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Comment in Briefs: Week of March 4

Students react to SCSU’s refusal to ratify incoming executive, new building near Faculty of Law

Comment in Briefs: Week of March 4

A gross miscarriage of democracy for UTSC

Re: “SCSU board refuses to ratify incoming executive, directly contravenes union bylaws”

There’s something deeply disturbing about the recent Scarborough Campus Students’ Union decision to not ratify the election win of Vice-President Operations-elect Rayyan Alibux. This decision has only served the UTSC community a gross miscarriage of democracy.

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but last I checked we’re not living in a dystopia — this isn’t Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World or George Orwell’s 1984. It’s imperative that instances of guilt by association be considered cautiously and not naively.  

It does not follow from The Underground’s snippet to the inference that Alibux engaged with harmful intent toward any individual of the trans community.

Saying “I hope this chat is never leaked” can be interpreted as an expression of concern toward something someone else said, because it could bring harm to another.

I don’t know Alibux and perhaps wouldn’t like him. I certainly would not if he persistently engaged in activities with the intent to harm others. However, as per the snippet shown, any guilty verdicts to harm others and labelling of transphobe are unfounded, exaggerated and extrapolated beyond reality.

While he may very well be transphobic or racist, we cannot accept biased speculation as proof of such claims. In lieu of evidence, it’s preposterous to refuse ratification based on tense interpersonal relationships that are far too emotionally invested to be consistent with professional workplace rules of conduct.

For the record, I’m not at UTSC and have no association whatsoever with any of the individuals involved. Observing from UTSG, I find the situation sickening and unbecoming of any Canadian political institution and its representatives.

If you’re not under the banner of democracy, then you’re outside of it. If you’re not under the law, then you’re above it. Either way, you’re acting outside and against democratic interests of student society. It’s a brazen attack on U of T’s democracy, and perpetrators must be held accountable and responsible for any and all damages.

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.


The proposed School of Cities building is justified

Re: “U of T proposing new building near Faculty of Law, Music”

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto has announced plans to construct a new building at 90 Queen’s Park. The edifice will house the School of  Cities, a research institute that approaches urban issues. This proposal has been met with both hope and disapproval from university students. It is important to consider the opportunities it will provide to members of the U of T community.

Much of the criticism is aimed at the structure’s appearance. Some have denounced it due to its ‘ugly’ contemporary design. However, it is arbitrary to decry a building that begins construction in 2020, simply because it does not have the same aesthetic appeal as the university’s more renowned establishments many of which were erected in the nineteenth century.

It would be impossible to create a nine-storey structure that blends in with the older buildings in Queen’s Park Circle. This is due to the sheer size of the planned edifice in comparison to others, as well as the buildings’ age differences. The modern additions to UTSG pose no threat to the historical ones. The School of Cities’ architecture is designed with functionality in mind, which will ensure that it is practical and fulfills its intended purpose.

The new building’s recital hall, as well as its close proximity to the Faculty of Music, intrinsically link it to the music department. The Chief of University Planning, Gilbert Delgado, has taken into account the request for an interior passage between the building and the Faculty. This will allow musicians to transport instruments easily between the two facilities. This is proof that students’ requests are already being accommodated. As the venture moves forward, architects will continue taking advice from students.

Agata Mociani is a first-year Humanities student at New College.

U of T Faculty of Medicine sees positive results one year after Black Student Application Program launches

New MD application stream helps to welcoming environment for Black applicants

U of T Faculty of Medicine sees positive results one year after Black Student Application Program launches

One year after implementing the Black Student Application Program (BSAP), the U of T Faculty of Medicine has seen an increase in the number of qualified Black medical students admitted to its Doctor of Medicine (MD) program. From one Black student in the 2016-2017 application cycle to 15 in the 2018-2019 cycle, the increase in admitted students signals a significant improvement.

U of T’s BSAP is an optional application stream for applicants who self-identify as Black. The general admission requirements remain the same for students who apply through BSAP, but students must submit an additional personal essay highlighting why they chose to apply through the stream. Members of the Black community, including Black physicians, faculty members, and students take part in admissions file reviews and admission interviews.

There are no designated seats for BSAP applicants and no quotas that need to be met in order to ensure a more diverse student population.

Dr. David Latter, Director of MD Admissions and Student Finances of the MD program, believes that “one of the reasons BSAP has been so successful, so quickly, is because we are demonstrating in a concrete fashion that U of T is serious about diversity.”

It is important that medical schools reflect the communities they serve.

In Ontario an estimated one to 1.3 per cent of doctors are Black whereas approximately 4.7 per cent of Ontarians identify as being Black. Research has shown that greater diversity in medical classes leads to doctors who are better able to serve diverse communities.

“Having different ethnic and racial groups within the profession broadens the scope of care as well as concern and awareness about unique health conditions that affect specific populations,” explained Latter.

Marginalized student populations face various unseen barriers when applying to academic programs. One such barrier is the fear of feeling culturally excluded or isolated.

Chantal Phillips is a first year U of T medical student who applied through BSAP. In an email to The Varsity she wrote that one of her fears while applying to medical school was that “[her] work in the black community would not be fully understood or valued when compared to applicants doing work for other causes.”

Phillips recalled the pressure she felt to remove the word “Black” from the Black Youth in Science Mentorship Program and from Western Future Black Physicians.

Through the BSAP, she did not feel a similar need to mask her race. “BSAP helped to reinforce a sense of comfort in not having to remove those key identifiers from who I am and what I do,” explained Phillips. “Black people are not a monolith, and so being black is not necessarily enough of a commonality to ensure that this would take place.”

Nevertheless, now six months into her medical education, Phillips reports that “the Black Medical Students Association has grown in size and in passion. This has enhanced my desire to be involved on campus and to make a difference while I have the privilege of attending U of T.”  

The University of Toronto, in partnership with the U of T Black Medical Students’ Association and the Black Physicians Association of Ontario, has launched other similar initiatives. For example, the Community of Support mentors Black, Indigenous, Filipino, disabled, and economically disadvantaged university students who are considering applying to medicine.

BSAP has already begun to foster a diverse group of students in the medical program and its success will continue to be monitored.

After just one admissions cycle since its launch, there is evidence that BSAP is helping to remove barriers and support community members so that they may fulfil their academic and professional goals.

 

“This is not a woman’s issue; this is a human rights issue”: U of T groups host panel on diversity in STEM

Advocates discuss the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Canadian STEM research

“This is not a woman’s issue; this is a human rights issue”: U of T groups host panel on diversity in STEM

On March 4, a panel of advocates who champion diversity and equity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields discussed the importance of representation in Canadian STEM research at the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

The event was hosted by Women in Chemistry Toronto alongside campus groups such as the Black Graduate Student Association, the Toronto Science Policy Network, Women in Math, and University of Toronto Coders.

Panelists included Dr. Juliet Daniel, a cancer researcher and associate professor at McMaster University; Dr. Imogen Coe, a biochemistry professor at Ryerson University who studies membrane transport proteins; Dr. Deborah McGregor, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School whose research focuses on Indigenous knowledge systems; and Dr. Emily Agard, director of SciXchange at Ryerson University, an organization that increases the accessibility of science for youth.

The first question of the night was about the importance of representation. Coe said that for her, representation is important because if the inability to picture yourself in a field can translate to an inability to be an active participant, which she finds is directly related to the achievement of goals and aspirations.

Coe urged that “representation is essential if we are going to move towards a more equitable kind of environment where everybody does have a voice, everybody does have an ability to contribute and participate.”

Most of the discussion was focused on equity. McGregor discussed an imbalance with Indigenous people in regards to traditional knowledge due to historical trauma.

Coe explained the importance of inclusive leadership and the acquisition of core competencies as “an understanding and application of equity, diversity, and inclusion principles.”

“This is not a woman’s issue,” said Coe, noting that allyship is a concept that is actionable. “This is a human rights issue.”

Recruitment was one area that Agard elaborated on in terms of access.

“Sometimes the word doesn’t get out to certain circles, so you have all sorts of talented people who might not have the opportunities [because they] aren’t in the same circles,” said Agard. Here, recruitment plays a key role and ultimately the talent recruited will have strengths that “speak for themselves,” she says.

Daniel discussed the importance of equity, noting discrimination in committees of which she was a part.

Agard recounted that a committee was “willing to overlook the deficits of the Caucasian applicants” as their deficits would be overcome while “on the job.”

However, this same privilege was not granted to non-Caucasians. She said that it was important to “get [members] to start thinking about how we’re still biased, that we are willing to waive the deficiencies of candidate A but not the deficiencies of candidate B.”

Furthermore, Daniel talked about acknowledging discrimination and how while one candidate may not have the skill set to become a high-ranked employee, it is not due to lack of capacity or interest but due to being “discriminated against along the way.”

Lina Tran, President of University of Toronto Coders, noted that events like the panel discussion are important because support is not just from underrepresented groups but from allies as well. “I think it’s just amazing to see people come together and support each other through trying to change things institutionally and socially.”

 

From sea to stars

Canada’s new space program will provide ample opportunities for ‘spaced out’ students

From sea to stars

In 1962, Canada launched Alouette 1, becoming just the third country after the Soviet and American superpowers to successfully design and build a satellite.

In 1982, payload specialist Dr. Marc Garneau blazed through the atmosphere on NASA’s Shuttle Mission 41-G, becoming the first Canadian in space.

In 2013, Colonel Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to command a spaceship, taking charge of the International Space Station during Expedition 35.

Now, in 2019, Canada is reclaiming its historic place among the stars, as this past week, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains released “Exploration, Imagination, Innovation: A New Space Strategy for Canada,” the federal government’s comprehensive plan for Canada on the final frontier. 

The 22-page document details a slew of groundbreaking commitments, ranging from private sector stimulation to international collaboration.

So what’s in it for U of T students?

The Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF)

Long gone are the days of the space sector being a public sector. Highlighted in Canada’s space strategy is the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), the government’s avenue for funding  private sector science. With $45 million of the SIF reportedly into the space sector since 2015, the government is looking to deepen the links between academic institutions like U of T with industry leaders and start-ups to grow innovation in the space sector.

Promoting broadband connectivity through a network of satellites in low Earth orbit is of particular interest. SIF has already earmarked $100 million over the next five years for “connecting Canadians everywhere” via next-generation, high-speed networks.

The Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP)

While SIF is a well-established institution dedicated to science in general, the government is also looking to take a LEAP of faith with funding specifically for space innovation. To this end, Canada will be starting a Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP).

Dedicated entirely to helping space firms start up and grow, LEAP will invest $150 million over the next five years into commercial technologies related to the space sector. Technologies in health, artificial intelligence, and robotics for use in lunar orbit or on the lunar surface are a particular focus.

The Lunar Gateway and Next-Generation Canadarm

There can be little doubt that Canada’s commitment to the Lunar Gateway project will define the academic and industrial space sector for years, if not decades, to come.

The Lunar Gateway is a NASA-led international collaboration of private and national space organizations with the ultimate goal of a putting a permanent base in lunar orbit as a launching pad to the rest of the Solar System. Canada’s role will be the construction of a third Canadarm, the giant robotic tool that currently adorns the International Space Station — and the back of the five-dollar bill.

With decades of experience operating the original Canadarm attached to space shuttles, and the second generation attached to the space station, the Canadian Space Agency is putting a lifetime of knowledge into its Next-Generation Canadarm, which will come in both a large and a small variety.

The Next-Generation Large Canadarm is improved from its predecessor with a lighter and more compact frame and no reduction in the original 15-metre reach. Its counterpart, the Next-Generation Small Canadarm, is a 2.58-metre multi-tool device capable of performing more intricate tasks like cutting wires while being transported at the end of its larger sibling.

These newest Canadarms will likely be launched early in the Lunar Gateway project’s timeline to aid in the construction of the remainder of the station.

The future is promising

Prospects are still slim for many of the promises made in “exploration, imagination, innovation,” but it is already clear that a cultural shift in favour of outer space is likely in store for the nation.

“With potentially great socio-economic benefits, increased attention to STEM education, and great impacts in a wide range of industries, the partnership with NASA and overall approach towards more multidisciplinary technological initiatives is something Canada can definitely benefit from,” said Ridwan Howlader, Executive Director of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team, in a comment to The Varsity.

While increased SIF funding and the creation of LEAP are the plans in “exploration, imagination, innovation” that will directly benefit U of T students, it is likely that many facets of the plan will open up indirect pathways to success in the near future for space-skilled students like Howlader about to enter the workforce.