Photo by Kyle West

Students entering university are faced with many new things: new classes, new friends and sometimes even new living arrangements. But students living in on-campus residences should not have to worry about their safety.

To help students transition into living away from home, and to enforce the rules of residence life, McMaster University community advisors live with first-year students in their residences. Their purpose is to “develop and maintain an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth.”

To be a CA, one must fulfill many qualifications including maintaining a minimum sessional average of 6.0, being a full-time McMaster University student, demonstrating responsibility and leadership abilities and have a working knowledge or building community within students.

But for all the listed requirements, CAs are not required to complete any sort of police background check, including a very important vulnerable sector check.

VS checks are a collection of offence information that is restricted to applicants seeking employment or volunteering in a position of authority or trust over vulnerable persons in Canada. They can be obtained easily from the police service in your residing jurisdiction.

The lack of VS checks for CAs is problematic for many reasons. For one, many incoming students are under 18-years-old. In these cases, it is evident that these students are considered vulnerable persons and subsequently require additional protection from those in positions of authority and trust like CAs.

But even for incoming students who are legally adults, their role as a first-year student inherently places them in a lower position of power relative to their CAs. This power dynamic can be harmful if the CAs have a history of offensive behaviour.

CAs have a lot of influence over the first-year students under their supervision. CAs are oftentimes students’ first interaction with upper-year students and are meant to be the go-to person for questions about campus and residence life. To not conduct a proper background check on them is negligent of the university in ensuring that students are protected.

The lack of VS checks is not an exclusive issue of CAs. In addition to CAs, residence-affiliated positions such as the residence orientation representative are not required to complete VS checks.

In fact, part-time managers, the board of directors and other McMaster Students Union positions do not require the completion of a VS check.

Considering that almost all of these roles involve interaction with and power over a vulnerable population of students, it makes no sense why these roles do not require VS checks. If anything, the lack of VS checks puts students in avoidable danger.

In addition to VS checks, McMaster University should do a more thorough job of ensuring that individuals hired for their positions are positive reflections of the university. This includes ensuring that these individuals have not been reported to university administration or asked to withdraw from their positions previously.

The lack of sufficient and necessary screening of individuals in positions of power within the university is alarming. For McMaster University to truly commit to ensuring student safety, they must create better hiring policies that begin with implementation of VS checks.

 

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By: Allison Ouellette

“Soap causes cancer!” screamed numerous news outlets this week. The findings from a study produced by researchers from the University of California have been grossly exaggerated.

The university’s press release, “The Dirty Side of Soap,” misrepresents the study’s results. It claims that triclosan, a common antimicrobial agent in hygiene products, “causes liver fibrosis and cancer in mice.” By exaggerating the scope of the research, the press release misleads readers, including journalists.

Shortly after the press release was published, fear-mongering articles from popular news sources arose. They unduly warned readers that triclosan could harm their health. One source called the research a “cancer scare.” Others falsely reported the findings as conclusive and exaggerated the study’s relevance to humans. Many writers distorted the scope of the research to the extent that the “facts” in their articles barely resemble the study’s conclusions.

Contrary to the university’s press release and several online articles, the researchers did not conclude that triclosan causes cancer in mice. The researchers found that large amounts of ingested triclosan may promote tumour growth in mice. To observe triclosan’s effect on tumour growth, the researchers injected mice with a chemical (diethylnitrosamine) that is capable of inducing liver cancer.

In a separate group of mice, the researchers found that ingested triclosan can lead to liver damage.

The study results cannot be applied to humans. Although mice are used to model human disease, some chemicals that are toxic to mice may not be toxic to humans. As the authors of the study recommend, long-term observational studies in humans must be conducted before triclosan’s effect on humans can be understood. Also, since people do not eat large amounts of triclosan as the mice did in the study, the results observed in the mice are not reasonable to expect in humans.

Although the study does not provide enough evidence to condemn antibacterial soap, consumers may want to reconsider purchasing antibacterial soaps for other reasons. Though triclosan and other antibacterial agents are useful to healthcare workers, Health Canada notes that antibacterial soap is usually unnecessary in the home. Further, when triclosan is washed down the drain, it may cause environmental damage. Triclosan in toothpaste, however, can significantly prevent plaque and gingivitis, according to the Cochrane Review.

The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal. According to standard practice, to access an article in the journal, one must either belong to an organization or institution that purchases a subscription, or pay for access to the article. Consequently, most people do not have access to articles published in journals.

Even if the public were granted access to journals, articles would still be inaccessible. Few people possess enough scientific literacy to interpret and evaluate a biological study. Most people rely on writers and journalists to identify and publicize important research findings.

It is the responsibility of science correspondents to be scientifically literate and commit to reporting findings accurately. They must critically evaluate a study and understand the significance of findings before they can communicate truthfully. Just as ignorance of the law is not an excuse for committing a crime, lack of scientific literacy is not an excuse for distributing false information.

Shocking and overblown headlines commit a disservice to readers. Exaggerated research findings may serve to boost traffic to websites, increase research funding, or sway consumers to purchase certain products. None of these reasons justify invoking gratuitous fear in readers.

The latest research does not demonstrate whether triclosan negatively affects human health. It is unethical to claim otherwise. The media must uphold the integrity of science to produce ethical journalism. Fear mongering and sensationalizing disrupts the shared foundation of science and journalism: to report truthfully.

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