Bridging the gap

Letter from the Editor

Bridging the gap

One common refrain that readers will see when glancing over any article celebrating The Varsity is its age. As of this October, this newspaper will be 140 years old — you are all invited to the party. While we take great pride in continuing the legacy of one of Canada’s longest-running student newspapers, the very age of The Varsity may give students the perception of an unchanging institution, disconnected from the campus.

This year, my team and I hope to bridge this perceived gap between students and the newspaper that we love. This year, we want to engage with you. We want to hear your concerns, your experiences, the big and little things that you care about.

While this goal is something that our masthead is dedicated to, regardless of external factors, the creation of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) has certainly highlighted just how important it is for us to continue our long-standing goal to earn your trust as a reader.

The SCI allows students to opt out of certain incidental fees, including The Varsity’s levy of $2.87 per semester for undergraduates and $0.87 for graduates. 

While this policy has raised questions about our place and responsibility at U of T, our consistent and responsible reporting on not only the SCI, but on issues that are important to students, has proven just how essential we are to the community. 

As you continue to read our content, be it investigations into U of T’s finances, campus theatre reviews, or recaps of Varsity Blues games, I hope you will consider supporting us by staying opted-in.

Advocacy-editorial divide

As the SCI continues to be a pressing facet of campus life, I will be continuing the policy established by my predecessor, Jack O. Denton, to recuse myself from editing articles on the SCI. 

The justification for this is simple: I must continue to be an outspoken advocate for The Varsity as an essential service while also upholding the paper’s long-standing commitment to responsible and fair reporting. Therefore, a recusal would allow for a separation of my advocacy efforts and the The Varsity’s editorial operations.

The news team’s reporting on the SCI — led by News Editor Andy Takagi and Deputy News Editor Kathryn Mannie — will be edited and published by Managing Editor Ibnul Chowdhury, instead of myself. Moreover, Ibnul, Andy, Kathryn, and all associate news editors will refrain from publicly expressing any opinions on the SCI.

Ibnul will also take over editing and publishing responsibilities for all SCI articles found in our other sections. Therefore, I will not be involved in any of the content we produce about this topic.

I am continuing this policy so as to further assure our readers of our enduring commitment to the values of fair, just, and accurate reporting.

The Varsity will always be here as an expression of the student voice, in all its diverse and multi-faceted forms. However, it’s up to you, the students, to work with us, fund us, and tell us what we can do better.

Josie Kao

Editor-in-Chief

Volume 140

U of T and the climate crisis: what you need to know

In light of Gertler’s commitment to U7+ climate goals, a look at U of T’s recent history of climate policy

U of T and the climate crisis: what you need to know

Meric Gertler attended the inaugural U7+ Summit this July, and affirmed his commitment to addressing climate change, along with the leaders of 48 universities worldwide. The U7+ Alliance aims to confront global problems, including the climate crisis, through the commitments of various universities.

However, over the past few years, U of T’s climate record has been marred with dissent, marked notably by Gertler’s 2016 rejection of divesting from all fossil fuel companies, as recommended by the President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment (PAC). 

Principle 3 of the U7+ Alliance states, “We recognize that our universities have a major role to play in addressing the environmental issues and challenges to sustainability such as climate change, biodiversity and energy transition. This should include leading by example on our own campuses.” As Gertler and U of T continue to voice support for fighting the climate crisis, The Varsity takes a look at what the university has done in recent years.

Background

Leading up to 2015, student activists and a Toronto350.org petition encouraged the university to create a committee that would look into U of T’s financial investments and make recommendations. The PAC specifically recommended that U of T divest from firms that spread misinformation about climate change, derive 10 per cent or more of their revenue from aggressive or non-conventional extraction, or disregard the 1.5 degree warming threshold. 

“We had come up with what we thought was a very reasonable and well-thought-out approach,” said Professor Matthew Hoffmann, who served on the PAC. 

In rejecting the PAC’s suggestions, U of T announced its plans to instead evaluate investments on a “firm-by-firm basis,” using “Environmental, Social, and Governance [ESG] factors.” 

“It’s what everyone should be doing,” said Hoffmann on U of T’s usage of ESG principles. “I don’t think it necessarily goes far enough in terms of a climate crisis.”

Even as campaigns similar to U of T’s have been enacted at universities such as McGill University and the University of British Columbia, the sole postsecondary institution in Canada to commit to divestment is Université Laval.

Where are we now?

On the heels of the rejection of the PAC’s recommendations, President Gertler instituted the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability (CECCS). Focusing on sustainability and academic response to climate change, CECCS champions three main concepts: campus as a living lab, university as an agent of change, and curriculum innovation.

The CECCS’ work is in line with Principle 3, Action 1 of the U7+ Alliance, dictating that “all students of our universities will have access to courses related to climate, biodiversity and sustainability.”

However, many feel that this is simply not sufficient. “If, as [the CECCS] argues, U of T needs to be a living lab and an agent of change, then this must go beyond curriculum to the material and energy foundations of the institution,” said Professor Scott Prudham.

As of the 2018 University of Toronto Asset Management (UTAM) Carbon Footprint Report, carbon emissions for the Pension and Endowment portfolios are 13.1 and 12.5 per cent higher than their Reference portfolios, respectively. UTAM directs U of T’s investments, which amounts to almost $10 billion. This measurement is comprised of total emissions and emissions per million dollars USD invested. 

“Our portfolio is higher in carbon emissions than I’d like to see,” said Hoffmann.

“Beyond Divestment,” the document that outlines Gertler’s rejection of the PAC’s recommendations, emphasizes that fossil fuels only contribute to a quarter of carbon emissions, citing this as a limiting factor when considering the possibility of divestment. However, divestment increasingly has a financial logic, as the report agrees that investing in fossil fuels may be riskier in the long-term. 

“If U of T came out with a strong commitment to pursue divestment, it would send signals. After all, financial markets are about information and expectation, and if large institutional investors begin to show aversion to investing in fossil fuel companies, then others may follow suit and suddenly those firms do not look like good investments anymore,” said Prudham.

But the logic of divestment goes beyond financial considerations. “Divestment activists think… this really needs to be about changing the way society thinks, what we invest in,” said Hoffman.

Where are we going?

This debate over what it means to be a university in the face of the climate crisis causes many to still feel as though U of T is not living up to its potential. Divestment remains a priority for student environmental groups such as Leap UofT, who simply are not satisfied with the university’s focus on academic solutions and sustainability.

“This administration has been very good at greenwashing its unwillingness to challenge the corporate power driving the climate crisis under support for sustainability initiatives. Those initiatives are wonderful on their own, but they aren’t a substitute for divestment,” said Leap UofT co-founder Julia DaSilva. In the past two years, Leap UofT has focused their divestment efforts on Victoria College, where the Board of Regents Investment Committee has agreed to look into the possibility of divestment.

“Our aim with these campaigns has been to rebuild the momentum around divestment, and this year, we’re working on ways to direct this momentum back into a cross-campus campaign that will force U of T’s administration out of their confidence that divestment at U of T is dead,” said DaSilva.

The Breakdown: The Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health

U of T’s mental health task force continues consultation phase despite criticisms from students

The Breakdown: The Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

The Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health is in the first phase of its operational plans. The task force was formed in late March in response to two reported student deaths by suicide on campus in the past year. Following its start in the summer, the task force will continue to meet with various student groups, university staff, and administration, and other relevant groups over the fall. 

In total, the task force consists of 13 people: the Chair, Dean of Medicine Trevor Young; four student representatives; three faculty members; three administrative staff members; and two senior assessors. 

The central goal of the task force is to review both student mental health services and co-ordination between support systems across U of T’s three campuses, in addition to evaluating the physical spaces where mental health services are provided. Proceeding evaluation, the task force then plans to make recommendations to President Meric Gertler and the Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr by December 2019.

The task force’s Outreach and Engagement plan, published online, details the groups and individuals that the task force will meet with as it gathers information, operates pop-up booths, and hosts in-person consultations at all three campuses. The final stage of the task force will be to present its draft themes and recommendations for a public response via an online form before giving its findings and recommendations to the administration.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

In an open letter published in The Varsity, 15 students characterized the task force as an insufficient response to a “ongoing mental health crisis” on campus and asked for the task force’s dissolution on the grounds of “a lack of transparency, diversity, and accountability mechanisms.” The students also criticized the administration for being unresponsive to their requests for meetings and consultations on the university’s mental health infrastructure.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”  is a 40-page report written by student activists that outlined numerous demands, among them that any university initiatives regarding mental health be comprised of a student majority, including in leadership positions. The report details specific criticisms that students have lodged since 2014, and also cites student experiences with the university’s mental health support system. 

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Joshua Bowman, while remaining “cautiously optimistic,” echoed concerns of student activists, noting that the task force lacks sufficient student representation. 

“[The four students on the task force] are charged with representing 71,930 undergraduate and 19,356 graduate students, respectively, according to 2017-2018 enrolment,” wrote Bowman in an email to The Varsity. He also noted that “members were selected without regard to lived experiences of mental illness or diverse identities, but based on professional and scholarly experience.”

“U of T has, for too long, ignored the voices of students in mental health policy. This Task Force was an opportunity to center the voices of students that U of T has failed to realize,” wrote Bowman.

Egag Egag, one of the two graduate representatives on the task force, acknowledged the challenges of having four students on a task force set to address the mental health of around 90,000 students across three campuses. In an email to The Varsity, Egag wrote, “it is my hope that all students will take an opportunity to participate, so that we have feedback that is authentic and representational of UofT’s students.”

Action and accountability

Currently, the task force’s sole purpose is to make recommendations, and although the Outreach and Engagement plan states that the task force will be meeting with various student unions, Bowman reports that the UTSU has not heard from the task force. 

Similarly, Chemi Lhamo, President of the Scarborough Students’ Union, wrote to The Varsity that “[the administration] also need to acknowledge that U of T students are different because of the overwhelming pressure to do well in one of the best institutions in the world.”

While Lhamo hopes that the task force will produce results, she is skeptical that the it will be able to properly represent marginalized students, and address the unique challenges faced by U of T’s satellite campuses.

 “We are looking forward to seeing actions being taken and not just the talk,” wrote Lhamo. 

Social and behavioural health sciences PhD student Corey McAuliffe is one of the members of the newly formed task force. In an email to The Varsity, McAuliffe described the role of the task force as “one way in which to address student mental health at U of T.” 

Echoing sentiments made by President Meric Gertler in an interview with The Varsity in late July, McAuliffe called on the participation of all stakeholders in the university — including the government and students — to create a “healthy environment.”

The task force is currently running an online consultation form, as part of its first phase, which will close on October 15.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

 

U of T matches donations made to Carey Davis GoFundMe page

Money will go toward undergraduate award, suicide prevention

U of T matches donations made to Carey Davis GoFundMe page

Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.

In a tribute to Carey Davis, a second-year student who died by suicide earlier this year, the university has moved to match close to $37,500 in donations to create an education initiative founded in her name. 

Since March 2019, The Carey Projects’ GoFundMe page has been accepting donations from friends, family, students, and strangers for the purpose of creating an undergraduate award in Davis’ name. The award will fund the implementation of solutions proposed for global problems and directed by a chosen team of students. 

Alongside its work with the undergraduate award in Davis’ name, The Carey Projects also hopes to expand into suicide education and prevention. 

Davis is remembered for her passion for global affairs, a devotion she cultivated in the Munk One program. Therein lies the spirit of The Carey Projects: promoting solutions for the issues that mattered most to Davis. Student teams selected for this award will be chosen based on their insight, creativity, and interdisciplinary connections, three values that Davis held dear. 

The university’s decision to contribute to this campaign came out of a collaboration between Cheryl Davis, Carey’s mother, and U of T Associate Professor Teresa Kramarz. 

Kramarz was one of Carey’s professors in the Munk One program and later went on to hire Carey as a research assistant. Kramarz had been involved in discussions about The Carey Projects from the very beginning, and when Cheryl Davis reached out to her to ask for the university’s support in their initiative, the decision was easy. 

The university ultimately decided that it would match donations made to The Carey Projects’ GoFundMe page until August 30. By that time, $37,490 of the $50,000 goal had been raised. The university’s donation will help The Carey Projects easily surpass its original goal. 

There are also ongoing discussions with Audacious Futures, where Davis did her Munk One internship, to further support The Carey Projects. Similar to the aim of the undergraduate award, Audacious Futures is focused on global innovation.

With the 10-month anniversary of her passing approaching, Carey continues to leave an impact on the university and the broader community. Her legacy lives on in the work done by her loved ones and in the conversations that she helped spark. 

Disclosure: Carey Davis was a 2017–2018 staff writer for The Varsity.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Hotline provides legal support for students visited by CSIS, RCMP

“Legal education is a kind of education, and that’s what we’re providing,” says Institute of Islamic Studies Director

Hotline provides legal support for students visited by CSIS, RCMP

The Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) at U of T has created a student support hotline that provides legal advice for U of T students who have been visited by organizations such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The National Security Student Support Hotline is a collaboration between the Downtown Legal Services clinic, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the IIS.

The project was created after stories emerged in the past year about former Muslim Students’ Association executives across Canada being visited by CSIS. 

“For a number of years it’s come to mine and a number of people’s attention at universities across Canada [that] since 9/11… students at universities are often approached by field agents for a conversation,” said Anver Emon, a Professor of Law and History and the Director of the IIS.

CSIS is a civilian intelligence service that covers a broad range of issues. Unlike the RCMP, it does not seek information related to ongoing criminal investigations. “In the case of CSIS…  knowing what your rights are, knowing the legal landscape and knowing what you should do is not straight forward,” said Emon.

In a previous interview with The Varsity, John Townsend, Head of Public Relations for CSIS, said that, “when CSIS seeks cooperation or assistance from Canadians, we emphasize that discussions are voluntary. CSIS ensures our approach is lawful, ethical, necessary, and proportionate.”

Emon said that anecdotal evidence from lawyers who had dealt with these cases suggested it was not uncommon for CSIS agents to say to interviewees who considered seeking legal advice that, “If you’re going to get a lawyer, that just makes you look guilty.”

“And that’s a problem for those of us who are law professors and lawyers who value education, who value the recognition that knowing what our rights are is part of what makes us citizens of this country or residents,” Emon said.

“It is against CSIS policy for CSIS employees to discourage anyone from seeking legal advice,” said CSIS’s Townsend.

Students who call the hotline will be asked to make a brief report about their encounter. The IIS, who manages the call centre, will then connect the student to a volunteer lawyer. From there, the lawyer and the student will form an attorney-client relationship, where the IIS no longer plays a role. 

“There’s a number of factors that go into any sort of conversation, which is why the lawyer-client relationship… was the best vehicle to maximize the educational possibility of this program,” said Emon.

Emon emphasized that Muslim students have only been the most recent group to be targeted by CSIS. “We know that this kind of practice has been existing for many years or decades. A while ago, Latin American students were approached by CSIS. We heard that our Sikh students in the past had been questioned, Tamil students have been subject to this, so there is a history.”

“This is a hotline for any U of T student regardless of religion, race, gender, identity, politics.”

In the Spotlight: Dr. James Cantor

An overview of U of T psychiatry professor’s contentious research, opinions on pedophilia

In the Spotlight: Dr. James Cantor

Content warning: this article contains mentions of sexual violence toward minors.

Dr. James Cantor is an accomplished Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at U of T. One of 44 faculty members who focus their research on forensic psychiatry, Cantor also works at the Centre for Mental Health & Addiction, with a specific interest in atypical sexual behaviours. He juggles his positions alongside regular commentary concerning his research on high-profile outlets, including CNN, The Walrus, The Atlantic, and the Toronto Star.

This same research has lead to some uncomfortable questions and contentious opinions about the nature of sexuality and ethics.

Research

For over 15 years, Cantor has sought to better understand the origins of pedophilia. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) outlines the criteria of diagnosis for those with pedophilic disorder as having “recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children” and having acted upon these urges, which can include anything from masturbation to sexual assault. 

Cantor, writing to The Varsity, notes that there are many factors that go into consideration of a diagnosis, “including the science itself, insurance and financial aspects (people want coverage for seeing a therapist, but insurers want to pay as little as possible), legal and forensic aspects (what counts as legally insane), and the perceived stigma associated with qualifying for a DSM category at all.” As such, having pedophilia does not equate to being diagnosed with a pedophelic disorder.

Cantor contends that pedophilia is an inborn and unchangeable sexual orientation. He draws on brain scans of people with pedophilia to show that pedophilia results from “atypical brain wiring,” rather than any active decisions made by those with the condition. Men with pedophilia have less white matter in their brains compared to men without pedophilia, which, according to his paper, suggests that “pedophilia results from a partial disconnection of [the white matter] network.” This unconventional wiring means that the natural protective urge that people feel toward children is instead transformed into a sexual draw. Cantor associates other brain-related characteristics with people with pedophilia, including lower IQ and left-handedness. 

He further supports his thesis using phallometry, which is a method of assessing sexual interest in men by measuring blood flow to their penises. He shows his subjects nude photos of children and adults, and measures their blood flow, which shows a marked difference in the reactions of people with pedophilia to the different images. 

Cantor’s research is among a large and growing scientific consensus that pedophilia results, at least in part, from unalterable biological attributes, similar to how one would describe sexual orientations.   

The ethics of pedophilia

Sexual abuse of children is unequivocally considered to be both illegal and immoral. Its short-term effects on survivors can include academic problems, behavioural and emotional problems, and drug and alcohol abuse among adolescents. In the long term, child sexual abuse can contribute to symptoms like depression, anxiety, body issues and eating disorders, suicidal ideation, and self-blame for the incidents. In Canada, child sexual abuse can carry a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. 

Cantor thinks that there should be a clear line drawn between people with pedophilia who do and don’t act upon their urges. Because he considers pedophilia to be a sexual orientation, he thinks that it should be viewed as ethically neutral, since it is an uncontrollable biological attribute. Meanwhile, sexual abusers of children, who act upon their pedophilia, should be condemned.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Cantor said that, “people who are pedophilic but who work to remain celibate their entire lives are being increasingly recognized as needing and deserving all the support society can give them.” In other words, Cantor thinks that if a person with pedophilia can control their urges, society should not ostracize them.

“… non-offending pedophiles should have the very same rights as everyone else.”

Writing to The Varsity, Cantor remarked that he does not think that societal acceptance of people with pedophilia will happen in the near future. However, he contends that ending their “reflexive demonization” will help both “pedophiles themselves, but also… [prevent] actual cases of child molestation.” 

“The more we facilitate pedophiles coming in for therapy or support,” he wrote, “the better we can help them develop the skills for managing their sexual interests… For almost all human behaviour, people can manage problems best when they can discuss them openly, and we have no evidence to suggest this is any different.”

How should social media deal with non-offending people with pedophilia?

One of Cantor’s more public instances of support for this social acceptance is a joint letter he signed in January 2018 to John Starr, the Director of Trust & Safety of Twitter. The letter was written in response to a series of bans of accounts of non-offending people with pedophilia.

He, along with a group of “clinical and forensic psychologists, sexologists, sociologists, child protection workers, journalists, writers, and digital rights advocates” warned that banning accounts of people with pedophilia who advocate for celibacy would “increase the likelihood of some [individuals] acting on their sexual feelings.”

They argue that the removal of support networks for non-offending people with pedophilia risks adding to the social isolation and stigma surrounding their condition, and as such would increase the likelihood of people with pedophilia assaulting minors.

Cantor wrote, “I don’t think I hold or have expressed any views [about] how social media should do anything. I do believe and I have expressed that non-offending pedophiles should have the very same rights as everyone else.” He notes that, to him, the banning of the accounts was more of a free speech issue, rather than asking for “special treatment” for non-offending people with pedophilia.

Twitter has allowed some of the users back on its platform under different accounts, but still does not have a concrete policy on how to deal with people with pedophilia.

Critics point out that having people who are open about their pedophilia on social media networks can be dangerous, as children frequent these same sites. While Twitter requires that users be 13 years of age or older when they create an account, a 2016 survey conducted by the BBC found that a majority of UK children under 12 create social media accounts regardless.

People with pedophilia as a part of the LGBTQ+ community

“Speaking as a gay [man],” Cantor wrote in a tweet from December 2018, “I believe [the LGBTQ+ community] SHOULD include the P. To do otherwise is to betray the principles that give us our rights.”

The tweet, which mirrors his view of pedophilia being a sexual orientation, suggests that pedophilia should be included in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Cantor thinks that there should be a clear line drawn between people with pedophilia who do and don’t act upon their urges.

When asked to elaborate, Cantor wrote that he believes that “everyone who is sexually atypical” should be included in the community, regardless of the discomfort of others. 

“When my or any community declares that we deserve recognition of our rights, we have only two ways to justify it. One is the basic principle I espouse: I draw the line at behaviours that cause others harm.” 

He added, “If whatever thought or behaviour causes no one harm, it should be accommodated. Under this (my) ethic, GLBT is all okay, kink is okay, and so on. Child molestation is out, as it risks such harm to others. A sex doll built to look like a child however, is okay, as no one is harmed (although some may feel quite queasy).” 

Otherwise, he suggested that deciding the ‘validity’ of each sexuality would result in a contest based on “popularity and politics, rather than principle,” within the LGBTQ+ community.

On the other hand, critics have long since pointed out that these attitudes can be harmful to the community, as they echo the false stereotype of gay men being sexual predators of minors. 

This perception has contributed to discrimination against gay men in both the clergy and school systems, and has been credited by some as being the beginning of conservative-Christian opposition to LGBTQ+ rights.

Anti-LGBTQ+ activists still harness this stereotype to tie the community to pedophilia, recently impersonating gay men on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr to deliberately spread the misconception of pedophilia as a regular and accepted part of the community. Some even created banners and posters which they displayed at protests and Pride events.

Cantor remarked that while he doesn’t see a particular connection between the communities themselves, both do have shared experience of growing up as an outsider. The main difference exists in the ability to act out on their attractions. 

“As a gay man, I get to have a happy ending. (No pun intended.)” he wrote. “I get to engage in my atypical sexuality with likeminded others. Some people are born with sexual interest patterns, like many kinds of kink, that can only be expressed with other people in very special circumstances. Others, for whom I can’t help but be sympathetic, are born with sexualities that cannot be shared with others at all.”

“Wrong side of history”: U of T criticized for involvement in Hawaiian telescope project

U of T faculty, students in solidarity with Native Hawaiian protests to protect sacred site

“Wrong side of history”: U of T criticized for involvement in Hawaiian telescope project

Protests in Hawaii against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the Mauna Kea — a sacred mountain that Native Hawaiians, known as Kānaka Maoli, regard as their origin site — have made their way to U of T. The university is a member of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), an organization that has funded the astronomy project.

U of T faculty and students criticized U of T’s involvement in the project, in solidarity with peaceful Kānaka Maoli protesters who have been occupying the site since construction began on July 15.

Astronomy’s rising star?

The TMT is a project over 10 years in the making, with the promise of enabling astronomers to look far into the past of stellar and galactic evolution. With an area nine times bigger than any existing visible-light telescope, the TMT is designed to identify images with unprecedented resolution, surpassing even the Hubble telescope.

The profound sensitivity of the TMT boasts the potential for observational data to answer questions about “first-light” objects, exoplanets, and black holes in the centre of galaxies.

This potential for furthering astronomy and astrophysics is what makes the TMT astronomy’s rising star.

Why is the TMT being protested?

In July 2009, the Board of Governors for the TMT chose the Mauna Kea as its location. Mauna Kea has long been an astronomical hotspot, serving as the location for 13 observatories. The TMT would be the 14th, standing as the biggest telescope on the mountain.

Mauna Kea is a sacred ancestral mountain, a place imbued with both natural and cultural resources. It is the location of many religious rituals conducted by the Kānaka Maoli, as well as a burial ground of sacred ancestors. Additionally, its ecological value is profound, housing esoteric ecosystems and providing water to the residents of Hawaii.

For these reasons, native kia’i (guardians) and kūpuna (elders) have resisted industrialization on Mauna Kea ever since the first telescope was built in 1968.

Subsequently, the TMT has attracted significant protests, serving as the Leviathan of telescopes. Dr. Uahikea Maile, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Politics at U of T, describes the TMT as a “unique beast” because of its size and location.

The project requires eight acres on the northern plateau of the mauna, which is currently untouched. Maile asserts that the corporation backing the TMT tempts the State of Hawaii into “valuing techno-scientific advances and alleged economic benefits over Native Hawaiian rights and the environment.”

Hence, ever since 2014, kia’i have attempted to halt the construction of the TMT by forming blockades at the base of the summit.

A brief space-time log of events

On July 10, Hawaiian Governor David Ige announced that construction of the TMT would begin on July 15, 2019. Five days later, hundreds of peaceful protestors stood together to form a blockade that would prevent construction crews from ascending Mauna Kea to begin constructing the TMT.

Located at an elevation of 6,000 feet, the blockade is logistically supported by the Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu, a place of refuge providing resources and infrastructure to sustain all those involved in the blockade, wrote Maile. All people at the pu‘uhonua have access to free housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

Maile, who is of Kānaka Maoli descent, spent two and a half weeks at the protests. He recounted that the kia’i were “constantly prepared for the risk of police force and violence.” On the second day of protests, Governor Ige deployed the National Guard, militarizing the once peaceful site of protest.

On July 17, police arrived at the scene carrying riot batons, tear gas, guns, and a Long Range Acoustic Device, according to Maile. The elder kūpuna, many of whom were in their 70s or 80s, formed the central blockade, while they requested the kia’i to stand at the sides of the road.

Thirty-eight people were arrested at the scene, most of whom were kūpuna, but after hours of negotiations “a deal was struck and all police left.”

Numerous sources maintain that U of T’s statement on the Thirty Meter Telescope (artist’s depiction pictured) are not reflective of the views of all faculty members and students.
Courtesy of TMT Observatory Corporation

University of Toronto responds

U of T, a member of ACURA, is involved in the TMT. ACURA has served an advisory role in the estimated $1.5 to $2 billion project. Its members and other Canadian astronomers are planned to receive access to 15 per cent of the telescope’s viewing time.

It is important to note that U of T is not directly invested in the TMT. Nonetheless, Professor Vivek Goel, a board member of ACURA and Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives at U of T, published an official statement explaining that he has been “watching closely the recent events at the construction site.”

He continued by writing that U of T “does not condone the use of police force in furthering its research objectives,” and noted that the university’s commitment to truth and reconciliation impels it to consult with Indigenous communities.

Lack of consensus amongst faculty members

U of T’s official statement has received backlash from numerous sources who maintain that it is not reflective of the views of all faculty members and students.

For instance, Dr. Eve Tuck, an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Justice Education, has written three letters to U of T President Meric Gertler, criticizing the statement for not going far enough in taking action against the TMT.

In an email to The Varsity, Tuck wrote that while the university has no direct funding in the TMT, there are still ways to divest. “There is more than money that can and should be withdrawn in this situation, including support, endorsement, affiliation, reputational backing, approval, and advocacy for the project.”

She believes that it is imperative for U of T to prevent the TMT’s construction, and if it does not do so, it “is on the wrong side of history.”

Moreover, protesters of the TMT have found an unexpected ally in some astronomers who, perhaps counterintuitively, oppose the project. For instance, Dr. Hilding Neilson, an Assistant Professor at U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, wrote that “the statement from the university doesn’t say a whole lot.”

He specifically questioned the statement’s assumption that astronomy has a “moral right” to the mountain because it is a scientific field, which supposedly seeks to benefit the accumulation of knowledge for all of humanity.

Power to graduate students

An open letter authored by astrophysics graduate students at the TMT’s partner institutions reinforced this opposition from U of T astronomy professors. The letter, published online, called on the astronomy community to “denounce the criminalization of the protectors on Maunakea” and to remove the military and police presence from the summit.

Two signatories, Melissa de los Reyes and Sal Wanying Fu, wrote to The Varsity that it is “imperative for the astronomy community to denounce [the arrests of kūpuna] and take a stand against the further use of violence in the name of science.”

Reyes is a second-year graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, while Fu is an incoming graduate student at UC Berkeley. Both are National Science Foundation graduate fellows.

The open letter was published despite the risk that it could potentially impact the signatories’ research careers. The signatories include graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and professors.

Signatories from U of T include professors Hilding Neilson and Renee Hlozek, Postdoctoral Fellow John Zanazzi, Sessional Instructor Dr. Kristin Cavoukian, PhD students Fergus Horrobin, Fang Xi Lin, Marine Lokken, Adiv Paradise, and Emily Tyhurst, and undergraduate students Yigit Ozcelik, Andrew Hardy, and Rica Cruz.

Jess Taylor, the Chair of CUPE 3902 and a writing instructor in the Engineering Communication Program at U of T, was also a signatory.

The signatories Reyes and Fu hope that the discussion prompted by the letter causes academic astronomers to “reckon with the ways in which social systems are inextricably linked with the way we do science.”

Neilson commended the bravery of its signatories, writing that “for students to come out and do this, potentially not only against their own research, but against their supervisors’ and departments’ requires standing up to power.”

Activism by undergraduate students

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) also published a joint statement on August 29 condemning the construction of the TMT at Mauna Kea.

The UTSU represents full-time undergraduate students at the St. George campus, while the ISSU’s membership includes students who are enrolled in the Indigenous Studies program or are taking at least one Indigenous Studies course.

The unions called upon U of T to “cease construction” of the telescope and to relocate it to an “area where its construction would not infringe upon the sacred land of Indigenous peoples or damage land that is environmentally protected.”

Eclipsing Indigenous knowledge

It is important to recognize that the Kānaka Maoli protests are not against science. Rather, they are against a Western ideology of economic development that — in the name of science and objectivity ­­— has historically propagated mechanisms of colonization, slavery, and incarceration. Following centuries of colonial and postcolonial development, the scientific industry today undermines and maligns Indigenous knowledge systems — associating it with primitivity.

Meanwhile, Neilson draws attention to the value of Indigenous knowledge, stating that “a lot of the tensions between Hawaiians and TMT come from the fact that a lot of us are ignorant of Hawaiian knowledge, and what it means for Mauna Kea to be sacred.”

Ultimately it is not a question about science versus culture, but about whether development under the guise of science reinforces a certain hierarchy of culture. It is evident that there is a need for a scientific Big Bang, one where Indigenous cultures is no longer at the bottom of this hierarchy.

Editor’s Note (September 9, 3:26 pm): The article has been updated to reflect that ACURA has funded the TMT, according to a 2013 ACURA report, but does not own a 15 per cent stake. Canadian contributions collectively have a 15 per cent share in the TMT project.

How new technologies are transforming care for dementia patients

A conversation with Dr. Arlene Astell: using tech to improve the quality of life for aging population

How new technologies are transforming care for dementia patients

Dementia is taking a serious toll on Canada’s aging population: roughly 76,000 people are diagnosed with the condition every year. It is estimated that the number of Canadians living with dementia may even double over the next 20 years due to our growing senior demographic. 

Diagnosing, treating, and managing dementia brings many challenges for both those affected by it and their caregivers. Fortunately, the rapid growth of technology in recent years has sparked innovation which help tackle these issues. But lacklustre awareness and slow implementation of these technologies have limited their outreach.

Time is of the essence in dementia research. The surge in innovation, coupled with our aging population, means that we need to quickly change the way we treat dementia. 

What is dementia? 

Dementia is a medical term that covers a variety of syndromes affecting the brain. It can be caused by conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and head trauma. Patients affected by dementia experience memory loss, difficulties with problem solving and, in some cases, severe changes in mood.

Treating dementia can come with many challenges. However, technology can play a huge role in mitigating some of these obstacles.

Dr. Arlene Astell, an Ontario Shores Research Chair in Community Management of Dementia at U of T’s Medical Sciences Department, recently co-authored a paper summarizing developments on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of dementia.

The paper highlighted the multifaceted uses of technology in treating a syndrome like dementia.  

“Direct healthcare has very little to offer people once they have been diagnosed,” wrote Astell to The Varsity. While a range of medical interventions and services to support lifestyle management can be offered to patients with conditions such as diabetes and cancer, such is not the case with dementia.

“There are no disease-modifying therapies available,” continued Astell. Patients may only receive some medication for symptom management, which is not available for all types of dementia.

Most treatment plans for dementia largely rely on sending the patients “home to live as well as they can with support from family or friends.”

Improve treatment plans for dementia

Limitations of the current approach for treating dementia, according to Astell, lie in the way we treat the syndromes. Dementia has vast implications on a patient’s everyday life, which cannot be easily treated through traditional health care approaches. 

“Individuals with dementia need practical interventions and supports to compensate for their cognitive challenges,” she wrote. “By leveraging their retained abilities and enabling them to maintain independence for as long as possible.” 

Improving the ways in which we treat dementia can induce widespread benefits throughout the health care sector. Current methods for treating dementia are putting unnecessary strain on our hospital systems.

“We are seeing, for example, growing numbers of people with dementia filling acute hospital beds, which is leading to cancellation of planned surgeries due to [a] lack of recovery beds,” Astell noted.

Changing dementia treatment methods could also better ensure that patients with different conditions than dementia get the help they need more quickly. 

The role of technology in dementia treatment

Fortunately, many novel innovations for treating dementia are becoming more accessible with the rising use of smart home devices and wearable technology.

Prototypes, such as the Gloucester Smart House, have been developed to help dementia patients in their everyday lives. It comes programmed with bathing and cooking monitors, an automatic night light, and prompts that remind users when to take their medication. 

Since its introduction, smart home technology has grown rapidly. Newer systems use artificial intelligence, machine learning, and sensor technology to reduce reliance on caregiving and help patients with tasks such as dressing and cooking.

Researchers are hoping to use the easily-installed technology to run wide-scale clinical trials to understand its potential benefits on those with dementia. 

Developments in Global Positioning System (GPS) applications on smartphones and motion-enabled gaming can also be used to help maintain patients’ social and active lifestyles. Many GPS applications on smartphones can now detect whether the user is lost.

Such a feature is especially useful for dementia patients, who may rely heavily on the app to navigate. Helping users walk safely makes it easier for them to maintain an active lifestyle.

Many motion-based games have also been tested to improve cognitive and physical stimulation in those with dementia. These games, which can be used on tablets and consoles like the Kinect or Nintendo Wii, also enable patients to spend their leisure time with others without having to leave their homes.

The upshot is that technology can help dementia patients manage their symptoms daily. According to Astell, accessible technology has the potential to play a huge role in this stage.

“Providing technology to assist individuals to monitor how they are doing would empower them to self-manage their condition,” she wrote. “This could be in the form of an app or device that they interact with throughout the day as their companion for living with dementia.”

“We need to develop new kinds of services to provide this support, with digitally-enabled staff.” 

Moving forward 

Improving accessibility to these technologies remains a major challenge. “We currently do not have one place that people can access to find out what is available and what other people are using,” wrote Astell.

To address this issue, her research team has launched their AcTo Dementia website, which provides dementia-friendly gaming apps that have been reviewed for their suitability for patients affected by the syndrome. 

Astell is currently working on a new online resource to guide users on how to use smart home and motion-based technology to manage dementia. 

Yet another issue in the implementation of these technologies lies in research. Unlike traditional big pharma research, most dementia studies do not involve dementia patients. 

“It has focused either on families of people with dementia (as proxies) or care providers to address their needs in relation to dementia,” wrote Astell. Putting more focus on understanding dementia patients directly could broaden the care that is available for them. 

Technology-based dementia treatments are rapidly evolving. But its limited accessibility and slow implementation are preventing them from reaching patients who need it. Our traditional approach to treating dementia must keep up with the pace of innovation.

Unfortunately, dementia patients do not have the luxury of time. “We have accessible, affordable technologies at our fingertips that can revolutionise how we approach dementia,” wrote Astell.

“[We can] improve the lives of people who receive a diagnosis… and provide something useful and beneficial in the face of no effective medical treatments [for dementia patients].”