“Cautiously optimistic”: student groups commend direction of mental health task force report, call for more action

Criticisms of university-mandated leave of absence policy, lack of student representation

“Cautiously optimistic”: student groups commend direction  of mental health task force report, call for more action

Since the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health released its recommendations on how to reform mental health services earlier this month, students groups have been vocal in expressing both support and disapproval of various aspects of the report.

Generally, the aspect of the task force’s report that received the most appreciation from student groups was the acknowledgement of a harmful university culture that does not prioritize student wellbeing. Student representatives remained critical of the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), the removal of which was one of their biggest demands.

The report argued that students’ opinions about the policy were driven by misinformation, and that the university should keep UMLAP in place while working to counter the misconceptions about it.

The Varsity interviewed several student group representatives to see if the task force met students’ demands.

University of Toronto Students’ Union

Arjun Kaul, Vice-President, Operations for the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), wrote to The Varsity, addressing areas of possible improvement for the report.

Kaul criticized the vague language in the report regarding the university’s culture of academic excellence. “I would like to see more specific ways of addressing the problematic nature of ‘academic rigour’ at the university, since this is usually a problem with department-specific solutions,” wrote Kaul. He further advocated for the introduction of “more expansive and efficient ways to make professors and instructors aware of the [problems]” students may face in a difficult academic environment.

He applauded the university’s decision to remove verification of illness forms and replace them with self-declared sick notes, an idea that the task force report found to have universal support. He also commended the task force’s recommendation to create a clearer policy on reporting student deaths by suicide, and informing the public about its methods.

Lastly, Kaul criticized the lack of student representation, one of the ongoing criticisms of the task force: “I know that they could have done this with better student representation.”

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union President Chemi Lhamo criticized the generalized nature of the task force, and a lack of relevant recommendations for the satellite campuses.

Lhamo noted that UTSC has a large population of racialized students, and “close to 70 per cent of students dependent on [Ontario Student Assistance Program],” in an email to The Varsity. “The numbers of student visits to our food centre continues to rise and they disproportionately represent women and international students.”

Lhmao expressed that although she was happy with the direction of the task force, she wants to wait and see how the recommendations are actually implemented.

“This report is a generalized report of the three campuses, however to address the concerns of UTSC students, you need to listen to UTSC students.”

University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union

Atif Abdullah, President of the Mississauga Students’ Union, echoed the same idea, noting that the report “failed to recognize the systems of oppression that play a vital factor in Student Mental Health and the ease of access for those coming from marginalized backgrounds.”

On what the report did well, Abdullah wrote to The Varsity that the administration acknowledged the need for a cultural change at the university to allow students to make mistakes. However, he criticized the report for not addressing concerns about the UMLAP.

“We look forward to continue pushing accessible academic policies; like the Self Assigned Illness Notes and the removal of subscription based services, structural changes like free education, challenging systems of oppression and empowering students to demand better mental health supports,” wrote Abdullah.

Students for Barrier-Free Access

Joshua Grondin, Chair of Students for Barrier-Free Access at U of T and former Vice-President University Affairs for the UTSU, described the new partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) as “terrifying” in a tweet.

He elaborated in an email to The Varsity that for students with mental health concerns, “CAMH also represents the forced hospitalization that we have had to experience, as well as the loss of autonomy that many disabled people have in making their own decisions.”

Grondin also criticized the treatment of UMLAP in the report, writing that, “Students have voiced their concerns at all stages of this policy’s development — we are fully aware of its scope and its applications.”

Mental Health Policy Council

In a response to the task force’s report from student activist Lucinda Qu on behalf of the Mental Health Policy Council (MHPC), she wrote that the MHPC is “cautiously optimistic.” She identified several positive recommendations of the task force, such as more diverse mental health service providers, more training for university staff, and increased case management support.

Its central complaint also centred around UMLAP, and a concern that “many key concerns raised by activists, student groups, and even the Ontario Human Rights Commission remain unaddressed.” Going forward, the MHPC expressed concern that the policies for reviewing UMLAP are not thorough enough, and that students might be under-consulted during review.

The MHPC had previously called for the dissolution of the task force on the grounds that it lacked significant student representation.

Protestors gather outside of US embassy to denounce military action in Iran

Demonstrators fill University Avenue, smaller counter-protestors gather

Protestors gather outside of US embassy to denounce military action in Iran

A crowd of around 100 people gathered in front of the US consulate on University Avenue at 12:00 pm on Saturday, January 25 to protest American military escalation and intervention in Iran.

A small group of about 15 counter-protestors also gathered across from the demonstration. The two groups were separated by barriers put up by the US embassy and security guards were on patrol during the event.

On January 3, US President Donald Trump ordered a strike near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq that targeted and killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. This sparked tensions between the US and Iran, and escalated an already strained situation between the two countries.

On January 8, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard mistakenly shot down a flight leaving Tehran for Ukraine, killing 176 passengers, including eight U of T community members. Trump gave a statement shortly after, saying that the US would not take further military action in Iran.

The protest was started by an organization called No War With Iran, and featured spoken-word artist Nasim Asgari. Asgari was born in Tehran and is currently living in Toronto, studying human rights and equity studies at York University.

“I am not here as an activist. I am not even here as an artist. I am here because I see it as a duty for us to be here, regardless of what identity we hold,” Asgari told The Varsity in an interview. When asked about the role that students play in addressing issues like this, she said, “It’s important that we realize that, as students, we have a say and we are powerful. If we continue to stay silent, they will continue to perpetuate what they’re doing, which is investing in weapons companies and continuing to silence certain bodies.”

Behzad Jafari, a political activist affiliated with the Marxist organization Labour Fightback, told The Varsity, “If you look at it, Trump actually cannot continue any military action; there is not enough support in it. I would say that precisely these types of events and mass actions show the ruling class that there is no support for the war.”

One of the co-organizers of the protest was Saman Tabasinejad, Chair of the Policy Department at the Iranian Canadian Congress, and the 2018 Ontario New Democratic Party candidate in the Willowdale riding. She spoke to The Varsity about the issues being addressed in the protest. “The Iranian people are upset because their sovereignty was violated,” Tabasinejad said about the effects of the strike on Iranians.

“I wouldn’t want a foreign entity to murder a Canadian general, and that has nothing to do with how I feel about what that general does. It’s an aggressive act of war.”

On the role of Canadians in this issue, Tabasinejad said that “our role is to put pressure on Canada and not be complicit with what’s going on in the United States.” During the interview, there was an altercation when a few of the counter-protestors tried to interrupt Tabasinejad by yelling profanities at her and the other organizers. Security was quick to step in and the situation did not escalate any further.

SCSU Board of Directors votes to reaffirm support for BDS movement

Controversial motion passes amidst debate, fear of risk to students

SCSU Board of Directors votes to reaffirm support for BDS movement

After a chaotic Annual General Meeting that left many items on the agenda unaddressed due to a room-booking issue, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) voted to reaffirm its support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at its January Board of Directors meeting on January 22.

The BDS movement lobbies corporations, universities, and local governments to sanction the Israeli government and boycott Israel’s private sector in protest of its occupation of Palestinian territory. Critics of BDS argue that it aims to delegitimize Israeli sovereignty, while others characterize the BDS movement and its leadership as anti-Semitic.

The scope of the motion extended beyond Israel, as it also asked the SCSU to call on the university to divest from fossil fuels, and included a general call to support Indigenous movements. The motion names other organizations that its movers hope to support, including “the Unist’ot’en Camp, Tiny House Warriors, and Protect Mauna Kea—with an emphasis on human rights, anti-racism, climate justice, ending settler colonialism and challenging heteropatriarchy.”

Director of Human Geography Kandeel Imran, who moved the motion, called attention to the greater implications of supporting BDS, saying that it was a cause for concern that websites such as the Canary Mission at times publish photographs and information about people involved in BDS activities on university campuses. According to its website, this is done in an effort to “[document] people and groups that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.” The website has been criticized of intimidation tactics against pro-BDS activists while the website’s operators remain anonymous.

The website for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) similarly has a function that allows people to report BDS activities at their school, “Which I believe is a form of surveillance and can put students at risk,” said Imran. SPME writes on its website that it “[employs] academic means to address [anti-Semitic] issues.”

Imran said that she moved the motion because of an invitation the SCSU sent to Asaf Romirowsky, Executive Director for the SPME, to speak at the campus. Romirowsky called to defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. The UNRWA is an agency created in 1949 to provide relief for Palestinian refugees, but has faced allegations ranging from ineffectiveness, to nepotism, to sexual misconduct among top officials.

Rayyan Alibux, SCSU Vice President Operations, brought up a concern from a member of the UTSC Student Jewish Life club. He read from the club’s constitution, “UTSC Jewish Student Life supports Israel’s right to exist, the connection the Jewish people have to their Indigenous homeland, [and] the right for the Jewish people to dwell in their homeland,” and asked if the motion would mean that the club would “no longer be allowed to exist.”

Vice-President External Chaman Bukhari responded, “[The motion is] repression [of free speech], plain and simple… It has actual ramifications for the student body.” Bukhari also criticized Imran’s assertion that it was wrong to invite Romirowsky on principle, instead advocating for neutrality: “We should not be representing any specific political stance… we should stick to representing all students and remain as apolitical as we can be.”

Imran again defended her position on refusing to invite scholars such as Rowmirowsky, adding that “I don’t think that dialogue can happen across an apartheid wall.”

An amendment to strike the second clause, moved by Bukhari, did not pass. The second clause stated that the SCSU will “refrain from engaging with organizations or participating in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid.”

After an hour of debate, including an attempt to bring the motion to the special Annual General Meeting, the motion to support BDS passed with 11 votes in favour and two votes against.

Campus police sidestep parking regulations on Sussex Avenue

CBC investigation uncovers alleged parking scheme

Campus police sidestep parking regulations on Sussex Avenue

A CBC investigation has found that U of T Campus Police personnel are parking their vehicles on both Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue without proper parking permits.

Sussex Avenue is the narrow road behind Robarts Library where the 21 Sussex Clubhouse, home to various U of T student clubs and Campus Police, is located. Private residences line the other side of the road.

CBC News observed vehicles parked on the road for eight hours a day for three days. They found that vehicles belonging to constables and sergeants displayed a “folded white sheet of paper” on their dashboards in place of parking permits.

In 2016, CBC News reported that campus police officers were placing U of T police patches on their dashboards in order to avoid parking fines. At the time, U of T told CBC News that it had “cracked down on the problem.”

When asked about the recent alleged parking scheme, a U of T media spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that “the university was not aware of any special arrangements with the City of Toronto regarding parking prior to media reports.”

“U of T actively supports the city enforcing parking regulations near our campus.”

In 2017, the City of Toronto issued a total of 28,224 tickets at UTSG, amassing a total of $1,349,475 in fines.

Currently, the cost of a monthly parking pass for students ranges from $140–320, depending on the parking lot.

University of Toronto Students’ Union President Joshua Bowman tweeted his frustration over the parking scheme, noting that “there is a gross disparity in how [campus police] interact with basic services at UofT compared to other members of the campus community.”

Bowman also criticized the university for using parking services as a tool to generate money from students.

UTGSU to discuss anti-Semitism at Annual General Meeting follow-up

Union at risk of financial default if quorum not reached

UTGSU to discuss anti-Semitism at Annual General Meeting follow-up

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) will be re-adjourning its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on January 27 after failing to meet quorum on December 5. If the UTGSU does not reach quorum it may be at risk of not passing its audited financial statements from the previous year and thus defaulting to the university.

The union plans to continue its discussion on anti-Semitism, hear reports from various committees, and address motions from members.

Long debates on anti-Semitism at last AGM

Despite not achieving quorum at its AGM on December 5, the UTGSU went ahead with item five on its agenda: a discussion on anti-Semitism at U of T.

This discussion took place after a UTGSU commissioner expressed reluctance to support Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward Campaign on the grounds that Hillel is a pro-Israel organization. The campaign was created to lobby for kosher food options on campus.

The seriousness of the issues up for discussion was not forgotten, with three campus police officers standing by while members filed in to register. 

Senior Director of Hillel UofT, Rob Nagus, read out a prepared statement to the membership which alleged that anti-Semitism at the UTGSU extends beyond its controversy over the Kosher Forward Campaign. Nagus claimed that the response of the former external commissioner, who had refused to address the Kosher Forward Campaign in an executive motion, “reflects a deep-seated culture of systemic anti-Semitism.”

Nagus also noted that “the UTGSU’s inability to separate Jewish students from the actions of the Israeli government and [the] lack of understanding about Zionism’s multifaceted role in Jewish communal history… is a grave concern to Hillel.”

Alex, a member of the group Independent Jewish Voices, responded to Nagus, asserting that the “conflation of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Judaism, and Zionism” is a wrongful one.

“If the UTGSU is interested in addressing anti-Semitism in any meaningful way, I would encourage them to do so outside of purely speaking with Hillel,” Alex said, noting that Hillel International’s mandate bars partnership with or hosting groups that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Also in the December discussion, Chaim Grafstein, the Kosher Forward Campaign lead who submitted the motion to the UTGSU, cited the implementation of Kosher Forward as a “concrete [step]” toward addressing anti-Semitism on campus.

Grafstein pointed out that if one searches the UTSG food map, Hillel is currently the only spot that offers kosher food. “So this is an opportunity to provide kosher food also to students who choose to actively dissociate with Hillel.”

Grafstein also thanked Hillel for the opportunity to work on the Kosher Forward campaign “despite some of [his] political views.”

The UTGSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment on how they would structure the discussion on anti-Semitism at the re-adjournment of their AGM.

On January 23, Hillel UofT successfully lobbied the university to provide kosher options on campus.

Motions by members

Among the motions for the upcoming AGM is a proposal to revisit a motion from a September meeting that annulled the memorandum agreement between the UTGSU and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Graduate Students’ Association (OISE GSA).

The September motion itself was moved after an investigation found 20 constitutional violations in the OISE GSA’s April elections, and ultimately resulted in the OISE GSA’s disaffiliation as a course union, a loss in funding, and a loss of seats on the Board of Directors and General Council.

Also on the table is a motion that asks the membership to express opposition to “any program of sanctions, divestment or boycotts targeting any country, nationality, ethnic group or identity in particular” and instead boycott, divest, and sanction based on “objective criteria.”

This motion appears to be explicitly targeting the UTGSU’s BDS Committee, who will also be presenting its report at the AGM. The BDS movement urges corporations, universities, and local governments to boycott Israel in protest of its occupation of Palestinian territory and treatment of Palestinians.

This body, my body

A reflection on life with a chronic illness

This body, my body

The sun hung heavy-lidded in the sky as I rested on an outcropping of rock overlooking one of the shallow valleys that dimpled the woods outside the ancient village where I’d been staying. I’d sprinted through the vineyards outside the house, chasing a runner’s high over the steep and twisted hills surrounding our small corner of the world. But something in the air had told me it was time to stop, time to rest for awhile.

Fifteen years old, a year from high school graduation, two hours outside of Paris, and 6,000 kilometres from home, I turned a corner and came up short. Tentatively, I explored my mind, coming up with something unfamiliar: freedom. I had finally managed to outrun it all: the father who told me I’d only ever be loved if I made myself small. The mother who seemed to be fading into black and white. The sense that I was destined to disappoint and to be disappointed.

It fell away — all of it. All that was left was peace, clarity, the beauty of the dusk-painted valley, and the exhilaration of a reckless run through an unfamiliar forest that just as well could have ended in a broken limb.

As I sat there, two simple truths settled over me: I was grateful for my body, and I was grateful to be alive.

The pain arrived nearly four years later.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

As the snow retreated and the wind blew more kindly, agony hit me like a hammer. It fell upon my joints, neck, limbs, and hands in unpredictable, asynchronous beats. There was fatigue too: a heaviness I couldn’t shake. Suddenly, this body, my body — this thing that hurt and protested and was both me and not me — became an enforced horizon, an inescapable vantage point on the world. This pain — what causes it, worsens it, calms it — has come to shape every facet of my life and my thoughts. It ebbs and flows, but even in its absence, its echo is resounding.

I have fibromyalgia. It’s a chronic disorder characterized by widespread muscle and joint pain, fatigue, cognitive issues such as ‘brain fog,’ and, although their exact source isn’t known, depression and anxiety. Most people with fibromyalgia have a litany of symptoms; no two people experience it exactly the same way. For me, I have a lot of the usual suspects: widespread pain that oscillates chaotically between dull, localized aches and lightning-fast lashes of agony that splinter across my body; extreme fatigue, as though I’m swimming through Vaseline in a space suit; and a wooly mental fog that descends at random.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic illness; it persists over time and has no known cure. There are only ways to manage and minimize the symptoms. Like many other chronic conditions, fibromyalgia is an ‘invisible illness’: its impact typically isn’t visible to the naked eye. All else being equal, sufferers tend to look perfectly healthy; there is nothing visibly amiss.

Though every person experiences chronic illness in a different way, I hope that my experience can shed some light not only on what it’s like to live with a chronic illness, but also on a deeper issue. Most of us, especially at a competitive university in precarious social and economic environments, are terribly unprepared to treat ourselves with kindness. At the end of the day, we all have to ask ourselves this question: are you ready to love yourself when everything, including everything you think you are, goes to hell?

I wasn’t. I’m still not ready.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

When it comes to fibromyalgia, the idea of living ‘with’ a chronic illness can get quite literal. It’s hard to explain, but it’s rather like sharing a body with another person. There’s me — the reasonably well-adjusted, high-achieving, and with-it student — and the other one, my illness. It’s far from an even balance. I’m stuck in my body with something like an apocalyptically emotional two-year-old who’s prone to random meltdowns which rival the dynamism of unstable nuclear reactors.

A simpler metaphor: living with this pain is like being on the wrong end of a voodoo doll.

One way to think through the constraints of chronic illness is by looking at the number of ‘useable hours’ a person with a chronic illness has in a day. Before I got sick, I’d say I had between 10–12 usable hours total each day. These were hours in which I could study, attend classes, see friends, take care of myself, make food, read books, or exercise, with energy to spare. This was the time I had to live the way I needed and wanted to, effectively and healthily.

Now the number of usable hours I have in a day is unpredictable and, typically, fairly limited. On an uncommonly great day, I’ll have eight. On a normal day, I have six. And on my bad days, I have anywhere from two usable hours to none at all. Exceeding this vague limit every day has a ratcheting effect, decreasing my baseline of health and charging interest on the time I spend trying to function as a human in this world.

I often wake up with a sense of panic, wondering how on earth I am going to get through the day. Having a chronic illness involves making an unexpectedly high amount of mathematical calculations, though none of them are precise. My already-depleted energy minus class, readings, work, meetings, human interaction, getting from point A to point B and back again, equals an emphatically negative number.

Sometimes it is possible to take a step back and rest. Within the intense, demanding, and often de-personalized environment of this institution, I have often had to make a conscious decision to push myself to a place I know will cause me days of pain.

Bad days can happen at random, but they tend to cluster in periods of high stress. Indeed, almost all my symptoms are tied to stress, both physical and emotional. This is, of course, highly inconvenient; ‘stress’ is the university’s unofficial slogan. The periods with the highest stress of the academic year coincide almost perfectly with the periods in which I am least equipped to handle them.

Now, every semester, I play chicken with my body. The goal is to reach the finish line, in an ever worsening state of health and morale, without falling apart entirely. It’s not a very fun game, and it can’t go on forever; one day, I know I’ll lose.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

Before I developed fibromyalgia, I had internalized all the worst ideas about personal value and success that advocates of mental health reform at U of T, myself included, critique as emblematic of our toxic campus culture and academic environment, not to mention our society and economic system at large.

I worked for the sake of working and I wore my exhaustion proudly, habitually pulling 12-hour work days. I stuffed my résumé with commitments and achievements in the hope that, one day, I’d look in the mirror and see someone I thought mattered. I sacrificed relationships, activities, and experiences for my GPA, waiting for a payoff that, it turned out, would never come — not like that.

I thought that if I pushed myself hard enough, I’d finally be happy. And not only that: I’d finally deserve to be happy. And then I got sick.

If I’d gotten 50 steps down the path, it isn’t that I’ve gone back 51. It’s just that I’ve been suddenly transplanted — quite violently, and with no small amount of protestation — to a different path entirely.

The achievements I’ve earned at university still matter; I just can’t cash them in. I can’t continue to push myself like I used to. But that’s the thing: I was pushing myself. I was harming myself, in a way, because I was convinced that it was what I had to do to earn the approval of others, this university, our society, and ultimately myself.

Now, I have to slow down. Indefinitely.

Slowing down, however, is far from easy — not in this society, this economy, or this mind.

We live in a world that prizes and rewards productivity and individual achievement, regardless of the cost. There are no institutionalized accolades to be won for treating oneself with kindness. A body that cannot meet the demands of the current system is, we are told, a body without much value.

The story of my illness is in many ways a struggle against a system that hasn’t made room for bodies that need rest. This also applies to essentially every other kind of body that isn’t white, able, neuro-typical, cisgender, thin, straight — need I go on? It is also a story of my own struggle to resist the ways in which I’ve internalized these ideas. I’ve long decried the way in which neoliberal capitalism and a world centred around work demand inhumane things of our bodies and minds. I’ve long held that a person’s value is intrinsic: it has nothing to do with what they can produce.

I was, however, saying these things from the privileged perspective of an able-bodied person. I still hold these convictions — more strongly, now, for having directly experienced a very visceral physical manifestation of the negative effects of the way the present system values productivity. Yet, actually applying my convictions to my personal circumstances has proven difficult to say the least. I have been routinely enraged at my body for its refusal to do what society demands of it; I have called myself worthless more times than I could count.

Overcoming this paradigm, however, is an immensely powerful act, both personally and politically. Or so I hope. In all fairness, my body hasn’t really given me much a choice.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

I often hate my body. This hate is more than the passive and socially mandated displeasure I’d so far learned to feel as a woman. It is not me saying: “I hate my thighs,” or “I hate the shape of my eyes,” or “I just hate my right earlobe.” No, this hate consumes me, directing itself toward everything I am. It is also hopeless: the force of my anger only causes more hurt. And in any event, how wrong and pathetic — how small-minded and mean — is it to rage against something whose only crime is sickness?

I often hate my body, but I am learning to love it, too, like a child learning to walk: often falling and failing, descending into tears, perhaps feeling too scared to try again. And, yet, instinct drives it to do just that. Though I typically fail, I am likewise driven to treat my body and self with kindness by an instinct — a memory of a time before.

Before bodies — whatever they happened to do or not do — were something to be ashamed of. Before I expected anything more of myself than what I could give. Before I learned to see my body as my enemy, as something to be managed and overcome. What I wouldn’t give to be six years old again, tracing the lines of my palms with wonder. Or 10, cross-legged beside the soccer pitch at half-time, tearing into orange slices and letting the juice slide down my fingers in small rivulets of invitation for waiting honeybees. Or a baby, flexing my fingers and toes with a curious joy.

I remember what it was to be friends with this body.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

In recent months, this illness has become less of a novelty in my life. The scars are turning to birthmarks; it has begun to grow with me, like two trees pressed together from the roots. Over this time my thoughts have often strayed to that day in the forest, nearly five years ago. In my worst moments, I have wished for nothing more than to return to that time, that place, that feeling of comfort and camaraderie with my body. But I cannot go back.

And there is good in this, I think, even though it came at an unfair price that I shouldn’t have had to pay.

I am learning a new language of success. It no longer means only a perfect GPA or being ‘busy.’ Each time that I rub my aching muscles without frustration, without anger at them for their pain, is a victory. I am learning to tell my body that I know we are both hurting, and that it’s all right. “What can I do to ease your way?” I ask. “I don’t blame you,” I say. “I’m going to do everything I can to not hurt you.”

This new language I am learning? I think it might be called kindness, or what Sonya Renee Taylor calls radical self-love: a return to our original state, before we were taught otherwise, of open and loving companionship with our bodies and selves. And although I am by no means an expert, I’d recommend you try to learn it too, or at least pick up a few phrases.

Now, as I write these words, my mind returns to that day in the forest once more. I cannot go back to that time. The place itself still exists, though, and there are many others that are equally able to touch my soul. Next time, I may take a bit longer to get there. I may have to rest on my way up, and maybe this body will hurt. Perhaps I’ll have to ask the people with me to slow down, to walk with me at my pace.

But I’ll get there. I know I will.

“The time we have left is very short”: systems and people need to combat climate crisis, says professor

Professor Danny Harvey on individual action at Science for Peace event

“The time we have left is very short”: systems and people need to combat climate crisis, says professor

Though the bulk of the damaging effects of the climate crisis are decades away, it is already “an emergency,” said Dr. Danny Harvey, a professor of geography at the University of Toronto, in a keynote speech.

“The time we have left is very short,” he continued, “compared to the time required to take the actions needed to avert otherwise inevitable catastrophic consequences.”

Harvey was speaking at a forum held by Science for Peace on January 14. The event was free and open to the public, attracting almost 200 attendees to Innis Town Hall.

What society needs to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations

Discussing solutions to the crisis, Harvey said, “We have to change the entire energy system. And not just that, we have to change social norms and values and the way people think, and that’s perhaps even harder… In fact, in many respects, it’s already too late.”

Displaying graphs of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the past decades, Harvey pointed out that despite discussions of regulations and solutions, emission levels have maintained a steep and steady increase.

Harvey spoke about the need to stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations and, ultimately, the climate. He discussed the need to decrease net emissions to zero in order to keep warming to below two degrees. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, this must occur by 2050. While a zero fossil fuel emission target will likely not be reached for a long time, negative emissions, such as reforestation, building up soil carbon, or directing capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide can be used to compensate for emissions.

Reduced costs and advancements in wind and solar energy will also help the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. According to Harvey, major reforms of the electricity system are required to completely adopt clean energy. From an engineering standpoint, the required technology is well on its way, and the changes may be attainable within 30 or 40 years.

Harvey also pointed out the need to change our current economy and industrial production process, but noted that this will be a complicated process that will also require behavioural shifts away from current mindsets of consumption and unlimited growth.

The importance of individual action

Whereas issues of energy and the economy largely involve systemic changes, individual action is also crucial, according to Harvey.

Diets, in particular, account for a significant fraction of global emissions, he explained. A 2018 research study has shown that meat consumption is disproportionately responsible for these emissions, compared to other sources of food.

Sustainable solutions such as clean energy still require resources — thus, our individual decisions to reduce consumption, purchase products to last in the long term, and use resources efficiently, should work in conjunction with systemic changes, and further reduce our environmental impact.

Blues women’s basketball team loses against Carleton

Toronto was unable to stop a fourth quarter flurry of offense

Blues women’s basketball team loses against Carleton

The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team played the Carleton University Ravens on Friday — the number five ranked team in U SPORTS. They battled throughout the whole game, but were unable to prevent the strong Ravens offense in the final quarter.

The Blues jumped out to an early 13–6 lead in the first quarter, thanks in part to a pair of free throws and back-to-back three-pointers from Ellen Ougrinov. Toronto’s offensive rebounding served them well in the period, but they were unable to hit shots to close out the half, as Carleton went on an 8–1 run to close it out. The Blues were also unable to stop Alyssa Cerino, who had eight points in the quarter.

The Blues offense remained persistent into the second quarter, with first-year player Nakeisha Ekwandja driving into the paint and taking a foul, which was almost converted for an and-one, and hitting a free throw to open scoring in the second quarter. Ougrinov drove to the rim on a following possession and made a nice bounce pass to Nada Radonjic to convert the easy layup.

However, the Carleton offense quickly came alive, going on an 8–0 run and hitting two three-pointers in the process, forcing Toronto to call a timeout to stop the onslaught. Coming out of the timeout, there was no scoring and a few turnovers, but Carleton soon found their rhythm again, hitting another wide open three-pointer off of a kick-out pass. The Blues stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws. Ougrinov hit a layup, and Mikhaela Ekwandja converted an and-one layup, to cut the Ravens’ lead to only two points.

Carleton’s offense came alive once again, this time on an 11–1 run. The Blues were able to get the final two buckets of the quarter, with a three-pointer from Ougrinov, and a layup from Sarah Bennett. Despite the runs that Carleton went on, the Blues were able to stay hang in there, and didn’t allow the score to stay out of reach.

It was a similar story in the third quarter as the Blues started hitting some of their mid-range jumpers, and brought the deficit to three points. Toronto kept the score relatively close, despite signs that Carleton might pull away with it. Ougrinov kept them in it with another three-pointer, and the Blues remained hitting their mid-range shots. The score was 47–42 to end the third quarter — well within striking distance for the Blues.

Despite their tenacity, the Carleton offense was too much for Toronto to overcome in the fourth quarter. Cerino once again started the run with two made layups, and later on made two free throws. The Blues were unable to continue hitting their shots, and mainly got their fourth quarter points off of free throws.

The final score was 72–54 for Carleton, as the Blues let the game get away from them in the fourth quarter.

Ougrinov was the Blues’ leading scorer with 21 points. She made four three-pointers and some key buckets, keeping the score close throughout three quarters. Mikhaela was the Blues’ leading rebounder with seven rebounds and five points — five of the rebounds coming off the offensive glass.

This loss brings the Blues record to 3-13, and 1-7 at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.