McMaster Lifeline club de-ratified after student petition receives over 3000 signatures
C/O Silhouette Archives
McMaster Lifeline has been an active and often controversial anti-abortion group on campus, over the past few years. Recently, their Instagram account began to circulate widely on social media and prompted criticisms from students.
Upon learning about McMaster Lifeline and their Instagram page, McMaster student Adriana Hutchins started a petition for the de-ratification of McMaster Lifeline.
“I made sure to include in the petition statement that we are not against free speech by any means, but hateful messages have no place on campus,” said Hutchins.
Hutchins wrote in the petition description that Lifeline is spreading propaganda and misinformation about reproductive rights. Section 18.104.22.168.2. of the MSU clubs operating policy includes spreading false information as a class A offence, where an action interferes with the abilities of individuals to enjoy the McMaster community.
“22.214.171.124.2. Dissemination of false information with the intent to mislead the general public.”
The McMaster Lifeline Instagram page currently contains a post that reads: “abortion is never medically necessary.” According to the website for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “there are situations where pregnancy termination in the form of an abortion is the only medical intervention that can preserve a patient’s health or save their life.”
Hutchins’ petition gained a lot of student attention.
“[There] was an overwhelmingly good response [to the petition] . . . Within the first 24 hours, [there were] over 1600 signatures,” said Hutchins.
As of publication, the petition has over 3000 signatures. Along with signing Hutchins’ petition, many students also reached out to the MSU Clubs Department directly with their concerns.
“The content shared led the Clubs Department to believe that Lifeline had possibly violated Clubs’ policy,” said MSU Vice-President (Finance) Jessica Anderson in an email to The Silhouette. The students’ emails led to a meeting of the Clubs Advisory council.
Shelby Seymour of SRA Social Sciences and a member of CAC, noted that Lifeline has previously violated club policies and faced consequences as a result.
Seymour explained that in the 2019-2020 school year, Lifeline had tabling events on campus without getting MSU approval. This violation of policy placed them on probation.
Under section 4.1.2. of clubs operating policy, probationary clubs are required to notify the club's administrator about all events. However, according to Seymour, Lifeline was holding events without the permission of the club's administrator. These events were promoted on their Instagram.
Seymour stressed that the decision to recommend Lifeline for de-ratification was entirely on the basis of policy violations.
“We need[ed] to base this [decision] off of policy and not our own political and moral opinions . . . They violated their probation and they were also spreading misinformation,” said Seymour.
Anderson was able to shed more light as to why specifically the CAC de-ratified the club.
“Ultimately, CAC found Lifeline in violation of several policies, including the dissemination of false information with intent to mislead the general public, as well as numerous instances in which the group failed to comply with McMaster University Risk Management policy,” said Anderson.
Failure to comply with the McMaster University risk management policy is a class C offence. Under the clubs operating policy, class C offences will always result in a punitive sanction.
On March 21, the SRA held a meeting in which they formally de-ratified McMaster Lifeline, upon the recommendation of the CAC. Disbandment, or de-ratification, is under sections 5.4.2 and 126.96.36.199. of clubs policy.
“188.8.131.52. Disbandment: If, in the opinion of the CAC, a Club is either incapable of or unwilling to correct its behaviour and/or the interests of the MSU and student body would be best served by the disbandment of a Club, the Clubs Administrator has the right to recommend that the SRA rescind the MSU’s recognition of the Club.”
The sanction will remain in effect for at least one full calendar year. For the club to be re-ratified, McMaster Lifeline must present sufficient evidence that they have changed.
According to numerous MSU documents, Lifeline has violated multiple Clubs policies on multiple occasions in the 2018-2019, 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. However, the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 policy violations were only recently exposed.
In 2018-2019, Lifeline hosted eight tabling events without submitting the necessary documentation and therefore without approval. At the time, failure to abide by MSU or McMaster policy was a Class B offence rather than Class C.
“Since McMaster Lifeline has submitted all their re-ratification documents in a timely manner and are only in violation of the lack of event forms for their tabling, the Clubs Department concluded that a probationary period would be a more appropriate course of action,” wrote Aditi Sharma and Maddison Hampel in the Lifeline Probation Letter. This letter was dated Sept. 24, 2019.
“The club has been made aware of their infractions, and the concerns regarding their tabling behaviour. Because of the EOHSS approval infractions, it is the Clubs department’s recommendation that this club be ratified contingent on them being on a close-watch probationary period for the 2019-2020 year. Any infraction during this period may warrant the club being de-ratified,” wrote Sharma in the clubs ratification memo.
Their probation also required that the Clubs Administrator be made aware of the time and place of all club tables, events and executive meetings at least two weeks prior to the event via email. The SRA ratified Lifeline and their probation in July 2019.
Yet, despite the close-watch probationary period, Lifeline managed to run at least two unapproved events during the 2019-2020 probation year undetected until March 2021. As a result, Lifeline was ratified for the 2020-2021 school year without incident.
The current Clubs Administrator Jenna Courage sent a memo to the Clubs Advisory Council on March 20, 2021 to recommend that CAC recommend the SRA immediately de-ratify Lifeline due to a number of policy violations from their probationary year in 2019-2020 and this year.
Courage identified that Lifeline did not submit any events through the McMaster Student Events Management Portal after Feb. 28, 2020. However, Lifeline was found to have hosted events on March 4, March 6 and May 15, 2020, as well as on March 4 and March 18, 2021.
On March 21, 2021 Seymour and the rest of CAC submitted a letter to the SRA with the evidence and description of the violations. According to the letter, CAC voted unanimously to immediately de-ratify Lifeline after discussion of their policy violations. The SRA officially de-ratified Lifeline that day.
“While we acknowledge concerns brought forth from the student population regarding the content of McMaster Lifeline’s, the CAC’s opinion on their Clubs Status is solely related to violations of MSU and McMaster University Policies,” wrote CAC in the letter to the SRA.
Both Courage and CAC’s letters included the appeal procedures. The disbandment can be appealed to the Clubs Advisory Board. “A member of the club’s proposed Executive shall notify the Clubs Administrator of their intent to appeal within one (1) week of sanctions,” per section 5.7.1 of the Clubs Status policy.
Lifeline has not responded to our question on if they intend to appeal.
One of their offences was spreading false information to mislead the public. Abortions are covered by provincial and territorial health insurance plans through the Canada Health Act, which requires medically necessary procedures are publicly insured. All provinces and territories have designated abortions as essential services throughout the pandemic.
In an interview with The Silhouette, Elizabeth* shared her experience with a medically necessary abortion. Last year, Elizabeth had excessive pain and bleeding which her doctor initially thought might be due to her intrauterine device being out of place. After typical medical tests, her doctor discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant and sent her to urgent care for an ultrasound.
IUDs are a highly effective form of contraception, with a failure rate of less than one out of 100 users in the first year of insertion. In the case of pregnancy, a doctor will advise that the IUD be removed as it can cause preterm birth or miscarriage.
At the urgent care centre, they found that Elizabeth had a hemorrhaging cyst and sent her to the McMaster Women’s Clinic to speak with a gynecologist. The gynecologist thought that the pain and the bleeding were primarily from the hemorrhaging cyst, in addition to the uterine pregnancy and the IUD. The gynecologist suggested that Elizabeth check back in three days because it was possible that her body was taking care of the cyst on its own.
“That was terrifying. The thought of just sitting at home and knowing that I had no idea or control of what was happening to my body, that could potentially, it could kill me. It could change my entire future and I just would have to sit in that anxiety for three days,” said Elizabeth.
Instead of the waiting option, the gynecologist proposed an exploratory surgery. Elizabeth explained how, while at the urgent care centre, she instinctively knew something was wrong and thought it may be an ectopic pregnancy. She opted for the exploratory surgery and described being lucky because the McMaster Children’s Hospital surgery waiting rooms are decorated with stickers and moons. “Adorable,” she said.
When Elizabeth woke up from the surgery, the doctors told her that they found both a cyst and an ectopic pregnancy growing on her fallopian tube.
Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg attaches to someplace other than the uterus and are life-threatening if left untreated. The embryo is nonviable and cannot be saved or turned into a uterine pregnancy. If the egg continues to grow in the fallopian tube, or anywhere outside the uterus, it could cause serious damage and heavy bleeding that could be deadly. Further, damage to the reproductive organs could cause problems getting pregnant in the future.
For Elizabeth, the surgeons performed a medically necessary abortion and had to remove the fallopian tube.
“The whole situation was almost like a dream because it had kind of felt like my entire existence had stopped in 18 hours and resumed again but flipped on its head,” said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth said she had a lot of support from her family and partner… “When I look at the messages that Lifeline has put out I can’t help but think about people who have been in a situation like mine who did their best to prevent it from happening — it was not my fault it wouldn’t be their fault — and they didn’t have any other option than to get surgery and have the fallopian tube, including the embryo removed,” said Elizabeth.
“I personally am someone who is very pro-choice, I believe that everybody should have the right to decide what they want to do with their body but, I can imagine for someone that doesn’t feel the same way, or at least doesn’t feel that way for themselves and wouldn’t choose to have an abortion themselves. If they see a message like the one that Lifeline has put out saying that “abortion is never medically necessary”, that could cause serious, serious harm for that person who might already be struggling with that experience of medical trauma and may now have to think to themselves, “So, I had a choice in this? If it wasn’t necessary then I just did this because I wanted to, this is somehow my fault.” It can really end up being harmful,” said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth added that Lifeline’s messaging also teaches people how to react to situations like hers.
*Name was changed to preserve identity
This article was updated April 13, 2021
Correction: April 13, 2021
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect quote that Lifeline was on probation in 2020-2021. They were on probation in 2019-2020.
McMaster to shift student emails and calendars to Microsoft 365 starting in May
C/O Maxim Ilyahov on Unsplash
On March 8, McMaster University announced that all student email platforms will be changed from Gmail to Microsoft 365 cloud in May 2021.
All faculty, staff, retirees, and medical students have already made this transition in 2020.
“The feedback that we've had so far from staff, faculty and our medical students has been extremely positive,” said Gayleen Gray, chief technology officer at McMaster.
This change comes from the McMaster IT strategic plan that was launched in 2019 to improve the digital tools that the institution uses.
“There's a number of initiatives to bring the institution forward into what we call a 21st-century university,” said Gray.
These initiatives include more modern digital toolsets, collaboration tools and projects that will help McMaster work, learn and teach. The overall goal is for the university to work more creatively and collaboratively.
Although students already have access to Microsoft 365 products, the conversion to Microsoft will streamline communication and online collaborative tools to one platform.
“[University Technology Services] also learned that when people have their email and calendaring integrated into the Microsoft suite of tools, they tend to be a lot more curious, a lot more interested in and more embedded in the opportunities that are available there,” said Gray.
The change was partially made to improve the accessibility of the email and calendar systems. International students will have easier access to Microsoft than Gmail. According to the Office 365 Hub website, the university hopes to prepare students for professional environments through an early introduction to Microsoft 365, as the majority of workplaces utilize Microsoft services.
The email migration will occur in May 2021, after the winter 2021 semester is over. A communication plan and strategy will be announced in April 2021 to explain this process. The email migration will be managed by the project team and all existing emails, calendars and contacts will be copied to students’ Microsoft Exchange/Outlook account.
Students will have access to their Google Apps for Education environment, such as Google Drive, for both the fall 2021 and winter 2022 terms, according to Gray. Students will also be notified before their McMaster GSuite account is fully terminated in 2022, to allow them to manually back up and save any data they wish before this happens.
This change will allow the university to avoid the costs that they would have faced in 2022 due to the recent announcements of the changes to storage policy that would reduce the amount of storage available for institutions using Google for Education environments. The switch to Microsoft will allow McMaster to avoid costs in upgrading to additional storage
“We were looking at the opportunities and weighing them out and the reality is, it won't make sense for us to stay within that Google for Education environment, explained Gray.
Due to the high amount of data that students currently store, the transition was inevitable. Some McMaster students have expressed concerns anonymously on social media, while others have started a petition against this transition.
[#1131] mcmastsr switching from gmail to microsoft is a change no one asked forPosted by Mac Confessions on Monday, March 8, 2021
This decision was made with the input of the IT student advisory committee and the multidisciplinary project steering committee. The project steering committee includes two undergraduate students, two graduate students, a faculty member, chief librarian, the McMaster Students Union president, along with the chief technology officer and a few other individuals.
“Our biggest goal is to ensure that this is as smooth a process as we possibly can make it. We're very interested in the feedback that we've been hearing because it's helping us to ensure that we're gearing the project to make it as smooth as possible,” said Gray.
[#1132] Wow. Genuinely angry that McMaster is switching to Microsoft 365. Gmail is just SO much better in my opinion. I...Posted by Mac Confessions on Monday, March 8, 2021
“We've heard from students who had concerns and [who are] feeling uncertain about it . . . we're always happy to hear from students, we're taking that information and we'll use it to help us improve the way the project rolls out,” Gray explained.
For students that are unfamiliar with Microsoft 365 tools or want to learn more about them, training and one-on-one sessions will be held throughout the migration to provide support. These can be accessed through the Microsoft 365 Hub as the change occurs. They can also access the frequently asked questions list, which will be continually updated.
“We will have lots of time come the end of the semester to focus on this and to support students and answer all of their questions . . . rest easy and we've got your back,” said Gray.
LABS is working to improve virtual safety measures and support fellow future Black lawyers
C/O The Silhouette Photo Archives
The Law Aspiring Black Students group at McMaster University is creating space for Black and other racialized students to learn about the legal profession, find mentorships and grow their networks. LABS is an McMaster Students Union club and an affiliate of the University of Toronto’s Black Future Lawyers program.
Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, LABS has hosted a range of events and have seen increased interest and enthusiasm within their organization.
The LABS presidential team is composed of three fourth-year justice, politics, philosophy and law students. Brianna Fable-Watson and Elizabeth Oyegunle are the club’s co-presidents and Nicole Anozie is the vice-president.
“[LABS] was intended to be a space where People of Colour, Black-focused but not Black-exclusive, but People of Colour on the spectrum could find a community and establish some kind of space where they could really talk about their experiences, one in which we felt was necessary, especially in the field of law,” said Oyegunle.
Fable-Watson explained that she and the other presidents are three of five Black students in their majority white class cohort.
“That’s very minute in comparison to the amount of white counterparts that we have in our classes and so we all found each other and realized that we all had the same struggles and issues. It’s this constant feeling of being out of the loop that we wanted to change for incoming Black students and minority students,” Fable-Watson said.
LABS has changed that feeling and has seen increased interest and engagement with their programming throughout the year.
“This is an initiative that people want to be seeing because it's catering to their needs, at least right now,” said Anozie.
Throughout the year they have seen increased interest and engagement with their programming.
“Not a lot of people knew what LABS was, who we were [last year] and I feel like this year we’re really making our footprints in the McMaster community,” said Fable-Watson.
In November 2020, the club hosted LABS Chat on Zoom to discuss racialized students’ experiences with the pandemic, the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter movement, diversity in the workplace and more.
The event was intended to be a safe space for students to share, to be introduced to the club and for LABS to share plans for the school year. However, in the midst of introductions, multiple participants began saying and typing racial slurs and sexual profanities. One participant changed their Zoom name to Brianna Fable-Watson and used a mirror effect so that there were two screens of her in the call.
The perpetrators of this attack on the event added and re-added each other but the LABS team was ultimately able to remove each of them. In the process, a genuine attendee was accidentally removed and denied access from the event. Another attendee felt too uncomfortable and took a step back, though they did rejoin.
The event continued and according to the executives, they were not going to let the attack affect the rest of the meeting.
“Honestly, I think it added to the chat because it just made it more apparent [that] that's why we need events like this because things like this happen all the time,” said Fable-Watson.
Fable-Watson, whose computer appeared to be hacked, reached out to the Hamilton Police Services about the incident but was only told to have her computer checked out.
“You would hope that something can be done, an investigation can be done, to see who these people are. Even tracing an IP address or something, you have resources at your disposal. It’s a matter of using them,” said Anozie.
The identity of the perpetrators are still unknown as of publication of this article. A lot of students have reached out to share that these hateful ideologies are present at McMaster.
“What made it even more concerning and worrisome to me was that it literally could be anybody. It could be somebody that’s in my tutorial or in my lectures and that we'd have no idea,” said Fable-Watson.
“I was completely distraught cause I was like, if this were to be even more severe or if someone was actually harmed where would I go? Who will actually listen to me because I know that the dean of [students] McMaster would not be listening to me. Who will I be able to actually tell my problems to and would they actually be concerned for me?” said Oyegunle.
The LABS team is focused on moving forward and ensuring that this does not happen to other students. Oyegunle noted how McMaster’s Equity and Inclusion Office has resources but that a lot of students are unaware of them.
“We really want to use our platform now to really allow people to know about and really learn about [these resources],” said Oyegunle.
“I feel like now moving forward it’s a matter of assessing and seeing what can we put into place to ensure that security measures are there so that things like this don't happen,” said Anozie.
The team described the attack as a learning opportunity to implement increased measures and to continue to create safe spaces for racialized students to network and build community.
“We are still going to move forward. We're still going to be here and it's not going to stop us. It's not going to deter us from holding future events,” said Anozie.
“As students of colour, especially Black people and Black women in general, we face so much more hardship and barriers in our lives that something as simple as a zoom infiltration, obviously it’s horrible, but that’s literally not going to stop us. The whole point of LABS is that we’re so focused on success that it doesn’t matter what you do. We’re all here for each other. We’re all united,” said Fable-Watson.
Since then the LABS team has worked with Tolulope Ojo, from inclusion and anti-racism programming in the EIO and Faith Ogunkoya, a student services team lead, to learn more about navigating Zoom safely and to share these resources with other clubs on campus. LABS has successfully implemented these measures in other events, such as a career panel in January 2021.
The MacPherson Institute has launched a new zine exploring barriers of access on campus
C/O LQ from This Insane Life: MadStudents Zine, 2014
Current and former McMaster students with lived experiences of disability, disablement, inaccessibility and ableism are invited to contribute to the zine to share and voice their experiences. This could include any barriers to access they might have experienced at McMaster or other post-secondary institutions.
The zine project is being led by disabled students and alumni.
“[The zine] seeks to uncover and document the labour and legacy of these disabled student initiatives and others (individual and collective; formal and informal) we haven’t heard from yet,” as stated on the website.
“The zine takes an arts-based approach to educational pedagogy and seeks to inform educators and faculty about the struggles of students who are or identify as a disabled, neurodivergent or are service users of mental health,” explains Evonne Syed, a third-year undergraduate MacPherson student partner and educational research assistant on the zine team.
The project will hope to acknowledge the need for greater accessibility and disability inclusion in the classroom, within curricula and on-campus. The project also builds on the work of a similar 2014 McMaster zine on Mad student experiences. It will also contribute to commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the MacPherson Institute.
Both individual and group submissions are being accepted in multiple formats, including but not limited to: creative arts such as collage, comics, graphic design, drawing, painting, photography; literary arts like dialogues/interviews, essays, poetry, lyrics, reflections, satire, short fiction, theatre scripts; or other ideas such as lists, recipes, games, etc.
The submission deadline is March 31 and can be submitted through a Google Form. Contributors will be notified about the status of their piece on May 1, with the publication date set for summer 2021.
“Art is [one of the] the most successful modes for expression… there aren't really many guidelines and you have a lot of freedom with what you do and how you express yourself. In that way we can appeal to a wider audience when it comes to talking about disability and accessibility,” emphasized Tanisha Warrier, a second-year biology student on the zine team.
Up to 30 current students and alumni from 2011-2020 are eligible to receive a $125 honorarium for any pieces chosen for publication in the zine. Other contributors whose pieces are chosen for publication will be eligible to request an honorarium.
The amount will depend on the project budget and the overall number of accepted submissions. These honoraria are funded by grants from the Arts Research Board at McMaster University as well as the Student Success Centre’s Career Access Professional Services Program.
“Something that I really love about this project is that we are asking the people who are [directly] impacted by these [accessibility] barriers what their experiences are and compensating them for their contributions,“ said Emunah Woolf, a social work placement student on the zine team.
“A lot of times, we either don't ask the people who are impacted and, therefore, don't solve it in a way that actually fixes the issues. We're asking folks from equity-seeking groups how they want equity and then not actually compensating them for that knowledge or that labour,” said Woolf.
The zine will be an open-access publication that will be distributed to students, staff, faculty and campus partners. After the publication, the zine team plans on conducting research to evaluate the engagement and impact of the zine, such as through focus groups and surveys of contributors and readers.
The zine team emphasized the importance of this project in creating a more inclusive space for those with disabilities.
“We need to start having more conversations. Not only within our own friend circles and things like that, but also conversations with higher-ups in academics and larger, more influential people in our faculties to ensure that voices are being heard, and are being taken to a place where change can actually take place,” said Vikita Mehta, a second-year arts and science student on the zine team.
The team also highlighted tangible action that must follow through with the contributions of the zine, especially to make the learning environment more accessible for disabled folks.
“With the release of [the zine to] really set the scene, it might also be helpful to educators and [professors] in incorporating a more inclusive educational framework and improve their teaching methods in terms of how they structure their classes, so that it's more accessible for different students [of] different abilities,” said Syed.
“We need to ensure that the playing field level when it comes to school, work and academics [is made so] that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed,” added Warrier.
Following a CHEM 1AA3 midterm, students have expressed privacy and security-related concerns use of Respondus Lockdown Browser
C/O Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities have had to adapt to online learning for the 2020-2021 school year. As a result, professors have faced unique challenges with respect to teaching and assessing students virtually.
One such challenge is ensuring academic integrity, which can be difficult in an online context because professors cannot monitor the test-taking process as easily. In response to this difficulty, many universities have relied on proctoring software to prevent cheating. At McMaster University, the most commonly used proctoring software is Respondus Lockdown Browser.
Though potentially valuable from an academic integrity standpoint, many people have raised privacy and security-related concerns about requiring students to download proctoring software. McMaster students appear to share these concerns, as many have voiced them on Reddit over the past few months.
Concerns about proctoring software have recently received a lot of attention from students, following the CHEM 1AA3 midterm on Feb. 6, 2021. The Silhouette discussed the CHEM 1AA3 midterm and the potential problems surrounding proctoring software with a student, who has been granted anonymity to ensure that they do not receive academic backlash for coming forward.
This student reported that their laptop shut down directly after the CHEM 1AA3 midterm. They also said that they have been in contact with numerous other students who faced technical difficulties during and following the midterm, including computer lags, computer shutdowns, emails about compromised passwords and multiple contact attempts from unknown numbers.
The student added that, of the students who experienced technical difficulties of some kind, 16 have reached out to the chemistry department.
The student said that as the chemistry department was unable to solve the problem at all, their only response was telling students to report it to Avenue Support or to the Respondus company.
“It should have been [the chemistry department] taking responsibility,” the student added.
Jay Robb, manager of communications for the faculty of science, stated that the chemistry department took student concerns seriously.
“[The chemistry department] encouraged the students to reach out on technical issues and get answers around that,” Robb said.
According to Robb, the chemistry department plans to continue using Respondus Lockdown Browser and to give students an additional 30 minutes on exams, to account for any technical difficulties that might arise. Robb explained the chemistry department’s reasons for using proctoring software.
“We need to maintain the academic integrity and protect the value of every student’s credit,” Robb said.
CHEM 1AA3 students are not the only ones to have raised concerns about McMaster’s use of proctoring software over the past month. On Feb. 22, 2021, the Student Representative Assembly put out a statement in support of students’ concerns about McMaster’s use of Respondus Lockdown Browser.
In their statement, the Student Representative Assembly called on McMaster to respond to student concerns about privacy and security and to provide all students with alternative methods of assessment if they do not consent to the use of Respondus Lockdown Browser.
Christy Au-Yeung, a co-leader of the SRA’s science caucus, explained that it was a challenge to find information regarding the protection of student privacy on Respondus.
“The onus is on the university to do a better job of informing students [about Respondus] and giving them the option to protect their privacy,” said Simranjeet Singh, co-leader of the SRA’s science caucus.
According to Au-Yeung, the experiences that students had with the CHEM 1AA3 midterm were an integral factor in the SRA’s decision to release a statement.
“There were issues in that test, some caused by Respondus and some not, which caused the unfortunate scenario and motivated us to act,” Singh said.
Singh noted that some unrelated technological issues faced by individual students may have been grouped together with concerns more directly related to Respondus.
However, he added, the additional pressure of Respondus on students’ internet may have been a factor, even for students who experienced difficulties unrelated to Respondus.
Au-Yeung and Singh both emphasized that the SRA wants student perspectives to be heard.
“Obviously [McMaster] can’t change what’s in the past, but moving forward [we hope that] students continue to be consulted,” Au-Yeung said.
Students reflect on the importance of sex education both before and during university
Growing up, I took a lot of art lessons. I remember one class our teacher brought out a rickety, old, wooden chair from the back room and put it on top of her desk. The chair would be the focus for this lesson, she explained, but we weren’t going to draw it.
We were going to draw everything around it — the desk it was standing on, the wall behind it and all the papers tacked to it, just not the chair.
Sex education is often defined in the same way: in terms of everything that it isn’t. This is especially true of sex education in schools. Long since a controversial topic, the debate around the content of sex education in schools often revolves around the negatives, that is, what shouldn’t be featured or what isn’t.
However, though the emphasis is typically put on sex education in schools, it is also worth noting that education doesn’t end in an institution. We’re also educated, implicitly or explicitly through our culture, our experiences, our families, the media we consume, our religion and many more places. Education happens everywhere.
It also happens in the negative space left behind and what we don’t say or do is just as important as what we do.
“It's kind of like cultural conditioning. Whatever you're conditioned to do at home, you're going to do outside of the home as well. So if at home, you're taught to be embarrassed about menstruation, about sex, you're going to project that once you leave home as well. It's hard to unlearn things, especially when they've been culturally inherited because that's just all you've known,” said third-year student Japleen Thind.
“I come from a culture that doesn’t really value sex education. This is a very dangerous mindset . . . it caused me to have the wrong idea about sex education and it caused me a lot of trouble,” explained fourth-year student Shae-Ashleigh Owen.
In my conversation with students, there was a very clear distinction between their experiences and thoughts about sex education before and after coming to university.
Before coming to university, most students described sex education as something that happened almost exclusively in schools. For many students, it happened with male and female students having separate discussions, often in entirely different rooms.
“When I think back to my experiences, I remember any time that boys and girls were together, it would be a lot of hushed giggles and a lot of people being embarrassed and not really wanting to talk. So having that divisiveness in all honestly was kind of effective. Like when the girls were learning about periods, we could ask questions, we could be open . . . That being said, there are repercussions. That is a very fundamental way that we install stigma around things like periods and other sexual education topics,” said Raisa Ahmed, a fifth-year student.
“That kind of separation throughout sex education was definitely very prevalent in my experience. We were split up into our groups, we’d go into separate rooms and we learned different things. And then it kind of felt like this secret, like, “I know all these things now that the boys don't know” and I feel like you don't think about that when you're younger, about how you're learning different things than they are. But then when you get older, you realize it's kind of important that everyone learns the same thing so that we're all equally knowledgeable about sexual health and anything relating to that,” said Micaela McNulty, a fourth-year student.
It should be noted that while the Ontario public school sex education curriculum was revised most recently in 2019, students currently in university who attended Ontario public schools would have been taught using the 1998 curriculum. A smaller portion would have also been taught using the 2015 curriculum put forward by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.
The 1998 curriculum was not as comprehensive as the 2015 one, as it did not address gender identity and sexual orientation. This lack of representation was something that many students felt strongly about, both at the time and looking back. They wished it had been discussed in more detail.
“[We] didn't cover queer and trans sex education, which for many queer trans students is super harmful. And it's hard for them because they don't get that knowledge from anywhere else, especially if they're not living in an environment or a home that may be conducive to having those conversations,” explained Christian Barborini, a fifth-year student.
Looking back, students noted they had a much better understanding of what they wished they had learned, while as children they didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the topics being discussed. Some suggested that this might have been because they hadn’t yet had any experience applying their education.
Experience tends to fill in the gaps of education, however, those experiences aren’t always positive.
“Truthfully, I feel like most of my sex ed learning has come from being sexually active and being in university. It's such a crazy environment. I feel like you're so young and you're going into these experiences and there's just so much I didn't know . . . I wish I knew about consent and stigma and UTIs and yeast infections and so much stuff that wasn't covered. And it sort of makes me angry a bit . . . I just had to learn by experience and that sucked,” said Mavis Lyons, a fourth-year student.
Some students also noted that negative experiences in particular can isolate students, making it difficult for them to feel connected to the community or leaving them vulnerable to further negative experiences.
Overall, experience brought up questions or thoughts that students may not have even considered in the classroom education. This is why many students felt that sex education shouldn’t end in Grade 9, as it does in most Ontario public schools. Like all education, it is an ongoing process and it would be beneficial if the formal education system reflected that.
“Obviously, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't start early. But I think when we teach developing kids and young adults, it doesn't resonate as much until they're older and have actually experienced that stuff. You're not going to remember everything you learned in Grade 8 or Grade 9. So you need that constant education and to be constantly connecting those points as you go along, otherwise it's not really going to mean anything,” explained Ahmed.
Sex education — or lack thereof — can have significant influences on students’ wellbeing and sense of community. But open conversation can go a long way to improving both of those issues.
Since coming to university, many students have gravitated towards spaces where there is the opportunity for such conversation, such as the Pride Community Centre, the Women and Gender Equity Network or clubs like Period at McMaster.
“I needed a space like the PCC when it came to university because I didn't have that before. So I think that that speaks to the importance of community and community organization, especially for marginalized communities when it comes to sexual health because we don't get that anywhere else. I know that for me understanding sexuality and my sexuality specifically was a journey that did affect my mental health at one point when I started university and, connecting it back to the PCC, that's the reason why I value the PCC and other queer organizations that I have worked for. Because they've offered me that space to explore my identity that I didn't get in elementary and high school,” said Barborini, who is also the coordinator at the PCC.
“It felt almost therapeutic just having a space to discuss what your experiences are, especially on a taboo topic. I think that can be really helpful . . . just having an open space to talk about your experiences has been really valuable,” explained Thind, who is a member of Period at McMaster.
Students felt that these spaces have been especially beneficial to their mental health and their overall sense of wellbeing. Their involvement in groups such as these has helped them better understand topics related to sex education and health.
“Now that I went to university, especially with [Period at McMaster], I found more people who have had experiences like mine and I don't find it embarrassing anymore . . . I feel super comfortable talking about it now,” explained Celia Arrecis, co-president of Period at McMaster.
These groups also provide a vital sense of community.
“I think just the sense of community in the sense of having like-minded people around me who care about the same things [has] been a pretty positive influence on my mental health,” added Ahmed, who is the founder and co-president of Period at McMaster.
Conversation is essential to encouraging education and both are integral to fostering a sense of community. There is an increasing awareness about the importance of both, thanks in part to McMaster clubs and community organizations. Moving forward it’s important that we continue to have open conversations and educate ourselves so that we can bring sex education out of the negative space it’s occupied for so long.
Research study launched to understand and address student mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic
While student mental health is not a new issue, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have severely impacted the mental health of university students. Amidst online classes and assignments, students are forced to grapple with feelings of isolation and anxiety.
In an effort to address this ongoing student mental health crisis, Harvard University and the World Health Organization have launched an international study called the World Mental Health International College Student survey. The study will survey post-secondary students across fifteen countries.
Dr. Daniel Vigo, along with the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, is leading the Canadian side of the study. Marisa Young, associate professor of sociology at McMaster University and a Canada research chair in mental health and work-life transitions, is leading the study at McMaster.
This study is being conducted with support from the Student Wellness Centre and the McMaster Office of Institutional Research and Analysis.
According to Young, much of the research being conducted will allow the team to reach students with a range of different experiences to gain a better understanding of McMaster’s entire student population. Young hoped that this information can then be translated into ways to help students during COVID-19.
“The goal is to work with the Student Wellness Centre, which has been really integral in getting the study off the ground,” said Young.
Allison Leanage, a PhD candidate at McMaster has been involved with the administration of the survey. She explained that the study consists of a survey that is sent out to a randomly selected group of students. The survey asks questions about social relationships, substance use, the impacts of virtual schooling and general mental health.
“The impact of the survey is to gather more information about how students are impacted in their social settings and how mental health services can understand their situations, [which can] help improve those services,” said Leanage.
Much of the interest surrounding this study comes from the fact that students across the world will be surveyed and studied. A standardized set of questions will be asked to each student, allowing answers to be compared once the study concludes.
According to Young, using a standardized survey to acquire data in so many different countries will help researchers to draw more accurate comparisons.
“There are a variety of measures that we use to understand psychological distress across cultures and across countries, which is great in a number of respects, but sometimes can lose the powerful comparison properties,” Young explained.
Young also explained that the international status of the survey might benefit McMaster students more directly as well.
“Being on an international level, the attention [to the study] will be so much more impactful,” Young explained. “The voices of those leading the efforts at McMaster will be louder because of the international presence,” she added.
Given the mental health crisis that university students are currently facing, this study has the potential to improve the experiences of students around the world, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We don't mean to fill your email box with just another call for a survey. We truly believe that this is going to have impacts for students at McMaster,” Young said.
MSU Diversity Services and Incite Magazine collaborate on new zine
Soapbox is a zine publication for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour folks to share their art with the rest of the McMaster University community. The main goal is to amplify the art and craftsmanship of BIPoC students through an exclusive, safe space for them to showcase their work.
Soapbox will be accepting submissions of art in many forms if it can be displayed digitally, such as visual art, poetry or a dance video.
“This publication aims to create a platform where the voices, experiences and lives of BIPoC contributors are not only seen and heard but valued and prioritized,” reads an information document released by Diversity Services and Incite.
Additionally, they highlighted the importance of this publication in increasing BIPoC representation within traditional media and social media, which tends to be from the lens of white folks.
“Fundamentally, I think the zine comes out of the fact that often art or creation feels like it needs to be monetized and needs to be done by a certain group or certain somebody with credentials or a background. Often students of color, especially Black and Indigenous students, are excluded from these narratives so we wanted to create a space to have them shine and have their creations be showcased as much as possible,” said Sara Tamjidi, director of MSU Diversity Services.
Another motivating factor for creating the zine was its potential to allow McMaster students to feel more connected with one another through the process of writing and sharing their work.
“It will give the opportunity to create a virtual community in the non-traditional setting of remote learning,” Tamjidi explained.
When asked about why the publication was named Soapbox, Tamjidi explained its historical significance of conventionally being a makeshift box or crate that individuals would use as a platform to stand up and share their views. They chose this name to signify a similar platform where BIPoC individuals can be seen and heard.
“We took that to say that students, especially BIPoC students, exist by creating, by being and are really protesting by creating an enabling soapbox for themselves in their communities,” said Tamjidi
The theme of the publication is “existence as resistance.” With this theme, Soapbox hopes to highlight the ongoing systemic oppression that BIPoC folks face by further suggesting that their very existence is the best form of resistance against these barriers.
The deadline to submit pieces is Feb. 15, 2021, which can be completed through a Google form. Artists whose pieces are selected for publication will be offered a $20 cheque per piece as compensation for their hard work. Each artist can submit a maximum of five submissions.
While they have not yet decided how many pieces will be featured in the zine, Tamjidi explained that Diversity Services and Incite hope to feature the submissions in an alternative media format other than an electronic version.
They also hope to adapt Soapbox to different types of video submissions, such as dance, singing, or spoken word. They encourage all BIPoC students to submit, emphasizing that they are not looking for anything specific or following a certain model.
Diversity Services and Incite hope that Soapbox will be able to create a foundation for future BIPoC students at McMaster by amplifying BIPoC voices on campus and increasing their representation in all spaces.
“I think what our [long-term] hope is with the zine is that we can create an alternative format for students to display their creativity and their artistic talents and to showcase students of colour as much as we possibly can,” said Tamjidi.
Bell “Let’s Talk” has devolved into a day of pageantry and virtue signalling, undermining the very values it hopes to represent
On Jan. 28, Bell “Let’s Talk” day was celebrated at McMaster University and across Canada. Did you talk to someone about mental health? Because I didn’t — I did double tap on the Instagram posts, though. Oh and I watched the funny Michael Bublé ad.
Bell Let’s Talk is an initiative that began in 2010 with four key goals: to reduce the stigma around mental illness, to increase access to mental health supports and services, to provide funds for research and for Bell to lead by example within their own workplace.
I think the fundraising is absolutely marvellous and one of the best ways a large organization can support mental health (watching Michael Bublé vacuum never felt so good). I must also disclose that I’ve never worked for Bell, so I can’t tell you how well their workplace initiative is going.
Where I think we’ve gone astray, especially at McMaster, is with regards to the other crucial component of supporting mental health: de-stigmatization through conversation.
McMaster states that more than 20,000 of its student-athletes will partake in leading the conversation about mental health on campus, alongside other students and university members to discuss the impacts and stigma that mental illness can have.
Now, I know that I can’t speak to other people’s views, so keep in mind that these are just some of mine: I am a varsity athlete. I’ve got the coveted blue hat. I’ve posed with the cute little speech bubble posters saying “#endthestigma” and “it’s okay to not be okay.”
I’ve also had my coach tell me, on the same week I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder no less, that she guaranteed that “whatever kind of week I was having, her's was worse.” I also remember the day the rookies on our team got their Bell “Let’s Talk” hats.
In the span of probably 30 seconds, we had them put on the hats, thrust the signs into their hands, snapped a picture for the gram and then left to go home. There was no talking.
I’m not blameless in this either. Even though I know too well the pain, discomfort and humiliation of a mental illness, I’ve been mean to teammates I didn’t like without thinking of their personal situations (or, even worse, with full awareness of their circumstances). I’ve giggled at other people’s spiteful and insensitive jokes, glad to be included and keen to not end up on the receiving end and I am ashamed.
My reason for saying all this is to illustrate how participation in Bell “Let’s Talk” day has become an exercise in pageantry, devoid of any of the meaningful action it purports to inspire.
To paraphrase Macbeth, it’s a load of sound and worry, signifying nothing. Holding up a sign that says “#LetsTalk” does not fulfill your obligation to have that talk. Writing “#endthestigma” doesn’t really end the stigma if you never make an effort to understand the “stigma” in the first place or change your own behaviour.
An opinion contributor for the Toronto Star wrote that on Bell “Let’s Talk” day, all they saw were billboards of mostly white, well-groomed people, alongside text that read “Mental Health Affects Us All.” When I look at the McMaster Marauders Instagram posts, for example, that is pretty much all I see, too.
The reality is that mental health is not pretty. Ending the stigma surrounding mental health shouldn’t be limited to a day where you can check a box saying “I care” by posting a photo on Instagram and then moving on with your life.
If we truly mean all those slogans and hashtags and well wishes, we need to sit down before (or after) the photo is taken and have that uncomfortable conversation about what mental health looks like, how we encounter it and what we can do to help. Then, we need to carry that conversation with us beyond Bell “Let’s Talk” day and apply it to our thoughts, words and actions.
Don’t laugh at those problematic jokes, talk to the person who is considered painfully uncool, stand up to people you admire and respect and love when they’re doing something wrong. As Dumbledore would say, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
No more pretending — let’s end this stigma for real.
Workplace diversity is misleading if all higher-ups are white
Amid the Black Lives Matter protests that happened this past summer and McMaster University’s very own report that highlighted systemic anti-Black racism in the athletics department, diversity has become an important topic of discussion.
Notably, many organizations — such as McMaster — are trying to do better with their diversity by prioritizing hiring individuals that are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and people with disabilities.
Workplaces have huddled together to improve their diversity — for example, in November, McMaster committed to hiring up to 12 new academics and scholars that contribute to Black academic excellence at the university. This effort is to increase the number of Black faculty, as well as provide opportunities for Black academics.
Yet, this movement towards diversity wields a double-edged sword: in many ways, the words “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion” have become buzzwords. While companies and organizations try to diversify their workplace, many have been criticized for the ways in which they approach diversity.
For example, last summer Bon Appétit went under fire for not paying its BIPOC employees as much (or at all) as the white employees for on-screen appearances. While the new editor-in-chief and other hires are BIPOC, it took inequitable pay and several racialized chefs leaving Bon Appétit for this change to occur.
Unfortunately, we aren’t doing much better in terms of diversity at McMaster.
Within the McMaster Students Union, there are many opportunities for students to get involved in both volunteer and paid positions. Fortunately, our student community is quite diverse and a lot of this is reflected in the students involved in the MSU services. But the higher up you get in the MSU, the whiter it gets.
Since my second year, the MSU board of directors has only had one racialized member per board. Let me repeat that: every year, one of the four board members that lead the student union was racialized.
It gets worse — when you look at the full-time staff in the MSU that aren’t in a student opportunity position, they’re all white. The people who are at the top, in positions of power over everyone else, are anything but diverse.
The MSU is supposed to represent the undergraduate student body, but how can it do that if it isn’t as racially diverse as our student body? Sure, the people volunteering, working part-time, or in one-year contracts may be diverse, but the people who work for the MSU year after year and have control of it beyond one contracted year are white. I don’t know about you, but that isn’t diversity to me.
The Silhouette isn’t exempt from surface-level diversity, either. In the past four years that I’ve been here, every Editor-in-Chief has been white — and I’m sure that if I looked back even further, this would apply for many more years.
While I would say we have a very diverse staff team, we have a similar issue that the MSU has, which is the fact that the person with the most “powerful” position is white.
This raises the question: what is stopping BIPOC or even people from other marginalized identities from being Editor-in-Chief? The Editor-in-Chief has a role in hiring the following Editor-in-Chief. When several Editors-in-Chief have been white, they can — consciously or unconsciously — play a role in continuing this cycle.
We’re a student newspaper. We exist to represent students fairly and equitably, but how can we do that if we don’t even have important, diverse identities leading our newspaper? How do we hold others accountable if we don’t hold ourselves accountable first?
There are plenty of skilled and diverse writers and aspiring journalists that attend Mac. We should be wondering why more of these people — why not many Indigenous students, trans students or disabled students are applying for these roles.
These issues are not exclusive to the MSU or the Sil by any means. However, if we want to see change and true diversity in the workplace, we should lead by example within our student body first.