Opinion: Increase Indigenous awareness training in U of T’s faculty of law

Critiques of stereotyping reveal from gaps in Indigenous awareness training

Opinion: Increase Indigenous awareness training in U of T’s faculty of law

Last month, first-year U of T law students criticized a final assignment for using “racial stereotypes” of Indigenous peoples.

The assignment featured a hypothetical situation where Indigenous children were taken out of the care of parents with substance use disorder and placed in foster care with a non-Indigenous family. After two years, the father, who had overcome alcohol use disorder, requested to see the children. The students were asked to write a memo on the situation, and take into consideration a 2017 Ontario law that prioritizes the maintenance of familial and cultural ties for Indigenous children.

Edward Iacobucci, Dean of the U of T law school, responded with an apology a week later. “I apologize whole-heartedly for the offence this assignment has understandably caused, especially to our First Nations and Métis students” wrote Iacobucci. “The faculty will consider means that we can adopt going forward to seek to ensure that something like this does not happen again.”

Looking closer at the assignment and the criticisms that it evoked, the initial problem wasn’t that the assignment was inherently stereotypical but that it was presented with a general lack of Indigenous awareness. Moving forward from this incident, U of T must incorporate more Indigenous awareness training for faculty and students.

There have been varying responses to this incident, from initial student complaints to the dean’s apology. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, shared her view, saying that there was nothing wrong with the assignment at its “face value,” because it was based on the fact that more than half of the children in foster care are Indigenous.

However, others argue that there should have been more engagement with experts in Indigenous law beforehand in order to avoid engaging with “troubling stereotypes,” as Iacobucci called them.

Indigenous voices are important in these situations, however, respecting Indigenous responses to this incident doesn’t necessarily ensure that something like this won’t happen again. Instead, there must be a concentrated effort toward increasing the base of Indigenous knowledge and awareness in the curriculum. By doing so, U of T would demonstrate a dedicated effort not only in reforming its own curriculum, but also in training a future generation of students whose actions will continue to remedy the gaps in our legal systems.

In an interview with, Iehnhotonkwas Bonnie Jane Maracle, a learning strategist at U of T’s First Nations House, expressed that she agreed with Blackstock’s initial impression, seeing this assignment as something necessary to educate students on the historical and ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

“This is [a] fact… that’s the language of our lives, and if you’re going to be in law, you definitely have to be conditioned to what you’re going to be dealing with,” Maracle said.

However, as other students voiced in interviews with Law Times, the assignment came with a general lack of context, and should have considered the other harsher realities of the “whole story,” like “residential schools, the sixties scoop, [and] discrimination enabled by the Indian Act.”

Ironically, as Maracle also pointed out, the whole response to the article created an issue in itself, as the avoidance of issues related to Indig- enous peoples creates stereotypes.

In order to properly address reconciliation, we must train students, educators, and legal workers on the unique historical conditions which have shaped and reinforced the continued neglect of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The need for integration of Indigenous content in our curriculum is made evident in a 2015 report, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) implored the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to provide “appropriate cultural competency training,” highlighting the “history and legacy of residential schools,” “treaties and Indigenous rights, Indigenous law and Indigenous-Crown relations,” and “training in conflict resolution and anti-racism,” as areas of concern.

In British Columbia, all lawyers will be required to take a six-hour course covering these areas starting in 2021. All other Canadian provinces should make a similar effort in order to provide competency and awareness training to law students, and other faculties of study. U of T must join this effort, and increase its own Indigenous awareness training.

Maracle noted that the response to the assignment exemplified the continued stereotyping of Indigenous peoples as the result of a direct lack of implementation of the TRC recommendations.

Ironically, as Maracle also pointed out, the whole response to the article created an issue in itself, as the avoidance of issues related to Indigenous peoples creates stereotypes.

“All they could see,” Maracle said, “was the stereotypical aspect of it, not the fact that this was a learning experience. A lot of people are now aware and treading very lightly on what they see… It prevents people from actually looking closer. And especially lawyers, but you have a job to do, to look beyond that and at the facts.”

This assignment was an opportunity for law students to fully immerse themselves in a case that affects numerous Indigenous families each year in Canada. Rather than focusing on the reality that is the disproportionate amount of Indigenous children in the foster care system, reactions have centred on criticizing this assignment as stereotypical and offensive. This hypersensitive reaction distracts from the reality of this systemic inequality. While it is important to reflect upon the way we talk about Indigenous issues, we must not forget that these issues persist regardless of the way we phrase them.

Instead of being quick to label things as stereotypical — and consequently silence debate and discussion altogether — we must focus on reforming our institutions and curriculums so that there is an increased quality and quantity of Indigenous awareness training within our faculty and society.

Toryanse Blanchard is a second-year English, Environmental Biology, and Book and Media Studies student at New College.

Opinion: “Their stories were our stories”: reflecting on Flight 752

Iran’s political missteps continue to bring irreversible harm to its people

Opinion: “Their stories were our stories”: reflecting on Flight 752

On January 8, the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 plane was mistakenly shot down by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The crash killed all 176 passengers and crew, including 138 people with ties to Canada.

Sara Mamani and Siavash Ghafouri-Azar had flown to Iran to celebrate their wedding with their families. Iranian weddings are always sure to be parties of unequivocal joy and celebration. Photos from the wedding show a joyous Mamani and Ghafouri-Azar, smiling for the cameras in celebration of their love for one another.

Just a few days later, Mamani and Ghafouri-Azar’s families and friends reconvened at the same banquet hall where they had danced, laughed, and celebrated just a week ago, this time to attend the couple’s memorial. The video of the memorial shows the attendees heaving with sobs as a band plays a somber, classic Persian tune, while the foreground displays a haunting life-sized photo of the couple on their wedding day.

This was Shakiba Feghahati’s first time returning to Iran with her 10 year old son, Rosstin Moghaddam since emigrating to Canada seven years earlier, and they had gone back to visit family.

Feghahati had insisted that her husband come with them, but he decided to stay in Toronto to work so that they could pay their bills with comfort. He couldn’t have imagined that he would never see his wife or child again.

Mandieh Ghavi was travelling to Canada with her older sister, Masoumeh Ghavi, to begin her studies at Dalhousie Medical School. Masoumeh had spoken to friends about how excited she was that her sister would be joining her in Halifax. She was eagerly preparing for the apartment they would get together.

I can only imagine her excitement for her sister’s arrival and the beginning of a new life abroad together, and how much they would have contributed to their communities. I can imagine that Mandieh was riddled with nerves at the prospect of leaving her home for another, but perhaps she was comforted that she was in the company of her sister.

Mohammad Asadi Lari and Zeynab Asadi Lari were siblings, both studying at the University of Toronto. Mohammad was a passionate and hard-working student at the Faculty of Medicine who was actively involved in several organizations that contribute to the community. Zeynab was equally brilliant — a brilliant student, mental health advocate, and humanitarian worker who was sure to be a pioneer in her field.

They both died as they returned from a visit home to be with their families over the holidays.

Mohammad and Zeynab lived in my building. We probably took the same route walking to school, shopped at the same grocery store, and went up the same elevator every day. They both had also resided in British Columbia. They moved to Canada just a few years after I did. We had so much in common, and yet their lives were so unjustly cut short. I walk home now, knowing that a flat in my building is empty, the former home of two bright minds.

The list of heartbreaking stories goes on. A brief survey of the victims aboard the flight paints a telling portrait of the calibre of human and intellectual potential that was lost in this tragedy.

The passengers included students in Canada who left their families to study in their respective fields of science, engineering, and medicine. Some were families with small children. The passengers also included the beautiful couple that had been in Iran to get married, whose wedding photos stood out amidst the charred debris of the flight that scattered across the landscape.

The gravity of this tragedy goes beyond the collective national mourning in Canada. It has brought together Iranian residents in Canada of all walks of life — the wealthy, the poor, the politically engaged, and those that have distanced themselves from Iranian politics.

We were all united not just because of some shared feeling of national belonging, but because any one of us or our loved ones could have been aboard that flight, leaving Iran for Canada. This tragedy holds an immense symbolic pain. It is a loss of potential, of human life, of human kindness, of shattered hopes, dreams, and possibilities.

We weep not just because we feel solidarity with the victims — we weep because their stories were our stories, their loss is our loss. How many of us remember that first flight to Canada, or to the US or the UK? Filled with nervous anticipation — excitement over the prospects of a new life and new freedoms in our new homes — but also holding a deep discomfort in the pit of our stomachs as we left behind our homes, our families, and our collective histories and cultures.

I wonder if Mandieh had similar anxieties. Perhaps, like her fellow passenger Nasim Rahmanifar, she was wondering whether she needed a warmer winter jacket to face the infamous Canadian winters. Maybe she wondered when the next time she would be able to come to Iran would be.

I’m sure many aboard that flight were following the news. I’m sure many were anxious to leave Iran and land in the far safer country of Canada. I’m sure many were pre-emptively feeling homesick for their families, their culture, their homeland.

It is heartbreaking because some of the victims had likely come to Canada to escape the horrors of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to live safely and without fear of losing their lives to political incompetence. And yet they fell victim to it nevertheless. For what reason? For going home to celebrate a wedding? For visiting family they hadn’t seen in eight years? For surprising their mother during a brief break from their studies?

We mourn their loss. We all feel their loss. And we will bring them justice.

This immense, unimaginable grief has rightfully inspired an anger among Iranians, both abroad and in Iran. Iranians have taken to the streets to mourn the victims and to protest the immense political negligence that caused this senseless tragedy. They are being met with violent repression.

While Canadians come to memorials attended by our prime minister, public officials, and politicians, the government that has hijacked our home instead shoots mourners.

Protestors have been calling for Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, to resign. They have been chanting slogans like “shameless!” at Islamic Revolutionary Guards who wield their batons in the face of brave, angry, Iranian protestors, armed with nothing more than an unwavering resolve for justice.

Anti-regime protests are not new in Iran. Little over two months ago, approximately 1,500 Iranians were killed by the regime during mass anti-government protests. The Iranian people want accountability, democracy, and freedom, and have been fighting for such for a while, always inevitably facing gunfire and repression.

But this time, it feels different.

There is an unprecedented anger over this injustice — the Islamic Republic of Iran has taken away 176 innocent, defenseless lives. This tragedy is truly inexcusable. An Iranian State news anchor, Gelare Jabbari, recently wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post, as translated by Farnaz Fassihi of The New York Times, “It was very hard for me to believe the killing of my countrymen. I apologize for lying to you on TV for 13 years.”

The Association of Journalists of Tehran also issued a statement through the Islamic Republic News Agency speaking out against the lack of freedom of the press and the breakdown of public trust in Iran.

The profoundness of the impact of this loss on Iranians across the world is not to be abased. It has inspired a camaraderie so powerful that it is a force to be reckoned with. The protests show us that the Islamic Republic’s murder of those 176 innocent lives on Flight 752 will not go unavenged.

As an Iranian Canadian who left Iran as a child and tried her best to distance herself from Iranian politics but has since felt an unassailable force drawing her to engagement, I say this: the end of the tyrannical rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran is inevitable. Not because of foreign intervention or war or economic motivations, but purely because of the unparalleled strength of Iranian solidarity and compatriotism. Our empathy, care, and solidarity for one another is stronger than any missile or bullet the regime can employ, and eventually, the oppressor will fall, and a free Iran will rise. An Iran that all the Iranians aboard Flight 752 would have been proud to call home.

Sayeh Yousefi is a fourth-year Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies at Victoria College.

Opinion: Building a movement: #NoWarWithIran

How we organized a protest against war in a day

Opinion: Building a movement: #NoWarWithIran

Growing up in the United States I was taught to be proud of my cultural background and to embrace multiculturalism, as both of my parents were refugees: my mother a Russian Jew, and my father an Iranian.

As a child, this seemed to be a reasonable request, and in large part, I liked floating between different worldviews. However, as I got older, my cultural background began to surface more in conversations, and I could tell that there was twang of distaste toward a young Russian-Iranian-American girl living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a place that is heavily dominated by government workers and their families.

As far as my classmates were concerned, I was born in the ‘axis of evil,’ considering the fact that my parents were from arguably the most hated nations by the United States.

With time, I realized that the American brand of multiculturalism that I had been brought up with was a hoax. When I moved to Canada, I felt more welcomed by my community — not because of the government or any sort of policy — but because there were people who shared my cultures. This sense of community marked the start of my political activism, and eventually led me to organize a rally against war, following the recent airstrike in Iraq.

On January 3, the Trump Administration conducted an air strike near the Baghdad International Airport, assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s United Nations ambassador spoke up about the events shortly after, and deemed it an act of war. Since then, Donald Trump has threatened to target 52 Iranian cultural and historical sites if Iran retaliated against the American aggression. However, this threat was later rejected by the Pentagon.

Naturally, many of the Iranian Canadians I know, myself included, were outraged. To be clear, it’s not so much a matter of who had been killed, but more so an issue of what Soleimani’s death gestures for the fate of Iran. This seems all too reminiscent of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Yemen — the list goes on — and we decided that we would not idly stand by.

My friend Saman Tabasinejad, a former Ontario New Democratic Party candidate and community organizer, asked if I wanted to help set up a rally to fight against a potential war the following day.

I answered with an emphatic ‘yes.’

Being the naïve first-year that I am, I had no idea how to organize a rally, not to mention arranging one in a single day, but I had the support and guidance of other community members.

The first part of our mission was to make the #NoWarWithIran rally less about Iran and more about the broader issue of American imperialism and militarism. After all, many other countries have been targeted under similar circumstances and we felt that we had a duty to address those injustices as well — especially in a diverse city like ours.

From there, Tabasinejed spoke to some of her colleagues about their protest experiences and found a multitude of speakers from various backgrounds for the event. In the meantime, I created social media accounts for the rally and made digital posters to better circulate the information.

We also faced another pressing question regarding what we wanted our protest to accomplish. There have been far too many occasions where people have banded together to express their anger, but have left without creating any tangible change.

Tabasinejed suggested that we pressure Canadian government officials to take action following the rally; to achieve this goal, we set up a campaign page where people could directly contact their local MPs with a default email that we had drafted.

Frankly, I was unsure of how successful our turnout would be. Only four people had closely planned the rally and we were very reliant on our social media following — but I was wrong to doubt followers of the issue. On January 4, around 300 people mobilized to show their solidarity for the cause — photographers, journalists, representatives from non-profit organizations, and individuals alike — and we seemed to have garnered a strong following. It was a moment of true people power.

And, despite opposition by counter-protestors on the other side of the road, our rally remained peaceful and respectful.

Since the rally, more than 300 people have contacted their local MPs, calling for them to condemn acts of war and to take a stand on the global stage. Activists in Montréal also followed suit, organizing their own rally the following day.

We have pledged to come back and rally until we get a response from our officials. We refuse to let history repeat itself, but it’s also important to address that this rally was by no means intended to support the current regime in Iran.

Iran is undoubtedly a deeply flawed nation and still has a lot of progress to make. However, this change should be brought forth by the Iranian people, not the American government. Despite what we are taught, politics are personal.

Yana Sadeghi is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College.

Opinion: To improve Black health, we have to study it

Canada’s data collection cannot continue being colourblind

Opinion: To improve Black health,  we have to study it

A report released in 2018 by the Ontario Human Rights Council revealed that a Black individual in Toronto was nearly 20 times more likely to be fatally shot by police than a white person. This data opened the eyes of many people across the city and country alike. It prompted the Toronto Police Service to commit to “start tracking and reporting the race of people involved in certain encounters with police,” according to CBC News.

News of the Toronto police’s commitment gives a sense of hope for change, but nevertheless highlights just how much information is lacking when it comes to racialized experiences in Canada. This lack of data was similarly detailed in a recent report by a team of University of Toronto researchers, led by Onyenyechukwu Nnorom, a faculty member at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. The study found that a “lack of health data [is] hurting Black Canadian women.”

The report, which was dedicated to finding data on cervical and breast cancer as it relates to Black Canadian women, details that even though they had to maintain a broad search for relevant studies, they were only able to find 23 studies that could be included in their synthesis.

This lack of studies unfortunately reinforced what they had noticed in their years of doing research centred around Black Canadians: that there is a “lack of race/ethnicity-specific health care data in Canada.” Even the data that they were able to include in their study was plagued by research that did not include Black Canadian women, or too often conflated Black participants and their results with that of other people of colour, as if they were “one, homogenous, racialized category.”

However, they were still able to determine that Black Canadian women may be under-screened for two cancers that, according to evidence from the United States, disproportionately yield more severe outcomes for them. The need to use data outside of Canada in and of itself is a glaring example of just how detrimental this lack of data is for future Canadian researchers hoping to build upon their findings.

The push for this policy and others like it to be implemented throughout Canada has been a topic of discussion for many years. The core argument being that the country’s solution to systemic racism has been to disregard race completely. The implications of this ideology at the governmental level are detrimental.

The appeal of this phenomenon of ‘not seeing colour’ is clear as expressed by faculty from the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Georgia. It allows perpetrators of racism to completely negate responsibility by “[maintaining] an egalitarian self-image.” In the case of Canada, there’s no need to address the debilitating effects of institutionalized racism if the data doesn’t show it exists, simply because it’s not being collected.

The United States has its own unique culture, politics, environment, and other factors that differentiate it from Canada. While this may not seem essential when it comes to health data, the report makes it clear that it is vital to arriving at clear results because “such ethnic and cultural differences between and within countries may influence different health behaviours and outcomes within the Black Canadian population.” We simply cannot continue looking to other countries’ data to influence our understanding of the health of racialized Canadians.

Furthermore, this lack of data and therefore, knowledge of needed action, makes breaking down the pillars of systemic racism impossible, which further results in frustration among minority groups due to the relative lack of commitment to anti-racism action. It’s not a myth that institutionalized racism exists in Canada, but without the numbers and evidence to support this claim and the ways that it affects Canadians, it virtually presents itself as one.

The unfortunate truth is that Canada only very recently began to take the steps to fill this gaping hole of information — one example being Ontario’s Anti-Racism Data Standards, which were implemented in 2017.

However, just months after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives were elected, committees dedicated to advancing the standards were disbanded. There seems to be no commitment from the Ford government to host the mandatory annual anti-racism conference.

There are quite a few U of T researchers attempting to fill this gap, but it is challenging to continue doing their work when, in Canadian society, there’s no data collection in the health care system to support them. It’s a cause that needs to be addressed not just by the groups that it affects, but the Canadian population as a whole.

Researchers Aisha Lofters, Nnorom, and Nakia Lee-Foon, wrote to The Varsity about this lack of data, and its effect on their work. They explained that the absence of such necessary information points to a greater fault within the health care system itself leading to health care disadvantages among racialized populations.

Responsibility in championing a change in this system falls on everyone’s shoulders as well. Lee-Foon explained that a “combination of institutional and on-the-ground advocacy is vital to push for this data.”

Universities, researchers, and individuals across Ontario and the country alike need to advocate for a deliberate effort to follow through on better data collection.

This can and must be applied to all sectors of Canadian society. If we are going to address issues such as the disproportionate presence of Black and brown bodies in Canadian prisons, or missing and murdered Indigenous women, and other such cases of systemic racism head on, we must first take the steps to dismantle Canada’s own egalitarian image by systematically collecting the much-needed data.

Nadine Waiganjo is a second-year International Relations student at University College. She is a columnist for The Varsity’s comment section.

Op-ed: SMCInclusive is dedicated to fighting for the LGBTQQ2AIP+ community

The new St. Michael’s College student group hopes to make U of T a more inclusive place

Op-ed: SMCInclusive is dedicated to fighting for  the LGBTQQ2AIP+ community

After more than 50 years, one can still hear the echoes of the Stonewall Riots reverberating through space and time. With the right set of ears, the sounds of chants which manifest the struggle for liberty and the impact of bricks against the seemingly impenetrable walls that divide people from each other can be heard. They call on us all to cast away hatred, break down limitative binaries, and accept the irrefutable diversity of love.

Despite the passing of five decades, and all the advances that came with it, the fight for LGBTQQ2AIP+ rights is as relevant and necessary now as it has ever been throughout history. There is still a need for greater change, enlightenment, and efforts to obtain equity peacefully for the community, on a scale ranging from changing individual minds to reforming whole organizations.

The University of Toronto and its student body is by no means immune to this transformative call for action and inclusivity.

SMCInclusive, the newest LGBTQQ2AIP+ inclusive social and outreach group for students and staff at St. Michael’s College (SMC), aims to be an answer to this call.

SMCInclusive’s primary mission is to represent all students that identify and are allied with the LGBTQQ2AIP+ community within SMC, and to encourage the growth and advancement of its constituency and the greater community within the University of Toronto as a whole.

We aim to do this through coordinating and running activities and events, and creating a supportive environment for all SMC students and staff regardless of age, class, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, gender expression, immigration or citizenship status, race, religion, sex, or sexuality.

We aim to play an active role in fighting against discrimination against all individuals identifying with the LGBTQQ2AIP+ community and their allies through educational and social outreach to reduce incidents and proliferation of homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, heterosexism, lesbophobia, and any other forms of intersecting oppression.

Behind this group is a team of individuals that has pushed for its existence, and will continue to fight for its longevity: President and Founder Andrew Raya, Vice-President Brennah Doyle, Treasurer Marie-Rose Domenichini, Secretary Adam Da Costa Gomes, and Social Media Representative Michela Lo Re.

Since its inception on October 30, SMCInclusive has hosted three events, including a welcome social, an LGBTQQ2AIP+ movie screening and discussion session, and a holiday-themed exam de-stresser co-hosted with SMC’s Wellness Council.

In 2020, we are to host more social events — including a drag brunch at the Glad Day Bookstore and screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show — and engage in various social outreach and archiving projects. In accordance with its aim to respond to incidents of homophobia and transphobia, SMCInclusive has already made groundbreaking strides alongside SMC’s progressive administration.

Near the end of the fall semester, it was brought to the attention of the executives of SMCInclusive that multiple posters advertising its “Netflix & Chat” event in an SMC residence building were subjected to “anti-gay rhetoric,” as worded in a follow-up statement issued by the Dean of Students, Duane Rendle.

Rendle’s groundbreaking statement to SMC residences was a result of SMCInclusive taking initiative. Upon realizing that such an offence had occurred, executives from SMCInclusive held a meeting with Rendle and consulted with President David Sylvester, asking the college to respond to the incident in a way that ensures inclusivity for all SMC students.

In his statement, Rendle continued, “To all those who were made to feel unwelcome or unsafe by this incident, please know that St. Michael’s College affirms the dignity of all its community members and is committed to working towards equity and challenging discrimination.” He further expressed his support for SMCInclusive and other student advocacy groups.

In the short time that it has existed, SMCInclusive has made noticeable strides towards making the University of Toronto a more inclusive place for all individuals that identify with the LGBTQQ2AIP+ community.

In alliance with other phenomenal advocacy groups on campus — such as Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto — and organizations including the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office and Sexual Education Centre on campus, it is the hope of SMCInclusive’s members and executives to continue working to make SMC, and the greater campus, a place where students can thrive and embrace who they are freely.

With the beginning of a new semester comes a promise from SMCInclusive to hold a wide variety of events that provoke much-needed discussion, celebrate the community’s art and culture, and engage in altruistic efforts and promote well-being through leisure and self-care.

If you are interested in attending these events and staying updated about LGBTQQ2AIP+ relevant news on campus, reach out to the club through Instagram and Facebook at @smcinclusive. Together, we can all work towards continuing to make the University of Toronto a more inclusive place for all.

Andrew Raya is a recent Psychology graduate from St. Michael’s College. He is the founder and current President of SMCInclusive.

Opinion: To better accommodate students with disabilities, U of T should compensate note-takers

Pay or extra-credit would improve the quality and quantity of notes

Opinion: To better accommodate students with disabilities, U of T should compensate note-takers

Throughout my academic career at U of T, I’ve had many note-takers, all of whom I appreciate more than they could ever know. However, I’d like to start this piece with a thank you to one in particular: a man whom I will call Herbert.

Herbert was a volunteer note-taker for an evolutionary anthropology course. His notes were effectively perfect. He uploaded a set for every lecture, never missing a single class, and always wrote the date, lecture number, and lecture topics at the top. He put in a table of contents, diagrams, and bullet points that changed based on the subject matter. His wording was simple yet eloquent, and he covered all the necessary material without overdoing it.

Herbert, if you’re out there — this one’s for you.

Like many of us at U of T who require accommodations, I sometimes miss classes for disability-related reasons. There are definitely a lot of reasons why other students need note-takers, but the gist of it is that not every student can attend lectures, or if they can attend, not all of them are able to efficiently take notes every class. This is why note-takers are so important.

Unfortunately, volunteer note-takers are few and far between. There are many classes that don’t have any note-takers at all, and the ones that do might only submit one or two lecture notes and then stop. This makes it hard for students who have no other way of following the lecture material.

You could try to get notes from our friends, but what if you don’t have friends in your class, or they spend all class watching shows on Disney+? What if you don’t want your friends to know you have a disability, or don’t feel comfortable asking them for notes?

Students are left shouldering this responsibility, but they should not have to make up for U of T’s inability to provide equitable access to course material. Volunteer note-taking is a necessary service for many students. Without it, they would have almost no other way to study for material covered in lecture.

By failing to adequately provide this service, the university is failing these students, and furthering accessibility challenges for those who are reliant on them.

If note-takers are so necessary, why are volunteer notes so subject to chance? As a student who depends on accessibility services, I know that there are ways to improve both the quality and quantity of notes. These include financially compensating note-takers or providing an extra-credit incentive.

Paying note-takers would create an incentive for students to not only apply for the position but also to improve the quality of their notes.

Furthermore, note-taking is a necessary accommodation, and it should be compensated as such. By only compensating this labour through co-curricular credits (CCRs), we are undervaluing the impact of good note-takers, and potentially leaving those who depend on this service with limited access to coursework.

Whether it be through a work-study scheme or through an honorarium, providing financial compensation for note-takers is long overdue. This will not only provide some students with more opportunities to earn income, but it will also provide students with better learning materials.

Another way to compensate note-takers would be providing extra-credit opportunities for submitting high quality notes. By doing this, students would be able to receive some academic recognition for their work, rather than just CCRs.

It’s important for U of T to accommodate all its students, and that includes those who require accessibility services. Students who use accessibility services are just that: students. They’re people who deserve to be given the opportunity to learn the course material through high quality notes.

I would like to thank every note-taker who has ever submitted notes. I printed out your notes, colour-coded them, sat on a pink blanket on the floor with my incense burning, and read them over and over until it was time to take my meds. They are in my heart — always.

Especially your notes, Herbert. Your notes have a special place in my heart.

Bao Li Ng is a third-year student at Victoria College.

Letter to the Editor: On the misleading definition of greenwashing

Re: “The publicity stunt of greenwashing the climate crisis”

Letter to the Editor: On the misleading definition of greenwashing

The article titled “The publicity stunt of greenwashing the climate crisis” published on November 24 in the Arts & Culture section gives a misleading definition of greenwashing. The author defines greenwashing as “people who jump on the climate crisis bandwagon, hoping to benefit from the environmental movement without any intention of protecting the environment.” 

The correct definition of greenwashing refers to when a company markets itself, or a particular product, as being ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green,’ when in reality, it is not. Greenwashing is a tactic used by corporations to specifically target environmentally-conscious consumers. 

This definition of greenwashing is supported by several outlets including Scientific American, Investopedia, The Guardian, and also peer-reviewed articles in both scientific journals, and business ethics journals. The author’s mistake lies in how they placed their definition in the context of the consumer instead of the corporation. 

Greenwashing was first coined by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s in response to hotels that claimed they were environmentally friendly because they gave guests the option to not have their towels washed every day. 

Westerveld claimed that this tricked guests into thinking the hotel was environmentally conscious when it was just saving money. The irony is that it was still polluting in other ways — for example with the detergent it used to wash the towels. 

Another example of greenwashing is the marketing of compostable takeout containers over traditional plastic ones: this ‘compostable’ material is only compostable if the municipality has the industrial infrastructure to do so. Toronto does not. Every compostable container you’ve used in Toronto goes straight in the trash. Restaurants may tout the use of these containers as being better than the actually recyclable plastic alternative, tricking consumers into thinking they are making an eco-conscious choice by eating at that restaurant.

Later in the article, the author re-defines greenwashing as “when the pigment of our green hands washes off in the privacy of our own economic, social, and political decisions.” Again, this is misleading. Greenwashing is performed by corporations, not consumers. Consumers do not benefit by greenwashing — they are harmed by it. 

There are also additional issues with the article unrelated to incorrect definitions. Namely, referring to the climate crisis in the same manner as a sports team — as the author does when they refer to the “climate crisis bandwagon” — downplays the severity of the issue, and may even deter others from participating in climate crisis mitigation by making them feel unwelcome if they are newcomers to the movement. The climate crisis is not, and should never be, an exclusive movement. 

Clara Thaysen is a second-year Ecology & Evolutionary Biology graduate student. 

Disclosure: Thaysen previously served as The Varsity’s Volume 138 Associate Science Editor.

Public Editor: How can journalists ethically report on a student’s death?

Experts say reporting can cause contagion; where does The Varsity stand on principled journalism in these cases?

Public Editor: How can journalists ethically report on a student’s death?

Content warning: discussions of suicide.

Some journalistic practices, such as including details about suicide or adding the word “suicide” in headlines, can potentially make suicide contagious, according to a study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

The study identified significant associations between elements of media reports and suicide deaths. It touched on how reporting on suicide can have a meaningful impact on suicide deaths. In short, it says that journalists and media outlets should carefully consider the specific content of articles before publication.

Following the death by suicide of a University of Toronto student at UTSG more than a month ago, the question of whether The Varsity does a good enough job reporting on suicide is something worth looking into.

For the most part, The Varsity has noticeably taken steps to ensure that its readers are properly being walked through sensitive storytelling. For example, every story pertaining to the topic of suicide begins with an advisory message, such as “Content warning: discussions of suicide.”

It’s a popular belief in many newsrooms that one should only report on suicide if there is some overriding public interest in doing so, an example of this is the Toronto Star’s policy on the matter.

In our case, reporting on a student’s death can be of public interest, seeing as this was the third death by suicide of a U of T student in the span of  over 16 months, and students across all three campuses have been demanding better access to mental health support for some time now.

In an interview with Time, Dr. Ayal Schaffer, a psychiatry professor at U of T who co-authored the CMAJ study, said that reporting on suicide is not the problem, rather it’s how it’s being done where the trouble lies.

“Our goal is not to blame journalists; it’s not to tell journalists how to do their jobs. But it is to provide a pretty strong research base to support specific guidelines about how reporting on suicide should be done,” Schaffer said in the interview.   

Time noted that the research analyzed stories published between 2011 and 2014 on the topic of suicide that appeared in 13 publications with wide circulations in Toronto. It found nearly 17,000 stories that mentioned suicide, including 6,367 articles where suicide was the major focus. It is worth noting that about 950 people in Toronto reportedly died by suicide during this timespan.

When searching for how many stories The Varsity has written with the word “suicide” mentioned, there were over 500 results. To some, this is a large number of stories circulating around suicide, and to others — given that The Varsity has written countless stories over the years — it is an insignificant number.

According to Josie Kao, Editor-in-Chief of The Varsity, she found herself, like many journalists, covering an “alarming number of deaths on campus” when she was acting as News Editor last year. Kao then decided that The Varsity needed a responsible guide on reporting on suicide.

“We know that we have a huge responsibility as a media organization to prevent contagion and at the same time de-stigmatize mental illness,” Kao wrote.

These guidelines included which terms to use when reporting on suicide, as well as in the event that a death occurs on campus in a public place, on campus in a private place, or off campus.

“Not all situations warrant reporting on… because the risk of suicide contagion is so high. I’m extremely proud of the work that the paper has undertaken since I began working here, and I truly believe that student journalism is at the forefront of responsible reporting on suicide,” Kao added.

It’s important to ask how students on all three campuses at U of T feel about upsetting stories that are told every day. Does it make them feel informed about what is going on on campus and equip them with all the information needed to confront the school and demand change?

Or does it instead make them feel scared that someone who walked the same halls, sat in the same lecture hall, ate at the same cafeteria, wrote the same exams, might one day want to end their life? Or what if they themselves feel that they can also take their life because others are doing so?

I would like to know how readers feel about this topic and where they stand, reading the tragic circumstances surrounding one of their own.

As your newest public editor, I want to make it my mission to look at both sides of the reader’s perspective so that we can work together in creating an educational, yet safe, environment for all.

Osobe Waberi is The Varsity’s Public Editor and can be reached at publiceditor@thevarsity.ca.

Disclosure: Osobe Waberi is currently a staff writer at the Toronto Star.


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

Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566

Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454

Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600

Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200

U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

Talking about wanting to die

Looking for a way to kill oneself

Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly

Sleeping too little or too much

Withdrawing or feeling isolated

Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Displaying extreme mood swings

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