In defence of the humanities

In defence of the humanities

Last month, Areo magazine published a year-long project, dubbed Sokal Squared, that sought to expose the humanities as unscientific, devoid of truth, radical, and outlandish.

A team of three academics, who have previously defended and supported militant-atheist, anti-feminist, socially right-wing libertarians, crafted 20 deliberately absurd papers to be published in, what they term, “grievance studies.” These are fields that study social injustice and cultural theory: women’s studies, gender studies, and critical theory, to name a few.

Over the course of a year, they managed to get seven of these papers published in peer-reviewed academic journals. One paper that discusses how dog parks are “rape-condoning spaces” gained special recognition in Gender, Place, and Colour.

All these papers are, of course, ridiculous and should not have been published. While the intention was to show that these so-called ‘grievance studies’ are lacking academic rigour and truth, the project does more to highlight the ideology of the ‘scientific-right’  those who believe that ‘non-scientific’ fields deserve less respect. They believe that the humanities and social sciences are fields that uniquely allow nonsense to be published.

Nowadays, when discussing the humanities, many of those in the scientific-right are quick to jump to labels like ‘postmodernism,’ ‘relativistic,’ and ‘radical left.’ There is no doubt that these associations have gained recent popularity through their constant employment by controversial U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson.

The political objective of the scientific-right is to eradicate alternative methodological approaches to understanding the world, such as postmodernism and critical theory. But the scientific-right overlooks how the sciences are just as, if not more, susceptible to the fallibilities of the disciplines they decry.

Three years ago, three Massachusetts Institute of Technology students crafted an artificial intelligence called SCIgen to generate ostensibly legitimate, but actually nonsensical, computer science papers. This resulted in the publication of 120 nonsensical papers in highly respectable scientific journals, many of which were peer-reviewed.

This wasn’t an isolated phenomenon. In 2010, Cyril Labbé revealed that he had utilized his own program, HAL, to generate 100 false papers in, once again, well-regarded, peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Add to that the fact that foundational theories in many scientific disciplines are plagued by the replicability crisis, leading to the possibility that the tremendous amount of work that is dependent upon these theories could be completely meaningless.

This is not to attack the scientific-right in the same manner in which they attack the humanities. Rather, it is a call to recognize that while both the sciences and the humanities are fallible disciplines, neither should be entirely discounted.

Each discipline has separate intellectual objectives, and should be respected accordingly. The aim of the humanities is not to exclusively investigate matters that are scientific or mathematical in nature. Rather, they are often concerned with matters intrinsic to humanity and culture.

Furthermore, the very arguments that the scientific-right uses to demean the humanities — such as lacking in truth — almost always employ notions developed in the humanities themselves. For instance, when students associate the sciences with figuring out what the ‘truth’ is, they fail to understand that the very notion of truth is developed and investigated within the humanities, not the sciences.

A core investigation in philosophy, which is a branch of the humanities, is the question of what defines truth, whether it is: correspondence to the real world; coherence among a set of held beliefs; or agreement among professionals in ideal conditions. Perhaps it has no definition at all.

Similarly, publications by Thomas Kuhn in the 1970s garnered a new outlook on the history of science: a picture of scientific practice as being influenced by socioeconomic and cultural factors. His arguments laid the groundwork for a re-examination of how scientists conduct science, and whether they are truly partaking in an objective, value-free discipline, independent of anything that is investigated within the humanities.

Additionally, the ‘grievance studies’ are critical for providing inquiries into the normative questions that plague the sciences. An example of such a question is whether we ought to pursue lines of inquiry and regard them as ‘truth,’ when the consequences of such a discovery could lead to widespread human suffering.

Possible examples may be investigations into ‘race realism,’ genetic enhancement, and nuclear energy. All these inquiries could lead to extremely disastrous effects for states and, potentially, for the world. Inquiries into ‘grievance studies’ allow us to examine the social conditions under which scientific investigation operates  a crucial, morally necessary survey that influences and shapes the sciences.

The very fact that a year was wasted on such a project is an embarrassment to the academics who have endorsed it. At most, they shed light on the issues plaguing academic journals in general and should be framed as such, rather than seeking to delegitimize specific disciplines for political reasons.

Sokal Squared shows how out of touch those on the scientific-right are. It is time that they recognize the importance of the humanities, both in relation to the sciences and in their own right.

Gavin Foster is a third-year Philosophy and History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at Trinity College.

U of T commits $1.4 million to support students studying abroad

Agreement with Mitacs will foster international collaboration in academia

U of T commits $1.4 million to support students studying abroad

U of T has announced a $1.4 million partnership agreement with non-profit organization Mitacs to support global research opportunities for U of T students. The deal, spanning a three-year period, will primarily fund Mitacs’ Globalink Research Award program, which provides undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows with financial aid to conduct research at universities in 40 different countries.

With the expenses of studying abroad contributing to students’ reticence in opting into international experience, this partnership with Mitacs will allow up to 200 U of T students to apply for funding per year. At least 80 international students will also receive funding from Mitacs and U of T to conduct research in Toronto. With an equal division of financial dues among Mitacs and the partner university, the recipients of the awards — both inbound and outbound — will receive $6,000 each for 12-week or 24-week placements.  

Dr. Ridha Ben Mrad, a professor in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering and Mitacs’ Chief Research Officer, said that Mitacs is a “bridge between the private sector and the university.”  

“This [new] deal with the U of T is more strategic in the sense that we are allocating a certain number of internships for University of Toronto’s students to go do internships outside of the country,” said Ben Mrad.

Internships abroad and exchange programs give students the opportunity to expand network connections, gain work experience in different cultures, and access new ideas and perspectives. The partner institutions that host these students get expertise in the field to help provide solutions to problems, said Ben Mrad.

“In the same token, U of T, being a global university, is able to attract researchers from outside. So this will pay for U of T students but the idea is that this will enable two-way mobility to U of T and from U of T,” he said.

Since starting its internship program in 2003, Mitacs has expanded its role in connecting academic research to the private sector in several educational disciplines. Of the 7,112 projects listed on its website, approximately 84 per cent are in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, while approximately 15 per cent are in the social sciences and humanities. 

Ben Mrad said that Mitacs is making “a substantial effort” to fund more non-STEM projects because “there is so much innovation to be done there.”

Much of the funding for Mitacs’ programs comes from Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada, a department of the Canadian government. ISED has provided around $56 million to Mitacs’ programs over a four-year period between 2012 and 2016, in which the Globalink program itself received close to $20 million. With additional financial contributions from the private sector, Mitacs has supported over 20,000 research internships since it was founded in 1999. 

As it continues to grow, Mitacs has set a goal of delivering over 10,000 internships annually by 2021–2022, with 2018–2019 projections at 8,190 showing promise toward that target.

To match the ambition of such goals, partnership agreements like this one with U of T are critical. According to Ben Mrad, the partnership will “enable U of T to develop strategic relationships, to choose where to send a good number of their researchers, [and] to establish strong relationships with one or multiple parties.”

To improve campus culture, let’s consider cannabis education

Marijuana legalization provides an opportunity for U of T to address substance abuse, racism, and sexual violence

To improve campus culture, let’s consider cannabis education

The upcoming legalization of cannabis is not only a concern for government and law. It is also an important cultural opportunity for universities to destigmatize drug use, provide drug education across campuses, and address the broken parts of campus culture.

Heather Kelly, U of T’s Senior Director of Student Success, has said that while the university plans to apply existing rules for alcohol and tobacco to cannabis, “we want [students] to know what to do if they find themselves or a friend in trouble” and “how to recognize signs that somebody may need assistance.” Educating students on safer substance use is vital, but where and how this education will take place remains unclear.

Acknowledging student drug use at U of T is long overdue. Even before legalization, 28 per cent of U of T students reported using marijuana last year. Now that it is no longer an illegal substance, it is imperative that we distinguish use from abuse.

For instance, students may turn to cannabis to self-medicate their mental health issues instead of seeking professional help. A 2017 study found that teenagers across Canada are using cannabis to self-medicate for stress and anxiety. As cannabis becomes more readily accessible, the university administration needs to educate students on how to maintain a healthy relationship with the substance.

Cannabis education requires confronting a university culture that normalizes binge-drinking and unhealthy substance use. However, university administrations should not attempt to counteract this culture with zero-tolerance policies. Instead, they should accept that their students drink and use drugs and focus on helping students stay safe.

Canadian Public Health Association Executive Director Ian Culbert said that “experimentation is a natural part of growing up” and that university administrations and student associations should therefore adopt “a very proactive approach at getting education materials out to all of the students.”

Yet it is necessary to acknowledge that not everyone has been allowed to experiment without repercussions. Although research demonstrates that the rate of cannabis use is similar across different racial groups, a 2017 Toronto Star investigation found that in Toronto, Black people with no criminal record were three times as likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people who also have no record.

A subsequent investigation found that across Canada, Black and Indigenous peoples were disproportionately arrested for possession. Cannabis legalization may help put an end to this injustice going forward, but many argue that Canada should go further and pardon all Canadians with records of cannabis possession.

U of T assistant sociology professor and Director of Research at Cannabis Amnesty Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is among those calling on the federal government to instate a blanket pardon. Owusu-Bempah told the CBC that, because cannabis prohibition has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, “amnesty is important to level the playing field.”

Just as amnesty should accompany cannabis legalization, an anti-racism approach is central to meaningful cannabis education. Historically, governments have justified the criminalization of drug use through associations with racialized communities. Destigmatization is therefore not only about challenging misconceptions surrounding the actual use of drugs, but also the racial underpinnings that have long justified those misconceptions.

Furthermore, cannabis education must involve discussions of consent. U of T can use this opportunity to challenge the idea that women are to blame for sexual violence. Discussions of safe alcohol consumption often place the onus on women to protect themselves from sexual assault by refraining from consuming alcohol. A new dialogue around substance use and consent is necessary, because simply telling women not to drink or do drugs will not stop sexual violence.

As a Vice article points out, the relationship between cannabis use and sexual consent is a topic that is largely ignored. Where it is discussed, it is often oversimplified. A Psychology Today article notes that while “the combination of sex and alcohol greatly increases women’s risk of sexual assault… marijuana has never been shown to increase” this risk.

Statements like these are typical of society’s tendency to blame sexual violence on substances over perpetrators. Confronting this through consent education can help reduce sexual violence on campus and create a culture where perpetrators are actually held accountable.

Students and administration can work together to make this education a reality. The Sheffield Students’ Union in the UK provides its students with information on safer practices when using illegal drugs, providing a model for U of T or the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) to follow.

Student networks like the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy work to empower students with information on safer drug use, and a chapter of the organization exists at U of T. The university administration could also implement an online training module on safer substance use, like the current module on sexual education and violence prevention.

The administration and the UTSU should use their platforms to provide students with information on safe practices when it comes to the use of cannabis and other drugs and training on how these substances can affect a person’s ability to consent. The university community should also acknowledge the uneven damages left by the criminalization of cannabis on students, and reflect on how to repair these damages moving forward, including supporting calls for cannabis amnesty.

Cannabis legalization marks an important cultural shift as drug use is increasingly seen as a matter of public health rather than a moral or criminal issue. However, this shift is only possible if powerful institutions, including universities, choose education over stigmatization.

Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society and Law student at Woodsworth College. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

From grade inflation to grade deflation

All university students pay the price for boosted high school grades, but those from private schools pay more than others

From grade inflation to grade deflation

A list compiled by the University of Waterloo of Ontario high schools that tend to inflate their students averages was recently released to Global News last week through a freedom of information request. Waterloo compared students’ entrance marks with how they measured up in the first-year engineering programs to calculate the average grade deflation of graduates from different Ontario high schools. The university says it now uses the list to apply an “adjustment factor” to entrance grades.

The publication of the list puts into the spotlight the various issues that come along with grade inflation at high schools. On the one hand, grade inflation clearly disadvantages students who are forced to compete against applicants with artificially boosted averages. On the other hand, those who gain from inflated grades are, in reality, ill-equipped for their programs in university in the long-run. In my experience, this is certainly true at U of T, where first-year grades can often bring about feelings of inadequacy as they drop far below the standards students once achieved in high school.

A facet of the Waterloo list that appears to be overlooked is the clear distinction in the schools featured in terms of private and public funding. On average, first-year students from Ontario high schools see their marks drop 16 per cent in Waterloo’s engineering program. Yet private schools are overrepresented in the ranks of schools whose graduates face higher-than-average grade deflation. Almost two-thirds of Waterloo’s list are actually schools whose graduates do better than the average 16 per cent drop, but 80 per cent of private schools on the list fall into the third of schools whose graduates’ marks face above-average drops.

This disproportion should bring about critical discussions regarding why private schools are on the list at all. Quite simply, for high schools to justify charging substantial tuition fees, their graduates must be doing better than average in postsecondary education, and not experiencing such substantial drops. While it is hard to extrapolate beyond the given context of Waterloo’s engineering program, the representation of private schools on the list calls into question whether there are high schools in Ontario where grades are bought, rather than earned.

A 2011 investigation by the Toronto Star sheds light on this issue, when reporter Jennifer Yang went undercover as a student at a private high school. Yang described how her teacher, unaware that Yang was a journalist undercover, arbitrarily raised her grade by almost 25 per cent, while allowing other students to retake tests they had failed — this time open book.

A section of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s website, updated in 2013, says that “in response to concerns regarding credit integrity, the ministry has introduced an enhanced inspection training program.” But a 2015 study found that Ontario has the fewest regulations for private schools among Canadian provinces.

Low-income students already face many challenges to achieving high grades and pursuing higher education, from underfunded high schools to the need to devote time and energy to part-time work outside their studies and family responsibilities. A list that suggests that some private schools inflate their students’ averages can then be a bitter pill for those who work hard to achieve modest marks at publicly funded institutions. This is not to say that grade inflation is a problem for private schools alone; in fact the majority of the schools tracked by Waterloo are public schools.

It may be the case that grade inflation is ubiquitous. However, when schools at the top of Waterloo’s list charge $1,800 per course, and others more than $20,000 per year, it adds insult to injury. Not only are students and their families paying tens of thousands of dollars per year for private high schools, only to have their grades drop 25 per cent in their first year at university, other students who do not have access to these schools may be losing out in admissions processes for universities who do not apply adjustment factors like Waterloo.

The bottom line is that the students suffer most from the practice of artificially increased averages; not only are they not getting the education they deserve, but they are entering university programs that they are potentially ill-suited for. This can take a dangerous toll on students’ mental health when they enter their first year, and compound the symptoms of imposter syndrome that university freshmen already experience.

But the implications for private schools are greater. Grade inflation at private schools calls into question both the quality of education received for the hefty price tag, and the possibility that good grades are for sale to those who can afford them. Not all private schools are created equal, and generalizing or vilifying them all will not provide answers to these questions. It is time to go beyond acknowledging the proximal dangers of grade inflation and take a deeper look at how this practice could be magnifying larger inequities. 

Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society, and Law student at Woodsworth College.

Conceptualizing inaccessibility on campus

In the context of the recent OHRC policy on accessible education, it is necessary to examine how ableism still persists in universities

Conceptualizing inaccessibility on campus

With the new Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) policy that includes broader definitions of disability and ableism and stresses the importance of accessible education, it seems that Ontario is taking a step forward to further naturalize disabled people in university environments. However, many students are likely still unaware as to how the university environment might be exclusionary or what discrimination toward disabled people looks like.

Disability is a very broad category that holds within it much variation, from various physical disabilities to learning disabilities to chronic illnesses to certain mental illnesses. These disparate groups of people are united in some aspect by their societal treatment: ableism.

Ableism can be described as a guiding set of negative and derogatory beliefs about disability and disabled people that can manifest in stereotypes, exclusion, discrimination, and abuse. These beliefs are woven deeply into our culture: into our language, in which descriptors for disability are often substituted for ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’; and into our media and art, in which disabled bodies and minds are frequently used as symbols for degeneration, perversion, or evil.

Disability, in history, has often been used as an excuse for denying the rights of various groups. For example, it was once argued that women were mentally disabled in relation to men, which is why they could not carry the responsibility of voting in the United States. Certain characteristics of women, real or imagined, were used to point to some underlying ‘deficiency’ that rendered them incompetent.

This process, which surely seems atrocious to us now in retrospect, is still weaponized against disabled people. However, discrimination as a result of ableism is difficult to challenge because disability is so naturalized as an inherently bad quality. Unlike other systems of marginalization that are based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or class, it is seen as fitting that a disabled person be found inferior to an able-bodied person. In a ‘common sense’ way, it seems right that disabled persons be thought of as lacking or deficient.

This compulsive negative valuation usually does not rear its head outright, but obscures itself behind discourses of competency, skill, or ability. It is therefore seen as valid when a boss fires a disabled employee instead of putting in effort to accommodate them for the ‘common sense’ reason that the employee is less ‘capable’ compared to non-disabled employees.

The continual reaffirmation of disability as a way-of-being that is wrong, unnatural, or negatively-valued is coupled with a near-total exclusion of disability, both in the public material sphere and in the public consciousness. The city teems with markers of exclusion: stairs in the entranceway to a shop, a subway station with no elevator, a lack of braille on public notices. These material markers speak to an exclusion of disability from the public consciousness. Despite the presence of disability everywhere in our culture, disabled bodies are not thought of as immediately existent; they are not thought of as potential inhabitants of space.

The situation is mirrored and perpetuated on university campuses. The disabled student is not thought of as a rightful inhabitant of the university environment. There are some concessions made in attempts to accommodate the student — for instance, Accessibility Services at U of T — but just the concept of an accommodation mechanism points to the fact that our university, at base, is not constructed with disabled students in mind.

If a structure needs to be especially manipulated in order to be accessed by disabled people, then that structure is intrinsically designed non-inclusively. The underlying structure is inaccessible and might only become more accessible with various tweaks to the foundations. These tweaks, of course, are available only to those who, through various navigations of bureaucracy, prove themselves to be ‘disabled enough’ to deserve them.

The idea of accommodations also places the onus of the work on the disabled students rather than on the institution. The student needs to especially register with a service, undergo medical examinations and cross-examining, and provide letters of reference just to obtain some degree of comfort in their classes or be able to complete their work.

Last semester, I had a class on the third floor of a building, and for a period of several weeks, the elevator was out of service. The university had been cognizant enough to place a sign outside that kindly informed that the elevator was out of service — but that was the extent of their efforts. It was only until I personally ventured to Accessibility Services and informed them that it was difficult for me to attend my class that the elevator was fixed.

I ask, what is the meaning of accessibility when the work to render things accessible needs to be performed by those being excluded? Why not render the university environment accessible and accommodating as a baseline and not just as a special concession granted to a select few? Why not fit classrooms with more comfortable chairs, give extensions to all those who ask for them, and ensure that all buildings are fully accessible at all times?

If this were done, the disabled student might be assumed as a natural inhabitant of the university environment and not as an outsider who must constantly prove their case to be allowed to enter the front hallway. However, we can ascertain that this subsuming of the disabled student into the university environment is a process to which the university is actively opposed.

One only has to look at the school’s policies policing the inclusion of its disabled students — for example, the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), which passed this summer. With such a policy, the university re-establishes its ability to exclude and exile disabled students who seem to them to be wrongful inhabitants — in this case, those who are too mentally ill, in ways that the university deems unfitting.

This policy has yet to be used against a student — and one might be optimistic that it is challengeable. The first version of the policy was strongly and explicitly opposed by the OHRC, and it is likely not coincidental that its recent statement on accessible education coincides with the passing of a later version of the policy. Though the naturalization of the disabled student as a rightful inhabitant of the university environment is being contested by administration, an ally might yet be found in the OHRC.

This might prove useful in the future, since discrimination against mentally ill students by universities is commonplace. Earlier this year, and south of the border, a student who checked herself into a hospital for anxiety was later barred from returning to her dorm by the University of Maryland. In words that eerily echo the UMLAP, administration cited concerns over her ability to live on campus.

A few years back, a Princeton University student recovering from a suicide attempt was barred from attending his classes and escorted off campus by security guards. Again, this exclusion was justified by concerns over the student’s ability, reflecting the rhetoric that justifies discrimination against disabled people.

Besides the need for structural changes on campus, how able-bodied students might push for increased inclusion of disabled persons in a university environment remains an important question. It does not have to necessitate intense amounts of activism and protest. It is as simple as remaining aware of one’s environment and disrupting the normalcy of exclusion in subtle ways. When you enter a classroom, you may ask yourself about the ways in which this environment is inaccessible and in what ways the rules set out by the instructor lend toward exclusionary practices.

By drawing attention to these aspects, one can spread awareness of the normative practices of exclusion — through speaking about them to your peers and instructors, and opening up discussions about accessibility. In these ways, disability might become a real presence in the university environment.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College.

RealAtoms reinvents the molecular model kit

Founders Ulrich Fekl and Joshua Moscattini aspire to create a new standard for chemistry model kits

RealAtoms reinvents the molecular model kit

Around this time of year, students purchase molecular model kits from the bookstore. These kits come with parts to create ball-and-stick models, but they are rigid and rather unreflective of the dynamic reactions taught in courses like organic chemistry.

“You have a visual picture of atoms shuffling around, and it’s very hard to communicate it in undergraduate classes,” says Professor Ulrich Fekl of UTM’s Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences. 

For instance, in existing model kits, the carbon atom can only form four bonds, and the models are unable to show chemical reactions and intermediates. 

As such, teaching reactions and mechanisms becomes difficult for instructors, who could resort to animations and videos, but this approach lacks a tactile experience. 

This lack of flexibility is what inspired Fekl and U of T alum Joshua Moscattini to found RealAtoms

“I always have this mental picture of atoms rearranging and it’s really, really smooth, and there is something enjoyable and memorable about touching models,” says Fekl. But “rearranging and the tactile experience don’t mesh with the existing kits.”

RealAtoms is a dynamic molecular model kit developed with the goal of being able to model and visualize organic and inorganic chemistry reactions, including their intermediates. 

The kit comes with 12 hydrogens, six carbons, one nitrogen, and two oxygens. The carbons, nitrogen, and oxygens all have the same composition and can be used interchangeably. 

“We call it the molecular reaction kit,” says Fekl.

Fekl developed prototypes of the molecular kit with support from his department, its Chair Claudiu Gradinaru, as well as the Impact Centre.

Moscattini, who is a sessional instructor at U of T and Professor at Seneca College, used his ten years of design experience to help develop RealAtoms using 3D Design. 

With RealAtoms there are more possibilities. SN2 reactions can be observed in the hands of the user. The atoms of this kit are capable of showing the entire process from a nucleophilic attack, a five-coordinate carbon representing the intermediate, and finally the exit of the leaving group. 

The Walden inversion — the conversion of a molecule from one enantiomer to another — cannot be demonstrated using current model kits, but can be done with RealAtoms with ease. 

The kit can also be used for inorganic studies. The atoms in the kit are also able to form transition metal complexes and show square planar and octahedral geometries, and can be used to create lattice structures, and organic and inorganic molecules. 

Unlike typical ball-and-stick models, parts in the RealAtoms kit contain magnets enclosed in ABS plastic. According to Fekl, magnetic model kits can already be purchased, but the magnets in the kits don’t contribute to their function.  

The magnets used in RealAtoms are functional and allow users to quickly assemble and change a molecule’s geometry. 

The model kit also allows users to feel the resistance when rotating bonds. 

The model clearly shows that the single bonds of sp3 hybridized carbons can freely rotate, while the double bonds of sp2 hybridized carbons, which cannot rotate. 

To form molecules with double or triple bonds, traditional ball-and-stick models would require completely different sticks to form them. The molecule must also be taken apart in order to transition between the different geometries. 

However, the atoms in the RealAtoms model kit contain plane surfaces along with concave and convex surfaces. These surfaces, contributed by Moscattini, lock in the orientation of a molecule to prevent rotation around the double bond. 

Fekl and Moscattini hope to create a new standard for organic and inorganic model kits. 

The model kit became commercially available for the first time at the 2018 Canadian National Exhibition. Moscattini delivered a pitch that won the Kids Technology Pitch Competition. It is also currently being used in a study at Seneca College to investigate the benefits of model kits in chemistry education. 

“The overall goal, I think, is for this to be the new standard in terms of organic model kits and inorganic kits,” says Moscattini. “We’re aiming for that, to have it in classrooms across Canada and the rest of North America.”

Yemeni community stages protest against Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Protesters in front of Chrystia Freeland’s office call for end to $15 billion deal

Yemeni community stages protest against Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Yemeni protesters and allies gathered on September 8 in front of Chrystia Freeland’s constituency office at Spadina Avenue and Bloor Street West to protest Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Canadian-made combat vehicles have reportedly been used by Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. The conflict was labelled by the United Nations as the worst humanitarian crisis of 2018, with at least 16,700 casaulties since it began in 2015, though the count could be much higher. Over two million people have been displaced by the conflict.

The protest comes in the wake of growing Canada-Saudi tensions after Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, called for the release of two human rights activists in Saudi Arabia on Twitter. As part of its response to Freeland’s message, Saudi Arabia announced that Saudi students studying at Canadian universities had to leave the country.

Protesters gathered at around 2:45 pm, holding signs calling for Freeland to take action and immediately stop the arms deal.

The group of roughly 50 were affiliated with groups such as the Yemeni Community in Canada, the Canadian Defenders for Human Rights, and the Canadian Peace Coalition.

Protesters held signs depicting the victims of war crimes as young as nine years old.

Firas Al Najim, a member of the Canadian Defenders for Human Rights and one of the participants in the protest, criticized the Canadian government’s decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, saying that it makes the country “an accomplice to war crimes” and adding that “the government should speak up for human rights in the war-torn Yemen.”

The deal, initiated by the Harper government in 2014, is for $15 billion in armoured vehicles, and aims to create 3,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector — mainly in London, Ontario.

The protest comes after an August 9 airstrike on a school bus which killed 51 people, including 40 children. Some 79 people were injured, 56 of whom were children. The Saudi-led coalition airstrike has been condemned by Human Rights Watch, which called it an “apparent war crime.”

The fighting in Yemen has been going on for more than three years, and involves Saudi Arabia, allied Sunni Muslims, and the Houthi rebels who control much of northern Yemen and the capital, Sana’a. The rebels drove Yemen’s government into exile in 2014.

“Many innocent people will be victims of these weapons. I totally understand that these weapons are creating job opportunities in Canada, but it is coming in the interest of Yemeni innocent blood,” said Hamza Shaiban, President of the Yemeni Community in Canada.

Councillor Joe Cressy proposes amendments to enforce conformity with zoning laws

Reflecting on Saudi-Canada crossroads

The Saudi withdrawal of students from Canada demonstrates an urgent need to re-evaluate how we advance human rights in global politics

Reflecting on Saudi-Canada crossroads

In early August, Saudi Arabia called for the withdrawal of all Saudi students from Canadian postsecondary institutions, including the University of Toronto, by the end of the month, amidst a series of sanctions against Canada. This was in response to criticism tweeted by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland regarding the crackdown on dissidents in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh viewed Freeland’s human rights advocacy as “interference” in its domestic affairs.

Currently, many Saudi students are scrambling for asylum in Canada in order to continue their education. Some asylum seekers fear harassment, as the deadline to return has already passed; others fear imprisonment due to their links to Saudi dissident activists.

The Saudi call for withdrawal is gravely concerning. International studies are a key means of development for all parties involved. University education is not just important for employment; it enables scholars from a variety of backgrounds to share, challenge, and develop ideas and, ultimately, affect change in society.

International students, like the Saudis in Canada, contribute to the academic community and, in turn, gain knowledge, experience, and skills to benefit their own countries. With the withdrawal of these students, we not only lose the opportunity to learn a sliver of what exists beyond us, but we lose our ability to influence the ideas of those abroad, which may be essential in creating global change. Both Saudi Arabia and Canada stand to lose from the withdrawal. Saudi Arabia should reconsider this decision.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that Saudi Arabia is justified to defend its sovereignty. Defendants of Saudi Arabia’s decision have claimed that the harsh attitude toward dissidents is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s slow, but effective, plan to produce real reform through Vision 2030. Critical commentary from foreign governments only serves to complicate Prince Salman’s ability to realize these reforms.

Furthermore, while Saudi Arabia is notorious for inflicting violence and terror unto its opponents, the fact remains that human rights violations are not unique to Saudi Arabia. For Canada to single out Saudi Arabia reflects a selective foreign policy. Furthermore, Freeland’s comments contradict the fact that Canada enables Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations — after all, the very same Trudeau government recently backed a massive arms deal with the Saudis.

Perhaps Canada should re-evaluate its expectations of Saudi Arabia and other countries it criticizes for human rights violations. What we define as human rights is largely based on Western ideals and histories, and to impose our distinct experience onto other cultures is problematic.

We have spent decades, if not centuries, structuring and improving a culture of rights and freedoms. It is not fair, then, to expect the same reforms in countries like Saudi Arabia to occur immediately. In fact, we should not pretend that Canada is morally superior, as it continues to commit its own human rights violations, namely against Indigenous peoples.

While we should not condone what is morally reprehensible in Saudi Arabia, we need to restructure the ways in which we frame our interests and goals, and how we work with international bodies to address human rights concerns. Human rights law tends to be incredibly ambiguous, requiring the consent of states to function.

Indeed, we need a global, legal infrastructure that ensures accountability and outlines specific expectations. It is necessary for other countries and powers to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s tirades, and for our criticisms to include specific alternatives and practices that can take place, while at the same time acknowledging the vast differences in the cultural climates of such nations. At the very least, where the goal is to advance human rights abroad, we should recognize that Twitter diplomacy can be disrespectful and gravely counterproductive.

The advancement of our national interests and goals in the realm of international relations requires a combination of utopian ideals and pragmatism. It is unfortunate that Saudi students have fallen victim to the complexities of global politics and diplomacy. The Canadian government and universities should do their utmost to resolve the dispute, so as to ensure that Saudi students can resume their education.

Rehana Mushtaq is a third-year English and Religion student at University College.