Alexandra Kitty’s new books encourage students to explore new perspectives and experiences

Many have taken advantage of the past year to start new businesses and tackle new projects, including McMaster University alumna Alexandra Kitty, who penned a number of books. This past year she published four: The Art of Kintsugi: Learning the Japanese Craft of Beautiful Repair, The Dramatic Moment of Fate: The Life of Sherlock Holmes in Theatre, The Mind Under Siege: Mechanisms of War Propaganda and A New Approach to Journalism.

Kitty graduated in 1994 with an honours bachelor of arts in psychology, after which she went on to pursue a career in journalism and education. She has described her time at McMaster as having been hugely influential on her writing because it taught her about perspective and the ways in which our perspectives inform our reality.

“I think it was the biggest influence in my writing because I realized how much of our perceptions were not reality. Psychology is the study of how not just the brain works, but how the mind works and how we can be deceived . . . I think that was probably one of the greatest helps for me. I think it totally set my trajectory with what I studied and what my career was afterwards. Just not in the traditional way,” said Kitty.

 

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Though her books explore a vast variety of subjects, the idea of perspective is one of the linking threads across all of them. The Art of Kintsugi explores how broken bits can be repaired, restored and even embraced, while The Dramatic Moment of Fate discusses Sherlock Holmes' different incarnations on the stage over time. The Mind Under and A New Approach to Journalism both explore the journalistic importance of perspective and asking questions.

“[T]he unifying theme is that there's multiple perspectives, even within us. There isn't a single one right answer . . . So if we're a little more understanding, and we understand plurality and diversity, we can see we get more information. The more perspectives and filters we use, the more different information we can see,” explained Kitty.

“[T]he unifying theme is that there's multiple perspectives, even within us. There isn't a single one right answer . . . So if we're a little more understanding, and we understand plurality and diversity, we can see we get more information. The more perspectives and filters we use, the more different information we can see,” explained Kitty.

This awareness of perspective and its importance is something she hopes individuals will take away from her books. For students especially, she hopes it will help them understand and connect different perspectives, particularly the analytical and emotional.

 

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“A lot of times when we're doing academia, we think that we are not supposed to put emotion in it. We just need to build up our emotional literacy. Sometimes you're feeling uncomfortable, and you don't know why and [my] books show you to trust your instinct, to trust your judgment, to trust your feelings and to be able to trust your perceptions of reality to be able to see the truth because basically that's what we need to do — see the reality in order to find the truth,” said Kitty.

Another thread that connects Kitty’s books is the benefit and influence of first-hand experience on one’s perspective. Kitty felt it was essential for her to have experience with the subjects she wrote about. She began all her books by exploring the subjects personally and gaining experience with them.

 

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“If I was writing about Sherlock Holmes in the theatre, I would go watch the plays. If I was writing about kintsugi, I was doing the actual kintsugi. I went into journalism to study journalism. You can't know about something unless you've walked through it and had skin in the game and you've done it yourself,” explained Kitty.

"...You can't know about something unless you've walked through it and had skin in the game and you've done it yourself,” explained Kitty.

She also hopes her work will inspire students to do the same.

“So if you're interested about a problem in something, go to the eye of the storm, I think that's the main message. If you want to know the truth, you absolutely have to go and look at what's the mechanics, where are the failings?” encouraged Kitty.

Understanding other perspectives and seeking out new experiences are important to students not just in their academic lives, but also in relationships and personal interests. Kitty’s work shows that no matter what students go on to do after their time at McMaster, there are certain ideas and skills that will always be important.

Hamilton photographer demonstrates the importance of exploration through photos

On Jan. 1, 2020, lifestyle and boudoir photographer Iryna Kostichin posted her first photo of Hamilton to her then-new Instagram page, 365 Days Of Hamont. The photo of the residential street was the first step in a project intended to showcase all that Hamilton has to offer.

Although Kostichin was born and raised in Hamilton, she didn’t truly start exploring the city until after she graduated from McMaster University in 2017 with a degree in social psychology. She moved out for the first time and was figuring out what she wanted to do with her life. It was in the period of self-discovery after graduation that she began exploring the city.

 

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During this time, she also returned to photography, a passion of hers from childhood that she had put aside as a viable career choice.  

“A few years ago, I was in a really rough spot. I was graduated and I had a degree and I was in a job that I really didn't like . . . and I was like “I really don't want to do this for the rest of my life. I need to find something where I work for myself and I'm responsible for everything, job-wise”. So I ended up getting a social media coordinator job and then that year I was exploring portrait photography," said Kostichin.

Kostichin wanted to put her social media skills towards a project that showcases her hometown’s beauty and combats its bad reputation, leading to 365 Days of Hamont. To gather the photos for the page, she goes on a few weekly adventure walks, taking pictures of places and objects she passes. Her goal is to show various representations of Hamilton, from the buildings to nature to food.

Kostichin wanted to put her social media skills towards a project that showcases her hometown’s beauty and combats its bad reputation, leading to 365 Days of Hamont.

The project began as a commitment to posting daily in 2020, but over the year, this plan changed as Kostichin found the daily commitment challenging. Now over a year after the project began, Kostichin is a little over halfway through her original 365 days. 

 

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The pandemic also limited how much she was able to explore the city because she doesn’t have a car. It has also been difficult to explore new destinations when lockdowns have closed many places in Hamilton. However, despite these challenges, Kostichin is looking forward to diving back into the project this year.

“So definitely next steps are continuing on this journey and not putting so much pressure on myself to do it every single day . . . I started out thinking I was going to post every day and get all this engagement and get to the end of 365 days, right? But realistically I haven't reached that and exploring Hamilton really isn't only a 365-day project. So I can live a whole lifetime and still not see the whole city, which is exciting I guess. So I'm just excited to continue to carry the torch and help others explore the city,” said Kostichin.

"So I can live a whole lifetime and still not see the whole city, which is exciting I guess. So I'm just excited to continue to carry the torch and help others explore the city."

For students in Hamilton that are looking to explore, Kostichin suggests taking it one neighbourhood at a time. Especially during COVID, she suggests picking a neighbourhood and just walking around it.

As her exploration of the city is tied to her self-exploration, the latter is also very important to Kostichin. Through her boudoir photography business, she is encouraging individuals to explore new parts of themselves. Her own journey from social psychology major to full-time photographer and business owner is proof of the importance of self-discovery.

 

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“I use psychology in my day-to-day life. Even in a social media job, a lot of it is psychology. Then being in a social media job also using photography and really discovering that aspect of myself and bringing it back and now I'm actually going to be like a full-time photographer this year and start my own business. So just because people tell you [that you] can't do it really doesn't mean you can't do it, because here I am with a university degree and I'm making money from something that I taught myself,” said Kostichin

"So just because people tell you [that you] can't do it really doesn't mean you can't do it, because here I am with a university degree and I'm making money from something that I taught myself."

Kostichin’s story shows that with hard work and a little exploration, students might be able to turn their time at McMaster into the life of their dreams.

Changing our approach to these goals can help us be more successful at New Year’s resolutions

With a new year comes a set of new and often entirely unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves: New Year’s resolutions. Approximately three-quarters of Canadians resolve to accomplish their goals at the beginning of each year, with the failure rate a dismal 80 per cent

Year after year, people around the world look to the changing of the calendar as a sign of hopeful, positive transformation for their lifestyles and circumstances. How did such seemingly useless and quite frankly disappointing, ritualistic behaviour become entrenched in our daily lives? How can we make resolutions that actually work?

Apparently, human beings have practiced this particular brand of masochism since nearly the dawn of civilization. 4,000 years ago, the ancient Babylonians would make promises to the gods to repay debts and favours during their mid-March New Year’s celebration, Akitu. Keeping these promises would guarantee good luck and health while breaking them was sure to invite divine displeasure. If only we had such incentives today!

How did such seemingly useless and quite frankly disappointing, ritualistic behaviour become entrenched in our daily lives? How can we make resolutions that actually work?

Similarly, though a couple of millennia later, ancient Romans offered sacrifices and promises of virtuous conduct to the god, Janus — January’s namesake — in exchange for good fortune in the upcoming year. The practice continued with “peacock vows” in the middle ages, which were resolutions made by knights to uphold their chivalric values. By the 17th century, the habit of annual resolution-making had permeated the common social consciousness and was declared by yearly rituals such as New Year’s Eve spiritual services.

Despite their early religious origins, today’s practice of New Year’s resolution-making is a mostly secular and individualistic activity — concerned more with our ability to commit and achieve rather than chance or divine intervention.

The most common resolutions are decidedly unsurprising: in 2020, 51 per cent of Canadians wanted to exercise more, 49 per cent planned to save money, 48 per cent strived to eat healthier and 42 per cent hoped to lose weight. These goals have been topping lists for at least the last decade and their resilience speaks not only to our recidivism but also to the very nature of our desires themselves.

Making a resolution is important for mental health: having a goal to strive for helps overcome daily fatigue and is motivational. However, failing to live up to your goals — New Year’s or otherwise — can invite self-deprecation and psychological stress.

You can fall short of achieving your resolutions for any number of reasons beyond lack of sufficient commitment. The four main reasons why New Year’s resolutions fail are that they are too vague, they are framed negatively, they reflect societal expectations rather than your own desires or they are incompatible with your routine or lifestyle.

Since 2016, I’ve kept aside all my New Year’s resolutions lists and they are the spitting image of vagueness, negativity, social pressures and impracticality. From a whopping 37 resolutions in 2017 to assertions I would maintain a 12.0 GPA, to plans of learning four different languages in the span of a year, it’s no wonder I have persistently failed to achieve my goals — and thus felt thoroughly dejected every time.

But I haven’t given up just yet. Achieving your New Year’s resolutions is about more than just unwavering commitment, it’s about proper goal setting; a skill whose benefits extend beyond our infamous Dec. 31/Jan. 1 ritual.

The best resolutions are specific: they elaborate on the steps one needs to take to succeed. Unbeknownst to my 2019 self, I wouldn’t suddenly develop the ability to speak fluent Russian when the clock struck midnight. So unfair, am I right?

The best resolutions are specific: they elaborate on the steps one needs to take to succeed. Unbeknownst to my 2019 self, I wouldn’t suddenly develop the ability to speak fluent Russian when the clock struck midnight. So unfair, am I right?

Furthermore, New Year’s resolutions need to be realistic. No, 2018-self, you won’t be able to exercise four hours a day. It’s just not possible. Don’t set yourself up for failure — create ambitious but achievable goals that will make you feel successful while still making a difference in your life.

Lastly, making a good resolution is all about self-awareness. Achieving any long-term goal is directly concerned with the process of habit-forming. Creating a habit requires repetition — anywhere from 18 to 254 days of it, to be exact — and engenders a feeling of “automaticity,” which is the feeling of ease experienced when doing a familiar task.

When behaviours become automatic, they will become routine, undisruptive and habitual. However, forming a good habit requires the self-awareness to notice the environmental cues that facilitate the accompanying bad habit. If a certain place, activity, person or time prompts you to engage in the habit you want to break, recognize the signs and distance yourself or actively work to stay on track. Remember, it’s a process.

Though I haven’t managed to eliminate all traces of wishful thinking from my 2021 resolutions list, I’ve tried to introduce a bit more realism — a half marathon instead of a full marathon sounds about right, don’t you think? In truth, though, our goals matter less than our ability to forgive ourselves for not achieving them. It’s wonderful to aim for self-improvement; just don’t self-destruct along the way. Happy 2021!

McMaster announces commitment to hiring 12 Black faculty members

In October, McMaster University completed an external review of Black student-athletes and their experiences with racism. The review was first initiated in July, prompted in part by tweets by former McMaster football star Fabion Foote who now plays for the Toronto Argonauts.

In a series of tweets, Foote shared his experiences of systemic racism within the McMaster Athletics & Recreation Department.

My DL coach at Mac said I had to sell weed to afford my tuition lol. Keep in mind I never smoked in my life. My friend was in a group chat were a white athlete used the N word. My teammate reported it to the coaches and they some how managed to blame us for it.

— Fabion (@FabionFoote) June 28, 2020

The review investigated the experiences of various students from as early as 2010 and included various interviews with both former and current Black athletes, Black staff and coaches and non-Black staff and coaches.

Completion of the review showed that a culture of systemic anti-Black racism is present at the school and has harmed a number of current and former athletes. 

Completion of the review showed that a culture of systemic anti-Black racism is present at the school and has harmed a number of current and former athletes.

“[I]t is clear that there is a culture of systemic anti-Black racism within McMaster Athletics as a result of individual and group actions and inactions from staff, coaches and department administrators. This culture is evident in explicit and implicit examples of anti-Black racism. It is also evident in a widespread lack of awareness, education, understanding, empathy and systemic perspective on issues of race and inclusivity,” the report said. 

“They probably think they’re working from neutral where they have to do something and fix it, as opposed to stopping doing things that they are already doing.”

McMaster President David Farrar shared a letter of apology to students and acknowledged that more action needs to be done. 

“On behalf of the University, I apologize for the anti-Black racism you experienced. I am deeply sorry that effective action was not taken to prevent this; there are no excuses for the behaviour you endured. I assure you that we are listening and that action is already being taken to implement the report’s recommendations and to begin the work with the Department and the broader university community to help us eliminate systemic racism,” the letter wrote. 

However, for Elvin Girineza, a fourth-year chemistry student, noted how several flaws of the review and the university’s response were apparent to him as a Black student.

I think it’s interesting to say the least, that they reviewed only athletes as part of the survey."

I think it’s interesting to say the least, that they reviewed only athletes as part of the survey. Also just that it was more asking for experiences rather than something more proactive, more doing something to address it. [It was more] reactive and having to have their Black students remind them of what exactly is going on or has been already going on in the past,” Girineza said. 

On Nov. 23, McMaster announced that the school will be committing to hiring 12 Black faculty members. The announcement stated that this approach aims to ensure the school’s commitment to inclusivity is supported by Black scholarship excellence. 

The release of the initiative received support from many across social media, with people feeling pleased that the university is addressing the issue and taking action. 

An important first step. Let’s keep imagining better futures ✊🏾 https://t.co/O8RNOFK6CB

— Stacy Creech de Castro (@Stacy_AnnC) November 25, 2020

Aside from showing support, some have also suggested the next steps the school can take to further foster inclusivity, such as considering similar initiatives for Indigenous scholars.

Excellent first steps towards meaningful change in #academia. I hope to see a similar hiring initiative focused on #Indigenous #scholars@McMasterU @EIOMcMaster https://t.co/1pvKtlAUmV

— LeaGrie, PhD (@LeaGrie) November 24, 2020

Others have also questioned whether this initiative is enough and how it can truly ensure that Black voices are being expressed in academia.

Dr. Alvin Thomas, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, responded to the announcement on Twitter.

“Along with the hiring, what positions, policies, procedures, processes and changes are being enacted to make sure that these new faculty have every opportunity and support towards success rather than becoming possibly sacrificial lambs as has happened with other academic spaces?”

“Along with the hiring, what positions, policies, procedures, processes and changes are being enacted to make sure that these new faculty have every opportunity and support towards success rather than becoming possibly sacrificial lambs as has happened with other academic spaces?” Thomas tweeted.

Along with the hiring, what positions, policies, procedures, processes and changes are being enacted to make sure that these new faculty have every opportunity and support towards success rather than becoming possibly sacrifical lambs as has happened with other academic spaces?

— Dr. Alvin Thomas, PhD. (@Dr_AT758) November 28, 2020

Girineza expressed that although hiring Black faculty is a step in the right direction, he believed a lot more work still needs to be done.

“They’re deciding how much influence and power [Black academics] get and then those new faculty will be restricted to their rules."

“They’re deciding how much influence and power [Black academics] get and then those new faculty will be restricted to their rules. . .[McMaster is] only willing to budge however much they’re willing to budge. They’re not willing to fully listen and maybe take on a more humble role and, you know, take a step back and not be the one in charge of the final decisions when it comes to how institutions deal with its own problems,” said Girineza.

"They’re not willing to fully listen and maybe take on a more humble role and, you know, take a step back and not be the one in charge of the final decisions when it comes to how institutions deal with its own problems,” said Girineza. 

Girineza is no stranger to racism as a part of his everyday reality. When he had to choose where to attend university, the culture and severity of racism at each university played a part in his decision.

“For people who haven’t experienced racism it’s a theory to them more and there has to be more work put on looking at the extent of it. Does it really exist? While to the people who experienced the consequences, it’s just a reality,” Girineza expressed.

“For people who haven’t experienced racism it’s a theory to them more and there has to be more work put on looking at the extent of it. Does it really exist? While to the people who experienced the consequences, it’s just a reality,” Girineza expressed. 

Girineza added that if McMaster really wants to properly address anti-Black racism, they have to be willing to dive deeper into the issue and apply their actions systemically.

“As opposed to trying to put a bandaid on cancer,” Girineza said. 

“As opposed to trying to put a bandaid on cancer.” 

Girineza believes the problem is being handled by people who may not realize that they may also be contributing to the problem.

“They probably think they’re working from neutral where they have to do something and fix it, as opposed to stopping doing things that they are already doing,” said Girineza.

He said that if the university wants to foster a place of community and safety, they must do more than just the basic standard.

“I can’t applaud the institution for doing the bare minimum,” Girineza said.

“I can’t applaud the institution for doing the bare minimum,” Girineza said.

Advice from holiday movie characters on how to spend this winter break

With COVID-19 restrictions heightening around Ontario and beyond, this holiday break will be like no other. Thankfully, some of our favourite holiday movie characters are prepared with tips on how to manage this winter break.

The Grinch: Create a daily routine

To manage the long days spent in his cave, the Grinch follows a daily routine (though he always stays flexible for special events).

4:00 – Wallow in self-pity

4:30 – Stare into the abyss

5:00 – Solve world hunger (tell no one)

5:30 – Jazzercise

6:00 – Dinner with me (can’t cancel that again!)

7:00 – Wrestle with my self-loathing

Creating a daily routine is helpful while staying home and will benefit your physical and mental health. Though parts of the Grinch’s schedule are not ideal, he definitely has the right idea in scheduling time for exercise and eating. Making your own daily routine may help to ease some uncertainty while staying at home this winter.

Buddy the Elf: Find some at-home entertainment

From snowball fights in the park to covering the house in a ridiculously large number of paper snowflakes, Buddy from Elf has some great ideas on how to stay entertained at home this holiday break. Why not try some elf-inspired recipes while you’re at it (spaghetti and maple syrup, anyone?).

Some Buddy-inspired activities include: building a snowman, having a snowball fight, making winter-themed decorations to hang them up in your room, trying a new recipe (or inventing one) and building a gingerbread house. 

Kevin McCallister: Have a movie marathon

Kevin McCallister from Home Alone infamously uses old movies as ammunition in his fight against the burglars trying to break into his home. Why not kick back (with a tall ice cream sundae) and have a classic movie marathon for yourself? You could also invite a few friends to watch with services such as Zoom, Skype and Teleparty.

The Miser Brothers: Call a friend or relative

The title characters of The Year Without a Santa Claus are brothers in conflict who use video chat to reconnect from inside their caves. Though this winter may not be conducive to gathering with friends and family, setting up video chats and phone calls is a great way to connect and catch up with family and friends.

Cindy Lou Who: Support your community

Cindy Lou Who is a young girl who bravely refuses to leave the Grinch out of the Whoville holiday celebrations. It is easy to feel disconnected while isolating at home but as Cindy Lou shows, it can be mutually rewarding to support your community. Whether you check-in on your neighbours or support local small businesses, reaching out to your community is a great way to feel connected and spread positivity.

The Hamilton-based project Filipinas of HamONT is using interviews and surveys to find and connect the community

There are not enough spaces in Hamilton where BIPOC feel that they belong. BIPOC in the Steel City often feel disconnected from their heritage, their history and their community.

This is a problem that Anabelle Ragsag and Jessica Vinluan are hoping that folks in Hamilton with Filipino heritage will one day no longer have to face. They are helping to tackle the problem with their community-engaged project, Filipinas of HamONT.

Ragsag is an author and educator with a background in politics who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines in 2009. Vinluan is a teacher, the founder of BIPOC youth organization Redefine Twenty and a second-generation Filipina-Canadian who was born and raised in Hamilton.

 

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With their different backgrounds, they have made their project Filipinas of HamONT for all Filipinas in the city of Hamilton, whether they were born and raised in the city, a naturalized citizen, a long-timer, a newcomer or just passing by as is the case for many students.

They have made their project Filipinas of HamONT for all Filipinas in the city of Hamilton, whether they were born and raised in the city, a naturalized citizen, a long-timer, a newcomer or just passing by as is the case for many students.

The pair met in early 2020 at a Reaching for Power workshop, an initiative that teaches BIPOC women and non-binary individuals how to make a positive change in their communities. After the workshop series ended, Ragsag and Vinluan began in June 2020 to think about creating a project for the Filipina community. In fall 2020, they received a microgrant for the project and began sharing it with the larger community in November.

The project initially consisted of a survey designed to map where Filipinas in Hamilton are located. The survey asks for participants’ demographic information including: their highest completed education level; the province in the Philippines that any member of their family is from; if they are working, the industry in which they are employed; and the effect that COVID-19 has had on their livelihood.

 

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The survey results will be shared to show where Filipinas in Hamilton are. As Filipinas began immigrating to Hamilton in the 1960s to build the health sector, Ragsag and Vinluan anticipated that many of the Filipinas that participate in their survey will work in this area. However, they began to find Filipinas outside of this sector when they decided to complement their survey with interviews with Hamilton-based Filipinas.

“[E]specially being born and raised in Hamilton, I didn't really think that I could see Filipinas in different spaces and I think to be able to see that . . . like, “oh, you're not just in the health sector, there's other avenues that maybe I can take if I see myself in them” . . . [The project is] validating that it's not just in the health sector, but like other aspects as well and other spaces that Filipinos are taking up,” said Vinluan.

"[The project is] validating that it's not just in the health sector, but like other aspects as well and other spaces that Filipinos are taking up," said Vinluan.

Ragsag and Vinluan have completed eight of the 10 interviews that they aimed to do. They shared the first interview on Nov. 13, 2020 and will continue to share them until March 2021. The interview series neatly exemplifies the intention behind the project: they want to share stories of leadership, empowerment and living between two cultures.

“I grew up and it was very white-dominated spaces. I think that, as a Filipina, I felt like I didn't belong in a lot of the spaces . . . I felt like I couldn't have these kinds of conversations around dual identity and things that I feel like I had difficulties navigating.  So, when Anabelle brought up the idea of starting Filipinas of HamONT through the YWCA project, I was so excited because I know there's a lot of these kinds of community collectives in Toronto . . . but I also feel like I don't belong because it's Toronto and I'm from Hamilton,” explained Vinluan.

Based on the feedback from some of their interviewees, Ragsag and Vinluan are working towards running online events that will enable them to continue the important conversations they began in the interviews. They are considering running a book club where they would read works by Filipino authors and hosting workshops on the history of the Philippines.

“I saw that a lot of second and multiple generations of those with Filipino roots have this thirst to know more about what it is like. What does it mean if I don't speak Filipino, if I don't speak Tagalog, am I still Filipino? Because of my teaching background . . . I thought that's something that I can do. That is something that I can contribute to the community,” said Ragsag.

“I saw that a lot of second and multiple generations of those with Filipino roots have this thirst to know more about what it is like. What does it mean if I don't speak Filipino, if I don't speak Tagalog, am I still Filipino?" said Ragsag.

However, in starting this project, Ragsag and Vinluan do not intend to take away from the work done by established Filipino organizations in Hamilton. They recognize the importance of churches, cultural gatherings, all-Filipino sports tournaments and student organizations such as the Filipino McMaster Student Association. They aim to work alongside these organizations to connect the Filipina community.

Despite the name, Ragsag and Vinluan are not completely closing the project to woman-identifying individuals. The project is intended to evolve with community needs.

“We see that our being here in Canada is rooted to that history of a feminized migration . . . So I think it started from there but at the same time, the project is an evolving one – it's not set in stone — and we are aware that identities are fluid, as well . . . the role of those who don't identify as male or female have been there in history but they [were] erased by colonization. That is one of the topics that we want to discuss: what is it in our history that was erased? Can we uncover them?” said Ragsag.

Ragsag and Vinluan hope that this project will enable them and other Hamilton-based Filipinas to continue learning more about their history and heritage. By having these conversations with their community and connecting with established organizations, the project will help ensure that every Filipina in Hamilton feels they belong.

Tips for first-time plant parents and reminders for the experienced ones

Plants are becoming more and more popular in the pandemic, among both long-term and new plant parents. Growing up, my grandparents travelled a lot and as one of the few people in my family with a green thumb, I was always put in charge of looking after my grandmother’s plants. Now, I have half a dozen plants of my own and the beginnings of an indoor herb garden. 

While many plants are relatively low maintenance, here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years that are worth keeping in mind as you adopt a new plant.

[media-credit name="C/O Clay Banks" link="https://unsplash.com/@claybanks" align="alignnone" width="2800"][/media-credit]

1. Do your research

First, while there are lots of lists on the internet detailing the best and most resilient plants for first-time plant owners, it’s important to do your own research first. Each plant has its own optimal growing conditions and it’s good to ensure that your home can meet them.

For example, temperature is an often overlooked but important condition to be aware of. Most plants do best anywhere between 16°C and 26°C. Do your best to avoid dramatic temperature changes in your home and keep plants away from drafty windows, especially in the winter.

Availability of light seems intuitive, but not all spaces in your home will get light equally and it’s good to consider where the best, most well-lit corners of your home are before you bring your plant home.

It’s also worth taking into account the other conditions in your home, such as the availability of space in your house, the thoughts of your housemates and your ability to take care of a plant. Also be aware that some plants are not safe to have around pets, so if you do have pets be sure to check that the plant you have in mind won’t be a danger to them. 

[media-credit name="C/O Trung Thanh" link="https://unsplash.com/@trung18tuoi" align="alignleft" width="929"][/media-credit]

2. Don’t overwater!

Once you have adopted your plant, brought it home and set it up in a nice and sunny spot, you’ll be responsible for watering it. While creating a schedule or setting reminders on your phone can be helpful, it can increase the risk of overwatering your plant, which can be harder to come back from than underwatering. 

Good lighting can help the plant dry out and mitigate the dangers of overwatering, but the best way to avoid it altogether is by checking the soil regularly and letting your plant tell you when it needs more water. If the soil is very damp, your plant doesn’t need any more water, but if the soil is drier, be sure to give your plant a drink. 

Additionally, the amount of water a plant needs is proportional to its size, so your smaller plants will need less water than your larger ones and as your plants grow, they may need more water than they did before

Most planters have a drainage hole at the bottom, which mitigates the possibility of overwatering. If your planter does not, it would be good to find a planter that does have a drainage hole. It can also come in handy if your plant is underwatered because you can fill a sink with a few inches of water and set the plant in it to soak up some water quickly.

[media-credit name="C/O Kaufmann Mercantile" link="https://unsplash.com/@kaufmann_mercantile" align="alignleft" width="4197"][/media-credit]

3. Start simple

There are a plethora of plant accessories out there but when you’re starting out, it’s often best to start simple: plant, pot, watering can (or even just a designated cup will do) and maybe a spray bottle for misting the leaves. 

Misting the leaves can help keep your plant free of dust. It also gives you a moment to check the leaves for any signs of illness or bugs as well as to remove any dead leaves. Many tropical plants will shed some of their leaves during the winter months and removing them makes space for new growth. 

[media-credit name="C/O Clay Banks" link="https://unsplash.com/@claybanks" align="alignnone" width="3800"][/media-credit]

4. Ask around!

Lastly, but maybe most important, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most nurseries or greenhouses are happy to chat about plant care if you call them. Plants are also a great conversation starter for Zoom calls with family and friends, who are likely happy to share their own plant advice and experiences.

A flexible approach to university might save you and your sanity

By: Zara Khan, Contributor

Picture the ideal student. They somehow find the time to volunteer and hit the gym while they maintain their perfect grade point average. They finish their assignments far in advance and probably already studied for that midterm. You envy them and their perfectly curated bullet journal. They are a perfect model of human efficiency. 

At the same time, there you are. Catching up on those missed lectures of yours, all while you have two essays due tomorrow and a midterm right after. There you are, going to sleep at 7 a.m., following a Red Bull-fueled study session with a brain that’s turned to mush. Okay, maybe it’s just me. 

But if you are anything like me, you most definitely are haunted by a chronic sense of failure. You might feel as if you’re not doing what you should be doing. That you should have figured things out by now. That you should learn a certain way and aim to achieve certain things. In many ways, you feel like you simply do not measure up to that ideal student.

However, our societal notions of what makes a successful student are deeply unrealistic. Who has the time to perfectly colour code their notes? Who really manages to get everything done ahead of time? Most university students have never had to learn how to learn properly until now, so of course, we’re going to struggle. 

We seem to imagine the ideal student as someone possessing inhuman amounts of energy. Someone who seems to be perfectly put together, studies for hours on end and finishes assignments far in advance. The fact that many of us seem to think that there is only one way to be a good student is concerning. So when many of us find ourselves struggling to measure up to that ideal, we seem to view it as personal failing more than anything else.

The fact that many of us seem to think that there is only one way to be a good student is concerning. So when many of us find ourselves struggling to measure up to that ideal, we seem to view it as personal failing more than anything else.

I’m not the ideal student. But what I find interesting is the fact that I’ve found more success as one that is not. In fact, I don’t take any notes during most of my lectures. Why? I’ve found that I actually retain the information better when I’m purely focused on listening. Instead, I might take notes that I need, prior to, or after class.

For the longest time, I tried to force myself to take notes during class, because that was how things should be done. What often resulted was a notebook full of the best doodles ever drawn, with absolutely zero recollection of what was actually taught. Not taking notes meant that I had more of an incentive to listen. But more importantly, it reduced the stress I often felt while trying to take good notes. Not only did I learn more, but I also saved a bit of my sanity.

A doodle found in Zara's notes.

[/media-credit] A doodle found in Zara's notes.

Now, I’m not advocating for you to eschew note-taking during lectures. Although, what I am advocating for is a flexible approach to education. For example, students believe that they should take a full course load which is about five courses for most programs. But what if you find yourself consistently stressed by a full course load?

Day after day, you find yourself struggling to handle the workload. The obvious solution is to decrease your course load. It might be slightly unconventional and it might take longer for you to finish your degree, but it might be a beneficial alternative to you. If the conventional path to a degree doesn’t fit your needs, you should look for alternatives. 

In my case, I actually took this semester off. I didn’t exactly have a fun time last winter semester, online learning quite literally sucked out the joy of learning for me. Rather than forcing myself to learn in a way that simply doesn’t work for me (which would have likely dropped my GPA), I opted to take a break instead.

This confused a few people in my life. They simply couldn’t understand why I would choose to “fall behind.” A younger friend of mine was very surprised by the fact that I could take a semester off at all. She didn’t know that it was even an option. 

Surprisingly, university can be quite flexible in many ways, yet few of us take advantage of this. Many of us seem to think that there is only a four- or five-year path to a degree. In reality, you can take as long as you like or as little as you like. In short, you can plan your education in a way that works for you.

This point doesn’t only apply to the length of your degree, it can apply to any aspect of your education. I’ll admit that I often pick between either going to the lectures or doing the readings if I find that the content overlaps. I’ll often ignore recommended guidelines for an essay if I feel like they are hindering the quality of my work (though I’ll check with my professors to be safe). My strategies are unconventional, but they work for me. 

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel that sometimes I’m more distressed by the fact that I am not doing things as I should be, rather than being stressed by school itself. A constant nagging feeling tells me that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be. That I’m doing something wrong by refusing to conform to those expectations.

Yet, despite all the inner angst about the whole thing, I’ve found that the most liberating thing I’ve done for myself is to completely ignore these societal expectations. Ignoring them has allowed me to figure out how I can make things work for me

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel that sometimes I’m more distressed by the fact that I am not doing things as I should be, rather than being stressed by school itself.

Not all strategies work for all people. The fact that many of us try to force ourselves into a narrow mould of productivity is quite counterproductive. If you, like me, find yourself struggling to learn the way you should, do yourself a favour: forget about how you should be doing things. Find out how you would do them instead.

As the fall semester comes to an end and finals roll in, here are seven tips for managing stress and practising self-care

Between keeping safe during the global pandemic, reacting to social injustices, hours of online school and finishing up your last midterms and assignments, it can be easy to forget to reflect and check-in with yourself.

The looming pressure and worry about exams exacerbate these stressors. During these turbulent times, self-care and mental wellness may be the last item on your agenda. However, managing stress is critical for avoiding burnout and maintaining good mental health. Below are seven self-care tips to help bring more balance into your routine.

[media-credit name="C/O Kinga Cichewicz" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

1. Develop a regular sleep schedule

This may be one of the most difficult goals to achieve for many students. Especially with online and asynchronous classes, you can quickly be derailed into a bad sleeping habit. You can track your sleep schedule using an app and set yourself up for success by limiting electronic use before bedtime, putting your screens into a nighttime mode in the evening and limiting caffeine intake

[media-credit name="C/O Brooke Lark" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

2. Eat regularly scheduled meals

Similar to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, practicing a healthy diet is important for both your physical and mental health. Eat foods that give you energy and make you happy. Switch things up by sharing recipes with friends. 

[media-credit name="C/O Arek Adeoye" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

3. Engage in non-academic activities

It may seem obvious, but many of us still need daily reminders to rest and unwind. You can go on a walk, exercise or take a nap. Give yourself opportunities to release some of the tension and stress and refuel your energy by doing activities you enjoy. 

[media-credit name="C/O Pedro Araujo" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

4. Take time to reflect

Even if it’s once a week, think about at least one thing that went well and one thing that you wish to work on. You could pick up journaling, use a mood tracking app or discuss your thoughts and experiences with your friends and family. Going on walks can also give you some personal time for reflections. Through reflecting, you can take a break from thinking about school, realize achievements and strengths and gain insights to set new goals.

[media-credit name="C/O Afif Kusuma" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

5. Find ways to connect with your community

According to The Health Mind Platter by clinical professor of psychiatry Daniel J. Siegel, connecting time is one of the factors that are essential for optimizing one’s mental well-being. It helps to reinforce relationships and reduce feelings of isolation. Try to identify the communities to which you belong and how to maintain an active membership. 

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6. Reward yourself

We all deserve praise after enduring a difficult and challenging semester. Set plans and goals and reward yourself by taking a day off, treating yourself with a gift or engaging in other activities that you normally don’t have time to do. Having something to look forward to at the end of a busy week or exam season can motivate you and keep you on track. 

[media-credit name="C/O Dustin Belt" align="none" width="600"][/media-credit]

7. Reach out to peer support services if you need help

You can find resources through the Student Wellness Centre or reach out to one of the four peer support services offered by the MSU: MSU Maccess, Student Health Education Centre, Women + Gender Equity Network or Pride Community Centre.

Remember to also check in with your peers. Share how you are doing, what is going well, what you want to improve on and what you are looking forward to. It’s perfectly normal to ask for help and it can be comforting to have someone validate your feelings and experiences. 

Although self-care can look different for everyone, hopefully some of these tips have inspired you to develop your own self-care plan. We will all get through this semester together. Be proud of all the accomplishments you’ve made so far and always remember to be kind to yourself because taking care of your mental health is the most important homework.

Fourth-year student Abi Oladesu is beautifying clients through her business Desu Beauty

Abi Oladesu has been doing makeup for most of her life. She started having fun with her mother’s makeup from the age of 10 and decided a few years later to challenge herself to increase her skills. She did someone else’s makeup for the first time when she was about 16.

During her second year at McMaster University, the biochemistry student started thinking about taking makeup more seriously. However, it wasn’t until she was quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to take the leap and start her business, Desu Beauty on Oct. 30, 2020.

There are three components to Oladesu’s business. As she has received many requests for makeup tutorials and enjoys teaching, she decided that she would post makeup tutorials on Instagram and offer beginner and intermediate lessons.

The second part of her business involves posting her own makeup looks in order to improve her skills and show clients what she can do. Lastly, she does makeup for clients’ weddings, photoshoots, proms, graduations and other events.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Desu Beauty (@desubeauty)

It is important to Oladesu that when she does clients’ makeup, she isn’t turning them into a different person but highlighting the best parts of them. This goal stems in part from her own experience with makeup. When Oladesu was a preteen and early teenager, she used makeup as a way of hiding her face. Now she uses makeup to accentuate her features and seeks to do the same for her clients.

“Obviously nobody wants that for themselves, but I don't think there's anything necessarily bad about [being self-conscious] in the sense that we all feel self-conscious once in a while. We're in a society where the beauty standards are very high and they change all the time, but it's important to remember . . . you're the one that at the end of the day determines your worth to other people,” said Oladesu.

"We're in a society where the beauty standards are very high and they change all the time, but it's important to remember . . . you're the one that at the end of the day determines your worth to other people," said Oladesu.

This mission is embedded in the name of Oladesu’s business. While she originally called it Desu Beauty as a reference to the last four letters of her last name, she realized upon reflection that it had a deeper meaning for her.

“I'm a very large fan of anime and so desu . . . basically means “to be” . . . I am [also] Christian [and] in the Bible, it's like “we are beautifully and wonderfully made” . . . So to be that beautifully and wonderfully creative person, you have to love yourself in every aspect, whether that's with wearing your natural face out and being super proud of it or getting the skills to do your makeup really well so that every time you look in the mirror . . . you’re like, “wow, I feel beautiful, I know I'm beautiful.” . . . I want you to be the best version of yourself or at least to look at yourself and be like "wow, I feel like that beautifully and wonderfully made person,"” explained Oladesu.

Since she started, Oladesu has received positive reception and a lot of support from family and friends. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has decreased the number of events for which people would get their makeup done. At the same time, Oladesu credits the pandemic with giving her the time to start her business.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Desu Beauty (@desubeauty)

Oladesu also sees online classes as a blessing for her since she started her business. Instead of spending all day on campus and then doing makeup appointments, she can better make her own schedule by doing makeup during the day and watching recorded lectures afterwards. Managing the business alongside her demanding degree and other commitments has also encouraged her to better prioritize her time.

Oladesu looks forward to continuing to grow her following and reach more people through her business. As she will be graduating soon, she is considering how she might integrate her love of makeup into her career.

“I'm definitely a cautious person so . . . right now, I definitely am going to finish my biochemistry degree and I'm going to see if I could get a job with that. But working with makeup has gotten me interested in cosmetics in general so [maybe] I can mix my biochemistry major with cosmetics and then possibly go into formulation or something along those lines,” said Oladesu.

"I definitely am going to finish my biochemistry degree and I'm going to see if I could get a job with that. But working with makeup has gotten me interested in cosmetics in general."

To other students with a skill they are considering turning into a business, Oladesu says to just start. She recalls that she felt the need to have high-quality foundations in every colour before she began her business. However, since she started, all her clients have used colours that she had already had.

“There's nothing wrong with humble beginnings. You don't have to have everything, you don't have to have the best of everything," Oladesu said. "It's better to just start because honestly, I feel like people appreciate watching you grow and watching you improve.”

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