C/O Andrew Mrozowski

While there may be an explanation for unruly students, they sure aren’t blameless

By: Zara Khan, Contributor

University entails huge transitions, from moving out to becoming fully independent. Students become able to make their own decisions and set their own bedtime. They become able to make decisions on whether or not they spend the night out or stay inside. In the end, you realize that your day-to-day choices are now entirely up to you, with the only exception being the people around you who influence your decision-making process.. That sounds pretty exciting if you think about it, but what if this excitement leads to decisions that end up wrecking your entire future career? 

Insert McMaster’s homecoming party, also termed FOCO. It was quite the scene when looking at it from an outsider’s perspective. From the perspective of a first-year student going with no experience of such an event, it may have looked intimidating, but perhaps also fun and enticing to be a part of. 

Any students who may have missed out may well have silently thanked their decision after hearing about the events that occured. First-year Ashley Hogan’s car — a white Mazda — was flipped over and completely totalled. Ashley was away on a rowing competition and heard about the event on social media, with a GoFundMe page started by her friend having received over $10,000 in donations. During the unsanctioned celebration, people were disturbing homeowners and entering random backyards in the area. Others were ripping out street signs, jumping from tree to tree trying to cross the road, littering and lifting people with shopping carts inside them as well. Two individuals were charged under the Liquor License Act and five others for causing a disturbance. 

The general motivation behind such an event was clearly hopes of enjoying the first homecoming event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. From my own observations, many off-campus houses were also throwing their own parties, though they didn’t come close to the degree of property damage that ensued at the ‘FOCO’ party. 

While such rhetoric may be understandable to a certain degree, the extent of the damage and harm caused by some of the events at ‘FOCO’ are quite frankly way over the line. There were indeed many challenges faced by students over the past year, including online classes, but the fact that students are “back” on campus does not give them the right to engage in the destructive acts that took place during McMaster’s homecoming party.

This also applies to students at other universities. The effects of isolation on the brain are still being studied, with frustration and a decrease in mental health commonly discussed in studies. In fact, loneliness has been found to reduce brain volumes in the prefrontal cortex, a region important in decision making and social behavior, although other research suggests this relationship might be mediated by personality factors as well.

With all this being said, going out every once in a while because of the feeling of finally being “free” and not having to quarantine anymore is totally acceptable as long as you follow the law and stay safe. I’d advise not doing anything that would put your future at risk and tapping into that rational part of your brain that helps with making decisions in times like these. As students, we are becoming responsible for our own decisions and it is important to use this privilege ethically. 

Photo by Cindy Cui

We have seen many drastic changes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including the closure of several Ontario universities, the introduction of travel bans and a decline in group gatherings. This has forced many people to quickly adapt — for example, students are learning online, grocery stores have limited the number of toilet paper rolls you can buy and people are being restricted to their homes. Physical distancing, which involves minimizing contact with others, has affected societal norms to the point where we have changed the way that we are communicating. However, despite being physically distant, communities seem to be more tight-knit than ever. This has made me wonder — why can’t things always be this way?

I’ve seen a surge of Instagram stories and posts pop up on social media that are very different from the norm. Usually, I see carefully curated Instagram profiles, posts of places people are vacationing and aesthetic coffee dates. However, because most people are self-quarantining, we are unable to make those posts anymore. Instead, I’ve seen more intimate posts, ranging from self-love selfie challenges to posts appreciating others and even to open posts offering FaceTime chats to anyone who may feel isolated during this time. 

During this particularly isolating time, I’ve seen many more people reaching out to their loved ones. In fact, one of my friends has scheduled video calls with her family just so they can update each other on their lives. Despite the fact that we can no longer see each other in-person, I’ve had more friends reach out and talk to me because they want to check up on me or just get to know me better as a person. We’ve become increasingly connected despite the distance, and hopefully this is something we can continue to do when we’re no longer quarantined in our homes.

These individual actions and growing trends may seem insignificant during an ongoing pandemic, but many individuals taking these small actions in their lives can have a large impact on our community. One silver lining of COVID-19 is that this pandemic has truly brought the community together to care for those who need it most. For example, the McMaster Healthcare Students COVID-19 Response Team, an initiative created by McMaster University medical student Mary Boulos, is helping healthcare workers on the front line with errands they are currently unable to manage themselves. Student volunteers are helping healthcare workers with things such as child care, pet-sitting and groceries, among other things. Because of this initiative, healthcare workers such as nurses, doctors and hospital staff can focus on providing care to COVID-19 patients and not have to worry about taking care of their family and potentially infecting them.

Initiatives like these are not something people would usually dream of in a normal setting. When else would someone babysit your child for free because you’re swamped at work? If you need someone to take care of your child, the median cost for child care centres in Ontario is $1152 per month for an infant and $835 per month for a preschooler. Another option would be to hire a babysitter if you need someone for an on-and-off basis. However, because students have gained a lot more time on our hands due to in-person classes and extracurricular events being cancelled, they are able to provide free support for others.

Helping out our community comes in many forms. You can see it through in-person interactions such as the ones I’ve just mentioned, but you can also see it in other forms. For example, the McMaster University Campus Store is now providing free access to course materials until April 30. The Hamilton Street Railway is also asking people to board busses from the rear doors to protect their drivers and providing free transit until at least April 5. The Canadian government is also providing the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides workers with a taxable benefit of $2000 per month for up to four months if their income has been impacted by COVID-19. 

All these initiatives are in light of the current struggles that many people are facing due to the pandemic. I’ve seen so many people be more considerate, kind and forgiving because we’re all going through a very difficult time. But it also makes me wonder why we couldn’t have these safety nets and forms of support in the first place. This pandemic was a harsh lesson of how to be compassionate and kind to others when we all have to adapt to harsh circumstances. 

So far, we know that we are capable of reaching out to others to provide support during a very scary and isolating time that everyone is facing in different ways. We know we can show compassion to others on an individual level by checking in on loved ones or even forming new friendships. We also know that the university is able to provide free access to textbooks, that free transit has been provided in the worst circumstances and that the government can support those in need of a livable income. 

Maybe we didn’t realize we could accomplish these things in the first place and provide that safety net for people who need it most. But moving forward, we should remember that during a pandemic, we were capable of supporting each other. And that after all of this is over, we can and should do better when caring for our communities.

Let us preface this guide by telling you that if this period of uncertainty is stressing you the f*&k out, it's okay. There's quite a bit on our minds — reorganization of courses, fears over graduation, lost jobs and co-ops, forced move-outs and the sudden disruption of pretty much everything.

In more ways than one, this time is defining our present and future, and soon it will be just a single moment in our collectives histories. The details of the stories and lessons we will learn are blurry, but there's no doubt that this time presents an opportunity for our communities to re-emerge breathing a new rhythm. So slow down, discover a new pace for yourself and appreciate reflective silences. Lean into companionships with your loved ones, neighbours and strangers — especially our community members who are being disproportionately impacted right now. Nothing about this is normal, and it's okay to feel a little lost.

The Silhouette staff made this guide with McMaster undergraduate students in mind, we hope you'll find it helpful. This guide will be updated as we learn to navigate this period of change together.


Photo by Kyle West

By: Maryanne Oketch

One of the reasons I chose to enrol at McMaster University was for the diversity that the school claimed to offer. Coming from a predominantly white secondary school, I was excited to attend a new school. I was hopeful that I would make connections within my program and maybe gain a support system consisting of people that could relate to the experience of being Black in academia.

When I entered the integrated science program in 2016, I was disheartened to realize that in my year of entry, I was the only student in my program that was Black, alongside two other individuals with mixed backgrounds. Within the week, this dropped to two, as one person switched out. Within the month, it then became clear that the two of us were not just the only Black students in our year, but in the whole four-year program.

This lack of Black peers created a feeling that I had to be the best of the best, and when I couldn’t reach that goal, I would withdraw rather than reaching out. This caused damage to my grades, reputation and relationships with my peers.  

It is a well-known fact that there is a disparity between the Black population and our representation in higher education. This gap can be seen more in supplementary-based programs that McMaster offers, and my experience unfortunately is not an isolated one.

Multiple students from different programs stated that the lack of Black students in their programs made them feel like there were few people who could relate to the struggles that come with being Black.

There was also another complexity that I did not consider — the fact that there are more Black women in academia than Black men. One health sciences student, upon realizing that they were the only Black man in their whole year, experienced feelings of isolation.

In addition, a justice, political philosophy and law student was the only Black man in their program, and though he is friends with Black women, he notes that it is not fully the same.  

Regrettably, the issues that stem from the lack of diversity do not just have interpersonal effects, but also affect the learning experience. A student in the arts and science program said that there were times when a professor or student would ask a question that pertained to race, and the question would seem pointed at them, the only Black student in their year.

This student can also recall a moment when a professor made a comment about how some students may be used to hearing racist jokes, and then locked eyes with them, creating an uncomfortable situation.

Another former arts and science student had a class where a classmate attempted to defend slavery, and a professor who taught a class about oppression but refused to use the term “racism”. The student states that they never felt challenged by the program, and felt that they had to do the challenging rather than their instructors. This was due, they say, to the structure and instruction of the program being catered to their affluent white peers and not to them.

The catering of programs does not seem limited to just arts and science but can also be seen in McMaster Engineering Society programs. A student within the program switched out after one semester due to the lack of actual inquiry in the program, but a focus on the marks received.

When a peer in their program stated that "the disadvantaged [in Hamilton] aren't doing enough for the more privileged to help them," the professor did not immediately shut down this false and insensitive statement, but instead was complacent. In addition, the structure of the program encouraged students to repeat the same statistics because that is what is needed for a good grade, and not because the students wished to learn more about societal issues.

If multiple Black students in different years and different programs are saying the same thing, there needs to be some sort of change to support these students when they are in the program. I am not suggesting these programs change their selection process, because this lack of diversity is a systemic issue, and I do not have the knowledge to provide suitable solutions to help mitigate the effects.

Regardless, if McMaster strives for diversity and does not have the necessary structure to support the diverse students that they already have, then their efforts are just a baseless claim to obtain more money from a diverse group of students.


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Poster C/O Hamilton Youth Poets

By: Drew Simpson

Over a month of Hamilton Youth Poet’s Black Poet Residency has passed. So far, the residency has taken place at the Art Gallery of Hamilton every Saturday and the weekly residency will continue until May.

HYP is an arts organization that launched in October 2012. The organization’s four main goals are to manifest a community of cultural understanding, offer youth tools to deliver their writing and literary skill, engage youth towards their academic ambitions and to support aspiring artists’ professional development.  

Ultimately, HYP empowers young people by offering training as arts organizers and allowing youth to take part in the planning, promotion and facilitation of events. One of these events is the Black Poet Residency featuring Ian Keteku, a two-time national slam champion and multimedia artist, as a key facilitator.


Although both the organization and event have poets within its name, participants may be beyond the scope of experienced poets. Those who wish to develop their writing skills, editing, computer literacy and even multi-digital processes will benefit from the residency.

“Those interested need not regard themselves as poets or require any prior knowledge of poetry. The residency aims to transcend simply writing poems,” explains one of HYP’s teaching artists, Akintoye Asalu.   

This residency is in line with HYP’s focus on youth-focused events coordinated by youths, as it is aimed towards youth writers, performers and creative-minded individuals. As mentioned by Asalu, anyone who is interested in bettering their skills is welcome to attend.

“When our young people can tell and re-tell their histories in the context of public platforms, they are able to imagine and re-imagine their individual and collective identities and become culturally grounded in their own experiences,” explains HYP’s website.  


The residency aims to provide an inclusive and supportive space which allows black youth to express their experiences and explore their voices. Such a weekly residency is necessary in Hamilton, to amplify often-silenced voices while also developing skills and building community.  Asalu can attribute the prosperity of this residency as a participant himself.

“Being able to sit down and converse with people who understand the struggles that come with being a [person of colour] motivates me to keep using my art to help our community in as many ways as I can… My only hope is that the healthy dialogue that exists within the residency will spread to the rest of the community,” explains Asalu.  

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="235" gal_title="HYP Event"]

Poetry and art directly combat the sense of isolation people of colour experience on a daily basis. Especially as they face daily experiences with institutions that were built without them in mind.  

Asalu describes how poetry allows him to be the voice for those cast in silence; bringing light to silenced struggles. He also finds poetry as a healthy coping mechanism. Every HYP event puts youth at the center. Therefore, a Black-focused residency, puts Black youth at the center; a position that may be unfamiliar to them.

“I want Black people all around the city to feel comfortable talking about the things they go through on a day-to-day basis without fear of judgment from those around them. It is my belief that in order to enact change, we must first begin with constructive dialogue. Through this dialogue, constructive actions can be taken to improve the quality of life for [people of colour] as a whole,” explains Asalu.

This residency can be the defining moment for many Black youths in Hamilton. Raising their voices, attending to their mental health and finding support in community are never-ending obstacles for black youth. The ability to express struggles and unbox silenced concerns while doing so is a grand goal that when realized makes a positive difference in a young person’s life.     


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