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Young dinosaur finding hints at evolutionary differences

U of T researcher involved in study that uncovered rare diplodocid skull remains

Young dinosaur finding hints at evolutionary differences

Diplodocids are a group of sauropods that include giants such as Diplodocus and Supersaurus — some of the longest creatures ever to walk the Earth.

Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of fossils from this dinosaur group, but little is known about their origin or development into adult form.

In a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers including U of T PhD candidate Cary Woodruff analyzed a young diplodocid’s skull remains — unearthed in 2010 in Montana — and found that younger diplodocids may have had different diets than their older counterparts.

The skull remains, dubbed ‘Andrew,’ demonstrate that cranial dimensions did not develop on a fixed scale or at equal measures.

The dental and cranial differences between a mature and immature diplodocid can give the impression that they are of different species, but Andrew reveals that there are implications for cranial ecology as young diplodocids grow.

Woodruff and his team were able to determine specific differences between Andrew and adult skulls discovered earlier, including an extended tooth row, taller jaw bones, and peg tooth formation.

In fact, the authors state that if the fragments of the skull had been discovered separately, they would have likely been misidentified.

This is mostly because these distinct traits were common to other species — taxa — in the same clade as diplodocids, such as Eusauropoda and Macronaria. To a non-expert, it would seem strange that younger dinosaurs may horizontally integrate in taxa.

However, the researchers describe that this may be due to either recapitulation or, most likely, dietary niche partitioning between the young and adults.

Recapitulation theory suggests that an organism takes on forms of its ancestors — forms that were critical for survival in evolutionary past but are no longer needed — as it grows from embryo to adult, reaching the latest derived state during adulthood.

As such, it has been suggested that the skulls of adult diplodocids are taking the same form as their ancestors’.

The researchers in this study outline how dietary levels of specialization are what determined skull sizes, and that this is a form of recapitulation.

The younger diplodocids, like their relatives in the same clade and their common ancestors, ate more plants and lived in forested areas.

But as they got older, they gravitated to open space habitats and developed a more specific diet. Dietary specialization is the latest in the evolutionary timeline of diplodocid behavioural development, and is only found in fully mature individuals.

Woodruff explained why so many diplodocid skeletons have been discovered, but so little is known about their cranial ontogeny.

“The greatest difficulty in studying diplodocid — any sauropod — skulls are their rarity. We have loads of Diplodocus skeletons (well over 100), but fewer than 10 skulls are known. So it’s difficult to even have specimens to study in the first place,” he wrote.

The fragility of these fossils is also a significant limitation. “Dinosaur skulls are made up of dozens of thin, fragile, and delicate bones. The skull could easily get damaged or destroyed long before it’s even buried and begins the fossilisation process,” wrote Woodruff.

Some of Andrew’s bones were missing, “and those that remained were greatly squished” from being underground for millions of years. Bones can also become warped or distorted after long periods.

The work done by Woodruff and his team to draw out the cranial ontogeny and dietary habits of these animals have significant scientific implications. It reveals that diplodocid adults most likely gave birth and then separated from their young early on. It also shows us that herds were mostly segregated according to age.

The work done with Andrew highlights how the fossil record can impart indicators of behaviour and animal sociology. But the questions don’t end here.

“Andrew is not some missing link, nor does it fill in all of the remaining questions — it doesn’t even come close. Each new discovery, finding, and bit of research is like finding a piece to our puzzle. With every piece our picture becomes more and more complete,” wrote Woodruff.

Hold your breath

U of T researchers investigate the effects of nitrous acid on indoor air quality

Hold your breath

While conversations surrounding air pollution have largely centred on outdoor pollution, indoor air pollution also poses a threat to public health.

A study led by Douglas Collins, former postdoctoral fellow in the Abatt Group in the U of T Department of Chemistry, explored the effects of nitrous acid on indoor air quality.

In an email interview with The Varsity, Collins, now an Assistant Professor at Bucknell University, identified nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter as examples of indoor pollutants.

To simulate nitrous acid chemistry in a realistic environment, Collins and his peers brought lab instruments to an inhabited home and set up experiments to observe the effects of combustion, a known source of nitrous acid and nitrogen oxide.

They compared their measurements to a computational model designed to approximate indoor concentrations of nitrous acid combustion based on a variety of factors.

This is one of the first studies on the effects of nitrous acid composition on indoor environemnts to take place in an inhabited house, as previous studies used lab environments to measure nitrous acid concentrations.

Collins explained that while nitrous acid is one of the lesser known pollutants, it is nevertheless one of the most hazardous. Its reactive nature allows it to act “as a source for other chemically reactive compounds that shape the chemical composition of indoor air.” He added that nitrous acid can also “chemically react with tissues in the respiratory tract and cause adverse health effects.”

Other indoor pollutants include some organic chemicals widely used in plastics, flame retardants, and other common household products.

Indoor air pollution is particularly hazardous to humans because the concentration of air pollutants in enclosed environments can quickly accumulate, and lead to severe health problems like respiratory diseases and cancer.

To make matters worse, many homes now lack sufficient ventilation for air circulation for pollutants to escape, due to new energy-saving regulations.

Other sources of indoor air pollution include asbestos, common in older buildings but universally banned in recent years, tobacco smoke, which clings to clothes and furniture, and chemicals released from space heaters, stoves, and certain cleaning products.

There are several types of indoor air quality meters on the market designed to measure the concentrations of nitrous acid and other air pollutants.

“If you’re interested in monitoring your indoor air, be sure to do your research on which mode is best for your purposes — not all sensors are created equal,” Collins wrote.

Popular air quality sensors include volatile organic compound (VOC) sensors which can pick up organic compounds such as formaldehyde and ketones, carbon dioxide meters, and combined sensors, which can measure a variety of particulate matter, VOCs, and gases. Professional labs are used for exhaustive air quality screening.

A major problem with indoor air pollution is that hazardous pollutants are in nearly all household products and are emitted through common tasks, such as cooking.

However, there are ways to improve air quality, including opening windows to improve ventilation and using ventilation fans in the house.

“The fan above the kitchen stove can be an effective way to remove polluted air from your home, especially when cooking, which is one example of an activity that makes lots of pollutants including HONO [nitrous acid] if you have a gas stove,” Collins wrote. “Refraining from using scented candles or incense is another way to stop pollutants from being introduced to your indoor air. Purchasing a good-quality HEPA air cleaner is also a good idea.”

The National Human Activity Pattern Survey reports Canadians spend almost 90 per cent of their time indoors. It is therefore imperative that we understand the effects of indoor pollution and find ways to improve indoor air quality.

What makes a building sustainable?

Looking into U of T's LEED-certified buildings

What makes a building sustainable?

The University of Toronto plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent from its 1990 levels by 2030. This is part of the University Climate Change Coalition commitment, which U of T joined in February.

According to Ron Saporta, U of T’s Chief Operations Officer of Facilities and Services, around 50,000 metric tonnes of carbon emissions have been eliminated in the past ten years on the St. George campus alone.

Making changes to existing infrastrcture poses challenges, but according to Saporta, no challenge is insurmountable, and those that arise are expected from a campus of this size and age.

A new greenhouse gas project is in the works on all three campuses, part of an overarching project that is anticipated to be completed by the end of next March.

The Athletic Centre at UTSG will also acquire photovoltaic and photothermal panels, and a new 14-storey academic tower made of timber will be built above the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Already, there are many sustainable buildings at U of T, 12 of which have attained a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) awards these ratings based on the type of building being assessed.

The Varsity ranked each of these buildings according to a standardized percentage score, calculated from comparing the points awarded to each building by LEED to a total possible number of points for each criteria.

Among the following buildings, six have Gold certification and four have Silver. Out of all certifications granted by the CaGBC, Platinum is the highest, followed by Gold, Silver, and Credited as the lowest.

Exam Centre (UTSG)

LEED Rating: Gold 63%

Certified in 2009, the Exam Centre uses rainwater to reduce water consumption by 62 per cent. In 2017, the addition of photovoltaic solar panels successfully lowered electricity needs, generating 75,000 kW-hours per year. The green wall on the first floor acts as a natural air cleaner.

Lassonde Mining Building (UTSG)

LEED Rating: Gold 61.4%

The Lassonde Mining Building was renovated in November of 2011, converting unused spaces such as the attic into “student design studios,” teaching spaces, and even a rooftop meeting room. Photovoltaic panels produce energy required for lighting and technology in the Goldcorp Mining Innovation Suite. Other measures such as thermal buffer zones for improved insulation, automated smart blinds, and skylights were also implemented to minimize energy consumption.

Environmental Science and Chemistry Building (UTSC)

LEED Rating: Gold 58.2%

This building houses UTSC’s Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences and features 2,890 square metres of research and teaching labs. An earth tube system ventilates the building while a geothermal pump cools and heats it. Materials with low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), such as paint and adhesives, were used in addition to low-flow plumbing and rain water usage to reduce the building’s carbon footprint. Other green features include glazing on the windows to reduce heat transfer, electric vehicle charging stations, and a green roof.

Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre (UTSC)

LEED Rating: Gold 57.3%

This high performance sports facility was built with 30 per cent recyclable material. 95 per cent of all construction waste was diverted from landfills, and instead recycled, reused, or composted. The Sports Centre also uses geothermal heating, which supports 40 per cent of the building’s heating and 99 per cent of cooling demands. Its 1,854 solar panels generate enough energy to power 20 standard homes a year. As well, the building consumes around 37 per cent less water than a standard building of its size, and saves around 1.8 million liters of water per year.

Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex (UTM)

LEED Rating: Gold 57.1%

The Health Sciences Complex was built in 2011 using low-emitting materials, which contribute to better indoor environmental quality. The building’s underground cistern houses rainwater for irrigation that has helped reduce water consumption by 50 per cent. Stainless steel panels were also configured to provide insulation during the winter, and the building’s exterior was designed to prevent heat gain to eliminate the need for cooling systems. The central district energy plant also eliminated the need for independent boilers, chillers, and cooling towers.

Rotman School of Management – South Building (UTSG)

LEED Rating: Gold 55.7%

The building features nine stories connected to existing Victorian era infrastructure, with measures to prevent the heat island effect, such as the rooftop garden, use of 30 per cent less water, and optimized energy performance. The building also diverted 75 per cent of its waste away from landfills, and used 32 per cent locally processed and manufactured materials in its construction.

Instructional Building (UTM)

LEED Rating: Silver 52.9%

The UTM Instructional Building was finalized in 2011, complete with a geothermal heat pump which stores heat in the ground during the summer and uses it in the winter to supply heating and cooling systems. A small amount of electricity is used to run the underground pumps, located in the wells field. A 21 kilowatt solar electric system is also in place, and solar panels reduce the cooling load. Other energy-efficient initiatives in place include using computers, lighting, and tech equipment with minimal waste, as well as using the orientation of the building to maximize on natural light. The building itself is made from local material that is durable, and renewable or recycled.

Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre (UTM)

LEED Rating: Silver 50%

This 24 hour building opened in 2007 on the site of an old parking lot, and is one of the 44 libraries at the university. It is home to an electronic shelving system that allows shelves to move on a track, and maintains a rooftop garden, which helps to counteract the urban heat island effect. It also has low-emitting building materials and low-flow plumbing to improve air quality and reduce water usage. A green cleaning program has been implemented, among other operations that target indoor air quality.

Munk School of Global Affairs (UTSG)

LEED Rating: Silver 47.1%

After renovations in 2012, the building features new green aspects like measures to reduce water use by 30 per cent, contribute to ozone protection, and use innovative designs such as low mercury lamps. The renovation of the building itself used low-emitting material, and diverted at least 75 per cent of water from the landfill. Part of the building was also built with wood, a sustainable resource.

Innovation Complex (UTM)

LEED Rating: Silver 45.5%

The Innovation Complex houses offices, classrooms, and study rooms. There is a green roof, a system of low-flow plumbing fixtures, and ample natural light to enhance energy savings. In addition, a number of exterior “fins” prevent heat retention and reduce the need for cooling energy. The Complex also features efficient lighting fixtures that sense when a room is empty and automatically turn off.

Big Falcon Rocket shoots for the moon

University of Toronto Aerospace Team members comment on SpaceX’s latest venture

Big Falcon Rocket shoots for the moon

It has been nearly half a century since Commander Gene Cernan of Apollo 17 became the last human to walk on the moon.

But in September, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the #dearMoon project — a week-long trip aboard SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) to and from lunar orbit in 2023.

Their team plans to traverse the traditional circumlunar trajectory, and take advantage of the gravity of the Earth and moon to point the ship in the right direction, rather than relying on brute engine force.

How has technology changed since the end of Apollo program?

NASA built the Saturn V rocket to send astronauts to the moon as part of the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s. It later replaced the distinctive black-and-white rocket’s design in favour of the reusable Space Shuttle, a more mass-efficient alternative.

Rockets have seen developments since the 1970s. According to Jacob Weber, an engineering student in the University of Toronto Aerospace Team’s (UTAT) Rocketry Division, changes to rockets have been largely economical.

“Advancements in materials, manufacturing techniques, and electronics have all [resulted] in a ‘modernization’ for most rockets making them more efficient in terms of production and performance,” wrote Weber. “As a whole though, I wouldn’t say rockets have changed that much. You can tell that most rockets use the same multiple stage setup with or without some extra boosters on the side.”

In particular, Weber pointed out that the fundamental design of the popular Soviet/Russian series of Soyuz spacecraft has remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.

One of the main selling points of Space Shuttles is their reusability. Traditional rockets are composed of a number of stages — sections of a rocket that contain an engine or a cluster of engines. They break off after use and are either scrapped or recycled upon falling to Earth.

But SpaceX has made its name with rockets that are partially-reusable, comprised of a first stage that can land upright to be refueled and relaunched, topped by a disposable second stage.

The Falcon 9 rocket made its maiden voyage in February, carrying Musk’s now-famous Tesla Roadster. Its strengthened version, the Falcon Heavy, can carry a larger payload than any currently operational spacecraft.

The BFR is composed of two fully-reusable stages, a booster and main body, both of which will be able to ‘soft-land’ upright. It is set to become SpaceX’s flagship rocket, and will eventually supplant their current line of spacecraft to become an all-purpose vehicle.

“Looking at the concept images and what’s been released of the design so far, the obvious improvements are number of crew it can carry… as well as the ability to carry a significant payload along with this crew,” wrote Weber.

SpaceX’s BFR can carry one hundred passengers, which greatly exceeds the three seats available on the Apollo missions. Its ability to carry a significant payload in addition to crew is also a plus.

“The BFR is also probably going to be a lot roomier than the Apollo capsule was, with all more modern controls and user interface elements which should be a better overall experience for the crew and, based on the artist renderings, give them a nicer view,” wrote Weber.

Weber also pointed out that the BFR is likely to be much less costly and complex than the Saturn V, which he claimed was “the single most complicated machine we’ve ever made with some three million individual components.”

While still a half decade away, #dearMoon and the development of the BFR invite anticipation regarding the near future of spaceflight.

According to UTAT Executive Director Ridwan Howlader, such ambitions are echoed by budding space explorers.

“SpaceX is doing some very exciting work to enable organizations and industries all over the world to make use of the space environment. Their ability to overcome challenges has allowed them to come up with Moon missions, Mars colonization missions, as well as next generation space technologies,” Howlader told The Varsity.

Howlader added, “We encourage students to find ways to conquer challenges to further their learning experiences, while still understanding the fundamentals of engineering design and effective collaboration. These are ways we redefine student innovation, and it’s great to see this type of activity in the industry as well.”

Scared of spiders?

The Royal Ontario Museum’s latest exhibit challenges misconceptions about spiders

Scared of spiders?

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) opened the Spiders: Fear & Fascination exhibit earlier this year, developed by the Australian Museum and toured by Flying Fish.

The exhibit challenges arachnophobes to face their fear by trying to understand spiders, as most fears originate from a lack of information.

“We thought spiders were a particularly interesting subject because there are a lot of misconceptions about spiders, so there is sort of a fear and fascination about them and we thought that sort of angle would really resonate with the public,” said Doug Currie, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at U of T and Senior Curator of Entomology at the ROM.

While most museum exhibits lack a living element, Spiders features 18 different types of living spiders, including the brown recluse and black widow, spiders that are commonly mistaken for each other.

A common misconception about spiders is that they are insects, but they are in fact arachnids. Insects are made up of three sections and have six legs, while arachnids have eight legs and are made of two sections.


Considering most spiders have eight eyes, many have poor vision. Their eyes can only distinguish light and dark and detect movement. Spiders’ rear eyes give them 360-degree vision so that they can pick up
movement, while their front eyes can pick up detail within a short range.

The exhibit also has an Interactive Spider Lab — a small laboratory within the exhibit — and two on-site technicians known as “Spider Wranglers” who demonstrate venom milking.

The term ‘venom milking’ or ‘venom extraction’ elicits a repulsive image. But the process was much more clinical than I had imagined.

Mateus Pepinelli, one of the spider wranglers and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at U of T, filled the spider’s tank with carbon dioxide to put it to sleep. In this demonstration, Pepinelli extracted venom from a Huntsman spider. Once the spider fell asleep, Pepinelli carried it to a foam board with tools on the side. The setup was reminiscent of one you might find in an operating room at a hospital.

Once Pepinelli confirmed that the spider was asleep, he put the spider on its back and used pins to hold the spider down and away from its fangs. The pins do not puncture the spider, and were placed around the spider’s legs in a position that was convenient for Pepinelli.

Pepinelli then used an electrical device dipped in saline to trigger the spider to release its venom. At the same time, he placed a 0.5 mL microcentrifuge tube, enough to hold a drop of water, under the spider’s fangs to collect its venom.

The entire process was shown on a screen outside the Spider Lab. Some visitors watched in awe, others in horror.

Pepinelli extracted a drop of venom into the tube and moved the spider back to its habitat, a separate tank, before it woke up.

The venom, clear in color, looks innocuous, but it is chock-full of compounds, some of which have medicinal value. The venom extracted during the demonstrations is freeze-dried and sent to scientists that study spider venom for biomedical research.

The Interactive Spider Lab is one of several interactive features in the exhibit. Video projections also cast digital renditions of spiders at the entrance of the exhibit floor, and scaled-up models brought small spiders to life.


In addition, the ROM added its own elements to the Australian Museum’s exhibit.

“As is typical with many ROM exhibits, we add our own twist to it,” said Currie. “This was developed by the Australian Museum in Sydney and when we brought it here we added our own components.”

A Golden Spider Silk Cape is on display for the first time in North America, the world’s largest textile made exclusively from spider silk. The cape is made from the silk of 1.2 million female golden orb weaver spiders from Madagascar and took around three years to complete.

Spiders are also popular in culture and in art: a life-size first edition of a Spider-Man comic book and Indigenous textiles featuring spiders are also on display throughout the exhibit.

Spiders: Fear & Fascination is on display until January 6 in the ROM’s Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall.

Editor’s Note (October 29): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Doug Currie is an Assistant Professor. Doug Currie is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 

The corporatization of queer liberation

Pinkwashing at Toronto’s Pride Parade

The corporatization of queer liberation

[dropcap]H[/dropcap] aving some sort of Pride celebration during the summer months is now par for the course for many major city centres, and more and more, the festivities are spreading into even smaller urban areas. Owen Sound, Ontario, had its very first pride parade this year.

As queer events garner broader attendance, they have also become sought after opportunities for corporate sponsorship and advertisement. However, these advertisements often provoke widespread criticism — can Pride demonstrations stay true to their founding spirit of queer liberation when they’re bankrolled by major corporations?

To spectators at this year’s Pride Parade in Toronto, a corporate presence was extremely visible. Most of the large scale floats sported rainbow coloured logos of large companies like Canada Trust or Bud Light. Yet, while these corporate floats loomed large over the pedestrian element of the parade, many groups on foot carried signage protesting that same corporate involvement, with slogans such as “You Can’t Buy My Pride” or “The ‘T’ in LGBTQ Doesn’t Stand for ‘TD’.”

For some, corporate sponsorship is a benign and necessary aspect of contemporary Pride movements and celebrations. For others, it’s pinkwashing big business trying to appear queer-friendly in order to seem progressive and gain new marketing opportunities, without necessarily caring about or contributing to the community.

While complaints against corporate involvement in queer events are becoming more frequent, the political environment has changed dramatically. With government funding for queer non-profits already scarce and potentially becoming more so (if the recently scrapped LGBTQ+-friendly sexual education curriculum is any indication), there’s also the question of whether these groups can continue to do work for the queer community without relying on private and corporate funding.

Origins of Pride

The origin of these mid-year celebrations and most contemporary queer organizing is usually acknowledged as the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

In 1969 New York, it was illegal to ‘solicit homosexual relations.’ On June 28 of that year, police conducted a series of raids on bars in Greenwich Village that were thought to be gathering places for the queer community. This culminated in a raid on the Stonewall Inn, which broke into a queer struggle against the police, who ended up barricaded inside the inn.

While members of the community deserve to be highlighted in the events of that night most notably, trans woman Marsha P. Johnson, who is credited with throwing the first stone of the riots much of the lasting significance of that night was the lesson of how the queer community could band together to fight their diverse oppressions.

After that night, queer liberation movements gained visibility and momentum. More locally, Toronto Pride celebrations grew out of the Bathhouse Raids of 1981. The Toronto police forces coordinated raids on four major bathhouses that they suspected of prostitution and ‘indecent acts’ — read: queer sexuality.

After a whopping 286 arrests, the raids marked a turning point in Toronto’s queer liberation movement. The queer community grew increasingly politicized and refused to be swept under the rug by police, media, or the public.

Both these events occured, of course, long before large companies would have had any interest in sponsoring queer movements. So how do the events of 1969 and 1981 compare to our modern Pride celebrations, where corporate sponsorships feature prominently in queer organizing?


Contemporary Pride

While both the Stonewall and Bathhouse riots were protests, modern Pride has incorporated more and more celebratory aspects, as milestones of LGBTQ+ liberation become more frequent.

Now that larger corporations and even governments wish to share in Pride celebrations, there is often more competition for visibility.

This was clear in the summer of 2016, when Black Lives Matter (BLM) Toronto staged a protest in the Pride Parade over the growing marginalization of the Black queer community within Pride celebrations.

Pride Toronto ultimately agreed to Black Lives Matter Toronto’s demands. That same year, Justin Trudeau marked the first time that a Canadian Prime Minister ever walked in a Pride celebration, but Trudeau did so without ever publicly acknowledging the BLM protest to which he was in such close proximity.

These events raise questions of who should be privileged and visible at events of queer celebration. As the signage shows, many protestors at this year’s Pride parades and marches argued that corporate sponsorship didn’t belong. However, at the same time, Pride is a non-profit organization. Since it charges no admission to its events, sponsorships are vital to its ability to create queer spaces.

I wrote to Undergraduate Director and Lecturer Dai Kojima from the University of Toronto’s Sexual Diversity Studies Program about the dilemma that queer non-profits find themselves in.

When asked about the potential benefits and risks of major corporate sponsorship, Kojima responded that he viewed the situation as “more complicated than good/bad.” In Kojima’s opinion, “it is too easy to blame non-profits as being complicit in capitalism — as if they can ‘refuse’ to take the money.” He continued, “Many organizations are barely getting by and fighting over small pools of money to fund their programs, pay minimum salaries to their dedicated staff, and rent a basic work space to gather and organize activities.”

Kojima said that not all queer non-profits would even have the option of relying solely on non-corporate funding, especially non-profits that serve the most marginalized elements of the LGBTQ+ community, such as “racial and ethno-specific communities, homeless youths, sex workers, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, to name a few.”

He explained that “in the context of Toronto/Ontario, governmental support for these intersectional, queer non-profit organizations is shrinking rapidly — a dire situation made worse by the current Premier’s attack on social supports and public education on gender and sexual diversity.” This means that many more organizations are forced to turn to corporate support to stay viable.

Further, Kojima wrote, “We really have to understand the ambivalent and conflicted ways in which queer organizations — both big and small — work with corporations and governments to fund their work.”

Noulmook Sutdhibhasilp, Executive Director of the non-profit Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS), echoed Kojima’s call for nuance in these discussions. He noted that issues of corporate sponsorship are directly linked to “a bigger social justice issue” — that is, the “neo-liberalism agenda that shrinks government’s welfare state and continues to direct the responsibilities of social, health, education and other services to be dictated by the market.”

For Sutdhibhasilp, this makes corporate sponsorships essential in providing services to marginalized communities in Toronto and elsewhere.

Sutdhibhasilp also expressed that while “many people are turned off by corporate logos and conditions they impose,” the “PRIDE spirit is in celebrating who we are” and taking up space in the mainstream.


Who are the sponsors?

Sponsors vary widely in industry and how actively they support the queer community, outside of the weekend of Toronto Pride. One of Pride Toronto’s most noted sponsors is TD Banking, which sponsors 83 Pride festivities around North America while also supporting over 160 LGBTQ+ organizations and initiatives.

On the flip side, Bud Light is a major sponsor of Pride Toronto, yet was also a major sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. This move was widely criticized due to reports of Russia’s recent and well-documented persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly its anti-gay purges in Chechnya.

There are also sponsors like Remington’s Men of Steel strip bar, which supports Pride while arguably promoting cisnormative views of beauty and pleasure.

Nevertheless, all of these businesses are willing to put their profits into funding initiatives like Pride Toronto. Is this contribution enough, in return for all the benefits that they get through exposure at Toronto Pride? Or do corporations that can appear accepting and progressive through sponsoring events like Pride have more of a responsibility to engage with the queer community, as TD Bank and other sponsors try to do?

Kojima argued that the debate should not focus on whether corporate money is “always already bad” so much as on questions such as “which agendas are deemed safe and worthy in the eyes of corporate philanthropic programs and which voices remain on the margins?” and, “what systems of value and valuation are at work when corporate and government money is unevenly distributed?”

In that framework, organizations like Pride seem safer and less controversial than organizations serving more marginalized elements of the community, and therefore receive more corporate funding. This leaves organizations serving ethno-culturally specific or poverty stricken aspects of the queer community struggling for funds to keep their services going.

For anyone wanting to support some of those organizations who receive less governmental and corporate funding and remain on the margins, here are a few places you could start:

  • Rainbow Railroad: an organization helping LGBTQ+ people from around the world escape state-sponsored violence
  • Casey House: Canada’s only stand-alone hospital for HIV/AIDS patients
  • Youthline: a completely anonymous hotline for queer youth that provides referrals, support, and recommendations for resources
  • ACAS: mentioned briefly above, this organization works to make HIV/AIDS information, as well as general LGBTQ+ resources, available to East and Southeast Asian Communities


Symbolic appropriation?

On a broader scale, questions regarding the effects of the widespread use of queer symbols by large corporations remain. While it can be positive for queer symbols to be more widely accepted and mainstream, Kojima noted that “we must be skeptical of the belief that circulation of symbols and mass consumption of them will somehow lead to some kind of liberation.”

The recent controversy surrounding the new Philadelphia Pride Flag, which incorporates black and brown stripes into the traditional rainbow flag to represent inclusion of queer people of color, highlights this. As Toronto recently experienced with the 2016 BLM protest, this is a much talked about issue in current queer organizing — the drive to ensure that people of color are not ignored when we talk about the queer community, and that this intersectionality is acknowledged.

It’s important to note that as of yet, no corporations have used the Philadelphia flag instead of the traditional rainbow colours. Perhaps the more frequently used “Love is Love” and “PRIDE” are safer, more consumer-friendly options, rather than embracing the contemporary face of the queer community and accepting potential controversy.

Kojima presented an ideal scenario, one that he stressed is only theoretical and not currently the way that corporate sponsorships work: “Ideally corporations should work with queer communities in order to first find out what the pressing needs of that particular community are and ask how their sponsorship will help that cause. Not the other way around.”

“Corporate donors need to let go of the expectation that their sponsorship and donation for queer events and programs will produce direct beneficial return (e.g. corporate visibility, increased positive public perception, monetary gains etc.), and instead should offer financial and other material supports because supporting these initiatives is the right thing to do.”

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

Alibaba president, Sanctuary AI founder among speakers discussing the future, impacts of technology

Rotman hosts AI industry leaders for machine learning conference

The Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab hosted 24 of the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, business leaders, economists, and thinkers on October 23. The “4th Annual Rotman Conference on: Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence” featured discussions of AI and the impact it will bring to the future of business, medicine, and numerous other industries.

Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, and Shivon Zilis, the project director of Tesla and Neuralink, co-chaired the 11.5-hour event. Among the speakers were Alibaba — the world’s largest online retailer — President Michael Evans, Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, and U of T Emeritus distinguished professor Geoff Hinton. Despite their unique perspectives, one message was clear: machine intelligence will revolutionize how we think about solving problems.

The event began with talks from leaders in the international business sector on why industries worldwide are rapidly adopting machine intelligence into their business practices. Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, explained how monumental AI will be toward optimization and efficiency. Sneader said that he expects “mainstream absorption” of AI within the next decade. Evans showcased Alibaba’s automated distribution facilities powered by intelligent roving robots and its multitiered corporate strategy to adopt AI.

The speakers made it clear that businesses see the huge potential upsides associated with smart automation, but none discussed the issues that AI adoption may bring to the labour force or customer data responsibility.

Many industry pioneers dream of closing the gap between human and artificial intelligence, and they want you to know that the results don’t have to parallel dystopian sci-fi. Suzanne Gildert, CEO of Sanctuary AI, is building sentient, fully autonomous robots powered by the next generation of AI.

The artist-turned-technologist said that designing the first generation of synths with realistic human bodies will allow them to interface with our human world. Debates around the treatment, regulation, and integration of robots into human society are still very unresolved, but Gildert hopes that AI will push humankind to new heights. Citing the possibilities to create hyper-empathetic, creative, and intelligent minds, Gildert emphasized her optimism for the future of AI.

She ended her talk with a fascinating, albeit slightly terrifying, demo of a robotic clone of herself, complete with a matching silicon body and voice capabilities.

Perhaps one of the more sobering talks of the day was given by theoretical physicist and former president of the Santa Fe Institute Geoffrey West, who discussed the “socioeconomic entropy” that comes with chasing innovation. Despite the optimism of other speakers and the crowd in light of continued innovation and growth, West cast doubt over humanity’s ability to support sustained accelerated innovation.

Based on his research into the scale of companies and human networks, he suggested an underlying futility to the aspirations of the field. This alternate perspective brought a human context back to the event; if we don’t understand how we grow, we are doomed to collapse under our own weight.


The lower floors of the event hosted Toronto AI companies, who demonstrated their latest and greatest tech. Dozens of startups and corporations presented their efforts to integrate AI into solutions for specific industry problems, highlighting the extent of AI adoption.

The student responsibility for reconciliation

To create a more inclusive university for Indigenous students, student government must hold the administration accountable and take initiative on its own

The student responsibility for reconciliation

Last February, the Decanal Working Group (DWG) released its Report on Indigenous Teaching and Learning to the Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS). It addresses the “central role” that the administration ought to play in advancing the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to the FAS.

On September 17, it was announced that the faculty would fulfill a key recommendation by creating an “Indigenous College with Residence Space.” Many of the 19 other recommendations — including enhancing forms of support, curriculum changes, and divisional leadership — are still undergoing implementation or have yet to be announced, demonstrating that this is an ongoing process.

The DWG’s call reflects an often overlooked problem at U of T: the absence of Indigenous methods in academia. If U of T is to be an inclusive, accessible, and empowering environment for Indigenous students it must become a place where forms of Indigenous expression and thinking are integrated into academics, including being “critically and rigorously studied at the most advanced levels.”

While the implementation of these recommendations are a step in the right direction, the broader systemic issue — the discriminatory and unwelcoming environment for Indigenous students on campus — is a problem that the purely academic- and faculty-based report cannot fully resolve. We, the students, must do more.

Therefore, although written for the FAS, the DWG report is also a legitimate and worthwhile document for other bodies and student government representatives to follow. This includes the Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU), the colleges, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), and Governing Council.

Most initiatives appear out of the immediate jurisdiction of student governments. Nevertheless, they can participate by holding the administration accountable during the implementation process. Above all, the recommendations can inspire student groups to pursue their own initiatives in the spirit of reconciliation.

In fact, the concerns at the heart of the report fall completely in line with the intentions of student government. After all, Indigenous students are represented by the UTSU and ASSU, so student governments should work for the welfare of those whom they represent.

It is also consistent with the UTSU’s mission statement to “safeguard the individual rights of the student” and “foster their intellectual growth and moral awareness.” Indigenous students have the right to an inclusive university experience, and the UTSU’s cooperation with the DWG’s initiatives, from an academic perspective, can also help to intellectually and morally enrich non-Indigenous students.

The fact is that these initiatives also benefit the broader U of T community by promoting active learning and understanding of Indigenous peoples and their forms of expression. More importantly, this will aid in the progress of reconciliation between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada — a process that requires the active remembrance of a painful past, as well as action in the present that can contribute to ending quasi-colonial institutions and discrimination.

The first recommendation — the creation of an Indigenous college — is already planned for opening in 2030. The UTSU and ASSU, however, can contribute their voice to these plans, such as encouraging particular aspects of student life within that new space.

There is also the essential role of accountability: to maintain a careful eye in ensuring that the administration does not make empty promises. Additionally, this does not preclude existing colleges from making themselves more accommodating. The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council, for instance, is pursuing an initiative to rename the Ryerson residence house and VicOne Ryerson stream to something derived from Indigenous academia or language.

One particular area that student governments can take proactive and immediate action in is by providing more support and services for Indigenous students. This seeks to address unique problems and barriers that Indigenous students face in a racist and colonial structure, in which there is a profound lack of understanding of Indigenous cultures, languages, and ways of approaching the world. Student government must play its part to counteract and remove barriers for Indigenous students.

Such initiatives are not completely new to student governments. For instance, there are plans to expand the pilot ASSU Mentorship Program, a support system for students, to include a stream specifically for Indigenous students. It should also be mentioned that this can be done through active participation in several groups on campus — such as the Indigenous Law Students’ Association and Indigenous Education Network — that have taken up the call to action.

Student government must consider the DWG’s recommendations seriously, for it presents an obligation to hold the FAS accountable, and an opportunity to act on more reconciliation-based initiatives for the creation of an inclusive environment for Indigenous students.

Sam Routley is a fourth-year Political Science, Philosophy, and History student. He is The Varsity’s UTSG Campus Politics Columnist.