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Renaming Ryerson is a starting point for reconciliation

Why students and administration should support VUSAC’s proposal

Renaming Ryerson is a starting point for reconciliation

On February 4, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) released a proposal to rename the Ryerson Vic One course stream and Ryerson House residence building. The VUSAC proposal echoes Ryerson University’s Indigenous Students’ Association and the Ryerson Students’ Union’s petition to rename Ryerson University in 2017.

These facilities are all named after Egerton Ryerson, who is known for being a proponent of the education system in Canada. However, he also believed in separate, religious education for Indigenous children and became a key figure in the design and implementation of residential schools.

Residential schools subjected generations of Indigenous peoples to cultural genocide, abuse, and trauma at the hands of the Canadian government and churches. Given Ryerson’s complicity, students and the Victoria University administration should therefore support the renaming proposal in the context of Canada’s commitment to truth and reconciliation.

This question of whether historical figures who have contributed to violence against Indigenous peoples should still be honoured by the streets, buildings, and institutions that bear their names is a hotly contested one. The debate has gained more traction since the celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

For instance, a motion to discuss changing the names of public schools and buildings named after John A. Macdonald passed at a meeting of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). The motion cites the name as a contributing factor to an unsafe learning environment for children, as Macdonald contributed to the forced starvation and assimilation of Indigenous peoples, with the goal of “tak[ing] the Indian out of the child.”

Some argue that the push to rename buildings shows a lack of understanding for historical context, maintaining that important figures in Canadian history should not be held to today’s moral standards. But as Indigenous writer Chelsea Vowel points out, to view the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples through a historical lens is really to view it through “a whites-only 19th century perspective.” Indigenous peoples in both the past and the present morally opposed the actions of figures like Macdonald.

In a similar debate concerning renaming schools and parks named for Frank Oliver — a nineteenth century politician known for anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism — Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons argues that, if only perfect people are memorialized, “we soon won’t have anyone to remember at all.”

This concern is misplaced. The movement to remove Oliver, Macdonald, and Ryerson’s names isn’t related to whether they were perfect people in their lives, but rather how their words and actions continue to shape Canada today. The decision to remove a racist historical figure’s name from a building isn’t a process of completing a comprehensive evaluation of that person’s character, argues Regina Rini, an assistant professor of ethics at New York University. Rather, it is a process of asking whether the values that person represents are worth passing on to future generations.

Simons further voices the concern that renaming monuments and buildings is an attempt to erase a colonial past, rather than acknowledge it. However, while we should remember Ryerson’s part in laying the foundation for residential schools, there are still ways to acknowledge his role without having a building or course named after him. For example, organizations on campus like the U of T Indigenous Studies Students’ Union host events for Orange Shirt Day every year as a commitment to remembering the violence of residential schools.

It is paramount that we recognize that Canada was built on, and continues to perpetrate, anti-Indigenous violence. However, buildings are named for those we respect, admire, and hope to be inspired by — not simply people we wish to remember for good or for bad. Keeping Ryerson’s name on U of T buildings and courses not only ensures that he is remembered, but also that he is respected.

It is important that we stop honouring anti-Indigenous figures in this way. But it is only a first step — the easy work, as some historians have described. In response to the ETFO motion concerning schools named after Macdonald, Indigenous entrepreneur Robert Jago wrote in The Globe and Mail that “reconciliation is not about earnest and well-meaning non-natives beating the drum for the one and only Indigenous issue that’s made it through to their political consciousness.”

Students should support VUSAC’s proposal, but we should be wary of focusing solely on this issue. Reconciliation requires, and deserves, hard work as well. Non-Indigenous students, like me, should also support funding for more Indigenous spaces on campus, hiring more Indigenous professors, pushing for Indigenous teaching to be offered in more disciplines, and most importantly, listening to Indigenous students, staff, and faculty.

Renaming buildings does not absolve Canada’s collective guilt, nor should it be supported as a way to make us more comfortable with our history. Instead, we should reflect carefully on the historical figures who we choose to revere and on the impact of their legacies. We can’t erase history, and we shouldn’t attempt to, but we can hope for positive change in the present.

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.

Victoria students’ council attempting to rename Ryerson residence building, Vic One stream

Ryerson was proponent of residential school system, VUSAC says removal would be step toward reconciliation

Victoria students’ council attempting to rename Ryerson residence building, Vic One stream

The Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) has undertaken an initiative to rename the Ryerson House residence and the Ryerson Vic One stream, in an effort to move toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

These two Victoria College institutions bear the name of Egerton Ryerson, a figure notable for his many contributions to free and public education in Ontario. However, his advocacy for education didn’t end there — Ryerson was also a prominent supporter of the residential school system.

Regarded as a tool of cultural genocide against the Indigenous peoples of Canada, the residential school system remains a dark blot in this country’s history. These government-sponsored schools were used to separate Indigenous children from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into Western society.

These schools often set the stage for cruelty and exploitation, with many residential school survivors coming out today with stories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

In an 1847 letter, Ryerson provided a key endorsement of the residential school system. This letter may have played a role in ultimately convincing Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, to expand residential schools on a national level.

VUSAC sees continuing to honour Ryerson as a barrier to education for Indigenous students.

In a report that is set to be released to the public on February 4, VUSAC Vice-President External Affairs Devon Wilton and President Jayde Jones wrote that during their consultation process with Indigenous student groups, “each response reaffirmed [their] commitment to pursuing a name change — every single one was in favour.”

“We learned through this process that allowing the name to remain would be to continue the insult and harm caused by Ryerson to Indigenous peoples.”

In a statement to The Varsity, Wilton remarked that this issue of renaming the Ryerson house and Vic One stream “has been a topic of consideration and conversation at Victoria College for years,” and that so far VUSAC has been “fortunate to receive lots of positive feedback and excited reactions” for this proposed move.

However, the process of renaming, and in recent years, statue removal, often comes under fire for being too politically correct or an attempt to erase history.

In response to these sentiments, Wilton said that “the irreparable harms caused by residential schools can never be explained away by changing ‘moral standards.’ We know that what Ryerson did in support of the residential school system was wrong, and we know that honouring his name at Vic is wrong too.”

This report calls on the Victoria University Board of Regents and the Victoria University Senate to rename the Ryerson House and Ryerson Vic One stream by September 1.

The report also includes recommendations for an alternative name: Dr. Cindy Blackstock, a notable Indigenous rights activist. Currently, six out of the eight Vic One streams are named in honour of white men.

Ryerson University underwent its own campaign to remove Ryerson’s name in 2017. While these renaming efforts never came to pass, other Canadian institutions have been active in removing names associated with colonialism from their campuses.

In BC, the University of Victoria renamed Trutch Hall, one of its residence buildings, after a student campaign called out Joseph W. Trutch’s racist attitudes toward Indigenous peoples.

Similarly, McGill University’s student body voted to change the name of their varsity men’s team from the Redmen, a racist slur against Indigenous peoples, though this was non-binding.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also renamed Langevin Block to the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council in the spirit of reconciliation, as Hector-Louis Langevin was also a proponent of the residential school system.

In a statement to The Varsity, Liz Taylor, Communications Officer for Victoria, wrote, “Victoria University welcomes the report and thanks VUSAC for its thoughtful work on an important issue. The Board of Regents and Victoria’s academic and administrative leaders look forward to working together to examine the important questions raised in the report, in consultation with the Vic community.”

A motion to endorse this report outlining the renaming initiative passed through VUSAC unanimously at its February 1 meeting. A public letter of support will be published bearing the names of VUSAC members.

Wilton told The Varsity that there will also be an online petition for students to sign in support of this move.

Victoria College student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Edil Ga’al dedicated to justice, equity

Victoria College student wins Rhodes Scholarship

Gardener, theatre enthusiast, and U of T graduate Edil Ga’al can now add Rhodes Scholar to her list of accomplishments.

The Victoria College student is among 11 Canadians to be awarded the scholarship this year. Double majoring in African Studies and Political Science with a minor in Equity Studies, Ga’al graduated with high distinction this summer.

Her academic achievements are not the only things that make her shine as a person. From friends and staff at Victoria to her mentor, Director of African Studies and Professor Marieme Lo, people across the communities that Ga’al has been involved with speak to her commitment to justice, equity, and inclusivity.

In early 2017, an eye-opening course took Ga’al to Gisenyi, Rwanda and inspired her to return that same summer as a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholar.

Working on educational inclusivity and community development, she wrote in her online testimony that her experience that summer “forced [her] to realize that no person is an island” and think beyond herself.

Apart from her studies into African experiences, this past February, Ga’al received funding through the University of Toronto Excellence Award for a research position with LGBTQ Families Speak Out, a project that explores the experiences of LGBTQ+ families in Ontario over a six-year period. She has also worked as stage manager with Gailey Road Productions on performances foregrounding LGBTQ+ experiences.

Ga’al joins 26 other U of T graduates who have been named Rhodes Scholars over the past 20 years.

Only two Ontarians can receive the Rhodes Scholarship each year out of 11 total Canadians. The scholarship includes an all-expenses-paid University of Oxford postgraduate education — up to three years for those also pursuing a PhD.

For Ga’al, this opens the door for a master’s degree in African Studies and a doctorate in International Development. Through her research, Ga’al hopes to contribute to a world with more peace, inclusion, and justice.  

Canadian Secretary of the Rhodes Trust and the Chair for the Rhodes Scholarship in Canada Richard Pan congratulated this year’s 11 Canadian Rhodes Scholars. In a press release, Pan wrote that the selection committee was deeply impressed by “the deep care the Scholars have shown for our most vulnerable communities, and the incredible passion with which they are applying their remarkable talents.” The Rhodes Trust has been awarding scholarships to exceptional students since 1902.

Besides her academic achievement, Ga’al is also simply a Manchester United fan — she received word of her scholarship while watching Bend It Like Beckham with her family. Among the many other amazing opportunities that come with her scholarship, Ga’al told U of T News that watching her first live Premier League match is a must on her to-do list.

She advised others to “seek out the experiences you think will be enriching to you… As with anything in life, don’t disqualify yourself.”

The Breakdown: Commuter resources on campus

Lounges, special dons, pancakes among commuter services

The Breakdown: Commuter resources on campus

Despite its large commuter population — over 75 per cent of U of T students identify as commuters — almost all students who commute more than an hour each way say they feel discouraged from participating in off-campus activities.

Considering the barriers that face commuter students, various colleges and student groups have created initiatives to support the needs of these commuter students and enhance their overall student experience on and off campus.

Innis College

Among the services that Innis provides to commuter students are a commuter lounge equipped with couches, tables, beanbags, a kitchenette, a microwave, a football table, and a TV; lockers available for rent starting at $10; and monthly commuter-oriented events. In addition, students can run for the two Commuter Representative positions in the Innis College Student Society.

New College

Like many other colleges, New is home to a commuter don program, which consists of two Commuter Dons and one lead don. These dons plan programming once or twice a month for commuters. Upcoming events include community hours for students to reach out to Commuter Dons and residence students alike, as well as information sessions about TTC tips.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

St. Michael’s College

St. Michael’s also has a commuter donship program, which helps facilitate commuter-friendly programming and acts as a resource to both commuter and international students.

Trinity College

Trinity has a Non-Resident Affairs Committee (NRAC) made up of 14 members who meet four times a year. Members in the NRAC are responsible for facilitating commuter-friendly events, maintaining the commuter students’ common room, and integrating commuter students into student life, while also encouraging participation in student government. Trinity also has a meal plan for commuter students, which includes 10 free meals for part-time students and 15 free meals for full-time students.

University College (UC)

The Commuter Student Centre (CSC), located in the UC Union building at 79 St. George Street, is the primary space for commuter students at UC. It is equipped with a lounge, a kitchenette with a microwave and refrigerator, a study space, a group study room, lockers for rent each semester, and board games. The CSC is supported by Community Coordinators (CoCo), who facilitate programming, events, and activities at the centre.

“The UC Literary and Athletic Society, Off Campus Commission is a volunteer organization that has as its goal the betterment of the university experience for UC students that live off campus. They create community and organize events for commuter students, often in collaboration with the CoCos,” wrote Naeem Ordonez, Assistant to the Dean of Students at UC, in an email to The Varsity.

Victoria College

Victoria is home to two commuter student groups: Victoria College Off Campus Association (VOCA) and Commuter Dons. The college hosts several commuter-oriented events throughout the academic year including a weekly free pancake breakfast by VOCA.

The Goldring Student Centre also has a commuter lounge in its basement with lockers that students can rent free of charge and a quiet study space equipped with couches, desks, and charging tables.

“We (VOCA) are responsible for hosting and facilitating events throughout the year for commuter students. VOCA also holds monthly collaborations with residence dons as a way to connect residence and commuter students,” wrote Emilia De Fabritiis, Commuter Commissioner of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council in an email to The Varsity.

“The other commuter initiatives are the Vic Commuter Dons. Similar to VOCA, they host events for commuters. However, Commuter Dons are trained to provide more of an emotional support for students.”

Students are encouraged to get involved at VOCA through applications for general commission members, first year execs, upper year executives, commissioner, and co-chair.

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

Woodsworth College

Woodsworth has several commuter resources including lockers available for rent starting at $15; a commuter lounge equipped with a microwave, books, whiteboard, outlets, tables, and comfortable seats; and events such as Woodsworth College Students’ Association Wednesdays, when free pancakes are served. Commuter students can also run for positions, including Off-Campus Directors, and they can participate in Woodsworth’s Off-Campus Committee.

UTSC

The City of Toronto’s Smart Commute Scarborough initiative allows users to be matched with a fellow commuter taking the same route, in an effort to encourage sustainability. The campus also runs a bikeshare program that allows students and staff to rent out bikes free of charge. Commuter meal plans are also available for $390.

UTM

Like UTSC, Smart Commute is also made available for commuter students at UTM. A U-Pass — a transit pass granting unlimited travel — is made available for students using MiWay. Lockers are also available for rent in the student centre.

Trinity, UTSC, and UTM did not respond to The Varsity’s requests for comment.

In photos: “Celestial Bodies”

Documenting the 2018 edition of the Victoria College Environmental Fashion Show

In photos: “Celestial Bodies”

The Victoria College Environmental Fashion Show (VEFS) is an annual initiative showcasing collections from student fashion designers. All pieces and outfits at VEFS are thrifted, donated, or crafted from sustainable and recycled materials.

This year’s two-part show, “Celestial Bodies,” is VEFS’ sixth edition, and it brought environmentally friendly fashion to ethereal heights in a flurry of satin and white tulle. The show’s striking collections were characterized by pale makeup, gleaming jewellery, and touches of floral, giving onlookers a taste of paradise far removed from the world of fast fashion.

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Victoria College criticized by student council over “complete absence of sustainability”

Lack of environmental action in the president’s priorities, says VUSAC

Victoria College criticized by student council over “complete absence of sustainability”

The sustainability commission of Victoria College’s student council is criticizing the college’s administration for what they view as a lack of action on environmental sustainability. Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s (VUSAC) sustainability commission sent a letter on February 28 to Victoria College’s President, William Robins. “Not only is sustainability not a priority within the administration, but it would appear to barely even be given consideration,” reads the letter.

The letter was in response to Robins’ presidential priorities document, which was sent to VUSAC to ask for their feedback, according to VUSAC Sustainability Commissioner Jared Connoy.

The commission writes in the letter that there is a “complete absence of sustainability in [Robins’] presidential priorities document,” which they described as “incredibly disappointing.”

“As it is now within the administration, there’s not a single initiative or person that takes care of sustainability,” said Connoy. “Every single environmental initiative has fallen upon the shoulders of students, which in my opinion isn’t right and shouldn’t [have] been that way, especially considering that [Vic’s] student body is very environmentally conscious.”

In response to the criticism, Robins sent a letter to the Commission on March 16, stating that the presidential priorities document “intentionally focuses on the academic mission of Victoria University.”

“As the document acknowledges, there are many areas of our operations which this document does not directly address that nevertheless remain important priorities for the university,” wrote Robins. “Thus, while issues such as environmental sustainability… are not directly encompassed in the document, that does not mean that they are not priorities for Victoria University. I assure you that they are.”

In regards to VUSAC’s criticism that Victoria does not have anyone dedicated to the sustainability portfolio, Robins wrote that, “Importantly, the hiring of Mr. Vikas Mehta as Vic’s new Director of Physical Plant is a strategic decision to bring to Vic a professional with extensive experience working with students, faculty and staff on sustainability, zero carbon, and greening initiatives.”

Robins also cites a number of the college’s sustainability initiatives, including installing new technology to reduce energy and water use, as well as new drinking fountains “to assist in waste diversion, reducing plastic bottle waste.” The latter began as a joint initiative with student groups.

In an email statement to The Varsity, Connoy said that while Robins’ response does address some of his concerns, “sustainability is still not a responsibility of anyone in the administration. There is no mention of improving Vic’s sustainability being a part of [Mehta’s] job requirement.”

“Furthermore, all of the sustainability initiatives are of benefit to [Vic] (in terms of saving money on lost water, heat, electricity, etc.), and not particularly indicative of environmental concern,” wrote Connoy. He also added that there was no mention of composting at Victoria in Robins’ letter.

“Student-led initiatives are great, but given the structure of the college, it’s just not feasible to just have students running all of the environmental initiatives,” said Connoy. “I think it’s really important that sustainability becomes a responsibility of someone in the administration and not just perhaps a consideration of the administration.”

Robins responded to The Varsity’s request for comment by citing his letter to VUSAC’s Sustainability Commission.

Charles Street West may turn two-way, input being solicited by city

Campus cohesiveness, dangerous traffic, accessibility among concerns at Victoria University

Charles Street West may turn two-way, input being solicited by city

Toronto City Council is in the process of soliciting feedback from Victoria University and the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) about the possibility of converting Charles Street West into a two-way street.

The proposal aims to alleviate additional traffic resulting from new developments in the area, according to Toronto Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

Charles Street West, which currently runs one-way right through the heart of Victoria University, is, in its present state, fundamental to the “cohesiveness” of Victoria’s piece of campus, wrote VUSAC President Zahavah Kay in an email to The Varsity.

“Vic students cross Charles Street regularly, every day, multiple times a day,” said Kay. “You have to cross Charles Street… if you want to eat, and print something and go to class: you’re crossing Charles Street dozens of times a day.”

According to Kay, Charles Street West’s transformation into a two-way street, with increased traffic, would threaten the safety of students who hustle daily from residence to the dining halls to Vic administration offices. She noted that the street “literally divides Vic in half.” There are two residences and a student centre on one side of the street, with two residences and a dining hall on the other side.

Kay also voiced her concerns about parking and accessibility if Charles Street West stopped being one-way, and said that the “pedestrian campus feel” — with more benches and places to study — would be at stake if the proposed change saw the light of day.

Wong-Tam told The Varsity that the city is soliciting advice from the Vic community because they “want to make sure that there’s some predictability, with respect to pedestrian and cycling movement. So one thing that we’re doing is trying to get a sense of what the community wants.” In addition, “Transportation Service staff are prepared to consider [the change], but we need to know whether or not there is broader community support.”

The Bursar of Victoria University, Ray deSouza, wrote in statement to The Varsity that “no decisions have been made. Feedback is currently been solicited from all stakeholders. Wong-Tam has invited us to a meeting to discuss this issue. We are grateful to the councillor for this opportunity.”

Kay plans to accept the councillor’s invitation as well. “It’s not a set in stone plan, it’s very much a discussion right now,” Kay wrote. “We’re going to get to talk with them about what Charles Street means to the Vic community as it is right now, hear a little bit more about their feasibility report and then just go from there.”

God of Carnage

VCDS’ most recent production depicts parenting at its worst

God of Carnage

Victoria College’s Cat’s Eye Lounge served as an intimate backdrop for Victoria College Drama Society’s (VCDS) God of Carnage. Written by the award-winning French playwright Yasmina Reza in 2006, director Ben Murchison and the VCDS bring to life this 70-minute comedy that dramatizes familial strife. 

Haphazardly brought into each other’s orbit, the Novak and the Raleigh families are forced into confrontation following an incident in which their 11 year-old sons Henry Novak (played by Katie Pereira) and Benjamin Raleigh get into an altercation, resulting in Henry losing his front teeth. Rather than consulting lawyers, the families seek to handle the matter ‘like adults.’ The play focuses on the four parents, Veronica and Michael Novak (Samantha Finkelstein and Matthew Fonte) and Alan and Annette Raleigh (Ryan Falconer and Rachel Hart), and their attempts to maintain. “Superficially,” the director writes in the brochure, “the play is about…resolv[ing] the conflict between their two children; underneath, it is a complex examination of adult life.”

A “complex examination of adult life” is a bit of an overstatement. Rather, stereotypical biographies characterize these families: Veronica is an uptight philanthropist and helicopter mom married to Michael, an entrepreneur who sells hardware. Alan is a lawyer constantly on the clock — too busy to care about anything going on around him — while his trophy wife, Annette, tries to compensate for his physical and emotional absence. The constant bickering over moral compasses and parenting styles climax into a sensationalized ‘coming undone.’

Regardless of this hackneyed narrative arc, the play’s interactive component, which engaged the audience from start to finish, was outstanding. While I stood in line waiting to get inside the theatre, Camille Novak (Katie Cohen) frantically stormed about the stage in search of an undisclosed object. The play hadn’t begun, and it was hard to tell what was going on, but that didn’t matter, as it succeeded in getting our attention.

While fumbling around to find our seats, we were greeted by a freeze-frame of the cast sitting still in place, staring off into the distance. The stillness was punctuated by Henry and Camile’s boisterous scurrying and teasing each other before vanishing, marking the beginning of the play. Adding to the show’s interactivity was an invitation to explore the immaculate arrangement of the Novak’s apartment, which many did before the play began. 

Although, at times, the acting felt exaggerated, the actors ultimately did a remarkable job, and the roaring laughs of the crowd were a testament to their success. Ultimately, God of Carnage is an entertaining exploration of individuals who, in an attempt to act their age, find themselves unreasonably childlike, which is the very reason they met in the first place.