C/O Georgia Kirkos

After a year of online school, McMaster gives professors the opportunity to teach courses in-person once again

For the past year, McMaster University has been completely online, with libraries and residences closed and classes taking place on Zoom and Microsoft Teams. However, as of this fall, not only has McMaster’s campus opened up, but many students now also have the opportunity to take classes in person once again. 

“It was really left up to the instructors to decide how they wanted to offer their classes in the fall because we wanted to make sure that they felt comfortable,” said Associate Dean of Social Sciences Tracy Prowse. 

Prowse explained that, in the faculty of social sciences, professors were first given the option to choose between online and in-person learning in February of this year, amidst the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who did choose to offer their classes in person were given the option in August to switch to a virtual platform instead, depending on their level of comfort with the current situation. 

“There were a very small number of courses that were originally scheduled to be in person that were shifting online,” explained Prowse. 

Prowse added that decisions to shift courses back online were made in August, so that course outlines could still be posted by mid-August, allowing students to prepare for the year. 

Maureen MacDonald, dean of sciences, offered perspective on how decisions about in-person learning were made within the faculty of science.

“We did, of course, consult with the professors about their preference and we took that tremendously into account, but it was a larger conversation about the learning outcomes and the learning experience and we did try to construct it so that every science student would have the potential to have at least one in-person learning component this term,” explained MacDonald.

“We did, of course, consult with the professors about their preference and we took that tremendously into account, but it was a larger conversation about the learning outcomes and the learning experience and we did try to construct it so that every science student would have the potential to have at least one in-person learning component this term.”

Maureen MacDonald, Dean of Sciences

For courses that are taking place in person this year, numerous safety measures have been put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As MacDonald explained, along with public health measures such as masks, McMaster Facility Services ensured that all McMaster buildings had appropriate ventilation. 

Further, as Prowse explained, any course that is a degree requirement must be accessible online as well. This means that, for these required courses, lectures must be recorded and uploaded to Echo 360 and assessments must take place virtually as well. 

“[With] any in-person class that is required for a degree, the instructor also has to ensure that a student could take that [class] virtually,” said Prowse. 

“[With] any in-person class that is required for a degree, the instructor also has to ensure that a student could take that [class] virtually."

Tracy Prowse, Associate Dean of Social Sciences

MacDonald stated that the return to some level of in-person learning will hopefully benefit students at McMaster, citing the importance of personal connection with peers and instructors. 

MacDonald also highlighted the unique significance of in-person learning for the sciences. 

“For science, we really believe the tactile component of experimentation, of physically trying to conduct an experiment or manipulate something in a discovery-based format, does lead to an enhanced learning,” said MacDonald. 

“For science, we really believe the tactile component of experimentation, of physically trying to conduct an experiment or manipulate something in a discovery-based format, does lead to an enhanced learning.”

Maureen MacDonald, Dean of Sciences

Although the plan for the winter semester is contingent on COVID-19 restrictions, Prowse stated that students should expect a return to in-person classes. 

“It's just been really nice to see students on campus. Even if a lot of their courses are still virtual or online, it's still nice to see people,” said Prowse.

How students have adapted to limited lab time, cancelled programs and remote research

C/O Firmbee.com

Doing a thesis or capstone project can be difficult in regular circumstances. In this virtual year, students have shown incredible innovation, determination and have made the most out of these trying times. These eight students from a range of disciplines and types of research have shared their challenges and triumphs navigating this strange and unpredictable year.

While each of their experiences is unique and insightful, many of these students had similar challenges and benefits in this online year.

Rya Buckley, who is also the Silhouette's Arts and Culture Editor, and Lee Higgins both had trouble with remote desktop access. Buckley couldn’t access the data or statistics program, SPSS and instead conducted her data analysis through Zoom calls in which she shared her screen with research coordinator Caroline Reid-Westoby. Higgins had concerns about speed and file safety.

“I needed one software which was on those computers and I just bought it instead because I didn’t want to deal with it. I just spent $120 on the software and bit the bullet,” said Higgins.

“I needed one software which was on those computers and I just bought it instead because I didn’t want to deal with it. I just spent $120 on the software and bit the bullet.”

Lee Higgins

Several of the students had to change their research methods. Titi Huynh and her group were restricted to online surveys for their data collection, rather than interviews. Christy Au-Yeung hoped to choose clinical assessments and apply them to patients in a memory intervention program, but the program was cancelled in the fall due to COVID-19.

Julia Wickens and Higgins, both in the faculty of engineering, were able to be more ambitious and creative with their capstone projects because they no longer had a manufacturing component.

“We didn’t have to take into account the cost of materials and building time and stuff like that, so we were able to make something a bit more interesting,” said Wickens.

Peipei Wang had very limited access to the laboratory she belonged to but was still able to expose mice to cannabis smoke and the influenza virus and analyze the results with the help of a masters student and laboratory technician.

Though Rodoshi Rahman could have done further experiments with more laboratory access, she was able to take her experiments home. She built two snail compartments in a tank and studied their growth.

Sarphina Chui’s thesis changed completely. She was initially going to study the effects of dance and music on people with Parkinson’s. Instead, she has studied pedagogy to inform a new integrated program at McMaster.

Every student highlighted the challenges and benefits of online communication. For some, the logistics of setting up a common meeting time was a hurdle. Others found it simpler to meet online, to have several questions answered at once and to have quick check-ins.

Huynh mentioned that she hoped to spend more time in the community she researched. Wickens wanted to spend time with her group members in a social setting.

Huynh mentioned that she hoped to spend more time in the community she researched. Wickens wanted to spend time with her group members in a social setting.

All students expressed gratitude for the support they’ve received over the past year, from supervisors, group members and classmates.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected, it’s been a positive experience and I’m sure that’s maybe what you’re hearing from a lot of people," said Au-Yeung.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected, it’s been a positive experience and I’m sure that’s maybe what you’re hearing from a lot of people."

Christy Au-Yeung

That is exactly what I heard from the eight students I was fortunate to interview and share their experiences.

Christy Au-Yeung: level IV integrated science and psychology, neuroscience and behaviour

Thesis: identifying which clinical predictors — like age, personality, cognitive abilities, depression and stress — could predict better outcomes in memory following a cognitive remediation intervention in patients with mood disorders.

Supervisor: Heather McNeely, associate professor at McMaster in PNB and clinical lead for neuropsychology at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

Christy Au-Yeung has a long-term interest in mental health interventions, especially on the cognitive symptoms of depression or bipolar disorder, such as memory. She is interested in identifying how clinical factors will impact the outcomes of interventions. 

Initially, she was supposed to choose clinical assessments and administer them before and after intervention; however, because the program was cancelled for the fall, Au-Yeung instead used data from previous patients to analyze clinical predictors and outcomes.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected it’s been a positive experience,” explained Au-Yeung.

Au-Yeung said that apart from the research question, she was really interested in this project to gain clinical experience and she was a bit sad to find out she couldn’t. Luckily, the program ran online in the winter term and she was excited to sit in. Au-Yeung hopes she can use what she’s learned in her pursuit of clinical psychology.

Though she initially felt disconnected, she said the online environment has made it easier to meet with her supervisor and that the other thesis students have been supporting each other.

Au-Yeung said she relied a lot on being motivated by her peers but, with the nature of an online thesis, she’s learned to work more independently.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected it’s been a positive experience,” added Au-Yeung.

“I would say, overall, even though it’s not what I had expected it’s been a positive experience.”

Christy Au-Yeung
Christy Au-Yeung

Rya Buckley: level IV biology and psychology, neuroscience and behaviour

Thesis: association between socioeconomic status, the uptake of the enhanced 18-month well baby visit and speech and language problems in Ontario kindergarten children.

Supervisor: Magdalena Janus, core member at Offord Centre for Child Studies and professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University.

Rya Buckley is interested in child psychology and especially socioeconomic status differences, as SES is a predictor of many outcomes for children. For her thesis, Buckley used data from the early development instrument, co-created by her supervisor, that measures school readiness through various domains of development.

Buckley said that the main adaptation she’s had to make due to COVID-19, apart from no in-person meetings, is access to the data.

“I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I still feel like it has been a useful experience,” said Buckley.

Typically, students use the computers at the Offord Centre in McMaster Innovation Park to access the database and run analysis on SPSS.

“I still feel like supervisors, for the most part, are trying to give their students the best experience.”

Rya Buckley

Due to technical difficulties, they were unable to create access through a remote desktop. Instead, Buckley had weekly meetings with Caroline Reid-Westoby, research coordinator at the Offord Centre, where Reid-Westoby would share her screen with the data and SPSS. Buckley would talk about the next steps in the analysis, Reid-Westoby would perform the commands and send the outputs to Buckley.

“I still feel like supervisors, for the most part, are trying to give their students the best experience,” said Buckley, adding that it’s been a rewarding experience.

Rya Buckley

Sarphina Chui: level IV music - music cognition specialization

Thesis: development of a STEM and music four-year double major degree program at McMaster University.

Co-Supervisors: Matthew Woolhouse, director of the Digital Music Lab and associate professor in the School of the Arts at McMaster University and Chelsea Mackinnon, sessional instructor of health sciences at McMaster University.

Sarphina Chui’s initial thesis on the benefits of dance for people with Parkinson’s disease was cancelled due to COVID-19. Instead, Chui joined the STEM and Music double degree project, specifically looking at music pedagogy and how to best design an integrated program.

Chui designed a 30-minute online interview for current students in integrated programs at McMaster to understand their undergraduate experience and inform the structure of the proposed STEM and music program.

"To see how we can . . . build an undergraduate degree program that’s most beneficial for students to learn,” said Chui.

“To see how we can . . . build an undergraduate degree program that’s most beneficial for students to learn.”

Sarphina Chui

Chui said that it would have been easier to advertise her study in person, but she said that online interviews haven’t impacted the quality of the research she has done.

“I would say it’s been really great and it’s because of my supervisor. I know that thesis can suck for some people, with it being online, but my experience has been amazing,” said Chui.

The student explained that her supervisors prioritized mental health and that she has learned a lot of really valuable skills from her thesis.

Sarphina Chui
The Digital Music Lab. C/O Sarphina Chui

Lee Higgins: level IV B. tech automotive and vehicle engineering technology co-op

Capstone: pitch and roll adjustable active rear wing for touring and road car applications.

Supervisor: capstone course professor.

Lee Higgins and his two group members are spending January to December designing and simulating a rear spoiler. The design that Higgins and his group are working on will be able to pitch forward and backwards and tilt side to side and the force these movements produce, as it goes.

There is typically a manufacturing component to the capstone but that became optional due to COVID-19. Higgins noted that he was able to create a more complex design but that he lost out on the practical component.

So far, he has worked on a literature review of the necessary concepts and is beginning the modelling stage. Later in the year, he will simulate the model and add any necessary revisions.

“I wanted to really do something cool, something that I was proud of,” said Higgins.

“I wanted to really do something cool, something that I was proud of.”

Lee Higgins

“While it’s different, it’s not as different as I expected it to be. It’s not as bad as I expected it to be. I still had an opportunity to do something that I really cared about that I really liked. Even though it was slightly different I was able to bend it in a way that I was still happy with,” added Higgins.

Lee Higgins
Lee Higgins's rear spoiler design. C/O Lee Higgins

Titi Huynh: level IV social psychology, double minor in sustainability and environmental studies

Thesis: the influence of social media on undergraduate students’ perceptions of reality.

Supervisor: thesis course professor.

Titi Huynh and her four group members looked at the communities that are formulated online through social media and how they can recreate norms and biases amongst individuals, as well as how online behaviours affect offline behaviours.

Huynh said that they were restricted to online surveys because of COVID-19, which had challenges and benefits.

“I know we wouldn’t have been able to reach the 53 students that we did end up reaching if we were to do interviews,” said Huynh, noting that it was initially difficult to recruit students.

“I know we wouldn’t have been able to reach the 53 students that we did end up reaching if we were to do interviews.”

Titi Huynh

To analyze their data, Huynh and her group members would call each other over Zoom, someone would screen share SPSS software and they would go through the analysis verbally. Once they moved from SPSS to Microsoft Excel, it became easier as everyone could access the sheet at the same time.

Huynh also conducted a sustainability thesis as part of her minor. This thesis was in a group of five and they collaborated with the Hamilton Farmers Market to look at vendors’ perceptions on trying to implement or co-develop a food recovery program. Huynh hoped that the vendors could collaborate with a non-profit, such as Meals with Purpose, to donate any unsold healthy and nutritious foods.

This thesis hoped to address food insecurity and food waste in Hamilton. They conducted interviews with vendors and used NVivo to conduct their analysis. However, their McMaster license to NVivo expired after the first semester, before they had data to analyze.

“Everybody planned a schedule for each person to start their two-week free trial and then we would overlap it, so two people would be able to work on it within the same two-week period,” said Huynh. 

“Everybody planned a schedule for each person to start their two-week free trial and then we would overlap it, so two people would be able to work on it within the same two-week period.” 

Titi Huynh

Huynh said that she would have liked to be more involved within the community, such as the participants in her social psychology thesis or the vendors at the Farmers Market. She also noted the benefits of two of these at the same time, where she completed an ethics application for one and then immediately started the application for the other thesis.

“It’s been good. I am very thankful we did these in groups,” said Huynh.

She wished that she could have been more hands-on with her theses and worked directly with the communities.

“With the online environment we seem to have taken a step back and observed everything, which was different, but they were both very enjoyable,” said Huynh.

Titi Huynh
Titi Huynh, her Social Psychology thesis poster and her group members Olivia McMurray, Victoria Scimeca, Kristen Kostuch and Mya Martorano.

Rodoshi Rahman: level V molecular biology and genetics

Thesis: phenotypic plasticity of snail shell morphology induced by architectural constraints.

Supervisor: Jonathon Stone, associate professor of biology at McMaster University.

Rodoshi Rahman has spent the year with snails to see how their shells grow and physically adapt to an architecturally constrained environment. Rahman said that some snails naturally can live in areas that are more sheltered while others live in areas that are more open, including more open to predators.

The nature of her design and the fact that snails are invertebrates meant that Rahman was able to build and conduct her experiment at home. Rahman grew the snails in one of two compartments that she built, one without restrictions and one with a maze, for about two and a half months.

Rahman said that she was acquainted with Stone’s lab before COVID-19.

“I was super excited to experience that because I feel like Doc Roc’s lab was super energetic, they were super friendly but they were also very educational,” said Rahman.

She was really let down that she couldn’t experience this, especially the challenges with making connections, but felt that the online adaptation was smooth.

“[Doc Roc’s] been super available and flexible and helpful,” said Rahman, crediting part of her success within the thesis to Doc Roc’s guidance and training, even if it had to be through Zoom.

“[Doc Roc’s] been super available and flexible and helpful.”

Rodoshi Rahman
Rodoshi Rahman
Rahman's at-home snail setup. C/O Rodoshi Rahman

Peipei Wang: level IV integrated science and biochemistry, minor in statistics

Thesis: investigating the in vivo effects of cannabis smoke on lung immune response to influenza infection.

Supervisor: Jeremy Hirota, assistant professor at McMaster University and Canada research chair in respiratory mucosal immunology.

Peipei Wang has been exposing mice to short periods of consistent cannabis smoke to see how it affects different lung functions. Partway through the cannabis smoke exposure period, they infected the mice with influenza.

“Let’s say lungs are damaged due to cannabis smoke. How does that damage their specific response to specific diseases?” said Wang.

She planned to analyze the gene expression within these mice, but she found out in early March that she was unable to get the RNA data in time. Instead, Wang changed her focus to cell populations and immune mediator expression. Although she found her new topic interesting, she was initially looking forward to analyzing the data that would result from her gene expression analyses.

“There were definitely still upsides. I felt really included by my master’s student, so when he was smoke-exposing and anything happened, he would WhatsApp me and say “Oh, this happened, this looks kind of cool take a look,” and I thought that was really nice,” said Wang.

The student spoke to how interactions with others helped her complete her research.

“Everyone has been so nice and conducive to helping me learn. Even through the pandemic I felt like I had these mentors who were checking up on me and that was really nice,” said Wang.

“Everyone has been so nice and conducive to helping me learn. Even through the pandemic I felt like I had these mentors who were checking up on me and that was really nice.”

Peipei Wang
Peipei Wang
Clips courtesy of Peipei Wang. Video courtesy of Derrick Chappell.

Julia Wickens: level VI mechanical engineering and society, minor in psychology

Capstone: universal muscle stretching equipment.

Supervisor: Philip Koshy, professor of mechanical engineering at McMaster University.

Julia Wickens and her three group members have spent their year responding to the lack of gym equipment focused on stretching. They are creating a piece of equipment designed specifically for a gym environment that can guide people through stretching, especially for those who aren’t as experienced.

The group collaborated on the design but then divided the modelling of each station among themselves, where Wickens and another group member developed the legs and back station. In a typical year, capstone students make a prototype but that was made optional this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“One of the nice things about doing this online is that we were able to go a little bit more ambitious than we would have if we did have to build it,” said Wickens. 

“One of the nice things about doing this online is that we were able to go a little bit more ambitious than we would have if we did have to build it.” 

Julia Wickens

They designed the equipment to be highly adjustable to accommodate different flexibility levels and body sizes.

Wickens completed a capstone for the society component of her degree in the fall term. The capstone challenged the students to research and propose a protocol to implement a program.

The program was meant to address a sustainability problem. Wickens and her three group members chose to focus on a social and financial sustainability problem.

Her group of four developed a proposal for a community program to distribute low-cost computers and computer classes in downtown Hamilton. The computers would be partially made of recycled materials, involving an environmental sustainability lens and a Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pis are affordable small computers that can connect to the internet and run programs similar to Microsoft Suite programs.

Wickens said that overall the capstone was a good experience and she felt very lucky to have the technology that enabled them to accomplish everything they did.

“The thing we were kind of sad about is that we got along really well as a group and we couldn’t hang out outside of working on the project,” said Wickens.

“The thing we were kind of sad about is that we got along really well as a group and we couldn’t hang out outside of working on the project.”

Julia Wickens
Julia Wickens

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.

Although it’s new, it should still be organized and prepared in advance
By: Belinda Tam, Contributor

As a weird semester comes to an end for everyone, exams are approaching faster than they seem. From adapting to new technology to keeping ourselves mentally healthy, this upcoming exam season is going to be a new experience for many — especially for those with exams that are being proctored.

Currently, students’ exam schedules are not being posted on Mosaic. Normally, our finalized and organized exam schedule would be posted in early November. However, Mosaic states, “there are no in-person December final exams.” Instead, exams this semester will be take-home in an online format. This shows that a new system is being implemented by the university to see results for this semester. 

With that being said, students need to be extremely organized due to the fact that exam schedules are not being posted on Mosaic. Additionally, since professors don’t have a set date for posting exam dates on Mosaic, informing students about final evaluations has also been delayed for several classes. This puts a detriment on review time for students, especially for those who have an exam on Dec. 9, the day after classes end.

With that being said, students need to be extremely organized due to the fact that exam schedules are not being posted on Mosaic. Additionally, since professors don’t have a set date for posting exam dates on Mosaic, informing students about final evaluations has also been delayed for several classes. This puts a detriment on review time for students, especially for those who have an exam on Dec. 9, the day after classes end.

Furthermore, many of my professors delayed releasing final assignment grades to students. This leads to students not knowing what their grade is when going into finals which many find frustrating. This shows that the new system is unorganized and not well thought out — leading the students to suffer the consequences. 

On a more positive note about the delay of posting evaluation details, professors are offering more flexibility with deadlines. This may be due to the fact professors don’t know each other’s testing times.

Students also have the option to have help with assistive technology with Student Accessibility Services and are encouraged to contact SAS testing for user testing. However, this still puts the responsibility on the student’s plate when it comes to asking for extensions and accommodations.

In terms of the formatting of upcoming exams, it’s definitely important to mention proctoring. On Dec. 2, an announcement was posted on Avenue concerning the tool, Respondus, being used to proctored exams.

This tool has been incorporated into Avenue with multiple links attached to the announcement including a frequently asked questions page, the privacy impact assessment report and a link to the University Technology Services HelpDesk. Links have also been given out for the McMaster Student Absence Form and Student Wellness Centre.

As the upcoming exam season approaches, students may find the following tools helpful. To state the obvious, a calendar should be at the top of your list! A calendar is obvious, but also very necessary. With a paper or online calendar, scheduling review time will be much easier.

Another obvious one is a to-do list. A to-do list will be helpful when scheduling what material to cover on which day and when you want to finish reviewing a large topic for a class.

Next, it would be a very good idea to open a document or page in a notebook to keep the details of exams in one place for easy access. This is especially important since exam information for different classes are being posted on different links. Along with all these tips, having an organized and dedicated space for you to do your work definitely helps with concentration.

As seen throughout this article, the new system is more disorganized than we would like and the university should be much more prepared than they are, but it’s important to make the best of the situation and what we have to work with.

With multiple resources available — from friends, professors and teaching assistants to external sources outside the university, students should not hesitate to reach out for support during these unprecedented times. As the semester is quickly coming to a close, although it may seem longer than previous ones, I wish everyone good luck and happy studying as they prepare for their finals!

Photos C/O Yvonne Lu, James Ramlal

By: Andrew Mrozowski

Stop. Take a second and look up from this article. You’ll most likely see everyone around you on some form of technology, be it on their phones, tablets or computers. We now live in a world where we are so heavily dependent on technology. According to Yvonne Lu, people should be more conscious about how technology affects their identity.

Originally starting off her undergraduate career in commerce, Lu realized her passion laid in a different faculty. Lu began working in marketing and communications but felt like something was missing. She decided to take on a double major between multimedia and theatre and film.

Now in her final year at McMaster, Lu decided to combine her two disciplines into one overall thesis, taking the form of an interactive multimedia installation and a physical performance called interFACE, as part of the School of the Arts Honours Performance Series.

https://www.facebook.com/yvonne.lu.trinh/posts/10157497355097216

 

The concept for interFACE came to Lu over this past summer when she was employed by a music video company to be their social media coordinator. Although typically not very active on social media in her own life, Lu found herself getting jealous from the various platforms that she managed as there was an overall feeling that everyone was doing better than her.

“Although there definitely were positive and negative experiences, always being on social media and seeing that people younger than me were doing cooler things than I was, working with huge producers, big companies and getting more responsibility than I was… a lot of the times I felt jealous. It’s why I felt I was a step back, I understood why others were successful and a lot of it was trying to catch up with people,” explained Lu.

interFACE examines how young women interact with technology and how this oversaturation impacts their identity as they grow up. Stemming from a vignette of experiences, the multi-disciplinary art experience allows attendees to delve into the development of identity to look at similarities and differences between how we portray ourselves online versus in person.

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id="264" gal_title="interFACE"]

“The question to consider is whether or not social media and digital technology enables us to do more things, or if it consumes us and we are at the whim of the mass media,” explained Lu.

This form of installation is experimental as it features two parts. Viewers will first embark through an audio-visual capsule, which is an audio-sensory experience that saturates the audience in a world that Lu and her team have designed to convey the importance of why we should pay more attention to our own identities. Next viewers will be seated to enjoy the physical portion which expands on what they have observed in the audio-visual capsule.

“This is not something that you would see in traditional theatre. It’s not a narrative or linear piece. We are creating a visceral experience for both our collaborators and audience. We want them to feel that they are in the belly of the beast,” said Lu.

For the thesis student, what the audience takes away from the experience is the primary objective of this piece.

“There isn’t a specific message I want people to walk away with. It’s live theatre and it’s all about interpretation. For us, that’s kind of what I want audiences to walk away with. Questions of what they felt. It’s an emotional journey rather than a narrative,” said Lu.

Show times for interFACE will run on March 28 at 12:30 and 8 p.m. and on March 29 and March 30 at 12:30 and 7 p.m. at the Black Box Theatre in L.R. Wilson Hall. Admission is free.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Natalie Clark

In 2017, McMaster partnered with the My Lil’ HealthBot startup to provide students on campus with all of their various drugstore needs.

Stocked with Advil, shampoo and various other drugstore essentials, McMaster’s own personal care product vending machine, My Lil’ HealthBot “Marie,” located in Mary Keyes Residence, achieves a solid seven to 10 sales a week.

Two years later, My Lil’ HealthBot has expanded their market, grown their e-commerce capability, streamlined their product mix and improved their brand positioning and message.

“We have provided relief to over 10,000 university students across Canada and soon we will be launching in the United States,” said My My Lil’ HealthBot co-founder Tim Decker.

Aside from the obvious improvements that the company has accomplished, they also hope to introduce a new program to their roster.

“The only other place to obtain items sold by the vending machine are in the drugstore in [McMaster University Student Centre], which is closed in the evenings and on weekends, and the closest Shoppers for McMaster students is in Westdale or on Main Street West,” said Raj Vansia, a McMaster student who represents the company on campus.

“We hope to increase the availability of necessary products for McMaster students while still being able to provide great service,” said Vansia. “This is the main reason for us to try out the dorm room delivery pilot at McMaster, which would allow for delivery anywhere on campus within 20 minutes of any products in our HealthBots bought online.”

The My Lil’ HealthBot dorm room delivery program will be test launching on March 16 and will last 24 hours. The program is slated to gauge the demand from students to have products delivered to them for an extra fee.

“One of the benefits of our HealthBots being on campus is we provide a 24/7 solution to life’s headaches. However, what if you could have our products delivered to you in 20 mins or less for only an extra $3.99 on your order,” said Decker.

The company will be experimenting with this idea to see if there is demand to provide extra convenience to students.

“To use dorm room delivery, a student simply visits our website and ‘checks out’ normally, and for a delivery option they choose ‘Dorm Room Delivery,” explained Decker.

Due to dorm room security restrictions, products will be delivered to the lobby of McMaster residences.

The program’s trial test will allow the company to grasp how many students are interested in this new service.

“We have heard lots of great feedback from students. We are passionate about the way we have provided an option for easier access to very important products,” said Decker, who is confident about the positive impact that My Lil’ Heathbots have had on campus.

According to Decker and Vansia, My Lil’ HealthBot makes it easier for students on campus to access their drugstore needs.

“We strive to ensure that students should only have to focus on school while they are at school, rather than on how they will go about buying the necessities they need,” said Vansia.

With the vending machines already making their mark on the McMaster campus, Decker and Vansia are hopeful that the dorm room delivery program will be successful.

 

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Photos by Catherine Goce

By: Nicolas Belliveau

The news in November 2018 that Doug Ford and his provincial government were ceasing the project to build a French-language university in Toronto and eliminating the position of the provincial commissioner for French language affairs was met with backlash.

However, situations like these aren’t novel. French education and culture have been the target of marginalization for hundreds of years. Ford adds to this long list of discriminatory acts, as his decision to cut services and protections to Franco-Ontarians has underlying anti-francophone sentiment and is a violation of minority language rights in Canada.

But why should we care about this? After all, with just over 620,000 people, the French-speaking community in Ontario makes up just 4.5 per cent of its total population.

Growing up French-Canadian in Ontario, practicing and maintaining the language my ancestors tirelessly fought to preserve has proven difficult. Additionally, the limited number of French secondary schools meant that I had to enroll at an English secondary school — adding to the challenge of keeping my mother tongue.

However, Francophones are still Canada’s largest minority with Ontario home to the most populous French-speaking community outside of Quebec. But most importantly, the French language is a right that is protected by the Constitution and language laws.

This didn’t come easily. Throughout all of Canada’s history, francophones have fought for the right to French education and with Ford’s new agenda, the battle appears to be ongoing.

Merely a century ago, the provincial government passed and enforced Regulation 17 throughout Ontario, which restricted the teachings in French beyond grade 2 and limited French teachings to one hour per day in primary schools. After 15 years of enforcement and prohibiting a whole generation from learning French, the law was finally repealed in 1927.

By ending the project for the development of a French university, Ford is reopening a door into the past that most French-Canadians thought was over. The ideology that once disregarded Franco-Ontarians’ identity and equality is now resurfacing, under the new disguise of Ford’s policies.

And what is Ford’s reasoning behind these radical changes? Although Ford has yet to comment on the matter, government officials have cited the province’s $15 billion deficit as being the motivation for these cost-cutting actions.

However, the cost for the French Language Services Commissioner and the university tally up to a total of just $15 million per year. And as of now, Ford’s government has yet to meet the targeted amount of savings, leaving experts to question whether a thorough program review was carried out.

When looking at these realities, it is hard to believe the government’s narrative of the provincial deficit being the sole incentive for premier Ford’s changes, and not worry about an anti-francophone sentiment underlying Ford’s fiscal agenda.

What’s more unsettling is that Ford’s new policy changes cuts into Canada’s Constitution and the protections and rights of French-Canadians.

The functions of a language commissioner prove to be essential in promoting and protecting a language. Not only do they monitor the government for any infringements upon minority language rights, the French language commissioner acts as a liaison between the provincial government and Franco-Ontarians.

By getting rid of the French Language Services Commissioner, Ford is destabilizing the rights and protections of minority francophones and undermining the institutions that promote one of the ‘supposed’ official languages of this country.

I acknowledge that Ontario is already home to three bilingual universities and that the francophone minorities account for just 4.5 per cent of Ontario’s population. Additionally, I acknowledged that the Ford government has created the position of senior policy adviser on francophone affairs following the elimination of the French Language Services Commissioner.

The realities of the mistreatment of francophones throughout history along with the benefits of the French services and protections that Ford is eliminating would make it illogical for one to not consider this as anti-francophone sentiment. To be idle while the government carelessly partakes in these divisive political tactics is a disservice to our ancestors and to all minorities.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

By: Rob Hardy

Eight years ago, as a rookie contributor to The Silhouette, I wrote one of my very first pieces on the sorry state of the Hamilton Street Railway. It still survives online under the title of “Public Transit Blues”. So what's changed since for McMaster University students and the city itself? Not much.

Some things are a bit better and some have gotten worse, but overall I would say the HSR is the same miserable experience it's always been.

There do seem to be more student buses during peak times on campus so it's not as packed as it used to be. We also have been able to negotiate year-round bus passes for Mac students, which previously only gave us an eight-month deal.

While I believe the HSR functions as best as it can within its limitations, the truth is that this is often not even remotely good enough.

In my case, coming in from Stoney Creek, the time spent commuting is brutal. If I take the B-Line, it still takes roughly 50 minutes. Trapped in a compartment full of stale air, at times too overheated, and shaking like hell as it travels our streets, the experience can be uncomfortable.

What's worse is that unlike previously, where the B-Line used to come right onto campus, it now stops on Main Street. Having to then walk all the way down to Togo Salmon Hall, in often unpleasant conditions, is ridiculous.

Moreover, the B-Line still ends around 7:00 p.m. This results in having to make two connections, which significantly adds to the trials of an already long day. While I can understand that express buses may terminate service at night, it would greatly help if a consecutive route ran from at least University Plaza to Eastgate, even with regular stops.

I use the B-Line as merely one example. Anyone living on the mountain, who also has to first get downtown before progressing into Westdale, suffers similarly.

Part of this dilemma is that Hamilton has unique geography to contend with. Our city layout is not a simple grid like you would find in Edmonton, for example, with nothing other than a river to divide us.

But much of the fault lies with the HSR itself. My biggest issue is with buses that arrive early, causing them to leave many people behind. Sometimes I have been able to trace this to drivers who began their route early, because there is no other way, logistically-speaking, they could have already arrived at that stop.

This is notable given that the HSR has been trying very hard to rebuild ridership — somewhat of a fool's errand considering their target market is people who take the bus out of necessity.

What's more striking is that even intra-city travel within Hamilton becomes “a commute” if one were to cross the length of the city twice a day. The current system as it stands is simply too broken and not meant for people in Stoney Creek to travel by bus all the way to Ancaster mountain.

During this decade, the light rail transit promised to offer innovation, as we moved from the planning stages to acquired funding to implementation. After all, Canadian cities of comparable size can now reasonably be expected to have an alternative public transit option on their most travelled route.

But as things stand, the latest news is that certain council members are now weary of paying additional costs should the project go over-budget, a reasonable possibility considering its timeline has been continually delayed due to endless council motions on the subject.  But why should the province keep footing the entire bill anyway, especially for a city whose factions are still so divided on this issue?

While the HSR is a crucial part of Hamilton, their monopoly on public transit leaves bewildered riders powerless to really express their concerns. When we are caused to be late for school or work, an apology is pretty useless, and most people don't even bother to complain.

What some have done is stop riding. Yes, the HSR wants to regain their numbers. But many previous and potential transit users are waiting for more than a hollow marketing campaign to be convinced.

 

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Tell me a little bit about yourself. 

I just graduated from McMaster with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art. I started in 2012 and had somewhat like a rough start; changed my mind, left, worked in between and then came back. It took me a while to figure out that Studio Art was the right progran for me but when I did I feel like it really paid off and shaped who I am today.

What is “I’m the Bomb”?

I created two, large scale banners that depict two women, one who wears the hijab or a veil and the other one does not. Both are wearing shades and they’re also wearing t-shirts that say “I’m the bomb” in the two pieces hanging beside one another. The piece kind of works on a few different levels. One of the most obvious levels is addressing our innate prejudice against certain groups of people and who is more privileged than others to wear or represent certain things or what kinds of stigma do we attach to certain groups of people versus others. It’s also a piece that, at least for me the way I view it, is empowering for the Muslim community. In the face of radical groups like ISIS today kind of making a claim for Islam and using the Muslim identity to do heinous acts, this is sort of to address,in an unapologetic way, that people have created this idea of who Muslims are based on falsehood. We can’t express ourselves in a way like that without certain questions being raised about whether or not we as just people are safe to be around. A lot of people took this piece in the opposite direction. It infuriated a lot of people and I was aware that it could possibly do that. I was aware that people might think it’s just recycling the image of violence back out there again. But I would claim maybe it could do that if the woman on the left was by herself. She’s not, she’s contrasted with another image, and in that conversation that happens between them is the point of the piece. The last level, at least based on the feedback that I got, was that a lot of people who identify as female are excited about how empowering it is. We don’t often get to say “I’m the bomb”, like I’m awesome, or wear shirts that say that. We often come across items of clothing that have different kinds of messages on them. 

“This is sort of to address in an unapologetic way, that people have created this idea of who Muslims are based on falsehood We can’t express ourselves in a way like that without certain questions being raised.”

Can you tell me more about the feedback you received?

The first week that it was up, it went viral on social media and a lot of people thought that it was an advertisement on a subway done by H&M. So, in light of what H&M did in December, they took it as that. So some people got it, some people didn’t, but I was also aware of that when I made it. I knew what H&M had done and I knew that there was a possibility that people would take it that way and that’s okay, because it plays into the dialogue or the conversation surrounding the work. It’s upsetting that people didn’t dig a little deeper, didn’t try to figure out what it really was. Not for recognition or anything like that, but that it wasn’t an act of racism towards anybody and actually there’s a deeper message behind it. That was a tough weekend. I had a lot of hate mail but it was good overall.

Why did you choose to display this piece in the Student Centre? 

For a while I had been creating work for gallery spaces and museums, and I actually struggled with getting people who were part of a community that didn’t interact with art to view the work. I was creating work for Muslims to view as well as other people and unfortunately, although there’s a move towards the arts in the Muslim community, most of the time the spaces, especially in Hamilton and the surrounding areas, are not occupied by people of color, let alone Muslims or religious people or people who like to create artwork about their religious identity. I knew that if I wanted to reach Muslims and talk about the things that address us and who we are and have that seen by everyone and not just Muslims, I had to bring it into a public space. I had never done anything on a public level before so I thought that since I had my graduating show happening at the McMaster Museum of Art that having it somewhere close by would be a good idea. I liked the idea of it being on display in the University specifically because it’s an institution of education, it’s a place where people are still shaping who they are. So it’s just a great opportunity to educate people in a place where they’re already learning. 

“Community projects like this, where learning is happening outside of a classroom and you get to interact with it is a type of learning that’s more accessible...” 

Why is this piece important to the McMaster community? 

Other than the fact that there’s a big Muslim community at McMaster, I think that, at least from my time here, the arts program itself isn’t really known all that much. One thing that I find is really great about this piece is that if people get intrigued by it and dig a little deeper about where it came from they’ll discover the program. It’s good representation for something that brings a lot of experiential learning to the McMaster community and I think often gets overlooked. At the end of the day, you get a degree and you go to classes and stuff like that, but community projects like this, where learning is happening outside of a classroom and you get to interact with it is a type of learning that’s more accessible and it’s relatable to everybody. It’s that connection between the artist and the viewer that doesn’t necessarily happen in a classroom or a lecture setting for everybody because it just crosses that boundary and crosses hierarchies too. I’m not there when people are looking at the work. I’m not like some authoritative figure. So I’m able to just speak to people without having that baggage with me. It’s a form of experiential learning and I think McMaster can really benefit from having more of it outside of the McMaster Museum of Art. Not to say that what’s going on in the museum is an amazing, it is. But I’d like to see more artwork on campus because I feel like people enjoyed it.

On Feb. 6, an activist group called HWDSB Kids Need Help facilitated a meeting at Sir John A.MacDonald Secondary School. This offered community members an opportunity to discuss their experiences of discriminatory treatment by the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and its constituent schools and staff.

The group came together after an incident at a Hamilton high school that involved police and a child with autism. The incident raised questions about de-escalation strategies, the roles and training of teachers as both educators and caregivers and direct and systemic discrimination in schools.

“We want to… make it as accessible as possible for everyone to speak about what has happened [to them].… We want to provide that route to the board,” said Gachi Issa, one of the event organizers.

Participants were asked to share their stories and recommendations for improvement, which the group is compiling into a report and will share with the HWDSB in the coming weeks. The report will also be released on their Facebook page.

The organizers, Issa and Sabreina Dahab, now students at McMaster, also faced systemic barriers in accessing educational supports.

“There is a community, but a lot of us have been working on our own instances of discrimination and working against it on our own,” said Issa. “We’ve seen change happen in our school, although it was cultural… [which] doesn’t necessarily transfer to structural [change].”

This is central to the group’s mission to demand structural change from the HWDSB. But the need for this kind of change stretches beyond Hamilton.

An investigation carried out by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that sections of the Ontario Safe Schools Act, passed in 2000 by the Conservative government, failed to protect students’ human rights, including the right not to be discriminated against based on race or ability.

The act set down new rules for suspension and expulsion, namely that suspensions and expulsions for certain behaviour became mandatory rather than discretionary, in addition to other zero-tolerance mandates.

The OHRC’s study found that the act has a disproportionate impact on racial minorities and students with disabilities. Upon interviewing a large sample of school administrators, social workers, parents, students and lawyers, they concluded that the act allows for both direct and systemic discrimination.

For example, the act does not prohibit suspension or expulsion on grounds that are a result of a student’s disability, despite the OHRC requiring that a student with a disability is accommodated to the point of undue hardship. Likewise, students of colour tend to be placed in special needs classrooms more often than white students.

“[Teachers and administrators] aren’t being held accountable, which enables [them] to continue these actions and not be trained,” said Dahab. Training is one issue that Dahab and

Issa will address with the board. Julie Johnson, a parent of a child with autism and an advocate for students with autism who attended the HWDSB Kids Need Help meeting, had to leave her job because her son could not stay in school. She identifies a shift in teaching conventions as a setback for fair teaching practices.

“I think that’s the bigger thing — actually caring about human beings and building them. So, it isn’t always about marks. Sometimes it’s about, ‘This kid’s really struggling. He’s got some real issues at home’… you just have to hope you have a decent human being looking after your kid,” Johnson said.

As HWDSB Kids Need Help and families such as the Johnsons continue to organize, the community will strive to better support marginalized students in Hamilton and reduce barriers to education.

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