unfair, and it seemingly alienates the very audience that Fruitman said forms the CIUT’s “lifeline.”

CIUT’s electoral process is at least 30 years old. Perhaps it is time for its election structure to change.

Zeahaa Rehman is a third-year student at UTM studying Linguistics and Professional Writing.

Editor’s Note (March 9): A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Boucher and Norton as board members of CIUT. They are in fact former board members. 

McDonald’s to reopen at Avenue, Bloor

Location previously closed to make way for condo

McDonald’s to reopen at Avenue, Bloor

Five years after the McDonald’s restaurant adjacent to UTSG shuttered, a new incarnation of the popular fast food joint is set to reopen in the same location this spring.

It will occupy the ground-level retail space at the Exhibit condo on the northwest corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road. The former McDonald’s location existed at that site in the form of a low-rise commercial building until January 2013, when it closed its doors to make way for the condo. 

The Bloor McDonald’s was a popular hangout spot for UTSG students. Following the closure, the Yonge Street locations near Charles Street, Wellesley Street, and College Street have been the closest locations.                 

Fourth-year student Zakerie Farah expressed enthusiasm for the return of the McDonald’s to campus, proclaiming the location “would change lives” but lamenting that it’s opening the year he’s graduating.

He referred to the former Bloor McDonald’s as “a great myth,” adding, “I’ve heard awesome stories about intense study sessions, late night adventures.”

At the time of the former location’s closure, other businesses displaced by the condo included Gabby’s Bar and Grill, a Subway restaurant, and Pho Hung. The condo took over 192A, 194, and 200 Bloor addresses.

The McDonald’s property, 192A Bloor, had been owned by the city since December 1960 when its predecessor, the Metropolitan Toronto Corporation, purchased the property to build the Bloor-Danforth subway line. From 1972–2004, McDonald’s had a lease on the property, paying $1,292 per month plus taxes.

When the lease was up for renewal in 2004, the city proposed raising the rent to $16,250 per month. McDonald’s subsequently counter-offered to buy the property for $3.4 million, which the city accepted.

Afterward, McDonald’s sold the property to Bazis International, the luxury condo developer that created Exhibit. Reinstating a McDonald’s was part of the sale deal.

In conversation with Dr. Janet Rossant

U of T stem cell researcher is an internationally recognized woman in science

In conversation with Dr. Janet Rossant

Recently, The Varsity had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Janet Rossant, a Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children and a professor in the Departments of Molecular Genetics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at U of T. In honour of International Women’s Day, Rossant discusses her research, public engagement in science, and what it means to be a woman in her field.

The Varsity: What is the focus of your research?

Janet RossantI am a developmental biologist, and I’ve been working on early development in the mouse embryo, trying to understand how different cell types develop from the fertilized egg. We particularly work on the first stages of development that form the blastocysts. Blastocysts contain pluripotent cells — cells which give rise to the entire organism — and they are used to make embryonic stem cells. Our work involves trying to understand the genes and pathways that lead to the formation of pluripotent cells in the embryo.

More recently, we have found that pluripotent cells can be formed from not only mice, but also human embryos. By reverting adult cells to pluripotent stem cells, we can model human disease and hopefully be able to treat them with stem cells. At SickKids, we create induced pluripotent stem cells from children with cystic fibrosis and make lung cells from them to try to determine how the cells respond to different drugs. In turn, the results help us define and refine the treatments that we would give the kids.

TV: How do you recommend early-career scientists get involved in public discussions to help inform the public on science?

JRThere are ways of getting involved at all stages of our careers. I think social media engagement is particularly important for young scientists. Try to get involved with some of the social media debates that are giving out false news and false hypotheses and try to counter those. Setting up Twitter feeds to share information from  the scientific realm and encouraging people to engage with science is a great way to get involved. Even talking to your friends, parents, and family can help inform. For instance, with the anti-vaccine campaign, it is up to everyone who knows that this is wrong to speak up about it and choose the appropriate environments in which to do so.

The public needs to understand science as they are, in the end, the people who are going to tell the government to support us. If the public doesn’t support us, then the government won’t. So, there is an ongoing need to engage the public in what we do through as many different formats as we can.

TV: Do you have any advice for early-career female scientists?

JRI would tell all early-career female scientists to just stick with it. The opportunities are there, and at least in North America, there is nothing stopping women. In a country like Canada where access is not the issue, it’s just a matter of staying the course and sticking with it. Finding mentors and a support network are important so that you can turn to them for advice going forward.

TV: Do you think mentorship plays a big role?

JR: There’s role modeling, mentorship, and supporting. Role modeling is just being who you are: represent the opportunities that are available and show that it is possible to keep going. Mentorship is much more hands-on and requires a lot more direct interaction to advise young people on the future. Finally, there is support, which mentorship also rolls over into. When I came to North America, I didn’t know anybody, so some senior scientists took me to meetings, introduced me to people, and made sure I got invited to events. They really supported me at a time when I needed it.

TV: Recently, the proactive pay equity legislation was passed to tackle the wage gap. Do you think the wage gap is a problem in the sciences?

JR: I think it has been and demonstrably still is in some places. If you look at academia, for example, and the relative pay of professors at different scales, usually the women are paid less than men. One of the reasons for this is that men are much better at going in and negotiating for pay raises than women are, so I think it’s important to not be afraid to ask for what you deserve. At the same time, it’s important to have a legislation that makes organizations look at their structure and make them aware of these unconscious biases.

TV: You were recently named one of the recipients of the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women for Science Awards. What does this award signify to you?

JR What’s interesting about this award is that it demonstrates that women can be leaders in the scientific realm and role models for the next generation. The award is representative of diversity. If we want public input in solving global problems, we must mind the diversity of expertise that’s out there and encourage people to join the conversation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

A Chinese transplant in Canada

Being adopted meant losing any sense of cultural belonging

A Chinese transplant in Canada

Intersections is a new features sub-section exploring multiculturalism and diaspora in Toronto. Students consider how their cultural backgrounds have influenced their experiences, perspectives, and stories.

I don’t have a culture. At 10 months old, I was adopted from China by a single, white Canadian woman. I grew up in a semi-rural town populated almost entirely by white people. In that strange circumstance, any meaningful connections I might have had to the culture of my birthplace or the culture I was surrounded by have been erased.

I don’t have a history. According to my mother, I’m from a “dirt poor” rural village, but the orphanage either didn’t have or didn’t provide any further information. My name was originally Yi Shulan, but I don’t know if my birth parents gave me that name or if the orphanage did. I don’t know the day I was born. My official documentation says December 16, but I suspect the orphanage just took a guess and assigned it to me — a fairly common practice, I’m told. My entire history is foggy, a series of unstable estimates. It’s impossible to have a culture without a history.

One of my middle names is Shulan, a testament to my mother’s attempt to connect me to my Chinese heritage. She enrolled me in Mandarin lessons as a child, took me to Chinese celebrations, read me Chinese folk stories, and still gives me a loonie in a red envelope every Chinese New Year. None of it ever took. There was no innate connection I had to the culture of my homeland, no cinematic eureka moment when I heard the spooky red dragons at the new year’s parade calling to me.

Those who know me, and I with them, often make jokes about me being ‘whitewashed.’ It’s true. I bring casseroles for lunch. When I look in the mirror, I’m sometimes surprised to see East Asian features just sitting there on my face. But I don’t expect to see a white woman staring back at me either. My relationship to whiteness is more complex than being whitewashed. I can’t help that whiteness is all I’ve really known, that I’ve lived the majority of my life surrounded by it, but I was only ever surrounded — never included, never embraced.

The racist taunts of bratty white kids in primary school and the subtle digs at my poor math skills in middle school made it clear from the start that I was alien. I didn’t see this otherness as a bad thing per se, but I was acutely aware of it. In high school, East Asians were one of the smallest minorities — I can remember maybe 10 others in an approximately 1,100-person student body. Suffice it to say, the whiteness was intense. Rugby was quite popular.

U of T, then, was a bizarre shift. After over a decade of constantly standing out, I suddenly blended right in, although only on the surface level. If anything, U of T’s large Chinese community only further impressed upon me my alienation. At the frosh week clubs’ fair, I passed by a giant Chinese students’ association booth, and it didn’t even cross my mind that I counted as a Chinese student. I likely walk past hundreds of Chinese students every day, and every day it’s an out-of-body experience to be among them yet feel so distant.

Earlier this year, The Varsity began translating articles into Simplified Chinese. I was sitting on a couch in the paper’s office on one of the first days the translators came in. They filled up the newsroom tables in front of me and began chatting to each other. I saw myself in each of them, but they were speaking a language I couldn’t understand. In them, there was a life that could have been mine in a different world.

My uncle, who was born in Canada, once told me that I should be grateful to my mother for adopting me, implying that my life wouldn’t have been much otherwise. I’m not close with him, but even within my more intimate family, I’m not one of the crowd. Once, when I was wearing a long robe coat that tied closed like a kimono, my mother well-meaningly told me that I looked “Oriental.” She meant it as a compliment.

I do try to remind myself how lucky I am. I wasn’t killed or left for dead as a newborn because I was a girl, a tendency of poor families in a culture that values boys above all. I escaped growing up in an orphanage. I was adopted by a loving, albeit unaware, family and given opportunities I couldn’t have dreamed of in China. But I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that somewhere along the line, I was robbed of a sense of cultural identity and belonging by my circumstances.

Being cultureless is something to which I’ve become accustomed but haven’t accepted. I still can’t tell if it’s liberating or lonely to float through life untethered and without a people you can call your own. When others make reference to their own cultures — something as simple as naming a recipe or humming a song — there are small, fragile threads of my own past that I grasp at to make me feel like I, too, have a place in the world. A birth date on a health card. A middle name.

The Student Commons will provide much-needed campus space for students

Re: “The Breakdown: The Student Commons”

The Student Commons will provide much-needed campus space for students

With the scheduled opening of the Student Commons just months away, it has become clear that several of the promises the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) first made to students over 10 years ago will not be realized. The project has since undergone several drastic changes and delays.

A fund intended to reserve $50,000 of the UTSU‘s operating budget annually for the Student Commons was liquidated immediately before the 2015 UTSU Executives took office, thus limiting the UTSU’s ability to offer all the amenities it initially had promised.   

While the Student Commons may not be what students imagined it would be 10 years ago, it will provide students with a new space of their own. The Student Commons will provide areas for students to socialize and study, bookable spaces for student clubs, and a student-run café. Although this may pale in comparison to initial promises of a 600-person auditorium and three restaurants, the Student Commons’ emphasis on student space will fill a major void in student life at U of T.

When I first came to U of T, I was shocked that a university of this size seemed to lack spaces that were fully student-run. Compared to other schools across Canada, UTSG lacks many spaces that are explicitly designed to foster community. Consider that other universities have designated student centres similar to what the Student Commons will be, including the Nest at the University of British Columbia, the University Centre at McGill, and even the student centres at UTM and UTSC. At a school criticized by students for lacking a sense of community, this lack of student-run space seems particularly troubling, especially for commuter students who usually spend long days on campus. The Student Commons would provide alternatives to students whose current options are cramped lounges or libraries.

As UTSU President Mathias Memmel has acknowledged, the Student Commons comes with its fair share of baggage.  Aside from the aforementioned change in facilities it will offer, the project is costing students far more than originally intended — accounted for by a $14.25 sessional levy starting in September — and it is already a year behind schedule.

Nevertheless, for a university that often feels alienating, it is invaluable to invest in spaces that create a sense of home on campus. With the project now almost complete, it represents an important development in campus life at U of T, despite not meeting all initial expectations.


Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

Five U of T startups to watch

This year’s Entrepreneurship Week showcased startups from AI to health sciences to clean technology

Five U of T startups to watch

Entrepreneurship Week took place last week at the MaRS Discovery District and showcased the thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem at U of T. Attendees were treated to the Startup Showcase, which highlighted emerging companies; a talk by Arlene Dickinson of Dragons’ Den; and the RBC Pitch Competition.

“Our vision for Entrepreneurship@UofT Week was to amplify and accelerate the impact of entrepreneurship at U of T,” said Keri Damen, the Managing Director of University of Toronto Entrepreneurship. “By bringing together the greater community of students, startups, incubators, and the partner organizations who support them, we are creating connections across the community that are needed to accelerate our startups’ growth and create the game-changing ventures of the future.”

Damen also emphasized the importance of featuring startups by students from non-traditional backgrounds and encouraging these students to pursue social entrepreneurship.

The showcase featured 70 startups working in artificial intelligence, regenerative medicine, health sciences, clean technology, and advanced manufacturing. Below are some notable ventures, many of which offer opportunities for students.


Health-Bridge aims to break down the language barrier in healthcare. STEFAN KOLLENBERG/THE VARSITY

Imagine if your grandmother, who doesn’t speak a word of English, fell down and broke her hip. You are able to call an ambulance to her house, but cannot make it there in time to translate for the paramedics.

Enter Health-Bridge, an image based diagnostic tool for non-English speaking patients, founded by Haman Mamdouhi and his team with the goal of eliminating the language barrier in healthcare. Originally based out of the Entrepreneurship Hatchery, they placed first at UofT’s Healthy Generation Fund and Next Canada Startup Sprint. Most recently, they were named one of 12 finalists for Enactus Canada’s student entrepreneurship competition.

They are currently looking to bring on passionate students with a background in computer science, mobile development, and graphic design.

Dash MD

DashMD is an app that helps you manage your treatment plan outside of the hospital. STEFAN KOLLENBERG/THE VARSITY

Have you ever left the hospital unclear on how to take care of yourself? You’re not alone. This happened to Dash MD co-founder Zack Fisch-Rothbart after he broke his leg in two places. He was handed a stack of pamphlets while leaving the hospital but was unclear on exactly what he needed to do to get better. Three weeks later, he was back in the ER with compartment syndrome from his cast being too tight.

Dash MD is run by Fisch-Rothbart, Cory Blumenfeld, Simon Bromberg, and Rob Iaboni. Their goal is to help other patients avoid falling through the cracks of the health-care system by providing resources to help manage their aftercare journey.

In the upcoming month, they will be partnering with a big player in the Ontario health space. The startup is also currently hiring front-end, back-end, iOS, and Android developers, as well as designers.


StageKeep is a tool that helps dancers visualize choreographies. STEFAN KOLLENBERG/THE VARSITY

When choreographers are creating a dance routine, they often draw up ideas on paper and then meet up with dancers for long practice sessions.

StageKeep was founded by William Mak and Axel Villamil to make this process more efficient by digitizing the planning and communication aspects of these routines. Villamil, a dancer himself, often found it difficult to meet with a full team for long hours and found it expensive to book studio hours. The app — currently available on the Google Play Store — allows dancers to come to rehearsals better prepared, helps choreographers save time, and shows directors how to save money.

Phenomic AI

Phenomic AI aids researchers in analyzing data from high-content screening. STEFAN KOLLENBERG/THE VARSITY

In the last decade, many biomedical labs have adopted high-content screening, a method that uses automated microscopes to image cells exposed to thousands of different drugs. A downside of this method, however, is that it can take months to sift through the data and analyze it. Phenomic AI automates this tedious process for researchers and professionals employing a deep-learning based platform that analyzes all the imaging data.

Phenomic AI has been featured in The Guardian, and its team members have also discussed the technology with Prime Minister Trudeau. They plan to announce pilot projects with major industry partners in the near future, and are currently looking for members to join their their data science and software teams.

Just Vertical

Just Vertical promotes sustainable indoor growing with wall-mounted hydroponic systems. STEFAN KOLLENBERG/THE VARSITY

Just Vertical founded by U of T Masters of Science graduates Conner Tid and Kevin Jakiela produces vertical hydroponic growing systems that can be easily stored, supply their own light, and are 95–99 per cent more water efficient than regular soil-based growing techniques.  

This startup is a environmentally sound and space efficient solution for those living in condos or apartments that do not have the space to grow plants. Next month, the startup plans to sell new models of the system made of bamboo composite an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to plastic.

RBC Pitch Competition

Hatchery Alumnus XPAN was awarded the RBC Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Hatchery NEST 2018 team VECO won the People’s Choice Award.

Do accents change the way we judge others?

U of T profs weigh in on how accents affect perceptions of competency

Do accents change the way we judge others?

Confession #35784: “Why do all the calculus profs suck?? You either get grad students… or foreign profs with really strong accents.” This was one of the few ‘confessions’ about professors’ foreign accents made on U of T Confessions, a Facebook page followed by more than 34,000 people.

During their studies, students at U of T may come across professors or TAs with noticeable accents. A glance at anonymous commentary websites, such as U of T Confessions or, reveals that students have given negative reviews of their professors largely for having thick accents.

Professors have noted that accents can affect one’s perception of another’s intelligence. U of T linguistics professor Naomi Nagy recalled the story of another professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). When that professor asked the class to quote participants as part of an assignment, she instructed the class to “clean up” the interviewee’s language to prevent them from sounding “dumb.”

According to U of T behavioural economics professor Robert Gazzale, “a lot of it has to do with… what represents competence in that discipline.” For example, he noted that it would not be uncommon for an English literature professor with a British accent to be perceived as competent, whereas an instructor with an Asian accent may be discredited.

While accents may be a factor in judgments of competence, Nagy said that these biases may have less to do with how someone speaks and more to do with how they look.

In particular, Nagy referenced a 1992 study. One group of students was assigned to listen to an audio recording of a TA speaking in English while they looked at a picture of a European woman. Another set of students listened to the same recording but looked at a picture of an Asian woman. A subsequent comprehension test revealed that students who were shown the picture of the Asian woman performed worse than those who saw the European woman. This study indicated that students understood less when they were listening to a person whom they expected to have an accent.

The implications of such studies, where internal prejudices affect students’ performance, are not well known. Gazzale hypothesized that in the 1992 study, students adjusted their learning efforts based on their expectation of the quality of instruction they were receiving.

Thus, the problem is double-edged: not only can ‘foreign-looking’ instructors be perceived as less competent, but students may also perform worse as a result of their adjusted performances based on their expectations of lecture quality.

Gazzale added that this is similar to the approachability versus competency trade-off. “Trying to be more [approachable to] students might have a desirable effect [in] that students [feel] more comfortable around you, [which] might help on the student evaluations. But on the other hand, the potential risk is a loss of perceived competence and authority.”

This trade-off varies across age and gender. “As an older white guy, I wear jeans to class,” said Gazzale, explaining how this does not decrease his authoritative presence. “I realize this is a luxury I have with my grey hair.”

“Students make up their mind instantaneously after [the] first view of their professor,” said Nagy. She cited a study in which, after watching a five-second silent clip of a professor, students were asked to give an evaluation of the professor. Even at the end of the semester, these evaluations remained unchanged.

Nagy has conducted some informal experiments herself using the university’s course evaluation system. Nagy admitted that she would receive better evaluations when she wore her hair longer. She hypothesized that this may have been because students perceived long hair as “more feminine” and associated it with being “nicer and more helpful.”

What does it take to overcome bias from first impressions, whether formed from accents or appearances? According to Gazzale, awareness of the bias might be effective, but the bias may still be dependent on other factors. For example, even students who acknowledge that such a bias exists may not recognize that they themselves are being prejudiced.

Gazzale believes that demonstrating to students that they have indeed learned something after the first lecture may help them reassess their perceived competence of the professor. He added that student evaluations are highly informative, especially for large classes, assuming that the biases have a consistent effect every year.

Editor’s Note (March 17): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Naomi Nagy was recounting her own experience at OISE. Nagy was recounting the experience of another professor.

Campus road closures for St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Roads closed March 11 from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm

Campus road closures for St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Several UTSG roads will be closed for Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 11, according to U of T Campus Police’s Twitter account. The closures will begin as early as 8:30 am and end at 12:30 pm.

Harbord Street, from Huron Street to St. George Street, will be closed from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.

St. George Street, from College Street to Bloor Street West, will also be closed from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.

There will be restricted access to Devonshire Place starting from a point 125 metres north of Hoskin Avenue from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.

There will be restricted access to Hoskin Avenue, from Queen’s Park Crescent to Devonshire Place, from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm.

Hoskin Avenue, from Devonshire Place to St. George Street, will be closed from 10:00 am to 12:30 pm.