Photo by Kyle West

CW: Islamophobia, violence

 

On March 19, hundreds of students, faculty and staff filled the McMaster University Student Centre courtyard to mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre.

The terrorist attack was committed on March 15 by a white supremacist who opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing a total of 50 people and injuring 50 others.

The attack was considered the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s recent history.

The vigil was organized by the McMaster Muslim Students Association in collaboration with the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists. The three groups brought 15 speakers from various parts of the community to speak.

The vigil began with a recitation from the Quran.

In a particularly poignant moment following the recitation, the organizers honoured and read out the names of the 50 who died due to the attack.

A theme echoed throughout the vigil was that the attack reflected a larger movement of white supremacy, Islamophobia and bigotry across the globe.

“White supremacy exists, toxic masculinity exists, misogyny exists. Xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia exist. These things exist in New Zealand, in the United States. They also exist right here in Canada, in Ontario, in Hamilton,” said Khadijeh Rakie, a staff member of the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office.

Rakie encouraged Muslim people to grieve freely.

“I don’t think our strength or grief must be looked at in one way, or need to be performative or palatable or always available for public consumption,” said Rakie.

Speakers pointed out the connection between Christchurch and the 2017 Quebec mosque attack, completed by a white supremacist, which killed six people in prayer.

“Far-right populist leaders around the world and false media narratives have stoked the fires behind the dehumanization and demonization of Muslims worldwide, causing events like the one in Christchurch,” said one student speaker.

Many speakers also expressed appreciation for other faith groups who have supported and stood in solidarity with them since the attack.

Other speakers encouraged Muslim and non-Muslims alike to actively stand against discrimination in all its forms.

“As different societies face all forms of prejudice, persecution and rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, visitors and worshippers of all kinds of faith, backgrounds, and communities, we must all stand together against all forms of violence, ignorance and hatred,” said another student speaker.

Mahmood Haddara, the president of McMaster MSA, called for compassion and unity.

“We need at times like these to build those connections with each other, to turn towards each other, to remind ourselves of that love and that connection, to look at the person next to you regardless  of their skin colour or their belief and remind yourself that they are your brother or sister in humanity,” said Haddara.

Following the speeches, the organizers held an open prayer in the MUSC atrium.

Gachi Issa, one of the organizers of the vigil, said she is grateful for the support from the McMaster community and hopes the vigil will also spark discussion about discrimination and Islamophobia in Hamilton and on the McMaster campus.

“The message is first and foremost to mourn these [50] and counting victims in New Zealand, but it’s also to localize it,” said Issa. “The same thing that has killed them affects us here.”

 

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Photo C/O @djnontario

By: Donna Nadeem

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario is a Hamilton-based organization launched in September by McMaster alumni Sarah Jama and Eminet Dagnachew and McMaster student Shanthiya Baheerathan.

The co-founders initially got together because of their aligning interests. For instance, Jama was working with the McMaster Students Union Diversity Services as an access coordinator, trying to push the university to create a service for people with disabilities.

“I always think that there is more that could be done, that the institution doesn’t do a good job of supporting people with disabilities in terms of responding to professors who don’t want to accommodate. There is still a lot from what I’m seeing as a person who has graduated,” said Jama.

Last year, the co-founders received an Ontario Trillium grant over 36 months to create and run the organization. The basis of DJNO is to pose questions to the community of people with disabilities to see what it is they want to work on and how DJNO can use their resources to support the community it serves.

One of DJNO’s larger goals is to politically activate and mobilize people with disabilities who consistently get left out of conversations that affect their lives.

“Our goal is to politically activate and mobilize people with disabilities across the city and the province over time and to be able to hold the institutions and places and people accountable for the spaces that they create,” said Jama.

The research committee for DJNO has recently been working on data collection for a study on issues for racialized people with disabilities.

According to Jama, there is a lack of data collection on this subject.

The DJNO also has a youth advisory council that teaches people with disabilities how to politically organize.

In just a few months of being in operation, the DJNO has hosted several events, such as a community conversation event about the Hamilton light rail transit project, a film screening and panel discussion about Justice For Soli, a movement seeking justice for the death of Soleiman Faqiri, who was killed in prison after being beaten by guards.

The film screening and panel discussion was organized alongside McMaster Muslims For Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists.

On March 26, the DJNO will be hosting an event called “Race and Disability: Beyond a One Dimensional Framework” in Celebration Hall at McMaster.

This discussion, being organized in collaboration with the MSU Maccess and the MSU Women and Gender Equity Network, will tackle “the intersections of race/racialization, disability, and gender for all McMaster Community Members.”

Next week, the DJNO will also be organizing a rally with Justice for Soli in order to speak out against violence against people with disabilities.

The Justice for Soli team has been tirelessly advocating for justice, accountability, sounding the alarm of deeply systemic issues in the prison system, namely the violence that it inflicts on racialized peoples, and people with disabilities,” reads part of the event page.

For McMaster students interested in getting involved with the organization, DJNO has some open committees and is looking for individuals to help identify major community issues.

The campaign committee meets at the Hamilton Public Library monthly. Students can email info@djno.ca for more information.

 

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Photos C/O Trevor Copp

By: Jackie McNeill

Tottering Biped Theatre, a Hamilton-based theatre company founded by Trevor Copp, has reached over 600,000 views on a TED Talk about ‘liquid lead dancing,’ a gender neutral form of partner dancing.

Several McMaster alumni are involved in the theatre company, particularly with their summer Shakespeare work held at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The theatre is social justice-focused, devising works that have addressed issues like poverty, same sex marriage and mental health and different interpretations of Shakespeare.

However, as prominent as the theatre’s work is, it is not what Copp is arguably best known for.

In 2015, he and his colleague Jeff Fox delivered a TED Talk in Montreal on a dance concept they developed called ‘liquid lead dancing.’

Liquid lead dancing, a form of gender neutral partner dance, was born out of Copp’s discomfort with the systems and rules he was perpetuating as a ballroom dance teacher.

As explained in their TED Talk, the strictly gendered partner dancing promotes a relationship shaped by dictation, where the man leads and the woman follows.

He and Fox developed liquid lead dancing to turn this dictation into a negotiation.

It proposes a system where lead and follow are exchanged throughout the course of the dance regardless of gender,” Copp explained.

This change of form will hopefully become normalized as a dance and help to normalize healthy relationships outside of partner dance as well.

The liquid lead dance between Copp and Fox morphed into a play about creating the first dance for a same sex wedding.

After a successful run of the play, a former student contacted Copp about presenting their dance form as a TED talk.

Copp and Fox’s TED talk was picked up by TED.com, and has over 600,00 views to date.

Despite the success of the TED talk, Copp admits that it has not been all smooth sailing promoting liquid lead dancing.

“Most people are comfortable with their given role, and, even though they aren't particularly traditional in their thinking, allow it to decide their roles as dancers. There's comfort in the familiar. I don't begrudge it at all. I just think that if you're going to recreate a culturally outdated form you should be conscious of it by making a choice to do so as opposed to sleepwalking your way through the dance form.”

Acknowledging that the work he had done with liquid lead dance is not that well-known in Hamilton, Copp is aiming to work harder at spreading the dance form in the future.

As explained in the TED Talk, liquid lead dancing is not about dance alone.

By addressing the strict roles perpetuated in partner dancing, Copp and Fox have begun to address the erasure of non-binary people and same-sex couples in dance, in addition to the exclusion of Black, Asian and other non-white bodies.

By bringing these issues that are prevalent within ballroom and partner dance to a wider audience with the TED Talk and Copp’s theatre company, the same issues that are prevalent in everyday life stand a better chance at being addressed.

Copp has performed liquid lead dance at conferences throughout Ontario, New York and Ireland and is looking forward to next presenting at a conference on consent and sexuality with Planned Parenthood in Virginia.

 

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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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Photo by Kyle West

Following recent snowstorms that deposited as much as 40 cm onto Hamilton streets, some Hamilton residents are using social media to bring attention to the issue of snow-covered residential sidewalks.

Currently, residents are expected to clear snow from their sidewalks within 24 hours of a “snow event.” If residents fail to comply, the city will issue a 24-hour “Notice to Comply,” followed by possible inspection and a contracting fee for the homeowner.

However, residents say both residential and city sidewalks are still not being cleared, either by residents or by the city.

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario has encouraged residents to participate in the “Snow and Tell” campaign by tweeting out pictures of snow or ice-covered roads and sidewalks using the hashtag #AODAfail, referring to the Accessibility for Ontarians for Disabilities Act.

https://twitter.com/VicBick/status/1087879002092646401

McMaster student and local community organizer Sophie Geffros supports the campaigns and says it a serious issue of accessibility and justice.

Geffros uses a wheelchair and knows how especially difficult it can be for those who use mobility devices to navigate through snow-covered streets.

“It's people who use mobility devices. It's people with strollers. And it's older folks. People end up on the street. If you go on any street after a major storm, you'll see people in wheelchairs and with buggies on the street with cars because the sidewalks just aren't clear,” Geffros said.

https://twitter.com/sgeffros/status/1087384392866123778

Snow-covered sidewalks also affect the ability for people, especially those who use mobility devices, to access public transit.

“Even when snow has been cleared, often times when it gets cleared, it gets piled on curb cuts and piled near bus stops and all these places that are that are vital to people with disabilities,” Geffros said.

https://twitter.com/craig_burley/status/1088798476081741824

Geffros sees the need for clearing sidewalks as non-negotiable.

“By treating our sidewalk network as not a network but hundreds of individual tiny chunks of sidewalk, it means that if there's a breakdown at any point in that network, I can't get around,” Geffros said. “If every single sidewalk on my street is shoveled but one isn't, I can't use that entire sidewalk. We need to think of it as a vital service in the same way that we think of road snow clearance as a vital service.”

Public awareness about the issue may push city council.

Some councillors have expressed support for a city-run snow clearing service, including Ward 1 councillor Maureen Wilson and Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann.

I just don’t find it all that complicated. Cities are for people. It is in our best interest, financial and otherwise, to plow sidewalks. It’s also a matter of justice. I await the city manager’s report and ensuing debate

— Maureen Wilson (She / Her) (@ward1wilson) January 29, 2019

A city council report issued in 2014 stated that a 34 dollar annual increase in tax for each homeowner would be enough to fund sidewalk snow-clearing.

Recently, Wilson requested the city council to issue a new report on the potential costs of funding snow-clearing service.

Geffros sees potential for the current discourse to open up to further discussions on other issues of accessibility and social justice.

Hamilton’s operating budget will likely be finalized around April. Until then, Geffros and other Hamilton residents will continue to speak out on the issue.

 

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By: Sunanna Bhasin

Very recently, media outlets exploded with the news that Canadian serial killer and rapist, Paul Bernardo, had released a fictional violence-filled thriller and that Amazon Canada had categorized it as a #1 Best Seller. Bernardo was convicted of murder and sexual assault in 1993. He was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole after 25 years. As the 25-year mark approaches, Bernardo has not only published his e-book A MAD World Order, he has also applied for day parole in Toronto three years early. The publishing of this novel — said to be filled with gory descriptions and violent crimes — is a double-edged sword: it will decrease his already near-zero chances at parole, but it has also reminded victims of his horrific crimes.

Bernardo is classified as a dangerous offender, meaning that he can be detained for an indefinite amount of time. This label was given to him after being convicted mainly for two first-degree murders and two aggravated sexual assaults of teenage girls, Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. Ironically, Bernardo’s trial was subject to a publication ban in Canada to protect witnesses and victims, yet here Bernardo is today, more than 20 years later, able to freely publish work on the internet.

While Amazon Canada pulled the novel from the site a few days ago, it is astonishing that the book was published in the first place. It only took 80,000 signatures on a petition by NEWSTALK1010 calling for the removal of the book and Amazon customers threatening to take their services elsewhere for Amazon to act and stop selling the book. Someone like Bernardo, who has committed the most despicable, disgusting crimes, including raping young women outside their parents’ homes and murdering schoolgirls, does not deserve any sort of online presence. Yet, Amazon did not seem to care about the immorality attached to the book until their business was being threatened.

It is one thing for Bernardo to have needed a creative outlet to help him cope with his isolation, but it is another thing to give someone who has orchestrated unforgivable crimes publicity, without any sort of care for victims. Bernardo’s living victims who are witness to the publication of his book have every right to question Amazon’s much too flexible policy. Before being removed, A MAD World Order was selling for $7.77 according to the Globe and Mail, meaning that it earned 70 percent in royalties. If Amazon truly doesn’t “accept books that provide a poor customer experience” which the company states in its content guidelines, then where was the foresight when they decided it was okay to provide a platform for a convicted murderer and rapist to profit? The fact that Bernardo was given even a minute to profit off descriptions of killings, which he knows all too well, is horrifying. Amazon’s quick decision to pull Bernardo’s e-book from the site does not seem to be out of concern for his negative influence and the repercussions his online presence has already caused, but rather out of fear for losing the bulk of its dedicated customers.

The reality is that Paul Bernardo has hurt more than his chances of parole by publishing this book, but ultimately it is Amazon’s responsibility to screen what is being submitted. The book should never have been allowed on the site. Despite Amazon’s intentions being questionable, it was a smart move on their part to remove Bernardo’s book from their platform. At the end of the day, all that Bernardo’s online presence does is cause his horrific actions to be remembered, and because the nature of the publication does not represent any form of apology or regret, he should not be granted the right to sell his work.

Photo Credit: David Paul Morris

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