Calling U of T out for another death at Bahen Centre

Contributors demand stronger response and more mental health resources

Calling U of T out for another death at Bahen Centre

Content warning: discussion of suicide.

On Sunday, March 17, a student died by suicide at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. The death was followed by student protests that criticized the U of T administration for its inadequate response and lack of mental health resources. Below, three students provide brief responses to The Varsity’s news coverage of the death and the protests that followed.


A lifeless response from the administration

Following what the University of Toronto has placidly deemed the “incident,” which occurred in the Bahen Centre on Sunday, and its lukewarm acknowledgement of the peaceful protests that followed, the administration’s true colours are showing.

In follow-up tweets, U of T has offered nothing but empty platitudes, student services with fatally long wait times, and various unaffiliated hotlines. In short, it is directing students outward — to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Good2Talk, and the Distress Centre — and washing its own hands of any institutional accountability.

In remaining silent on the crisis of student suicide, U of T simultaneously silences students who suffer. Their continual inaction proves that U of T is more concerned with preserving its “boundless” reputation than addressing a crisis that continues to take lives. After three reported deaths on campus in less than a year, I ask the administration: how many more will it take?

Students have spoken out after watching their peers needlessly suffer, demanding change. Yet U of T changes nothing, instead redirecting students to external partners or to a severely under-resourced Health & Wellness Centre. These practices have proven ineffective; serving only to normalize the issue and incorporate suicide into our university experience, the administration suggests that this is something we should anticipate.

Suicide is totally preventable, and preventative measures are not drastic or expensive. Life-saving changes include increasing the abundance and availability of trained professionals on campus, removing caps on counselling sessions, and dissolving the mandatory-leave policy.

Ensuring the safety of its students should be U of T’s first priority. This begins with acknowledging the ongoing crisis and changing mental health policies to reflect reality.

The University of Toronto must understand that its prized reputation cannot exist if students are not around to maintain it.

Rose Gulati is a second-year English, Political Science, and Women and Gender Studies student at Trinity College.


Say the s-word

It is time for U of T to say the s-word: ‘suicide.’ In the official response to the recent death at Bahen Centre, that word was strikingly absent. Instead, it was euphemistically referred to as “the recent incident.”

We could debate the reasons why ‘suicide’ was absent — fear of liability, bad press, or contagion — but I would rather talk about why it needs to be present.

Suicide is not a dirty word. It is, however, the second-leading cause of death among Canadians aged 10–29. As students, we have been talking about its frequency on campus. But as long as the administration remains afraid to say ‘suicide,’ we are missing out on the many proven opportunities to prevent it.

We do not need to look far for evidence to support this fact. In Toronto, deaths decreased after a barrier was erected on the Bloor Viaduct. There are also plenty of researchers affiliated with the university who study suicide. I work with one of them.

At St. Michael’s Hospital, I am a peer facilitator and co-educator of suicide intervention groups and trainings. In these programs, we have seen how, when we acknowledge suicide, we decrease its association with secrecy and shame and open up opportunities to increase awareness and skills pertaining to coping with emotions and distress, problem-solving, and naming and identifying feelings and needs. Safety planning, for example, is an evidence-based intervention and relatively simple to implement. It helps people recognize warning signs, coping strategies, and support systems.

I would like to see U of T offer safety planning workshops and develop a suicide prevention strategy so that we do not only talk about suicide after the fact. If we can’t name the problem, then we can’t talk about solutions. There are strategies and supports that help; suicide should not have to be the end of anyone’s story.

Gina Nicoll is a third-year Psychology student at Woodsworth College.


We need fundamental change

What is most shocking about the recent deaths on the U of T campus is how few people knew that they had actually occurred. Talking to people at the protests, it became obvious that this was no accident. The culture of academic competition that U of T creates also extends to the way in which the university treats such tragedies. The fact that we had to congregate simply to find out if someone we knew had died by suicide is ridiculous.

I believe that the protests on Monday emphasized, more than anything, how many of us have been made to feel lost and alone because of the environment that U of T fosters. Of course, I don’t doubt that the administration mean well on some level. But the fact that the ‘academic rigour’ on which U of T prides itself has created a situation where we are made to put our own health at risk for the illusion of success can’t be ignored.

The protests, I believe, provided a necessary shock to U of T’s system. Of course, the aim is to work with the administration, not counter to it. But it first needs to acknowledge that this isn’t a funding issue — for all the sanctioned notices and abstracted notions of mental wellness, we need fundamental change from the administration. We need a detoxification that requires much more trust in the student body than the university currently vests.

As I put in my section of the speech that resulted from a collaborative effort between protesters and that was read to the Business Board on Monday, we need change on three fundamental levels. Firstly, we need an acknowledgement; we don’t need to publicize their names or situations but to deny the plight of these victims is to deny their existence. Secondly, we need a more accessible variety of mental health care, one that contains at least steps toward services like 24-hour counselling and guidelines for unaccommodating and harsh professors. Thirdly, and most importantly, we need a large-scale reframing of the way that U of T treats its students.

As we showed on Monday, we won’t stand to be pitted against each other anymore.    

Arjun Kaul is a fifth-year Neuroscience, Cell & Molecular Biology, and English student at St. Michael’s College.

Disclosure: Kaul co-organized Monday’s protests.


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.

Editor’s Note (March 20, 10:30 PM): This article has been updated to clarify that the individual who died by suicide was a student.

Thomas Rosica’s actions and excuses are disappointing

Re: “Thomas Rosica steps down from St. Michael’s College post amid extensive plagiarism allegations”

Thomas Rosica’s actions and excuses are disappointing

Despite his public apology, plagiarism allegations that have recently arisen against Toronto Catholic priest Thomas Rosica are serious and demand justice. Rosica, well known for his work in the city’s Roman Catholic community, has stepped down from his position on the board of directors at the University of St. Michael’s College. The priest alleges alleges the plagiarism was unintentional, and has expressed his regret for what he deems “errors.”

In the earliest article found to be plagiarized, two entire paragraphs were copied word for word from reporter Brian Murphy. It is difficult to believe that someone could unwittingly replicate such a substantial amount of writing from another person’s work without realizing it. Moreover, this was one of the many instances in which the priest has taken credit for another writer’s words. It is evident that Rosica is feigning innocence as an attempt to keep his reputation intact.

Rosica has been plagiarizing without any consequences for a little over a decade. He used others’ ideas in his pursuit to bolster his reputation as a distinguished member of the Catholic community. It is even possible that the plagiarized work aided the priest in winning some awards and honorary degrees that he has accepted over the years.

On a campus that denounces content theft, Rosica’s actions and excuses are disappointing. He provides a poor example to other academics and students. Therefore, it would be best that he no longer be affiliated with the University of Toronto. Rosica needs to be held accountable for his actions. Revoking the awards he received for his work in the Catholic community and the honorary degrees he received at U of T would be an appropriate penalty.

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

Comment in Briefs: Week of March 4

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

Comment in Briefs: Week of March 4

A gross miscarriage of democracy for UTSC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The proposed School of Cities building is justified

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

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

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

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

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

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

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

Comment in Briefs: Week of February 4

Students react to SiV report, VUSAC goal to change residence name, and recent OPCCA conference

Comment in Briefs: Week of February 4

We have the facts, so will U of T comply?

Re: “Silence is Violence releases years-long report on sexual violence at U of T”

The 2019 Silence is Violence (SiV) report was thorough, wide-ranging, and, unfortunately, not shocking in the slightest. It revealed just how much students have suffered and continue to suffer, along with the little confidence that they have in Campus Police when it comes to reporting sexual harassment cases.

Although U of T has established a Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre to deal with reports of sexual misconduct, I’m pretty sure the SiV report was the first time most of us had ever heard of the centre. Nevertheless, the report has shown us that we still have a long way to go. That starts with the university prioritizing sexual violence as a central threat to student safety and health. It’s also about creating more systemic changes within both the U of T centre and the branches that work around it, including rehabilitation and protection for students dealing with this type of violence.

SiV also shed light on the number of students who were unable to differentiate between sexual violence and harmless interactions. Not enough is taught and said about sexual violence on campus, other than the very basic education on consent during frosh week.  

The university must also delve deeper into different dimensions of sexual violence that include coercion, power imbalances, and intersectionality. It is important to consider how and why Indigenous, disabled, mentally ill, genderqueer, transgender, and queer persons reported the highest estimated numbers of sexual violence on campus.

It would not only be a disservice but also a dishonor to our student body if these numbers continue to rise or remain the way they are now.

Janine Alhadidi is a Political Science and Diaspora and Transnational Studies student at St. Michael’s College.


Let’s carefully consider the VUSAC residence rename proposal

Re: “Victoria students’ council attempting to rename Ryerson residence building, Vic One stream”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

In his novel Crabwalk, Nobel Laureate Günter Grass, himself disgraced by his teenage WWII service in the notoriously evil Waffen-SS, advised future generations that wherever there are grievances, one should confront issues directly instead of simply  dismissing what’s difficult and uncomfortable. The concern is that, if we do dismiss unresolved matters, we forfeit control of the narrative at our peril, and often to those with perverse interests.

This is especially important today, given the recent emergence of nationalist populism, with venomous personalities like Faith Goldy in Toronto and Kevin Johnston in Mississauga, and, also at U of T, with the recent appearance of white nationalist posters on campus.

It’s in the best interests of society that the dark legacy of residential schools never be owned by nationalist populists, especially as they might misconstrue the removal of Egerton Ryerson’s name from landmarks as an attack on Canadian identity. This is how they derive an exclusivist sense of belonging, build their movement, and push their own twisted political agendas to indoctrinate others.

We shouldn’t shrug off the past. However burdensome it may be, it can still instruct us. Yes, Ryerson can still serve to instruct us, especially on how not to go about designing an educational system that ensures the wholesale and systematic annihilation of human cultures.

A solution is to keep Ryerson’s name while also providing comprehensive educational displays at the residence that inform students and the public about his true history.

Perhaps future residents of the college will take the duty upon themselves to learn that history and share it with others on campus so we never forget or repeat such shameful mistakes, which continue to haunt and blight Canada’s international reputation, however false,  as a moral leader.

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


PC youth and party leadership are on the same page, at least for now

Re: “Ontario Campus Conservatives debate public transit, mental health at regional conference”

NATHAN CHAN/THE VARSITY

For most parties, policy conventions are typically inconsequential. While it is true that they often produce official election platforms, there is little that binds leaders to their promises, especially when they enter office. Thus, more than anything, conventions have become public relation performances in which parties can project unity, a strong leader, and the image of a diverse, open dialogue.

Nevertheless, policy conventions are often a good place to determine where party membership is, as it is rare that the tightly-controlled communications of leader takes a secondary role.

As part of an Ontario-wide program of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA), the South Regional Policy Conference will contribute to the understanding of OPCCA’s broader policy preferences, which will then, it seems, be brought to the attention of the party during the policy convention.

The policies adopted here don’t seem unusual, nor do they contradict the party’s current agenda as of yet. There was a particular focus on expanding transit service to Niagara, which seems to be the current position of the province, as it has begun to do so. The biggest decision that the government seems to be moving forward with is the provincial ‘takeover’ of the TTC, which appeared to draw divides among party members. The dispute, however, was less about the principle than it was about the financial cost. Mental health resolutions, the second topic of discussion, remained vague and difficult to dispute in and of themselves.

Thus, while there appears to be some minor disagreement, there is no indication that some sort of confrontation between the PC youth and party leadership will occur in the near future. Although, should the government continue in its current policy direction for postsecondary institutions, I would not be surprised if this outlook changes.

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

Comment in Briefs: Week of January 28

Students react to ACORN bug, student unions’ open letter to Ford

Comment in Briefs: Week of January 28

An unacceptable mishap, especially for those applying to graduate school

Re: “Bug affected student GPAs on ACORN, U of T says”

To many of us, ACORN has become synonymous with technical difficulties. However, none may have as negative long-term consequences as ACORN’s newest technical mishap with many affected by a wrongful GPA calculation following the Fall 2018 semester.

I was surprised to log into ACORN early January to find that my 4.0 sessional GPA from the fall did not increase my cumulative GPA (CGPA). While site crashes during course enrolment are certain to occur, I expected ACORN to at least be a reliable calculator. And as a fourth-year student with several grad school applications looming just around corner, I submitted my transcripts with ACORN’s incorrectly calculated GPA with only a mild annoyance and confusion as to how a 4.0 could lead to absolutely no improvement to one’s CGPA.

It was only days later when I logged back into ACORN to see that my CGPA suddenly improved by 0.03. While this may not seem like much to many, small incremental differences in CGPA can be the deciding factor for many of us applying for graduate school. But now we will never know the degree to which this malfunction has affected our chances.

While frustration over U of T’s web services are often justified by the fact that the system needs to service such a large student population, this latest ACORN mishap will be costly to students through no fault of their own. Also, I expected the administration to inform students more broadly about the mishap beyond simply posting about it on social media, as many students may have failed to have received the news at all.

More work should be done to improve student web services to ensure that issues like these don’t arise again. Not getting into a class you wanted to take is one thing. But possibly not getting into grad school because of ACORN’s faulty calculations is unacceptable.

Yasaman Mohaddes is a fourth-year Political Science and Sociology student at St. Michael’s College.


A hyperbolic, misleading letter that fails to justify student union funding

Re: “U of T student unions sign open letter against Ford government”

ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

Some U of T student unions have joined 75 other Canadian student unions in signing an open letter that protests Premier Doug Ford’s postsecondary reforms, which may cause them to lose a significant proportion of their revenue.

Myopically, the letter focuses on how valuable the unions themselves are, rather than the student-run programs that actually provide value. Consider the frequency of mismanagement or serious allegations of fraud committed by student unions, such as by those at U of T, the University of Ottawa, and Ryerson University, as well as poor voter participation in their elections. The reputation of these unions is not strong enough to justify concern for funding reduction.

The letter criticizes both the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) changes and the “opt-out” clause. Regarding the OSAP changes, the biggest difference is that grants are reduced for higher-income families and dependent students living at home. For low-income and independent students, the changes are negligible. Interest is now charged during the six-month grace period, but the cuts to tuition fees and incidental fees are significant compensations. Ultimately, the letter’s framing of the issue as a direct attack on low-income families is misleading, to say the least.

The bulk of the letter is focused on the “opt-out” clause, called the Student Choice Initiative. Programs that support health and safety are exempt from the clause. The letter disingenuously states that these programs are at risk, which amounts to nothing more than fear-mongering.

Even if we are to ignore the misrepresentation of the policy, the letter fails to justify student unions as being worth their fees. A more suitable approach would have been to focus on the value provided by student groups that may disappear, without using hyperbolic language and misleading readers about what the changes actually are.

George McKeown is a fifth-year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry.

Canada’s racism: I feel scared and sad

Re: “White nationalist posters found around UTSG”

Canada’s racism: I feel scared and sad

I am a first-generation Canadian citizen. I have always thought that, on the question of multiculturalism, Canadians were at a more respectable level than the Americans. I used to think that racism was not something that was prevalent in Canada, because I didn’t explicitly witness it.

However, recent aberrations such as these white nationalist posters around UTSG have made me rethink my conception of Canada as a whole. Sometimes, I feel scared to see such visceral dislike of all people who are not white.

Sometimes, I feel sad for those responsible for the posters. They fail to see that they are immigrants, just like the people they abhor, and are therefore also not entitled to Canada. The only ones who can truly claim this land are Indigenous peoples.

Someone pointed out to me that these posters are placed around to draw media coverage and attention to these organizations, which in turn helps to recruit like-minded thinkers. This makes for a complicated picture. On the one hand, we should bring attention to these incidents in order to identify the existence of explicit racism, but on the other hand, we risk inadvertently strengthening racist causes.

This incident is especially saddening because U of T, and Toronto more broadly, is so multiculturally rich that I had thought that most, if not all, people here would not agree with such an ideology. And yet, here we are. There are people who feel emboldened enough to post these blatantly racist posters to stir people’s emotions and play with their notion of being Canadian.

I appreciate that University of Toronto Students’ Union representatives have spoken out against this incident, but I don’t know what more can be done about it. Freedom of speech exists in Canada and some may not consider the posters to be hate speech. For now, we can only be aware of these incidents and not let them shake us.

We have all worked hard to be here. No one should feel superior or inferior to any ethnicity, race, religion, or otherwise in Canada. This is what multiculturalism means: respect and acceptance for all.

Ateeqa Arain is a first-year Master of Education student at OISE.

Comment in Briefs: Week of January 14

Students react to provincial climate plan protests and missing UTSU executive reports

Comment in Briefs: Week of January 14

Want to fight climate change? Focus on the local

Re: “Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park”

Students recently voiced their anger with the provincial government’s inaction on the climate change file, as part of a global movement started by a 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist.

While the day brought out many students from elementary schools to universities, the business of government remained unsurprisingly unshaken on January 11. Protests about climate change and the environment are disregarded by government legislators and staff at Queen’s Park. The people who show up to voice their concerns are seen as activists and members of fringe groups, not the people that Progressive Conservative MPPs represent.

The problem is that the Ford Government is rolling back environmental protections affecting every riding in the province. Last year, his government eliminated the watchdog office of the Environment Commissioner. The repeal of cap and trade in June has taken a system where large emitters pay for what they pollute, and replaced it with a solution that gives Ontario tax dollars back to major polluters.

But if politicians aren’t listening to their constituents who are demonstrating at the legislature, what’s the average citizen to do? The answer is, of course, to make it local.

There are local environmental issues that are exacerbated by climate change in every riding from Windsor to the Ottawa valley. This includes communities concerned about Nestlé water bottling plants in Wellington County and flooding causing infrastructure failure from rainwater runoff in Toronto.

Bringing environmental issues caused by climate change to local offices is the only way that MPPs will have to confront these issues head on. Until students start to fight locally, it doesn’t matter how many people gather on the lawn of the legislature. We will only see more of the same from Ford’s Ontario.

Alex Byrne-Krzycki is a third-year Classics Student at Victoria College.

Disclosure: Byrne-Krzycki previously worked as a political staffer for Environment Minister Glen Murray at Queen’s Park.


The need for accommodation

Re: “Missing executive reports once again draw concern at UTSU board meeting”

ADAM A. LAM/THE VARSITY

As only two out of seven University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) executives submitted their executive reports on time at the Board of Directors meeting last December 7, the question has been raised of whether or not time management is an issue.

Social Sciences Director Joshua Bowman remarked that this has been a “consistent problem” since last summer. Students should ask: have the executives just been consistently lazy, or did they not anticipate the workload which crept upon them as it became their time to grace the UTSU throne?

Hearing this news as a student at U of T, I am obviously concerned. I would hope that the executive members that we have voted for take their responsibilities more seriously. At the same time, I do sympathize, as I cannot imagine how much work it takes to be a student while simultaneously a full-time member of the UTSU.

It is no secret that the workload and pressures of being on the UTSU are heavy, but those who strive to serve as representatives should be prepared to fill their roles. With the majority of the executives having issues submitting their executive reports on time, I suspect that it is an issue in timing and accommodation rather than a lack of effort.

If the majority of the executives are having issues with tardiness, I think that they should put more effort into resolving the struggles of accommodating each other’s schedules. This will help them to avoid missing submissions of executive reports in the future.

Areej Rodrigo is a fourth-year English, Professional Writing and Communications, and Theatre and Performance student at St. Michael’s College.

Comment in Briefs: Month of December

Students react to the final News stories of 2018

Comment in Briefs: Month of December

Comment contributors discuss: student unions’ attempt to shut out student media outlets like The Varsity; the federated colleges’ response to U of T’s smoking ban; the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) General Council’s ousting of its Internal Commissioner; the New York Times’ Art of the Book Review panel at U of T; and the firing of U of T President Meric Gertler from the board of Waterfront Toronto.


Obstructing the press serves to delegitimize student unions

Re: “Canadian Association of Journalists rebukes student unions’ attempt to manipulate media coverage”

It’s heartening that the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) has taken efforts to defend the freedom of the U of T student press, including The Varsity and The Underground.

The general situation, however, is a dismal one, as representatives from multiple student unions have attempted to limit the press’ ability to inform students about how they are being governed. While the representatives may believe these Trump-esque practices benefit short-term policy aims, they are actually extremely detrimental, maybe even self-destructive, to student unions and advocacy.

If the student press is unable to write about student union developments by being barred from meetings, student readers will be less informed about decisions affecting them. Over time, they will likely view student unions as merely corporations providing services, instead of democratic organizations that contribute student perspectives to education policymaking.

CAJ President Karyn Pugliese took a stance on a student union’s purpose by describing U of T student unions as “governments,” as opposed to non-profit corporations.

If student unions are microcosms of society, the student government versus student corporation debate illuminates their unique political spectrum. On the right, there are those who prefer corporate structures, not unlike the university administration that used to dominate student affairs. Those on the left view student unions as democratic governments that need to overcome the constraints of current corporate legislation.

The attempts to exclude the press are likely from the corporatist end of this spectrum. However, some may situate themselves on the left in conventional politics in an ironic reversal that would be a textbook case of bad prefigurative politics in other words, the means not justifying the ends.

Student unions are not merely corporations that provide services. Saying that “student media have been abusing their positions as disseminators and aggregators of information” is synonymous with calling them fake news. Obstructing the dissemination of political knowledge makes it harder for students, especially marginalized students, to participate in politics. This won’t help voter turnout and definitely won’t inspire students to mobilize behind their union when collective action is needed. At that point, the very purpose of a student union would become questionable.

If student representatives think the press’ reporting is inaccurate, perhaps they should establish a better dialogue with student journalists instead of shutting them out.

Justin Patrick is a first-year master’s student in Political Science. He is a University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union Council Representative for Political Science.


Balancing the smoking ban

Re: “Proposed smoking ban will not affect federated colleges”

Student vaping. Jenna Liao/THE VARSITY

The university has finally implemented its decision to ban smoking as of January 1. While the policy does not apply to the federated colleges, it seems to be only a matter of time before they follow suit with their own policies. Personally, like many others, I do not enjoy walking through clouds of smoke to get to my destinations on campus.

However, I agree with Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s plan, as it looks to have smoking areas on its campus. Understandably, many students smoke to cope with stress and anxiety, and it seems unfair and unrealistic to institute a ban across the entire campus. Indeed, it will be almost impossible to enforce.

The University of St. Michael’s College is taking a more public approach and is currently going through consultation and creating a public survey. On an issue that concerns such a personal life habit, it is crucial to hear and take into account the voices of the entire faculty and student population.

It is important for the smoking ban to take into account and balance students’ health and cultural practices. For instance, the policy still allows for ceremonial and medicinal uses. Nonetheless, the ban is justified given that smoking is addictive and linked to numerous health issues. New research has suggested that tobacco smoking causes over 45,000 deaths each year in Canada.

While I do recognize that smoking is an individual choice and is legal in Canada, it is a source of pollution that harms our air and environment. As institutions independent of the university, including federated colleges, look to develop their own policy, it is crucial to respect students’ autonomy to do what they want while considering how their activity imposes on others.

Gabrielle Cotton is a fourth-year Equity Studies, Political Science, and Urban Studies student at Woodsworth College.


Conspiracy or not, leadership means taking action

Re: “Internal Commissioner pushed out by Graduate Students’ Union General Council”

Branden Rizzuto, the GSU’s Finance Commissioner, moved the motion to vacate the Internal Commissioner position. ANDY TAKAGI/THE VARSITY

As the drama within the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council unfolded last month, one thing was certain: the council has had rough team dynamics throughout ex-Internal Commissioner Lynne Alexandrova’s tenure. While it may be difficult to see the truth objectively in this very much he said, she said battle, a broader perspective makes it easier to see the landscape on which the battle was cultivated.

The UTGSU’s executive committee seems to have differing views about and plans for its Internal Commissioner, and has apparently been cultivating a movement against her for some time before proposing her exit, citing a violation of Article 9.1 of the UTSGU bylaws. Much like an impeachment, most of the discussion and plotting happened out of the public eye, which would explain Alexandrova’s confusion and lack of strength to “stand up to ungrounded anxieties causing confrontational measures.”

However, it also appears that her claims that the executive committee had not given her sufficient warnings are not well supported. The committee had warned her in October, yet she failed to circulate a report against the allegations, or at least submit a viable argument. Alexandrova said that, had she been at the meeting, she could have prevented the committee from invoking Article 9. She blamed the culture of the union, which she claimed favoured returning executives over outside perspectives, underlining a conspiracy to vacate her from her position.

The overall issue however, with or without a conspiracy, is that Alexandrova seems to have not been as active in the union’s meetings and activities as she should have been. Despite the somewhat shady politics and longtime internal problems and misunderstandings, she should not make excuses for why she was ousted from her position. If there is cause for concern against one’s leadership, one must not wait for a formal warning. Rather, one must jump into action to rectify the situation.

Varsha Pillai is a first-year Social Science student at University College.


Forget reviews — go to the source

Re: “The New York Times hosts Art of the Book Review panel at U of T”

“There’s news value in these books,” NYT’s nonfiction book critic Jennifer Szalai said. THEO ARBEZ/THE VARSITY

While the panel suggested that book reviews should be artfully intertwined with news value and the broader world surrounding the work, I think of the book critic’s vocation in this framework instead.

It’s rather disturbing how book critics get away with publishing emotionally charged critiques. This weakens their cause and ability to produce a valid and objective analysis. Furthermore, the news value is often irrelevant and undermines the public trust and credibility of media.

Book reviews are a centuries-old persuasion architecture rife with hidden agendas. Undisclosed but fermenting personal motivations, financial interests, and professional relationships have left a rancid aftertaste.

The book reviewing vocation is coming to an end as yet another casualty of the information age.

Today, opinions of book reviewers like those found in the New York Times are as, if not less, consequential to those of Amazon’s verified purchasers. Reviews shouldn’t inform you before you’ve acquainted yourself with the work firsthand.

A truly endearing and distinguished U of T alum, Josh Hough, who it deeply pains me to say tragically passed away recently, taught me to remember that nothing can take the place of one’s firsthand study of the work itself and to cherish and treasure the great primary sources. For example, Charles Darwin’s The Origins.

Imagine formulating an opinion on the music of Bob Marley or John Lennon, not through listening to the artist, but from a secondary source like a review. What kind of experience and quality of opinion would that be? Now, it’s true that a song may take only three minutes to hear and a book takes much longer to read. Still, it’s better to forgo one’s urge to read a book review before reading the book itself.

Go to the source and don’t let others meddle in between. The pleasure of a book comes through reading the book and not someone else’s reaction.

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


Gertler is a true Varsity Blue

Re: “Meric Gertler fired from Waterfront Toronto board of directors amid Google deal”

SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

Every Varsity Blue knows the feeling: during enrolment, you’re scouring classes and you find one you know you’ll crush. You prepare, do research, go to lecture, finish the readings, work hard — and then get blindsided by an errant bell curve or bloodthirsty teaching assistant (TA). Forces larger than you sail and zip and thrash around, and you end up getting slapped with a subpar grade — a blemish on an otherwise respectable transcript.

Four weeks ago, an ambitious, hardworking Varsity Blue walked into this very trap. After a big welcome and high praise, U of T President Meric Gertler was laid off from the Waterfront Toronto board, two years after being appointed.

Letting go of Gertler was a mistake — he is vastly overqualified for the position. He has ogles of degrees, decades of experience, and has been hailed as one of Canada’s foremost thinkers in urban design. His departure has more to do with partisan politics than rational decision making. It was foolish to let him go and the province, in its search for scapegoats, is shooting itself in the foot by doing so.

Gertler’s situation isn’t a novel one. Whether it be a bloodthirsty TA or an insecure, impulsive government, we’re often beholden to the questionable opinions of others. But failing a class, getting booted off a board — these aren’t calamities or revelations of character, but opportunities for growth and self-reflection.

President Gertler has been respectful through the ordeal and has set an example for the 90,000 other ambitious, hardworking — and occasionally unfortunate — Varsity Blues around him.

Ted Fraser is a third-year International Relations student at Victoria College.