Photo by Kyle West

By: Saba Manzoor

The federal government has awarded $3.3 million in grants to 72 social sciences and humanities researchers at McMaster.

These grants are a part of the federal government’s social sciences and humanities research council’s “Insight Development Grant” program.

McMaster was one of nearly 80 post-secondary institutions across the country to receive part of the $141 million overall grant funding provided by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

This announcement comes a few months after McMaster maintained its rank as Canada’s most research-intensive university on the list of Canada’s top 50 research universities.

Funding through government programs, such as the SSHRC-IDG, continues to play a significant role in establishing the university’s rank on the list.

In addition to being lauded for the quality of their research, McMaster’s humanities and social science researchers have also been recognized for the communicability of their research.

In particular, they were the recipients of the 2017 SSHRC award of excellence for communications, which recognized the accessibility of McMaster research for non-expert audiences.

One of this year’s research grant recipients is Jeffrey Denis, an associate professor in the department of sociology.

Denis’ funds are being put towards a collaborative project with Reconciliation Kenora, a non-profit organization comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents in Northwestern Ontario.

The goal of Denis’ project is to improve local relationships and better understand the reconciliation efforts that prevail in this part of the province.

“Our plan is to conduct a series of video-recorded sharing circles with Anishinaabe, Metis and settler residents about what reconciliation means, the barriers and enablers to achieving it and how to engage more people in the process,” said Denis.

Brent McKnight, an assistant professor with the DeGroote School of Business, is another grant recipient this year.

Through this funding, McKnight will be evaluating how external considerations, such as environmental, social and governance factors, contribute to financial investments.

Specifically, McKnight will be examining how these factors play into a retail market investment decisions.

“There are few sources of funding for social science research and this multi-year grant is critical,” said McKnight.  

Mark Norman, another grant recipient, is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of health, aging and society at McMaster.

With the funding, Norman will be investigating the organization and social meanings of sport and physical recreation in Ontario youth detention centres.

According to Norman, despite their popularity in youth correctional facilities, evidence suggests that implementing sports programs for at-risk youth produces mixed outcomes.

Norman’s project aims to reconcile the knowledge gap and explore why these programs are yielding these results.

“It is crucial that Canadian governments and post-secondary institutions invest in social sciences and humanities research, particularly projects that investigate pressing social problems or provide insight on how to ameliorate social injustices in our society,” explains Norman.

Other research projects funded through the grant cover a wide range of topics, including the history of smallpox and the effects of taxation on trade.

 

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Photos by Kyle West

A record 79 candidates were vying for a position on the McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly general elections, which ended last Monday.

Seventy-nine candidates competed for 31 SRA seats across all faculties, the highest number ever.

Last year, there were just 41 candidates running for 31 seats. Two years ago, there were 50 candidates.

The highest number of candidates came from the SRA science and SRA social science faculties.

Twenty-five candidates ran for seven seats for science, while 16 candidates ran for five seats in social science.

In 2018, there were just nine and five candidates for the science and social science faculties.

Candidate turnout was higher than last year for other faculties as well.

SRA commerce had eight candidates running for four seats this year compared to five candidates last year, and the arts and science faculty had four nominees running for one seat compared to one nominee last year.

Voter turnout was markedly high as well. Twenty per cent of undergraduate students, or a total of 4283, voted in the SRA generals election, a dramatic increase from last year’s election, which saw 1064 voters.

Several current SRA members and winning candidates attributed the increase in candidate turnout to more effective advertising from the McMaster Student Union elections department this year, made up of chief returning officer Uwais Patel and deputy returning officer Emily Yang.

“This year, the CRO and DRO did a really good job in doing outreach. It was a lot of promotion, and it was faculty-specific promotion as well,” said Tasneem Warwani, current SRA arts and science representative.

“I think what they did really well was reach out to SRA members to ensure that they were reaching out to their constituents,” said Devin Roshan, current SRA health sciences representative.

One new initiative the elections team took on this year was sending faculty-specific emails directly to students to remind them of nomination deadlines and how many seats were available.

“On the MSU pages, social media-wise, I saw more promotion about it,” said third-year social sciences student Allie Kampan, who won an SRA seat. “More people were aware of it this year.”

Some faculties also tried to host more faculty-specific events encouraging students to run. For example, the social science caucus ran an event where they handed out nomination forms.

“I think the SRA reps made it more approachable this year,” Kampman said. “There’s a stigma around a lot of MSU things, specifically SRA, which is that it’s unapproachable.”

Roshan pointed out that increased turnout also comes from regular efforts through the year to educate students on issues and what the SRA is doing.

The health sciences election this year featured eight candidates for two positions, building off seven candidates last year after just two in 2017.

Students entering post-secondary education may also be becoming more interested in politics.

“Looking at the first years specifically, in my interactions I’ve had with them, they’re very passionate about getting involved,” Warwani said.

First year council elections this year featured a record high of 54 candidates running for sixteen positions.

Not all faculties saw a rise in candidate turnout. Humanities had only three nominees, meaning all three available seats were acclaimed. There were just two nursing nominees for one seat and four kinesiology nominees for two seats. SRA engineering also had just eight candidates for six available seats.

All of these faculties have struggled to put forth nominees in recent years, with seats often being acclaimed.

According to incoming SRA engineering representative Hawk Yang, one possible reason for the typically low candidate turnout is that the engineering faculty has a prominent engineering society, which often overshadows SRA engineering initiatives.

Nonetheless, as evidenced by the SRA statistics, the MSU is still seeing refreshingly high interest in student government this year.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Eden Wondmeneh

As a first-year student in social sciences, the bulk of my tutorial grade is determined by my participation in discussions. For someone who would rather be restricted to eating at Centro than be forced to speak in public, tutorials are not my ideal environment.

As the fall semester progressed, I noticed that some of these discussions supported learning while others were downright problematic. Speaking to other students in social sciences, specifically students of colour, it was clear that teaching assistants, who greatly influenced whether tutorial discussions were the former or the latter, were overwhelmingly white.

The lack of diversity in TAs is often juxtaposed with a somewhat diverse student group — where students of colour bond over the shared discomfort or hilarity of the awkwardness that settles across the room anytime a ‘hot topic’ like white privilege is brought up.

Discussions about race are often excluded from acceptable topics in an environment that claims to encourage academic discourse, especially when initiated by a person of colour: a fact that aided in my decision to stay relatively quiet in tutorials.

Regardless of their intentions, these TAs are in a position of power where they facilitate discussions about systems of oppression that they themselves benefit from and resultantly teach students through this narrow-privileged lens. If topics of race are not dismissed after a moment of awkward silence, they always seem condescending; what qualifies non-POC TAs to lead these discussions?

I have a friend whose TA explained how common sense differs between cultures using a blatantly racist analogy of African children never having seen a stove thus not knowing that it is unsafe to touch. When called out for their ignorance, the TA’s response was some variation of, “I’m not racist”.

The Teaching in an Accessible and Inclusive Community section of McMaster University’s 2013 TA guide shows that the diversity and inclusion issue in tutorial sessions is much worse than it appears. The university is aware of the power imbalances that are inherent to the limited diversity amongst TAs — they just aren’t doing anything about it.

Despite their ability to recognize that acknowledgment of systemic racism is not enough to let them off the hook, they boldly state that McMaster staff and faculty work “against often invisible systems of privilege and oppression,” without giving TAs any guidance in how to further this effort within their own tutorials. In fact, the guidebook makes it clear that it is naïve to believe that even a well-intentioned TA could use any tips provided to create an equitable space within their tutorials.

To be clear, I don’t think that TAs are intentionally leading their tutorials to isolate students of colour and validate the dominant privileged narrative that exists within our society. I do believe though that the hiring process for TAs is flawed, as it works directly against McMaster’s “fight against invisible systems of privilege and oppression”.

There should be a great number of Black TAs who are able to lead tutorials with a different perspective, engage with Black students and have important conversations about race when the course calls for it.

Aside from increasing the diversity amongst TAs, there should be mandatory anti-oppression workshops and training. It is unrealistic to hope that TAs will suddenly diversify, but it is not unrealistic to hope that current TAs have an understanding of their bias and are able to react to being called out productively — not through cries of, “I am not racist”.

For myself to feel comfortable to contribute freely within these tutorials, I need there to be measures in place for the inevitable awkwardness that ensues when race is discussed and a guarantee that Black children won't be used in racist examples.  

We don't live within a vacuum. To create the “inclusive and accessible learning environment” that McMaster desires, TAs need to reflect this inclusivity and accessibility students are meant to find.

 

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Photo from Silhouette Photo Archives

Over the last two years, Halima Al-Hatimy, a former McMaster University public health grad student, has launched multiple Ontario human rights complaints against McMaster and Hamilton Health Sciences.

She also has legal proceedings against McMaster officials Patrick Deane, Wanda McKenna, Sarah Dickson, Glenn De Caire, Joseph Zubek and constables Tyler Rogers and Peter Broz.

Al-Hatimy’s issues with the university first materialized in 2017, before her anticipated departure to Ghana with “Waters Without Borders,” a program facilitated through a partnership between McMaster and the United Nations University.

Photo C/O Halima Al-Hatimy

The day before Al-Hatimy was expected to leave, the university informed her that she had been taken out of the program’s trip as a result of her presumed plan to bring medicinal marijuana overseas.

Thirteen days later, Al-Hatimy filed a human rights complaint against McMaster and the UNU.

“The administration asked me to sign an affidavit saying that I wouldn’t take medicinal cannabis with me illegally. It was riddled with criminalizing language, telling me that I had to promise I wasn’t going to traffic, import, export or illegally purchase illicit drugs or substances. I was traumatized by the experience,” she said.

Al-Hatimy is firmly convinced the university discriminated against her on the basis of “race, age, disability and use of medicinal cannabis.”

Thus far into the proceedings, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has affirmed Sarah Dickson’s involvement in the case but cut out the UNU and David Wilkinson, McMaster provost and vice-president (Academic).

Al-Hatimy said the university has been “extremely aggressive and uncooperative” over the past year.

In particular, according to Al-Hatimy, McMaster’s campus-wide smoking ban instituted in 2017 directly tore away her demand that the university construct a medical cannabis policy to protect users on campus.

Since launching her complaint, Al-Hatimy also filed for reprisal and organized two anti-smoking ban protests, one off-campus and the other in the Health Sciences Building.

“Both times, I was racially carded. The police showed up and walked straight to me. The guy beside me was white and smoking his medical cannabis. At the time, they didn’t know he was a licensed user. They just saw an older man and a younger student with a megaphone. You’d think they’d card him first, but they carded me,” she said.

When walking in the McMaster University Student Centre on another occasion, she said she was harassed by Joseph Zubek, the senior manager of McMaster security services.

“He showed me pictures that he had of me on his phone. He said they started an investigative police file on me,” she said.

In addition to lodging human rights complaints, Al-Hatimy has launched an application for reprisal for three counts of racial profiling, intimidation and harassment.

Upon entering the impending proceedings, Al-Hatimy said she feels hopeful.

“I have a strong case, I have evidence in my favour. I have witnesses. I’ve connected with other students who have also been bullied by the university and I have evidence of their stories that I’ll be presenting to the tribunal,” she said.

Gord Arbeau, the communications director at McMaster University, told the Silhouette that McMaster is committed to being inclusive, respectful and harassment-free.  

“The university’s policies and procedures support this commitment, including providing medical accommodations to members of the community,” said Arbeau, on behalf of the university’s respondents in the proceedings.

On March 29, Al-Hatimy and McMaster officials will attend a case management conference that will consolidate her applications. From there, cases will be combined and a hearing will be scheduled.

 

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Photo by Catherine Goce

By: Abirami Sudharshan

In October 2018, the McMaster faculty of health sciences launched the “Centre for Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research,” an initiative ten years in the making.  

Since then, the centre has been working to engineer novel clinical applications in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of adult and juvenile metabolic disease.

According to the agenda from the Oct. 18 McMaster board of governors meeting, 25 per cent of adults in Canada and around the world are affected by obesity, type two diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Every year, the Canadian health care system incurs more than $30 billion per year in incurred related costs.

The founding of the MODR centre, which was approved by the senate in April 2018, allows for the accelerated progression of pre-clinical to human research.

This is largely made possible through the MODR’s collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to metabolic research, according to a report in the Oct. 18 board of governors agenda.

“The MODR brings together a rich and diverse group of researchers from across McMaster University… with expertise ranging from cellular metabolism, physiology, clinical epidemiology, population health, pediatrics, adult medicine and clinical trials… who share a passion for collaborating and sharing insights and perspectives,” said Hertzel Gerstein, the centre’s senior advisor at the McMaster faculty of medicine.

Co-directors Katherine Morrison and Gregory Steinberg are studying these diseases at the clinical and cellular level, respectively.

Under their guidance, the centre is set to flourish as a world expert in determining the biological drivers behind metabolism disruption, understanding their mechanics and translating this knowledge into feasible, effective and clinical solutions.

“Ten years from now, we hope to have made a significant impact on the lives of people living with metabolic diseases by having developed new therapies,” said Steinberg.

The MODR is currently facilitating a number of metabolism-related research projects.

One project Steinberg and Morrison are leading is the “Gene Environment Team on Brown/Beige Adipose Tissue” project, which aims to understand the underlying causes of obesity, type two diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

According to the project description, brown adipose tissue is essentially the body’s furnace, burning sugar and fat in the body.

In individuals with obesity or T2D the ability to  switch on BAT is compromised, but the reasons for this are not well understood,” reads a statement on the MODR’s website. “The GET_BAT team is examining how agricultural and food processing practices may regulate BAT metabolic activity, directly, or indirectly by altering the gut microbiome.”

The results from these studies are expected to help the researchers develop strategies to increase BAT activity and treat and prevent metabolic disease.

Another project underway, the “Baby & Mi and Baby & Pre-Mi Studies,” is investigating the impact of gut bacteria on long-term health.

In particular, the study will be one of the first in North America to explore factors that may alter the gut bacteria picked up in the first three years of life.

In another study, Steinberg will be testing new medicines that impact proteins in the liver and adipose tissue in effort to treat type two diabetes.

More information about the research being conducted at the MODR can be found at https://healthsci.mcmaster.ca/metabolism-research.

 

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I’m sorry. It might be bad to begin with an apology, and it might foreshadow a sympathetic, yet brooding tone. But know that I am sorry. I am sorry that you are stultified by an avalanche of books. I am sorry that you might be a fan of the Bobcats.

Most of all, I am sorry to say that art by itself – although an ubiquitous, available way to communicate the wonders of the world and although being entrenched in the very core of human existence – is not important. Believe it. For in this world, only both science and art hold any value.

Don’t swallow your paintbrush. Don’t tilt your head like this were all an abstract painting. The paragraphs are simple; the sentences even more so. There is no hidden meaning, no suggestive prose unsaid. All there is, and all there has been since humankind thought it prudent to scribble images onto a cave, is art – and in this art, is science.

Most would disagree. Seeing the world through a lens of self-possessed realism, they cling to the claim that the two are diametrically opposed. Art is an appreciation of the beautiful, a form of discovery reserved for the individual. Using the rocket fuel of creative juices, it manifests itself in every form of life.

This, of course, is undeniable. For better or for worse, art is everywhere. From a candy wrapper designed to entice the eyes to the very shape of the candy itself, art, or at least as far as the element of aesthetic appeal goes, maintains an intricate part of one’s cultural livelihood. Now as I sit in the Silhouette basement, this is certainly true. While ANDY editors work tirelessly to uncover the latest Hamiltonian trends, and posters suffocate the office’s free space, I am stuck in the smorgasbord of arts. Even this very sentence, a product of hair-pulling and late night coffee crawls, is perhaps considered an artwork by some

Science – or so people assert – is quite the opposite from art’s requisite beauty. Rather than being a meticulous endeavor into the innate, it is seen as a cold shuffling of the furniture of the universe. With pipettes and volumetric flasks, nuclear magnetic resonance and infrared spectra, the world loses its beauty when science uncovers the reason for it. It is an analysis, not a poem. And besides, who could see interest or beauty in the digestive system of an earthworm anyways?

I have a friend, an artist no less, who thinks as much. During a winter storm one year, he said, “Look how beautiful this all is. The carpet of snow, the bubbling of clouds – you scientists take it apart and make it dull.” With dark hazel eyes gleaming in a veil of whiteness, he thought that something so fascinatingly unique and geometrically perfect could only be appreciated as an art form.

I’m not sure. In fact, I am unsure about almost everything, even about being unsure. I live with uncertainty. Most of the happenings around me are explained with deep doubts, narrow approximations and unlikely probabilities. I know very little about this world, and for most things, I know nothing at all.

But there in the snow conjured straight from a Robert Frost poem, I couldn’t disagree more. To take my friend’s example, beauty is much more than face value. It does not simply belong to art just as it is not one-dimensional. To admire a snowflake falling is to forget how the snowflake falls. The snowflake is beautiful because it can fall, not because it is falling. It is not guaranteed to fall. Theoretically, we expect it to. And that’s comforting.

It is in this comfort, in this ability to explain the world with a scrupulous eye and an even more scrupulous hand, that art becomes a science and science becomes an art. Only by looking at the two, acknowledging both their intricate skills and meticulous designs, from art’s carnal imagination and passion to science’s hard analysis of the world, can one truly appreciate the world. This is because the two are not different. Rather, they are one of the same.

In my friend’s case, not only did I see the majesty my friend observed, I saw everything else he didn’t. I thought of how the regular crystalline structure formed hexagonal crystals because of the hydrogen bonds electrostatically bonding; how this resulted in lower density than the liquid state, which in turn allows for the survival of aquatic life during the winter months; how this little water portion cycled through winds that bellowed throughout the whole world; how the world was a little rock knee deep in a cosmic sea; how the cosmic sea was in a Universe larger than we can observe; how we were part of this Universe and, more importantly, how it was part of us, the snowflake and everything else.

This deep connection with everything and anything was what made it beautiful. For the ultimate conclusion is not just appreciation, but the understanding that science and art both fit the whole of the Universe onto a snowflake. In fact, the Universe has no where else to go.

 

 

 

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