“Yeah, I’m totally fine.” 

The human body is incredible, isn’t it? It’s capable of so much — all we have to do is train it and trust that it will keep up with any physical exertions that are inflicted. It suffices to say that most of us have gotten quite good at inferring the consequences that our dietary intakes and lifestyles would have on the mechanical aspects of our bodies. 

To train for any sport, for example basketball, athletes train and appropriately fuel their bodies in order to perform on the court. 

If one can infer these things for physical well-being, what about the stuff that goes on inside your head? Though the conversations around mental health have substantially improved, it seems to me that many are more invested in its social advocacy rather than its implementation to reality, especially when it concerns themselves. 

When waking up on time becomes a miracle instead of routine and eating breakfast turns into a time-permitting luxury, perhaps your medial prefrontal cortex is trying to tell you something. 

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. In fact, you’re probably experiencing some form of it as you’re reading this right now. The type of stress holds a lot more significance than one might assume.

Episodes of acute stress, that can cause an individual to do things like type at godspeed at 11:56 PM, elicit the “fight or flight” response. This goes on to increase cortisol and adrenaline levels and blood pressure.

Chronic stress may develop if these moments of acute stress are prolonged, or if the stressors themselves are there to stay, such as the steady demands of university workloads. 

The never-ending drone of monotone lectures, awkward tutorials, labs with clocks that definitely tick faster and tedious group assignments often cause students to disregard obvious signs of mental health deterioration. The combination of all that pressure can result in “burnout,” otherwise known as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. 

This can leave a person unmotivated, anxious or cynical, the consequences of which may be disastrous. 

McMaster’s mental health resources, which include outlets to gain information, will tell you no different. In addition to facilitating mental health education, McMaster offers several other resources such as guided self-help, peer support, student services, phone lines and even mental health crisis support. 

However, you didn’t need me to tell you that. The majority of McMaster’s student body is aware that some form of mental health support exists, much like it does at most post-secondary institutions. 

Why, then, might one ask that recognizing and being aware of mental health is still a concern, if not a greater one than before? This can be explained, in my opinion, through a combination of two factors, the first of which may be quite apparent: the onset of remote learning and the assumption of immunity. 

Let’s break this down. 

As discussed by many before, a shift to online learning has meant fewer in-person interactions with peers, more uncertainties about daily scheduling and a decreased sense of structure. 

Though manageable and perhaps even beneficial for a short period of time, the stretch of its duration has resulted in added layers of concern such as employment terminations and financial hardships, all of which contribute to mental health deteriorations. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, 46 per cent of Ontario students reported feelings of depression and a whopping 65 per cent experienced overwhelming anxiety. Imagine the numbers now. 

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that these layers affect different students to varying degrees when you account for initial socioeconomic states that are often influenced by social identities, race and ethnicity. 

Now that we’ve established a plausible source for increased mental health concerns, what’s stopping students from acknowledging them — let alone seeking support? People love to overestimate their own abilities and qualities, which is a form of cognitive bias that’s explained by the illusory superiority theory

In some contexts, this bias can be beneficial by providing the necessary confidence to perform a certain task. In the case of mental health, however, it can prove to be detrimental by providing fuel to the assumption that we are immune to its degradation. 

This is where things can get dangerous. While it’s important to push yourself to reach your fullest potential, it’s just as important to know when to pause. The problem with assuming immunity is that students may overestimate their abilities and continue to pile on work while convincing themselves that “they’re fine.” 

So how does one swallow their pride and seek help? The solution may seem blatantly obvious and one that I’m sure you’ve heard countless times: find balance. Remember that, even though school may be quite demanding, it’s important to schedule in TikTok-less breaks and spend them doing things that you enjoy. Take a breather. After all, timeouts and half-times exist for a reason. 

Black McMaster students reflect on the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020

This article is a part of the Sil Time Capsule, a series that reflects on 2020 with the aim to draw attention to the ways in which it has affected our community as well as the wider world.

In the summer of 2020, sparked by the death of George Floyd, there was a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests spread across the United States and the world. Businesses and individuals, both with and without a history of supporting Black communities, began posting messages of solidarity on social media and pledged to do better.

In just over a month, it will be a year since George Floyd was murdered. In addition to the killings, we have also seen how Black folks have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. For Black folks around the world, this year has been exhausting and retraumatizing.

It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing to learn of more killings and what little action has taken place. It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing for our organizers and protesters, who have been met with police violence. It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing to field questions and concern from those in our lives who have never before cared about our Blackness.

It’s been exhausting and retraumatizing for Black students. All year, Black students, alumni, staff and faculty have been observing McMaster University's response to the resurgence and continuing to advocate for safe spaces and meaningful action.

So as this academic year comes to a close, it was important for me as a Black woman at McMaster to use one of my last articles at the Silhouette to discuss how Black students have been dealing with this tumultuous year.

C/O Camiah

Student activism in summer 2020

On May 25, 2020, in Minnesota, George Floyd was killed while in police custody, for which now-former police officer Derek Chauvin currently is standing on trial, charged with murder and manslaughter. The news and video of Floyd’s murder flooded traditional news and social media. In the days and weeks that followed, protesters took to the streets across the United States and the world.

While this wasn’t the first time a Black person had been unjustly killed, for many, Black and non-Black alike, the summer of 2020 felt different. There are many factors that influenced the increased response, chief among them the pandemic. Black folks, who have been disproportionately affected, were fed up with government neglect while non-Black people quarantining at home had no choice but to pay attention.

“People rioting and actually protesting and doing stuff like that was the reason people started talking about it more, because, essentially you had something for white people to debate about and to fight about . . . [T]hat eventually just made a chain of events so people were being like, “Why are black people rioting?” Okay, well, why are black people rioting and then people were actually looking at it,” said Aaron Parry, a fourth-year student and promotions executive on the Black Students’ Association.

“People rioting and actually protesting and doing stuff like that was the reason people started talking about it more, because, essentially you had something for white people to debate about and to fight about . . . ”

Aaron Parry, a fourth-year student and promotions executive on the Black Students’ Association

Black McMaster students were among those protesting both online and offline last summer, continuing the work that many have been doing for years. For instance, on June 17, 2020, McMaster student organizers held a protest to demand the removal of the special constables on campus and the dismissal of Director of Security and Parking Services Glenn De Caire, who has a history of supporting the highly controversial practice of carding. Students have been advocating for De Caire’s removal since 2016.

Black students also spent the summer further educating themselves and having difficult conversations with friends, peers and others in their life.

“I actually did summer school in June, July . . . Since I'm in political science, race [is] a topic, especially during this course. I feel like I tried, as a Black person, to educate some of my fellow peers about what we experience,” explained fourth-year student and Women and Gender Equity Network Research Coordinator, Shae Owen.

Online, many students responded to McMaster’s statements on Floyd’s death and anti-Black racism at the university with demands that they fire De Caire. Students were quick to point out that McMaster’s statements did little to address Black students’ concerns and calls for action.

Both current and former students took to social media to share their experiences of racism at McMaster. Canadian football player and former McMaster student, Fabion Foote, tweeted about the systemic racism he experienced at McMaster, which was met with support from other Black McMaster students, alumni and faculty.

However, while students were generally glad to see increased awareness, many worried that it was performative or fleeting.

“Doing nothing is no longer acceptable. However, reposting on social media is classified as hardly doing anything, because it lacks your personal tone and influence,” wrote the Silhouette Production Editor and Black Students Association Photographer Sybil Simpson in a June 2020 Silhouette article.

C/O Estee Janssens

Effects on mental health and academics

While Black students were at the forefront of the activism, many also found the summer and current academic year overwhelming. Students didn’t get to take a break from their everyday lives to grieve, having to continue to work, attend summer school classes and study for tests.

“In Nigeria — this was in October — there were killings of peaceful protesters . . . and that was very close to home. Things don't necessarily slow down. When all of this is happening, it's not like school pauses. You still have deadlines. I used my MSAF for the first time in four years last semester, that's how much I just felt like everything was going on. I had to ask for extensions and I couldn't make deadlines,” explained Toni Makanjuola, a fourth-year student and director of logistics with Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Black Students’ Association (@bsamcm)

For some students, these feelings of being overwhelmed were compounded by the physical and emotional isolation caused by the pandemic. Students who were not able to go home to see family often had to deal with the devastating news on their own.

“There's a lot going on with just COVID by itself. I couldn't see my family because of COVID and I was already planning to see them. I think I mentioned I'm an international student and my parents live abroad and my family's kind of dispersed. So it was definitely a lonely time,” said Makanjuola.

“There's a lot going on with just COVID by itself. I couldn't see my family because of COVID and I was already planning to see them. I think I mentioned I'm an international student and my parents live abroad and my family's kind of dispersed. So it was definitely a lonely time.”

Toni Makanjuola, director of logistics with Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster

Moreover, Black students expressed how the summer of 2020 changed their relationships. Students reported that they got closer to Black family members and friends as well as non-Black allies. On the other hand, relationships fractured with those in their lives that failed to check-in or speak out.

“I found myself being like, “okay, I can't actually be friends with this person, even if they make a racist joke like here and there.” That’s now too much for me. It wasn't too much before, but now that everything's become more extreme, my barriers have to become more extreme,” said Aaron Parry, a fourth-year student and promotions executive on the Black Students’ Association.

C/O GV Chana

Response to university initiatives

During the summer, McMaster put out several statements, some of which addressed how the university intends to tackle anti-Black racism on campus. While none of these intended actions included firing De Caire as students had demanded, some positive actions included the accelerated hiring of Black faculty, the hiring of an anti-Black racism education coordinator and the announcement of a Black student services office.

“In terms of the hiring, I think that was extremely needed because personally, I'm in my fourth year, and this was like the first year that I've had Black professors and that's because I'm taking history . . . I'm interested in research right so [when I found a potential Black supervisor], I emailed her. I was so excited because I knew she wasn't there before. I got to share a research idea with her. But I don't know that I would have felt as comfortable emailing someone else,” said Makanjuola.

“In terms of the hiring, I think that was extremely needed because personally, I'm in my fourth year, and this was like the first year that I've had Black professors and that's because I'm taking history . . .

TONI MAKANJUOLA, DIRECTOR OF LOGISTICS WITH BLACK ASPIRING PHYSICIANS OF MCMASTER
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by McMaster University (@mcmasteru)

However, the fact that many plans were created without the input of Black students begs whether they’ll be helpful at all.

“What little they do give to Black students, it's not even involving Black students that often and then they just kind of surprise us as if it's a gift . . . They design whatever services they think that we want rather than actually actively involving us and actively asking us, “what do you want, what do you need, what are you looking for in a Black Student Services, what do you think will help?”,” explained Parry.

In response to Foote’s tweets, the university organized a Black student-athlete review, which was completed in October and revealed “a culture of systemic anti-Black racism within the department.” However, many students believe the review did not do enough.

Some of those who were involved in the review noted that internal politics played a role in what actually made it into the report and how what was included was worded.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by McMaster University (@mcmasteru)

“[W]e know that they have their agenda and it's not in the interest of Black students most of the time. It was definitely disheartening to know that I was a part of a project that was doing that,” said Parry, who was part of the review’s task force.

Many students wondered why the review was restricted only to athletics when many of the stories told are experienced by Black students across campus. Others were eager to know what comes next.

“[The positive changes] are, however, being done so very slowly and with caution; this is unchartered territory for Mac. However, I’m growing increasingly frustrated, not only with the immediate aftermath but with the contents of the review. How could they let this happen? How has it taken so long for someone to finally put their foot down? Moreover, where the heck do we go from here?” wrote McMaster rugby player Payton Shank in a December 2020 Silhouette article.

C/O Good Faces

Creating safe spaces

Support for Black McMaster students this year didn’t come directly from the university, but through the actions of Black students, faculty and staff. For example, on June 11, 2020, Black staff members facilitated a Black student virtual check-in to give students a safe space to share their thoughts and experiences.

Black community members at McMaster took on this work for no pay on top of their work, school and personal lives. Many Black students at McMaster are executives on multiple Black-focused clubs while the African-Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster offers mentorship and events with no funding from the university. However, because of the importance of these spaces, Black students, staff and faculty feel an obligation to continue.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Black Students’ Association (@bsamcm)

“We are going to help ourselves and our siblings because there's not a lot of us at McMaster. But it kind of brought us closer together, because during that time a lot of clubs had talks and chill sessions and discussions . . . I even made some new friends that way,” said Owen.

“We are going to help ourselves and our siblings because there's not a lot of us at McMaster. But it kind of brought us closer together, because during that time a lot of clubs had talks and chill sessions and discussions . . . I even made some new friends that way.”

Shae Owen, WGEN Research Coordinator

All year, Black students have been continuing or creating clubs and events to have important conversations and take a break from the constant stress. Some of these new clubs came from discussions among students that occurred last summer, such as the Black BHSc Association.

Established Black clubs used their platforms to empower Black students and support new Black clubs. For example, BAP-MAC chose the theme Black Resilience for their annual iRISE conference and had talks and workshops dedicated to medical racism and health advocacy. In November 2020, the Black Student Mentorship Program held an event for first-year students that focused on coping with loneliness and online school.

“[The summer] also made me a lot more conscious of other people's mental health and that was like one of the reasons [behind] the loneliness event idea. Because of what I was experiencing during the time, I just thought it would be nice to do something where people could speak out and be vulnerable and know that they aren't alone with that during the school year, especially first years,” said Makanjuola, who came up with the idea for the BSMP event.

However, in creating these safe spaces, Black students had to be wary of other students infiltrating these spaces. On Nov. 20, 2020, the Law Aspiring Black Students of McMaster experienced a racist attack during their Zoom LABS Chat. Since then, Black clubs have been trained on how to avoid Zoom bombing and have had to take special care to avoid similar incidents.

“I was shaking because I never expected something like this to happen at a university, especially because we can’t put a face to the name. We don’t know who these people are. So it’s like am I walking amongst people who feel this way, am I sitting in classes with people who could possibly infiltrate a chat?” said Maab Mahmoud, the vice-president of events for LABS, during diversity services’ podcast, Listen Up.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Black Student Mentorship (@bsmp.mcmaster)

The incident served as a reminder of the importance of safe spaces, but also made it clear that Black students at McMaster are not safe among their peers. This was also seen in the reactions to Black student initiatives such as the new Black engineering student scholarship, where non-Black McMaster students complained that it gave Black students an unfair advantage.

“Mac did the exact same thing where they just go, yeah, here's the scholarship to help Black students. We're going to ignore all that shit about non-Black students attacking Black students . . . we're going to continually let you go to school with and live with your abusers, constantly,” said Parry.

Yet through it all, Black students have continued to be there for one another and create places where they can be seen and heard. We do not know what the future holds and if the university will become a safer space for Black students.

But I know that we are resilient. As I graduate this year, I have faith that the Black students, staff and faculty of tomorrow will continue to make McMaster a place where Black students can succeed.

Theses aren’t beneficial for students who aren’t interested in research

C/O Ousa Chea on Unsplash

With the winter term wrapping up, many students in their final year are also wrapping up their thesis projects. Thesis projects are multi-unit courses that can range from six units to as large as 15 units. It’s a large research project that many students spend several hours on throughout their final year.

While not all programs are required to do a thesis project, some programs do require one, including health sciences, integrated science and arts and science. However, a year-long thesis is a big undertaking for most students. Although thesis projects have faculty supervisors, most of the research you done independently.

While not all programs are required to do a thesis project, some programs do require one, including health sciences, integrated science and arts and science. However, a year-long thesis is a big undertaking for most students.

For example, I’m doing a thesis this year. As part of my project, I’m doing a literature review, which involves looking at academic articles on my topics and analyzing current methods, findings and theories in the existing literature. Most of my work involves sitting at a computer, looking at articles by myself. I do have a meeting with my supervisor every week, but even that is mostly self-conducted: I ask my supervisor questions regarding my thesis and outline what I’ve done so far.

I enjoy my thesis topic and I think what I’m doing is important. Yet, even I run into issues and struggle with completing my thesis. I’m sure it’s even more difficult for those that don’t enjoy doing a thesis project. Thus, doing a thesis should be something that is optional for students to partake in.

For one, not everyone wants to pursue research in the future. A thesis can be very valuable when it comes to developing your research skills, but not everyone is interested in doing research after their final year. Some students who finish their undergraduate degree go directly into the workforce, some students complete further studies but opt for a course-based graduate or professional program and some students just simply don’t like research.

If you don’t like research, it can be hard to write a research-based thesis. Even if you do like research, thesis projects typically require you to come up with a new spin on an idea or a theory and not everyone has the capacity to do that. You may like researching topics, but only things that already exist in the literature, such as researching for a project or presentation in a molecular mechanism.

If you don’t like research, it can be hard to write a research-based thesis. Even if you do like research, thesis projects typically require you to come up with a new spin on an idea or a theory and not everyone has the capacity to do that.

Furthermore, some students gain more from doing course-based work. Maybe taking a presentation-based course, an inquiry course or a lecture-based course is something that is really up their alley. Since we’re paying for our education, shouldn’t we have a say on how we want to learn? Having requirements for certain courses makes sense because, at the end of the day, we’re getting a degree in a specific field.

However, we should have the option to choose the way we learn our required content. If we need to learn about molecular biology, we should have the option to do a thesis, but also have the option to do a project, paper or presentation on it instead.

The need for optional thesis projects is further exacerbated by this year being online. Many students are facing burnout. As we hit the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge the higher levels of stress that students may be experiencing as well as the decreased motivation that has afflicted us by storm.

Being motivated enough to do self-directed research on top of the pandemic can be incredibly difficult; thus, it is important to consider making thesis courses optional — and especially so this year.

By making thesis projects optional, students will have the opportunity to choose whether a thesis is the best choice for their learning. Some degrees, such as programs under the department of health, aging and society as well as the English and cultural studies program already have optional theses. If optional thesis projects are doable in these programs, they should be doable for every other program, too.

How students are becoming disillusioned with their science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses

With dreaded multiple choice midterms only days away, the genuine love for their science, technology, engineering and mathematics subject of choice is likely the last thing on the minds of students at McMaster University.

Canadian and American STEM students are dropping out of their degrees at an alarming rate, all because post-secondary institutions have changed scientific education to conform to what is comfortable.

No longer is scientific study oriented towards an exploratory field that is accessible to those who have a genuine interest in the content and put in the effort. Rather, it has become a numbers game with pieces consisting of a brutal grading scheme. “Weeding” courses, the dreaded mandatories or a synonym for hell. Whatever you call your introductory science and math courses, many students have at least once viewed themselves as “bad” in these subjects.

Whether one is a STEM student, former STEM student, or a shocked observer who would not touch an equation with a 10-foot pole — almost everybody in academia is wearily aware of the difficult reputation of university STEM courses.

As a culture, we are so used to perceiving science and math as a linear process where one is good at it only if they get the right answer, that we have forgotten why we developed a passion to explore these fields in the first place.

As a culture, we are so used to perceiving science and math as a linear process where one is good at it only if they get the right answer, that we have forgotten why we developed a passion to explore these fields in the first place.

It is understandable that university STEM education is intended to ensure that students attain a certain standard of proficiency in the technical aspects of their scientific subjects before they graduate to more abstract classes.

However, I feel that in attempting to use this method to get the highest achieving students in higher-level STEM courses, the current system eliminates the majority of their potential contributions, by the sheer force of academic discouragement.

Is it truly necessary for universities to do this to students? If the ultimate goal of putting students through such rigorous courses is to select the “best of the best” students in one particular course, why is it that we root for a smaller group of students to succeed instead of working to ensure everybody is performing to their full potential?

As a student who looked forward to every single reasonably difficult high school chemistry and calculus class, I was shocked at the nature of university-style scientific learning.

I found that one of the greatest faults with this type of instruction is that simple scientific concepts are taught in an overly complicated manner. This is most apparent with many of the mandatory first-year courses.

I strongly believe that it is not just a student’s fault when they are hit with the stark reality of their introductory classes and drop STEM in its entirety, when in fact the whole system is set up for students to fail. The system is built not to favour scientific advances per se, but to sustain this frankly toxic model we have created and fostered for our own egos.

The system is built not to favour scientific advances per se, but to sustain this frankly toxic model we have created and fostered for our own egos.

Even just a century ago, the fields of scientific and mathematical inquiry were considered a frivolous waste of time due to their inquisitive nature and lack of practical implementation in the lifestyle of the time. How is it that now we have managed to beat and dissuade the passion out of students in an age when scientific innovation is moving forward at the speed of light?

Where we once revelled in our marvellous ability to observe the very rudimentary particles which made us and allowed us to understand our place in the universe, we have merely reduced down to boring lecture videos and practice problems that make us cry.

The question thus remains on how can we as the McMaster community facilitate a trend of paradigmatically shifting away from STEM elitism, all the while preserving the proud legacy of our institution? Whatever the answer is, it is sure to benefit professors, students and our progress as a university.

The pioneers who spent decades discovering the theories and equations we memorize from a lecture slide in one night for a test would surely hang their heads in shame at the current state of our institutions.

National Society of Black Engineers increases representation and supports for Black students in academia

Addressing anti-Black racism has been an urgent need for increased equity for Black students and professionals across academia, especially in traditionally white male dominated fields like engineering.

To tackle one of these barriers in education, the National Society of Black Engineers, McMaster Chapter has launched an annual entrance scholarship for Canadian Black students entering the Faculty of Engineering at McMaster.

All incoming first-years who self-identify as Black students, demonstrate strong leadership and have positively contributed to their community will be eligible for the award. The scholarship will provide each recipient with $2,500, along with a position on the NSBE executive team.

All incoming first-years who self-identify as Black students, demonstrate strong leadership and have positively contributed to their community will be eligible for the award.

The NSBE is a national student-run organization that aims to increase the number of Black engineers who excel both academically and professionally, while demonstrating valuable leadership to make a difference in their community. The NSBE team also includes other engineering graduates and professionals.

Founded in 1971, the society has over 31,000 members that span over 600 active chapters in Canada, the United States and other countries around the globe. They provide academic excellence programs, social connections, leadership opportunities, additional scholarships and career networking to support Black students in engineering.

The McMaster chapter is spear-headed by an executive team of McMaster engineering students. The current president is Feyisayo Enuiyin, a chemical engineering student in her final year. The chapter’s aim is to provide Black students with academic support, professional development and networking opportunities.

[/media-credit] NSBE McMaster Chapter President Feyisayo Enuiyin

“For many Black students from underprivileged communities, they don’t think engineering is a space for them,” said Enuiyin. “This scholarship was created for students who didn’t even know they wanted to study engineering. It creates hope for students to show they are going to a school that supports them.”

“For many Black students from underprivileged communities, they don’t think engineering is a space for them,” said Enuiyin.

The NSBE McMaster Chapter’s goal is to raise $62,500 for the award. The number of scholarships will be dependent on the funds raised. If they exceed their goal, they will provide more scholarships. They are currently accepting donations, with hopes that this award will inspire and encourage more Black students to apply to McMaster Engineering. 

Enuiyin explained that the scholarship aims to provide more than financial assistance the award will also create a larger scale for representation, further showing Black students that institutions like McMaster actually care about them. 

“Once I was able to feel that McMaster, including the staff and faculty, really supports me, it made me feel more confident because I know that I go to a community that has my back,” said Enuiyin.

“Once I was able to feel that McMaster, including the staff and faculty, really supports me, it made me feel more confident because I know that I go to a community that has my back,” said Enuiyin.

To Enuiyin, this representation within the university at large, especially in academia, is important because it creates confidence.

“It creates a sense of self awareness so that when you step into a place and you see people like you doing what you aspire to do, it gives you encouragement and motivation to know that you can do that too… When you feel represented in a space, like in an atmosphere of a room, you don't think about complexion. It doesn't even cross your head,” said Enuiyin.

"When you feel represented in a space, like in an atmosphere of a room, you don't think about complexion. It doesn't even cross your head,” said Enuiyin. 

Enuiyin expressed gratitude towards the Faculty of Engineering for supporting the NSBE McMaster Chapter and said that the scholarship is a step in the right direction.

“[The scholarship] will help us move towards a more inclusive environment where a range of perspectives leads to better insights and innovation,” stated Professor Iswhar K. Puri, dean of engineering, in a McMaster Daily News Article. 

Other efforts for inclusion by McMaster’s Faculty of Engineering include the recent launch of The Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) Momentum Fellowships. These fellowships were created in collaboration with faculties at the University of Waterloo, University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Western University.

These fellowships will provide Indigenous and Black recipients of the award each with $25,000 over the span of four years to support them with their graduate studies and engineering research.

Similar to the NSBE scholarship, the IBET doctoral fellowships were launched with the hope to reduce the financial barriers experienced by Black and Indigenous students. 

These efforts for inclusion are paired with McMaster’s announcement of a new commitment to Black academic excellence, such as the commitment to hire a cohort of up to 12 Black faculty members. This is the first initiative under the new Strategic Equity and Excellence Recruitment and Retention program, which is part of McMaster’s larger equity, diversity and inclusion strategy.

“It’s not just about being Black or being in engineering. It’s bigger than that… It’s about people.  When one individual progresses, the whole community progresses,” said Enuiyin. 

Other efforts at McMaster include the development of a yearly bursary of $800 in perpetuity for Black students with financial need in the McMaster Health Sciences program. The bursary organizers include McMaster University and Mohawk College alumni and are currently also fundraising.

When asked what else academic institutions can do to alleviate barriers for Black students, Enuiyin highlighted the importance of outreach programs along with financial assistance. These outreach programs should be delivered in underprivileged communities, especially for high school students.

“When students are already in universities, it is hard to change their perspectives. [By starting in high school], you can start to show them options as to what they have,” explained Enuiyin. 

When discussing how McMaster community members should view this scholarship, Enuiyin highlighted its importance on our society as a whole. 

“It’s not just about being Black or being in engineering. It’s bigger than that… It’s about people.  When one individual progresses, the whole community progresses,” said Enuiyin.

Donations for the scholarship funds are currently being accepted on the NSBE McMaster’s iFundMac website. 

Struggling to connect with one another through virtual classes, first-year students found community on social media

After four months of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, McMaster University students can finally say that their first semester of online learning is behind them. Some students, however, have only ever experienced McMaster online.

Since September, first-year students at McMaster have experienced a virtual transition to university. As residence is closed for the majority of first years, most have had to meet their peers virtually. However, the opportunities for socialization are different and more limited in an online classroom setting.

Navya Sheth, a first-year arts and science student from Oakville, Ontario, reflected on her first semester. For her, the hardest part of online school was forming connections with her peers through the screen, rather than the new academic challenges.

For Navya Sheth, the hardest part of online school was forming connections with her peers through the screen.

In anticipation of the social challenges that come with an entirely remote school year, McMaster tried to foster community among first-year students by adapting orientation to fit the online environment. This orientation involved a virtual Welcome Week and a new program called Archway, which was designed to help students access resources and meet new friends.

Saumyaa Rishi, a first-year life sciences student from Ottawa, Ontario, was grateful for the effort put into Welcome Week. Nonetheless, she found it difficult to connect with other first-years in that setting. 

“When you do these online [social events], there’s always a bigger group of people. It’s not like in-person where you can just talk to the person standing next to you,” Rishi said. 

“When you do these online [social events], there’s always a bigger group of people. It’s not like in-person where you can just talk to the person standing next to you,” Rishi said. 

Sheth expressed a similar sentiment when discussing her experiences with McMaster’s online social events, in particular, the Archway program. While she did enjoy the Zoom events hosted by the Arts and Science program, she found Archway wasn’t a conducive platform for her to make social connections.

Aniruddh Arora, a first-year international student in the computer science program, found that Archway was most beneficial at the start of the semester. “It was helpful for the first one or two weeks,” Arora noted.

“I had my own friend groups on WhatsApp and Instagram,” Arora explained. 

Arora then added that he later stopped attending meetings. Not only did he no longer have time in his busy academic schedule to attend Archway meetings, he also didn’t find it necessary anymore.

“I had my own friend groups on WhatsApp and Instagram,” he explained. 

Arora is not the only first-year student who has found community on social media. Over the last few months, some first-year students at McMaster have relied on social media to connect and communicate.

“When you talked to people [on social media], you knew that they were sort of going through the same thing,” said Rishi.

Rishi described social media as being a positive force in her first semester. “When you talked to people [on social media], you knew that they were sort of going through the same thing,” said Rishi.

According to Rishi, the impact of social media on her first-year experience has been far-reaching. Not only has social media been instrumental in the formation of friendships, as Rishi noted, but it has also helped first-year students to feel connected to the McMaster community in other ways.

Social media been instrumental in the formation of friendships.

Arora, who is attending McMaster from his home in Punjab, India, pointed out the academic benefits of social media on first-year students. As timezones often prevent him from being awake during the same hours as his professors, Arora has found the group chats created on various social media platforms to be a valuable academic support system.

“It really helps if you’re stuck on an assignment,” Arora explained.

As timezones often prevent him from being awake during the same hours as his professors, Arora has found the group chats created on various social media platforms to be a valuable academic support system. “It really helps if you’re stuck on an assignment,” Arora explained.

Social media has helped first-year students get involved with extracurricular activities as well. As an active member of the McMaster Moot Court, Sheth noted that she found out about the majority of extracurricular opportunities through Instagram.

On the impact that social media had on her first semester, Sheth believed Instagram links people to places where they feel connected albeit virtually. However she noted the challenges of a virtual first-year remain significant on students as some feel isolated to figure out how to adapt to online university.

“[Some] upper-years are living together in houses and can see each other, and I’m at home, trying to figure this out on my own,” Sheth said. “And I think that might be something that all first years are struggling with.”

The development of the Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force

As the McMaster community dives into the second semester of an unprecedented academic year, the newly created Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force has also been gearing up for its launch. 

The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force was created from the recommendations of McMaster’s virtual learning task force. The virtual learning task force, co-chaired by Dean of Engineering Ishwar Puri and Dean of Social Sciences Jeremiah Hurley, consisted of over 30 faculty, staff and students that collected feedback from the McMaster community about the virtual learning experience. Feedback included over 3,000 responses from students and instructors to the MacPherson Institute’s Fall 2020 Experience Survey.

The task force’s final report, released in November 2020, provided 21 recommendations to improve the virtual learning experience. Recommendations included immediate actions for the winter 2021 term, especially highlighting the need for stronger supports for mental health and well-being. Although the survey respondents rated their overall learning experience to be fairly positive, many instructors and students shared feelings of being overwhelmed

“These unprecedented times have pushed the task force to rethink what McMaster’s commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together.”

“These unprecedented times have pushed the task force to rethink what McMaster’s commitment to academic excellence means by developing recommendations intended to alleviate students, faculty and staff feeling overwhelmed and provide opportunities to start the winter semester refreshed and prepared together,” the report stated. 

The current status of students’ mental health was explained by Connor Blakeborough, health promoter at the Student Wellness Centre. Connor’s role as health promoter at the SWC involves assisting with programming such as mental health services, along with coordinating initiatives like Wellness Book Worms.

Additionally, he is a member of the education and health promotion subcommittee on The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force. The task force is a subsection of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, which is further split into several other subcommittees. 

"There is also just a general fear of missing out on the university experience as it's usually experienced, especially for people coming into their first year and not getting in their first year experience on residence, or being on campus or being involved in the community in a way that's more regular.” 

“Just in the communication that we have with students, a lot of students have been feeling lonely, isolated, overwhelmingly bored. There is also just a general fear of missing out on the university experience as it's usually experienced, especially for people coming into their first year and not getting in their first year experience on residence, or being on campus or being involved in the community in a way that's more regular,” said Blakeborough. 

The Okanagan mental health and wellbeing task force will address the recommendations of the virtual learning report and explore ways to support the McMaster community through remote learning. This task force is a subsection of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, which was developed after McMaster signed the Okanagan Charter in 2017. 

The charter was an outcome from the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges and developed by interdisciplinary stakeholders from 45 countries. The charter had two calls of action to educational institutions: to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates; and to lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally. 

The mental health and wellbeing task force comprises 10 representatives of students, faculty and staff and is led by Dr. Catharine Munn, associate clinical professor in psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences. 

"The new [Okanagan Mental Health and Wellbeing] task force will help us to understand the needs that have arisen in these new and uniquely challenging circumstances and to identify key solutions, so that we can emerge as a healthier and stronger community.”

Paul O’Byrne, dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and chair of the McMaster Okanagan Committee, was quoted in a McMaster Daily News article: “McMaster signed the Okanagan Charter in 2017 to help demonstrate our commitment to integrating health and wellbeing into all aspects of life at the university. The new [Okanagan Mental Health and Wellbeing] task force will help us to understand the needs that have arisen in these new and uniquely challenging circumstances and to identify key solutions, so that we can emerge as a healthier and stronger community.”

Blakeborough echoed the sentiments of O’Bryne. 

I think it will be a great opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing as it relates to both individual and systemic issues, especially those that have become a lot more apparent and prevalent during the pandemic. The task force and the committee will be able to look at the relationships between faculty, students and staff which deal with students on a daily basis and how we can use that relationship and better that relationship to benefit students and their mental health,” said Blakeborough. 

I think it will be a great opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing as it relates to both individual and systemic issues, especially those that have become a lot more apparent and prevalent during the pandemic."

Other suggestions outlined from the virtual learning task force revolved around teaching recommendations, such as reducing workload for students, creating easier navigation of course platforms, providing additional flexibility for assignments and increasing opportunities for classroom connection.

When asked what efforts he would like McMaster to make, Blakeborough recommended incorporating discussions of mental health within current courses and programming, specifically on the social determinants of health, including financial insecurity, housing and food insecurity. 

I think there's definitely a lot of things that could be addressed. But ultimately, it'd be great to see programming or electives which kind of teach self reflection and goal setting,” said Blakeborough.

I think there's definitely a lot of things that could be addressed. But ultimately, it'd be great to see programming or electives which kind of teach self reflection and goal setting,” said Blakeborough.

“[The task force has] listened to the feedback and factored in the results from various surveys when crafting these recommendations,” said Dean of Engineering Ishwar Puri.

“We hope that these ideas resonate with students and instructors so that we can work together to address the ongoing challenges and meet the opportunities that lay ahead for us as a campus community in 2021,” elaborated Puri.

“We hope that these ideas resonate with students and instructors so that we can work together to address the ongoing challenges and meet the opportunities that lay ahead for us as a campus community in 2021,” added Puri.

Resources for mental health and wellness: 

Student Wellness Center
Good2Talk 
Student Assistance Plan 

McMaster announces commitment to hiring 12 Black faculty members

In October, McMaster University completed an external review of Black student-athletes and their experiences with racism. The review was first initiated in July, prompted in part by tweets by former McMaster football star Fabion Foote who now plays for the Toronto Argonauts.

In a series of tweets, Foote shared his experiences of systemic racism within the McMaster Athletics & Recreation Department.

My DL coach at Mac said I had to sell weed to afford my tuition lol. Keep in mind I never smoked in my life. My friend was in a group chat were a white athlete used the N word. My teammate reported it to the coaches and they some how managed to blame us for it.

— Fabion (@FabionFoote) June 28, 2020

The review investigated the experiences of various students from as early as 2010 and included various interviews with both former and current Black athletes, Black staff and coaches and non-Black staff and coaches.

Completion of the review showed that a culture of systemic anti-Black racism is present at the school and has harmed a number of current and former athletes. 

Completion of the review showed that a culture of systemic anti-Black racism is present at the school and has harmed a number of current and former athletes.

“[I]t is clear that there is a culture of systemic anti-Black racism within McMaster Athletics as a result of individual and group actions and inactions from staff, coaches and department administrators. This culture is evident in explicit and implicit examples of anti-Black racism. It is also evident in a widespread lack of awareness, education, understanding, empathy and systemic perspective on issues of race and inclusivity,” the report said. 

“They probably think they’re working from neutral where they have to do something and fix it, as opposed to stopping doing things that they are already doing.”

McMaster President David Farrar shared a letter of apology to students and acknowledged that more action needs to be done. 

“On behalf of the University, I apologize for the anti-Black racism you experienced. I am deeply sorry that effective action was not taken to prevent this; there are no excuses for the behaviour you endured. I assure you that we are listening and that action is already being taken to implement the report’s recommendations and to begin the work with the Department and the broader university community to help us eliminate systemic racism,” the letter wrote. 

However, for Elvin Girineza, a fourth-year chemistry student, noted how several flaws of the review and the university’s response were apparent to him as a Black student.

I think it’s interesting to say the least, that they reviewed only athletes as part of the survey."

I think it’s interesting to say the least, that they reviewed only athletes as part of the survey. Also just that it was more asking for experiences rather than something more proactive, more doing something to address it. [It was more] reactive and having to have their Black students remind them of what exactly is going on or has been already going on in the past,” Girineza said. 

On Nov. 23, McMaster announced that the school will be committing to hiring 12 Black faculty members. The announcement stated that this approach aims to ensure the school’s commitment to inclusivity is supported by Black scholarship excellence. 

The release of the initiative received support from many across social media, with people feeling pleased that the university is addressing the issue and taking action. 

An important first step. Let’s keep imagining better futures ✊🏾 https://t.co/O8RNOFK6CB

— Stacy Creech de Castro (@Stacy_AnnC) November 25, 2020

Aside from showing support, some have also suggested the next steps the school can take to further foster inclusivity, such as considering similar initiatives for Indigenous scholars.

Excellent first steps towards meaningful change in #academia. I hope to see a similar hiring initiative focused on #Indigenous #scholars@McMasterU @EIOMcMaster https://t.co/1pvKtlAUmV

— LeaGrie, PhD (@LeaGrie) November 24, 2020

Others have also questioned whether this initiative is enough and how it can truly ensure that Black voices are being expressed in academia.

Dr. Alvin Thomas, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, responded to the announcement on Twitter.

“Along with the hiring, what positions, policies, procedures, processes and changes are being enacted to make sure that these new faculty have every opportunity and support towards success rather than becoming possibly sacrificial lambs as has happened with other academic spaces?”

“Along with the hiring, what positions, policies, procedures, processes and changes are being enacted to make sure that these new faculty have every opportunity and support towards success rather than becoming possibly sacrificial lambs as has happened with other academic spaces?” Thomas tweeted.

Along with the hiring, what positions, policies, procedures, processes and changes are being enacted to make sure that these new faculty have every opportunity and support towards success rather than becoming possibly sacrifical lambs as has happened with other academic spaces?

— Dr. Alvin Thomas, PhD. (@Dr_AT758) November 28, 2020

Girineza expressed that although hiring Black faculty is a step in the right direction, he believed a lot more work still needs to be done.

“They’re deciding how much influence and power [Black academics] get and then those new faculty will be restricted to their rules."

“They’re deciding how much influence and power [Black academics] get and then those new faculty will be restricted to their rules. . .[McMaster is] only willing to budge however much they’re willing to budge. They’re not willing to fully listen and maybe take on a more humble role and, you know, take a step back and not be the one in charge of the final decisions when it comes to how institutions deal with its own problems,” said Girineza.

"They’re not willing to fully listen and maybe take on a more humble role and, you know, take a step back and not be the one in charge of the final decisions when it comes to how institutions deal with its own problems,” said Girineza. 

Girineza is no stranger to racism as a part of his everyday reality. When he had to choose where to attend university, the culture and severity of racism at each university played a part in his decision.

“For people who haven’t experienced racism it’s a theory to them more and there has to be more work put on looking at the extent of it. Does it really exist? While to the people who experienced the consequences, it’s just a reality,” Girineza expressed.

“For people who haven’t experienced racism it’s a theory to them more and there has to be more work put on looking at the extent of it. Does it really exist? While to the people who experienced the consequences, it’s just a reality,” Girineza expressed. 

Girineza added that if McMaster really wants to properly address anti-Black racism, they have to be willing to dive deeper into the issue and apply their actions systemically.

“As opposed to trying to put a bandaid on cancer,” Girineza said. 

“As opposed to trying to put a bandaid on cancer.” 

Girineza believes the problem is being handled by people who may not realize that they may also be contributing to the problem.

“They probably think they’re working from neutral where they have to do something and fix it, as opposed to stopping doing things that they are already doing,” said Girineza.

He said that if the university wants to foster a place of community and safety, they must do more than just the basic standard.

“I can’t applaud the institution for doing the bare minimum,” Girineza said.

“I can’t applaud the institution for doing the bare minimum,” Girineza said.

Winter 2021 semester delayed

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, universities across Ontario have made the decision to extend winter break.

This includes the University of Toronto, Western University, McMaster University, Laurentian University and the University of Waterloo

When news first broke out among students that various universities had announced a winter break extension, students at McMaster created a petition in fear that their university would be an exception and not extend their break. 

The very next day after the petition was posted on social media, McMaster made its announcement that winter term classes would be delayed. 

Winter classes were originally planned to commence on Jan. 6. Now, the school has announced that the Winter 2021 semester will begin one week later on Jan. 11. 

Although classes may be delayed, McMaster said that this does not mean the semester will end at a later date.

Although classes may be delayed, McMaster said that this does not mean the semester will end at a later date.

Instead, the school said that the exam period in April will be condensed to accommodate this change and therefore, the winter semester will end as originally planned. Classes will be extended into the exam period, and there will be no overlap between classes and exams. 

McMaster’s announcement said that the decision was made following a recommendation from the Virtual Learning Task Force and was supported by the president and vice-presidents. 

The school said that they had taken into consideration students’ wellness and mental health. Delaying classes by a week will hopefully provide students with a bit more time to recharge and also gives faculty members and staff the chance to better prepare for the winter semester. 

“[T]hose who went home for their Christmas break [will also have] the chance to isolate for an additional week to help limit any potential COVID-19 cases,” the school added in their announcement. 

“[T]hose who went home for their Christmas break [will also have] the chance to isolate for an additional week to help limit any potential COVID-19 cases,” the school added in their announcement. 

Although the winter break extension came as a relief for many students across the province, some students at McMaster proposed an alternative solution to encourage better wellness for students. 

A petition was started asking the university to create two reading weeks instead of one and discard the winter break extension. 

These students argue that a winter break extension would not help prevent students from experiencing burnout throughout the semester. Hence, giving students an extra week off during the semester can allow students to get some extra rest between their studies. 

“This is needed in a time where students are at home with little guidance or motivation, who require an additional break during the semester, whenever possible. This is a great opportunity to attend to the mental wellbeing of students. It is unfair to delay the semester for people who refrain from travelling in an attempt to limit potential COVID-19 cases,” the petition stated. 

Reading week for the winter term currently remains unchanged and will occur from Feb. 15 through Feb. 21.

Winter break will officially begin for students at McMaster on Dec. 23 following final examinations and students will be continuing their studies virtually for the rest of the winter term.

As the fall semester comes to an end and finals roll in, here are seven tips for managing stress and practising self-care

Between keeping safe during the global pandemic, reacting to social injustices, hours of online school and finishing up your last midterms and assignments, it can be easy to forget to reflect and check-in with yourself.

The looming pressure and worry about exams exacerbate these stressors. During these turbulent times, self-care and mental wellness may be the last item on your agenda. However, managing stress is critical for avoiding burnout and maintaining good mental health. Below are seven self-care tips to help bring more balance into your routine.

[media-credit name="C/O Kinga Cichewicz" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

1. Develop a regular sleep schedule

This may be one of the most difficult goals to achieve for many students. Especially with online and asynchronous classes, you can quickly be derailed into a bad sleeping habit. You can track your sleep schedule using an app and set yourself up for success by limiting electronic use before bedtime, putting your screens into a nighttime mode in the evening and limiting caffeine intake

[media-credit name="C/O Brooke Lark" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

2. Eat regularly scheduled meals

Similar to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, practicing a healthy diet is important for both your physical and mental health. Eat foods that give you energy and make you happy. Switch things up by sharing recipes with friends. 

[media-credit name="C/O Arek Adeoye" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

3. Engage in non-academic activities

It may seem obvious, but many of us still need daily reminders to rest and unwind. You can go on a walk, exercise or take a nap. Give yourself opportunities to release some of the tension and stress and refuel your energy by doing activities you enjoy. 

[media-credit name="C/O Pedro Araujo" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

4. Take time to reflect

Even if it’s once a week, think about at least one thing that went well and one thing that you wish to work on. You could pick up journaling, use a mood tracking app or discuss your thoughts and experiences with your friends and family. Going on walks can also give you some personal time for reflections. Through reflecting, you can take a break from thinking about school, realize achievements and strengths and gain insights to set new goals.

[media-credit name="C/O Afif Kusuma" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

5. Find ways to connect with your community

According to The Health Mind Platter by clinical professor of psychiatry Daniel J. Siegel, connecting time is one of the factors that are essential for optimizing one’s mental well-being. It helps to reinforce relationships and reduce feelings of isolation. Try to identify the communities to which you belong and how to maintain an active membership. 

[media-credit name="C/O Seven Shooter" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

6. Reward yourself

We all deserve praise after enduring a difficult and challenging semester. Set plans and goals and reward yourself by taking a day off, treating yourself with a gift or engaging in other activities that you normally don’t have time to do. Having something to look forward to at the end of a busy week or exam season can motivate you and keep you on track. 

[media-credit name="C/O Dustin Belt" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

7. Reach out to peer support services if you need help

You can find resources through the Student Wellness Centre or reach out to one of the four peer support services offered by the MSU: MSU Maccess, Student Health Education Centre, Women + Gender Equity Network or Pride Community Centre.

Remember to also check in with your peers. Share how you are doing, what is going well, what you want to improve on and what you are looking forward to. It’s perfectly normal to ask for help and it can be comforting to have someone validate your feelings and experiences. 

Although self-care can look different for everyone, hopefully some of these tips have inspired you to develop your own self-care plan. We will all get through this semester together. Be proud of all the accomplishments you’ve made so far and always remember to be kind to yourself because taking care of your mental health is the most important homework.

Subscribe to our Mailing List

© 2022 The Silhouette. All Rights Reserved. McMaster University's Student Newspaper.
magnifiercrossmenu