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Black History Month at U of T

A series of events commemorating black history and heritage

Black History Month at U of T

Throughout the month of February, student groups are holding events for Black History Month at U of T. The activities are designed to provide a dedicated space for the discussion of black experiences of both the past and the present. Black History Month also acts as an opportunity to support the black community.

With these aims in mind, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) organized a number of events for the first half of February.

These events included festivities such as the Black History Social, which allowed students to enjoy soul food and exchange ideas and views with their peers, and also the ‘Buy Black’ initiative. Buy Black was a two-day event to support local black-owned businesses by enabling them to promote and sell their products on campus.

The UTMSU is also collaborating with Textbooks for Change, a social enterprise that provides affordable educational material locally and abroad. The two organizations are donating 1,000 books to universities in East Africa.

In the second half of the month, the UTM Equity and Diversity Office and the UTMSU are hosting a talk by community organizer and educator Jasiri X.
UTMSU president Uranranebi Agbeyegbe did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) is holding a conference entitled Resilience and Resistance: Black History Month Conference. On February 27, it will include a number of workshops as well as two keynote speeches. 

The speakers are Yusra Khogali, from the Black Liberation Collective U of T, and Nompendulo Mkhatshwa and Faisha Hassan, from #WitsFeesMustFall, a student activist movement that was started last year in South Africa. The speakers will discuss the challenges of institutionalized anti-black racism within post-secondary education. 

“Resilience and Resistance is one of many spaces created by Black students at the University of Toronto,” said Jessica Kirk, SCSU vice president equity. The SCSU last organized a Black History Month conference in 2014 which involved several student groups at UTSC.

This year, the union worked with a number of associations across the university. “Rather than solely organizing Black History Month initiatives with Black Student Associations at the Scarborough Campus, we reached out to Black student organizers and organizations across all three campuses to demonstrate a true sense of unity in the Black community,” Kirk said.

“[The] SCSU is not limiting the creation and maintenance of spaces for Black students to February,” Kirk explained. “Rather, we aim to take active steps to support Black students and community members all months of the year in various ways.”

For the end of Black History Month, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Social Justice & Equity Commission has organized a spoken word showcase, Afro Speaks! set for February 29. According to the Facebook event page, “The tone of this space will welcome expressions of the radical and critical truths about Blackness/African-ness as it interacts with a white supremacist global system.”

All the events held this month aim to highlight the importance of giving a platform to minority groups. The groups behind the commemoration of Black History Month hope to “collectively create strategies to support and empower the Black community,” according to the Facebook event page.

U of T tackles cyber aggression

U of T’s Faye Mishna on challenges of social media, importance of education

U of T tackles cyber aggression

When exploring the murky waters of social media, students are often unsure about how to handle acts of cyber aggression. In response to this problem, the University of Toronto has hired Faye Mishna, dean of the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, as the provostial advisor on aggression in social media.

Working with members of the U of T community, Mishna will develop strategies to educate students about the challenges with expressing aggression on social media. She hopes to take the benefits and risks of social media usage into account and advise the provost on how to foster an environment which would lend itself to positive social media.

Mishna cited the “power to demean” as one of the key factors in online aggression.

“[When you’re online] you don’t see the person you’re speaking to, there are no social or physical cues. [You don’t see their] face, [or their] body flinch,” said Mishna. “Some people, who can’t say things in person, say it online and that is problematic. [They say] things they wouldn’t otherwise in person… but it might be too much.”

According to Mishna, the challenge with social media is “how to respond [in a way that is] helpful and not punitive.” Mishna wants to promote positive use and teach how to respond without being reactive. “[Social media is] not problem based; it is part of the world right now. Whether it’s online or offline it’s about people relating. We need to have codes of conduct, respectable ways of dealing with conflicts, points of differences and have consequences.”

So far 5,000 U of T students have been surveyed about their experiences with cyber aggression, most of whom were undergraduate students. Next month another 1,000 surveys will be distributed to graduate students.

Mishna also wants to conduct focus groups for student feedback at all years of post-secondary education in order to “figure out the best way to provide education.” At this point she is focusing on students but hopes to eventually interview faculty, as “everybody is effected.”

“[U of T] is a huge [school] with three campuses, [with a] range in diversity with students, faculty and staff,” said Mishna. “Social media is a new world and so challenging generally [because it is] easy to get misused.”

When asked about the importance of the issue Mishna said that all universities need to deal with aggression on social media. She added that, instead of implementing policies, students and faculty at universities should be preventative rather than reactive in their actions on social media.

“People are on social media, it’s a new world and we don’t know all the consequences, it affects us good and bad and everyone needs to be aware of this.”

For now, Mishna wants students to keep their guards up when it comes to positing on social media.  “If you’re posting about [yourself], anybody can see it and anybody can post it. [You make yourself] vulnerable. When you post about others, anybody can see it, there is no privacy. When there is no one in front of it, you think it’s just a device a computer, a smartphone, there is a person behind it. It comes down to the relationships.”

UTSEC Sexual Awareness Week promotes sexual health

Focus on safety, consent throughout week of activities

UTSEC Sexual Awareness Week promotes sexual health

This year’s Sexual Awareness Week (SAW), run by the U of T Sexual Education Centre (UTSEC), took place from February 8 to 12. All the events were free to attend and included A-sexy Time! with Asexual Outreach University of Toronto (AOUT), Q21 Cafe: Consent, Communication, and Pleasure with the Sexual and Gender Diversity Office, and Kink 101.

These events have become an annual tradition. “The aim of [SAW] is to promote sexual health on campus and to start interesting, nuanced conversations around sex-ed in fun, inclusive, and affirming environments,” said Rowan* and Mika*, external education coordinators of UTSEC, in a joint statement.

SAW sought to spark conversations about consent throughout the week, especially at the Q21 Café where communicating consent and stating boundaries were at the forefront of the event’s discussion.

A-Sexy Time!

The A-sexy Time! session took the form of a community discussion. According to Brian Langevin, AOUT president, a group of asexual spectrum, or ace, students attended and shared their experiences. The history of the ace community, the politics of aromantic communities in relation to ace communities, and the various ace events that have taken place on campus were among the topics discussed.
“The event was incredibly successful in creating a safe small group for ace students — something that had not existed at the university beforehand,” Langevin said. Students present at the event agreed that there needs to be a dedicated safe space for ace students; as a result, Langevin is now leading a biweekly discussion group called “ace/aro space.” The group meets every other Wednesday evening.

Kink 101

Kink 101 was the last event of the week, led by Rae Costin and Jordan*, members of UTSEC. The focus was on creating awareness about consent, the resources and research available in the context of kink, the importance of implementing risk aware consensual kink (RACK), and how to properly practice RACK.

Understanding terminology was also a focus. At Kink 101, the facilitators walked the attendees through the various acronyms used in the kink community including BDSM, which refers to bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. These acts include things like restraining another person, inflicting pain on others, or inflicting pain on oneself.

Safety was another major theme at Kink 101, as Jordan emphasized that researching about the safe ways of doing otherwise dangerous things is a necessary step in engaging in kink. The workshop showed how to engage in impact play and binding safely.

Costin highlighted the importance of having safe words, which are predetermined words used to end or slow down a scene, or an instance of engaging in BDSM.

Costin also covered non-verbal cues, such as dropping or jangling keys, which can be useful when someone is unable to say or clearly pronounce a certain word.

“All of our events were great successes and we hope to work with the individuals and organizations who held them in the future,” said Rowan and Mika.

*Name amended at individual’s request.

Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at Fisher Library

Additional 60 books reveal Folio’s history, source material

Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at Fisher Library

The University of Toronto is marking 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare with a special exhibit at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. ‘So long lives this’: Celebrating Shakespeare, 1616-2016 features Shakespeare’s First Folio from 1623 — the only copy in Canada. 

The First Folio was published seven years after Shakespeare’s death. It was the first time a book of plays was printed, and the first time that more than half of the plays were published.

“Until then folios were mostly used for printing important religious, political, and historical works. With the First Folio in 1623, the format of the book itself confers a new kind of importance on plays — and plays written and performed for nearly the full stratum of English society, from working-class people to the royal court,” said Alan Galey, director of the Master of Information Program at U of T.

Galey worked with fellow U of T professors Peter W.M. Blayney and Marjorie Rubright and Western University assistant professor Scott Schofield to curate the exhibition.

“Without it, we probably would never have been able to read — or even know about — plays including Macbeth, The Tempest, Measure for Measure, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Anthony and Cleopatra [sic],” added Galey.

Almost 60 other books will be on display, some of which Shakespeare may have used for inspiration in his own work.

“Reading the same sources that he did helps us understand how he apprenticed himself, so to speak, to other writers and dramatists,” said Galey.

“We often value writers now for their originality, but Shakespeare’s actual practice as a dramatist reminds us of a basic fact about writing: that writers make stories out of other stories, and that creativity frequently comes from adaptation, reinvention, and even what today we would call remixing,” adds Galey.

In addition to source material, the exhibition features Shakespeare’s other three seventeenth century folios, Shakespearean scholarship from the Renaissance, and present day texts.

“Studying the other books also helps to elucidate the printing history of the First Folio itself. So for instance one of the other books had a type that got broken at some point,” said Anne Dondertman, director of the Fisher Library. “So when that same broken piece of type reappears in a particular play in the First Folio, it makes it possible to determine the order of the printing of the plays in the Folio.”

The exhibit is free to attend and runs until May 28, 2016. The Fisher Library is also running a screening series at the Media Commons Theatre, which will showcase film adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.

“If you come and see the exhibit and the modern material that’s included I think its [sic] brings it home that Shakespeare is still a source of inspiration to ordinary readers today but also to people who are making books or illustrations,” said Dondertman.

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Silence is Violence

Anti-sexual violence group develops branch at U of T

Silence is Violence

A new anti-sexual violence group has opened a chapter on campus; Silence is Violence is the University of Toronto’s survivor-led collective that aims to tackle problems related to sexual violence and rape culture.

The Silence is Violence organization started at York University and has branches at other post-secondary institutions, including the University of British Columbia (UBC). The group at U of T met for the first time recently to discuss issues surrounding the university’s ineffective responses to sexual assault and violence.

Silence is Violence takes an intersectional feminist approach to mobilizing solutions. Survivors of sexual violence may share their ideas for organizing and are at the forefront of the initiative. The group is open to connecting with related movements and coalitions.

According to the UBC branch of Silence is Violence, the organization is “not a rape relief organization but endeavours to gather and share various resources for survivors of sexual violence, particularly those navigating the difficulty of the university reporting process.”

The organization also states that they would have universities “[put] survivors of sexual assault above their commitment to image and brand.”
Organizers with Silence is Violence U of T were unavailable for comment at press time.

Financial statements reveal UCLit’s 2015 deficit

Increased expenses account for loss

Financial statements reveal UCLit’s 2015 deficit

According to the financial statements of the University College Literary & Athletic Society (UCLit) from April 2015, the organization was operating with a deficit by the end of the winter term.

The UCLit’s statement of operations reveals that their expenses rose by over $67,000 from 2014 to 2015. Expenses increased across the board in 2015, a $20,000 increase for services and University College-recognized clubs form the bulk of the increases. Several thousands of dollars also went into outreach, as well as literary and creative arts initiatives.

The society is largely dependent on the University of Toronto for its funding, but some revenue also comes from external sources.

In 2014, the society had $34,848 in excess revenue. A total of $210,144 in revenue came from fees and levies, events, and the Refugee Sponsorship Program. In 2015, however, $242,500 in expenses outweighed the student society’s revenue of $205,029.

Although there was an increase of several thousand dollars in revenue from Fireball, the college’s annual formal dance, and the Refugee Sponsorship Program, there was a significant drop in revenue. The figure fell from $55,124 in 2014 to $26,954 in 2015.

When compared to 2014 when there was a $30,481 increase in cash that resulted in a cash total of $53,252, records show that there was a $56,888 cash decrease in 2015.

Net assets, however, remained relatively similar from $72,237 in 2014 to $63,273 in 2015. At the end of April 2015, the assets comprised primarily the funds held in trust by U of T, a sum of $51,432 and did not include any money in the bank.

For the 2015–2016 term, the UCLit’s executives have said that they are working to ensure that the same losses do not occur.

“As for the current year, we’re ensuring that overspending does not occur, through perpetual updates to our actual spending, and ensuring all transactions are streamlined and filed in detail,” said Snow Mei, the UCLit’s current finance commissioner.

“Updating our actual expenditures as they are approved and issued ensures we can identify when specific line items go beyond the budgeted amount,” she said, adding that the UCLit’s goal is to host events and provide services to students  while maintaining a balanced budget.

According to the auditor’s report, the financial statements do not reflect the assets and liabilities of the clubs and student organizations at the UCLit, and they do not reflect the services of volunteers.

U of T forecasts net income of $138.2 million, $70.1 million deficit

Actual outstanding debt $1 billion, credit rating remains investment grade

U of T forecasts net income of $138.2 million, $70.1 million deficit

The University of Toronto’s financial results and report on debt reveal that U of T forecasts a net income of $138.2 million and projects net assets to be at $4.35 billion. The forecasted net income is a decrease from last year’s net income of $287.8 million, while the value of last year’s net assets was $4.38 billion.

The forecast, which includes the university’s projected revenue, expenses, net income, and changes in net assets for the fiscal year ending on April 30, 2016, was presented on January 25 to the Governing Council Business Board. The board oversees the university’s financial transactions.

These forecasts are based on a projected investment return of 0.4 per cent, an endowment payout of $78.3 million, an increase of $96.4 million in reserves, and an increase of $23.7 million for future divisional capital expenditures. The university acknowledges that it only has interim information regarding divisionally controlled revenue and expenses, and that investment returns are uncertain.

The university also projects a deficit of $70.1 million, which is a drop from the $89.5 million deficit run during the 2015 fiscal year. This has been partially attributed to the $22.9 million increase in tuition fee revenue, correlated with an increase in enrolment from international undergraduate students, who currently pay over five times more than domestic students.

The debt report

This report is comprised of three parts: the annual debt strategy review, the status report on debt, and the credit report by Moody’s Investors Service.

According to the status report on debt, the university allocated $1.218 billion in borrowing room, with $150 million allocated to pensions and $200 million allocated to other internal debt. The university also allocated $868 million for external components, which includes $15 million for the expansion and renovation of the Recreation Wing at UTSC.

The University of Toronto’s actual outstanding debt as of October 2015 totals $999.9 million. Of that figure, $123.3 million is pension debt while $158.9 million comes from other internal debt.

External debt makes up $717.6 million, the bulk of which is in the form of unsecured bonds issued by the university.

The university’s credit rating is unchanged from last year; Moody’s gave the university an Aa2 rating, while Standard & Poor’s and Dominion Bond Service assigned a rating of AA. These ratings are considered investment grade.

Currently, U of T’s debt policy limit is set at a debt burden ratio of five per cent. This means that the debt and interest should not exceed five per cent of total expenditures. This is only the university’s acceptable limit; the recommended upper limit is set at seven per cent.

According to the annual debt strategy review, the university’s debt policy limit was set to $1.401 billion as of April 2015, and the university expects this to increase by an additional $350 million to $1.75 billion by April 2021.

The review also states that a one per cent increase in the interest rate would result in the reduction of the limit between $53 million and $88 million, while a two per cent increase would see a reduction between $95 million and $158 million.

Where in the world are your directors?

Attendance at UTSU board meetings rises; meeting length a barrier to participation

Where in the world are your directors?

Attendance at meetings of the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) Board of Directors has risen slightly this year despite a significant increase in the number of board meetings. The number of directors consistently absent at meetings has fallen from previous years.

One fifth of directors have missed at least 60 per cent of meetings; last year one quarter of directors missed that many meetings. The average attendance rate currently sits at 64 per cent.

The Board of Directors is an elected group of individuals that represents college and faculty interests in the UTSU. They are classed into three divisions: Division I is comprised of the colleges in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Transitional Year Programme; Division II includes the Professional Faculties; and Division III is representative of UTM.

According to UTSU’s by-laws, the board must meet at least once a month, with additional emergency meetings to be called when necessary. Thus far, the UTSU has had 15 meetings, five of which have been emergency meetings.

There are 38 active directors; the positions for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and for the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education are currently vacant.

The Varsity contacted all 38 directors for comment on this year’s attendance record, five of whom responded as of press time.

Meeting length

Mathias Memmel, director for the Faculty of Music, cited the length of the meetings as a potential reason for the lack of attendance. “Some meetings last as long as six hours. For some people, this is a turn off,” he said.

John Sundara, director for the Toronto School of Theology, agreed with Memmel and referred to the issue as “general meeting fatigue.”

Jess Afonso, director for St Michael’s College, said that the lengthy, contentious meetings left her feeling insignificant and voiceless, and that she does not attend meetings because she no longer wants to.

Although Afonso feels that the UTSU has had numerous successes this year, such as agreeing to divert 50 per cent of engineering student fees back to the Engineering Society and running a voter engagement campaign during the 2015 Federal Election. She believes it took an unreasonable amount of time to accomplish them.

“The one thing I will never forgive the UTSU for is the amount of time it took to be present at those meetings where these motions were debated and voted on,” Afonso said, adding that she remained mostly silent during the meetings. “The problem with [it] is [that] there are so many other board members who act like me: we feel drowned out by the select few amplified voices and it makes us afraid to speak up.”

Afonso listed the policies and procedures that govern the meetings as a barrier to her participation. UTSU board meetings are run according to Roberts Rules of Order, a set of governance principles designed to facilitate the proceedings in a parliamentary fashion. For Afonso, meetings are flooded with procedural showboating that blocks meaningful discussion and participation.

“Robert’s Rules has been the biggest pain in my ass since annotated bibliographies,” Afonso said. “If I tried to speak up — heaven forbid — I’d end up getting shut down because I was out of turn or out of order.”

Afonso acknowledged the importance of procedural compliance but said that there was a “tipping point” at which she felt “too checked” to speak up. “I was in limbo between thinking these meetings were a complete waste of my time, and that ultimately my vote was crucial to the passage of many important motions,” she said.

Other responsibilities

The most common reason given for absences was the understanding that the directors are students with responsibilities outside of their positions. “Apart from being on the board of directors, students have part-time jobs, schoolwork and personal matters to attend to,” said Peter Zhang, director for New College.

This academic year has seen an exceptionally high number of board meetings. “We’ve had 15 meetings this year and we aren’t even done yet! For reference, last year there were only 9 meetings,” Memmel stated. He added that meetings can be especially challenging for commuters to attend. The UTSU does not subsidize transportation costs for directors who rely on transit to attend meetings downtown. For meetings at UTM, the UTSU has provided a shuttle to and from the St. George campus.

The UTSU permits directors to attend the meetings remotely, through online fora such as Skype or Google Hangouts.

Zhang said that setting the schedule of meetings far in advance may help boost attendance rates. “I think a good thing for next year would be to spend the first meeting of the school year mapping out the remainder of the meetings.”

Raffi Dergalstanian, a director for the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, proposed the possibility of a smaller board and reducing the number of meetings. “If I know that a meeting is happening only once a month, I’ll be more inclined to attend.”

With 38 occupied seats and two vacancies, the board should be 40-strong; however, the changes to the Board of Directors structure saw the addition of 12 new seats. The board that will be elected in this year’s UTSU spring elections will comprise 52 members only if all seats are filled.

Is it a problem?

In interviews, the directors did not agree on whether the attendance rate poses a problem. Memmel said that the attendance rate is “concerning.” For Memmel, a directorial absence may mean the loss of representation for their constituency for that meeting. “Some divisions only have one representative and when their voices are absent, the concerns of entire divisions may be too.”

For his part, Dergalstanian believes that it is “unrealistic to expect all board members to attend every meeting.” Sundara said that he was unsure whether it is a problem or not.

UTSU president Ben Coleman believes that measuring attendance is not an accurate reflection of the success of the board. “I would still say that board meeting attendance is an imperfect measure of performance, since board members have so many other responsibilities as well.”

U of T students were similarly split in their perception of the problem’s scale. Pharmaceutical chemistry student Nareg Kara-Yacoubian, said he could “see why [absences are] happening… especially if the topic or issues of a particular discussion don’t affect their groups interests.”

Political science student Tamsyn Riddle feels that the average attendance of directors is “disconcerting” and feels that the directors “should have to attend at least 75 per cent” of the meetings. 

Coleman said that overall he is very proud of the board. “The decisions they’ve had to make this year make previous years look easy by comparison,” he said.

Afonso disagreed. “If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that students like me do not belong on the [UTSU Board of Directors]. I encourage more knowledgeable voices to fill board member positions next year. Otherwise, you will have six-hour meetings, which you do not want to be attending — trust me,” she said.

Disclosure: Tamsyn Riddle is a reporter for The Varsity.

Editor’s Note: The infographic has been updated to include an explanatory note. According to the infographic, Raffi Dergalstanian has missed more than six meetings. However, he was elected to serve as a director in November 2015 and had not had the opportunity to attend any meetings prior to his ratification. There have been fewer than six meetings since his ratification.