C/O Jessica Yang

The Art Gallery of Burlington is creating a more inclusive world one book club discussion at a time 

By: Emma Shemko, contributor 

Hosted and facilitated by Jasmine Mander, the Art Gallery of Burlington’s new Echo Black, Indigenous and People of Colour book club works to create a safe, inclusive and accessible space for marginalized folks. The club prioritizes the lived experiences of BIPOC folks through reading and discussion of critical texts written by BIPOC authors. 

Currently the curatorial assistant at the AGB, Mander has worked at a number of art organizations over the years, including Hamilton Artists Inc., where she coordinated Incoming!, an initiative to address and support the needs of newcomer, immigrant and refugee artists.  

Mander is passionate about uplifting BIPOC voices and she wanted to create such a safe space for BIPOC folks to talk about their experiences and ideas, where they felt they could bring down their walls and share openly without fear of being judged. 

"[The book club] is an opportunity to come together, discuss as a group and unpack ideas. It's like learning together . . . Maybe you see somebody who looks like you and there's this sense of guard that's just dropped. And then, the more you get to know the people in the group, the more times people voice their opinions or their stories and really express themselves, you just grow more and are confident in being able to discuss your ideas," explained Mander. 

Echo’s reading list consists mainly of memoirs and personal accounts of BIPOC authors. Mander hopes book club attendees can see their experiences represented and feel seen and heard when reading these stories. 

The book club is geared towards youth aged 16-25, with the idea of facilitating the sharing of knowledge between generations and encouraging conversation around how BIPOC communities move forward with these histories.  

“A lot of the work and the knowledge that I've gained, I feel is super important to pass on to this next chapter in this next generation. You're passing on the knowledge. All the work that you've done is not lost, but you're investing in the youth so that you're providing them with spaces, mentorship and support," said Mander. 

At its heart, Echo is about creating safe spaces and part of that is ensuring the club itself is as accessible as possible. The monthly sessions are held online, eliminating the need for a commute. The online environment also allows participants to leave their cameras off and participate as much or as little as they wish. 

Mander also wanted to move away from the constraints of the average book club, encouraging readers of all levels and experiences to join and removing the usual obligation to finish the book before attending. Echo is about the quality of discussion over the quantity of books read, so participants are welcome to join monthly discussions even if they've only read a few pages. 

"I try to think about myself as a participant, I try to think if I was entering this conversation, how would I navigate it? . . . Part of that, for me, is encouraging people to be able to come and go in space as needed, based on their energy levels," said Mander. 

Additionally, Mander recognized the increasing cost of books might pose a barrier to some and to ensure Echo does not become a financial burden, a free physical copy of each month's book will be mailed to registered participants a month in advance. Participants are encouraged to sign up as early as possible as space is limited. 

The Echo book club is meant to be an inclusive space for all BIPOC community members and allies, offering the opportunity for them to learn and grow with these stories and to feel part of a community. 

"One of my key phrases and one that I always like to repeat in my mind over and over again is this: I want BIPOC folks to feel like they can go from a place of just surviving to thriving. I want to see that happen. And so this [book club] is my way of contributing a space to my community," said Mander. 

Echo will be launching April 25 at 6:30 p.m. with the discussion of Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up

Photo by Hannah Walters-Vida / Editor-In-Chief

By Nathan Todd, Contributor

This year, Ontario has seen significant and damaging cuts to funding for students, student associations, universities and the public employees who keep universities and communities running. 

Many of you may have already felt the impact of these changes — there are already reports of students who are no longer able to attend university because of the elimination of some Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) grants. In addition, the Student Choice Initiative left student and graduate associations scrambling over the summer in attempts to prepare for and minimize the funding cuts that the SCI would bring.

Teaching assistants who are often students are not immune to these negative effects. As students, we are affected by the cuts to OSAP, and as members of either the McMaster Students Union or the Graduate Students Association, we are also members of associations facing considerable budget cuts. On top of this, our ongoing rounds of bargaining with McMaster University for a new employment contract, among other things, threatens to leave us in an even more precarious situation. 

As public employees, we are also now facing Bill 124, a proposed piece of legislation which would mandate that our wage increases do not exceed one per cent, an amount that does not keep up with the cost of inflation. In other words, Bill 124 effectively mandates that we take pay cuts over the next three years.

To put this in a better context, graduate TAs who work 260 hours (which is usually the most a TA can work at Mac) earn less than $11,500 for the year, and undergraduate TAs earn considerably less than that. This is not enough to balance the tuition we need to pay in order to have access to the job in the first place. Given these circumstances, increases to our wages and benefits are always a priority for us in bargaining. Unfortunately, McMaster is not willing to entertain an agreement that wouldn’t conform to Bill 124 should the bill become law. Therefore, meaningful wage increases seem to be a non-starter for the university.

Beyond Bill 124, McMaster is also looking to roll back the amount of hours TAs are entitled to work, making our ability to pay for tuition and keep up with the cost of living even more difficult. 

Wage increases are not our only priority. One of the top priorities we identified before heading into bargaining was paid job-specific and anti-oppressive training for TAs. As it stands, there is no training for TAs. This means that they are learning how to run labs, teach tutorials, mentor and grade on the job! In asking for paid training, we are not asking for anything you wouldn’t expect from working in an office, a high school or a McDonald’s.

McMaster, however, is unsure if paid TA training is feasible. Let me repeat that: A university isn’t sure if it is feasible to teach people how to teach.

As a TA of about five years, I think we do a good job. But running tutorials and grading the assignments that go on to impact the lives of undergraduates is serious, professional work. As TAs, we recognize that. This is why we are asking for professional training to ensure that undergraduates are getting the highest quality teaching possible. Not only would paid training help TAs financially, but it would also benefit us professionally and it would benefit the students who rely on us.

If our bargaining continues to stall, there is a chance you will get messages from McMaster or members in the community about TAs being difficult or that what we are asking for is unreasonable. If this happens, please keep in mind that we are asking for things that any reasonable professional ought to — the ability to keep up with the cost of inflation and the proper training to do our jobs.

Given the attacks that university members have seen through the cuts to OSAP, the Student Choice Initiative and the looming Bill 124, it is more important than ever that we collectively resist attacks on the most vulnerable. McMaster claims it is committed to making a “Brighter World” – TAs and students deserve to be part of it.

Nathan Todd is the President of CUPE 3906

 

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Photos by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor 

By Marzan Hamid, Contributor

McMaster University’s Welcome Week is loud and full of spirit — and rightfully so. It is the one week of the year where students are allowed to be shamelessly rowdy and proud of the school they go to. It is a time for first years to make McMaster and its community their home. 

However, in order to truly make Mac a home for everyone, the week needs to be accessible to a wider range of personalities. It needs to welcome both those who love the noise, and those who don’t. 

McMaster is a diverse university in many ways. As its students, we have many different mother tongues, we coexist in different faiths and we study different passions. Students at Mac come from all points of the personality spectrum, too. However, these differences don’t seem to be taken into consideration. 

Welcome Week events are synonymous to heaven for extroverts. Loud crowds during faculty fusion? Hell yeah. Meeting 300 new people in a day and introducing the same three details over and over again? Nothing better. Raving to Bryce Vine in a mosh pit? Wouldn’t miss it for the world. 

On the flip side, introverts find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. For people who want some downtime away from the large crowds where they cannot find much more than a few superficial connections, Welcome Week can be emotionally draining. While faculty and residence reps can be a huge resource for this exhaustion, it is undeniable that a disproportionate number of Welcome Week events cater to extroverted students, leaving their introverted counterparts feeling forced into situations they would much rather avoid. 

The few low-key events that do exist are not as well promoted or organized. Things like painting or hikes can get crowded easily and limit the intimacy of connections that can be formed. Not to mention, introverted out-of-province and international students can easily feel isolated if they don’t already have friends on campus. 

Small group activities are especially hard to come by in larger faculties where organization becomes difficult — however, we must remember who and what the week is for: for embracing new Marauders. Despite the challenges we may encounter when making students feel at home, it should be emphasized that there is truly something available for everyone to try. Whether that is through small group activities running alongside the bigger events (which are promoted just as much), or having designated areas on campus for downtime activities, we need to make strides to make this nervous time of year easier for everyone. 

Many students are on their own for the first time in their life; this comes with its own set of problems and anxieties. Welcome Week shouldn’t have to be another. It should be a week as enjoyable for the social butterflies as it is for the wallflowers. 

 

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Graphic C/O Robin Lamarr

When yoga instructor Christopher Bourke began a queer and trans yoga class at Andrea Soos Yoga Studio in Dundas, a consistent piece of feedback he kept hearing was that it wasn’t accessible due to its location. Many current and prospective attendees were hoping for a yoga series downtown.

Bourke began to think about solving this problem and that’s when he crossed paths with Robin Lamarr of movement and wellness collective Ritual Island. Together they collaborated to bring his queer and trans yoga classes to the most bustling part of the city.

The result was Q+T Solidarity Moves, a beginner friendly queer and trans strength, mobility and restorative movement series at Redchurch Café and Gallery on King Street East. The $15 one-hour class — or $40 for all four classes — is taking place at 3 p.m. every Sunday from Nov. 18 to Dec. 9.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bp9cFoQBFJQ/

Like with other Ritual Island classes, Q+T Solidarity Moves intends to be enjoyable and inclusive. By taking the practice outside of a yoga studio and promoting an accepting environment, the class attracts individuals who don’t feel represented in traditional yoga spaces.

“There is just a vulnerability around… yoga wear or… being in those spaces and not feeling comfortable to be in your body… I've had people come to me in previous classes who aren't out at work in terms of their gender presentation or their sexual identity. So it's just nice for them to come to a space where they can actually be who they want to be,” Bourke explained.

As the name suggests, solidarity is a pillar upon which the class is built. Attending provides participants with a free coffee or tea after the class or a 25 per cent off discount to a lunch up to $10. Bourke intends to hang around at the cafe after the classes to mingle with any participants who would like to socialize and meet new people.

Bourke likes that the class is providing another venue and opportunity for socialization following the closing of Hamilton’s LBGTQ2S+ bar, Embassy. On the other hand, socialization is not expected or obligatory and Bourke welcomes people to come even if they want to leave right after the class.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BpPh-QcB94w/

[spacer height="20px"]Bourke believes in the healing power of being and moving together as a community. The strength built during the class will be connected to the strength needed to face one’s day-to-day challenges.

I wanted it to be very purposeful from the beginning that we're coming together and the intention behind what we're doing isn't just to do movement, it’s to integrate the skill that you get from movement to build our solidarity as a community… and then… actually use the resources that we get in that space to do work outside,” Bourke explained.

Bourke is leading the charge on this work by donating his proceeds from the classes to Rainbow Railroad, a charity that helps LGBTQ2S+ individuals escape persecution and violence in one of the 71 countries around the world where being LGBTQ2S+ is still criminalized.

Bourke chose the charity in light of the recent crackdown of LGBTQ2S+ individuals in Tanzania, which is personal to him as he has friends living there. He also wanted to donate to Rainbow Railroad as they are in the midst of their #60in60 Campaign to raise $600 000 to save 60 lives in the final 60 days of 2018.

In this way, Q+T Solidarity Moves aims to stand in solidarity with people all over the world. Yet despite those heavy undertones, the movement series will definitely be light-hearted and fun, with a dash of Bourke’s humour and Robyn’s dance-pop tracks playing in the background.

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When I walked into the MSU Charity Ball, I didn’t exactly hold my breath. Instead I staggered in, put my hands into my pant pockets, and whispered to no one at all, “Here we go again.”

Maybe it was the jumbling together of the decay and life of the city that branded me with a smug weariness. Right near Jackson Square with the wet-smog of a sewer filling my nostrils, I was asked for change by a homeless man. I, donned in my suit and tie, probably seemed insulting in my fumbling reply: don’t have any.

Or maybe it was because I felt the night would be like all others. Loud music would drum through my ears. I’d bounce. I’d teeter. I’d repeat in that order. I’d dance this way then that way then this way again, painfully aware of how bad I am at shuffling around. Photos would be taken. I’d smile, be told I blinked, I’d smile again, be told I wasn’t smiling, I’d smile one more time, and a grumble of forced satisfaction would answer how I looked. I’d talk to people who I don’t know for no other reason besides close proximity. I’d have dressed up myself in every way, laughing at jokes that I don’t find funny and doing things I probably wouldn’t do otherwise. Most of all, I’d probably be drunk – poisoned at any cost in order to have fun.

But unlike my brain-grinding first year formal events where being zonked was a requirement, not a necessity, the Charity Ball was different. I was surprised. For the first time a party’s mould wasn’t forced onto the attendants. Rather than everyone having to dance to music that a select number of people liked, there were videogame consoles, silent auctions, rooms playing alternate music like Motown, and rooms filled with various hor d'oeuvres, from vegetarian poutine to cotton candy, where one could just sit and socialize with friends.

This variety was enlivening. Though I have been critical of the MSU in the past – an inevitability that comes with power – I saw that this less like a ball and more of a gathering of many different people with many different interests. More than glitter on the dresses or the lasers that pulsed through the darkness, what shined through was the attempt to be inclusive for all those in the diverse McMaster community.

If you pardon the poor play-on words, this inclusivity was magical.

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