Photo C/O @goodbodyfeel

Robin Lamarr has been the only person of colour in a movement class. With this personal experience and her own desire to make mindful movement accessible, the movement educator and community activist had been thinking about how she could address the lack of representation in the movement community.

When she obtained a physical space for the studio she founded, Goodbodyfeel, she saw it as a good time to introduce a designated space for people of colour. The result was the first Movement Melanin Expression workshop on Feb. 24. The two-hour, three-part workshop was designed for individuals identifying as Black, Indigenous or people of colour.

The intention is to create a space where folks who usually feel like they don't belong can feel belonging. And then, because it's an exclusive space, we can be open, raw, vulnerable and honest about what… we're feeling and why… [W]e can be super open about it without having to… defend ourselves against someone who might have white fragility for example,” said Lamarr.

The workshop was the result of a partnership with Hamilton-based visual alchemist and movement teacher-in-trainer, Stylo Starr. Starr joined the Goodbodyfeel Teacher Training last year when she met Lamarr and is almost finished her 200 hours of training.

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Lamarr and Starr have collaborated on a similarly structured workshop before. Last summer, they ran a satellite workshop at the Art Gallery of Hamilton wherein Lamarr led a movement sequence followed by Starr leading a walking meditation involving collage material.

Similarly, Movement Melanin Expression began with Lamarr leading participants through her famed R&B Pilates movement sequence. The sequence starts slow and warms up the individual parts of the body before ending with an intense squat sequence wherein participants scream in order to release all their emotions.

After moving, a circle discussion took place. The discussion was intended to address how people of colour can take up space and reverse the lack of representation in the movement and wellness industry. Most importantly, the conversation was meant to be open and unrestrained. Starr hopes that the conversation acted as a catalyst for participants to discuss how they’re feeling with the people in their lives.

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The workshop ended with Starr’s collage workshop. As she did with the series at the art gallery, Starr led participants through a walking meditation, allowing them to find pieces that spoke to them and create something there. The creative portion of the workshop allowed participants to express and liberate themselves.

I've seen firsthand how movement has helped my creation. It's just a way of accessing a part of your mindfulness that maybe sitting still might not do for many people… I think it's really important to mesh these worlds because it's often implied that they're so different but they're actually very similar. In creating sequences for classes, it's a collage of different movements and they might not always look the same,” Starr explaining.

Approaching creativity through the medium of collage is one of the many ways in which this workshop made itself accessible. Unlike other forms of art, collage is not very intimidating for the non-artist and allowed individuals to express themselves with lesser concern about artistic skill.

Like several other Goodbodyfeel classes, this workshop had a sliding scale in place to reduce the financial barrier for participants. The studio also has clean clothes for participants to use and provides mats and props. By removing these obstacles for participants, the studio is hoping that no one is priced out of accessing mindful movement.

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“I've been practicing some form of mindful movement since 2000 and… it's been a really big part of my healing journey. And so since moving to Hamilton and starting this community, my aim is to have as many people as possible benefit and have access to the transformative effects of mindful movement.

Why does the movement community need to even address race and representation? Well, because it's incredibly beneficial to mental health and well-being and everybody deserves access to it,” Lamarr said.

At the end of the day, the most important part of Movement Melanin Expression was the formation of community through movement. Starr and Lamarr intend to continue the class so that people of colour can continue to take up space in the movement industry and discuss more ways to break down the barriers.

 

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By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele

The Student Success Centre is pleased to launch the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network (UPTN), a new network for students to access affordable, quality student tutors, both in-person and online. The platform is powered by TutorOcean, a relatively new start-up company that was selected in partnership with the McMaster Engineering Society. Differing from other academic services available, this network is a chance to connect with another student who successfully completed the course; tutors must have received an A- to provide services.

“Through the Student Life Enhancement Fund, all McMaster undergraduate students who access the network receive a subsidy for the first seven sessions, meaning they only pay $9 per hour,” says Jenna Storey, Academic Skills Program Coordinator for the Student Success Centre. “Tutors are available from all Faculties and an important part of this service.”

Gina Robinson, Director of the Student Success Centre, adds, “Providing quality and affordable tutoring is an important objective of this initiative. Finding sustainable funding for subsidy will need to be part the plan moving forward.”

Understanding that there are a number of gatekeeping courses (mandatory courses for students to complete their degree), the Student Success Centre continues to work with Faculties to ensure that these courses are available on the network. The Student Success Centre has also incorporated measures to ensure that tutors are well-prepared, offering a number of different sessions for tutors to become “McMaster Certified.”

As Jenna shares, “Students are encouraged to find a tutor who has a ‘McMaster Certified’ badge on their profile, indicating they have completed the tutor training session in accordance with best practices. This training focuses on running an effective session, ethical standards, and communication skills.”

The Undergrad Writing Centre continues to be another support available for students, and can be used at any stage of the writing process. All Writing Tutors have undergone training through the Student Success Centre, which has been externally recognized by the College Reading and Learning Association (CLRA).

Students can book up to ten appointments per semester for free. This semester, new drop-in writing support is also available Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Undergrad Writing Centre is located in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library.

Jill McMillan, Academic Skills Program Coordinator of the Student Success Centre, shares, “Writing remains is a key academic and life skill requirement. We are thrilled to have received certification recognition that demonstrates the quality of this peer based service. Students are supported in meeting their writing potential.”

Students looking for quick study tips and other academic support can connect with Academic Coaches, located in the SSC Lounge as well as in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library every Monday-Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

 

Learn more about the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network here.

Learn more about the Undergrad Writing Centre here.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Steffi Arkilander

Content Warning: Contains mentions of sexual assault

McMaster University has a strong reputation among Ontario universities for offering a variety of diverse student-oriented resources and supports. However, McMaster has consistently failed in making support for sexual violence survivors accessible and effective.

On Aug. 19, I was sexually assaulted by someone I trusted, just a few weeks before I started my second year at McMaster. I decided to give university resources a chance and reached out to the sexual violence response coordinator, Meaghan Ross, in October.

I needed academic accommodations to support the extensive and difficult emotional turmoil I was experiencing. My grades were falling and I was not ready to write any tests. To receive academic accommodations, I had to use Ross in my letter for Student Accessibility Services, which meant disclosing my sexual assault to numerous administrative individuals.

Unfortunately, getting registered with SAS is a long process and often my deferred midterms fell on days where I had other assessments or midterms. As a result, instead of my work being manageably spread out, my work and emotional distress were compounded together.

In December, I decided to report my assault to the university. Not only was it unfair to me to have to constantly interact with my perpetrator, but it was also unfair to other students that had to interact with him. But when I contacted the McMaster Students Union and the Residence Life Office, I learned that undergoing the reporting processes is an extensive and exhausting endeavour.

The process forces you to disclose your story to multiple organizations, to staff and non-survivors and brings your sexual assault to the public forefront. Even if my perpetrator is removed from positions without contact from me, he will know I caused his removal and that I decided to take action. Moreover, people will be able to piece my story together. While I am personally okay with this, many others are not.

Thus, to receive accommodations,such as an apology or to remove him from a position, I took the informal route that is offered through the McMaster University sexual violence protocol. To my disappointment, this route requires survivors to detail the incident. This creates an incredibly re-traumatizing experience and gives your perpetrator access to your disclosure, allowing them to reject the requested accommodations.

This process has clearly become incredibly legal, despite pursuing the university route in order to avoid legal involvement. As this process is painfully slow, my perpetrator continues to hold positions of power and interact with the student body without consequence. My perpetrator is free to roam campus while I am forced to anxiously avoid him.

My story is not uncommon. In fact, in comparison to other survivors, the university has responded well. Students generally don’t report their sexual assaults because of the university’s response; the survivor often feels interrogated and is led to hope for an unsatisfactory compromise with their perpetrator.

Survivors need to be prioritized. MacLean’s nationwide survey found that 29 per cent of McMaster students were not educated on how to report a sexual assault and 24 per cent of students weren’t educated on McMaster’s services that support survivors. This needs to change.

The system should be more navigable and transparent, so that survivors are more likely to reach out for help. Reporting assaults needs to be standardized university-wide so that survivors do not need to recount their experience to multiple organizations.

Training does not teach perpetrators not to assault people. My perpetrator has attended over five trainings on anti-oppressive practices and sexual violence throughout university.

Instead, training needs to emphasize on supporting survivors, and tangible means by which we can all work to dismantle the barriers impeding support mechanisms. The fact that only three in 1000 assaults results in conviction only becomes horrifyingly real when you have to support a survivor or become one yourself.

Survivors have nothing to gain from reporting, only lots to lose. So please believe us.

 

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Photo C/O Madeline Neumann

By: Kyle Ansilio

Throughout a student’s undergraduate career, they will likely be taught under dozens of teaching assistants. Students are then bound to experience varying encounters with their TAs in regards to differing teaching values, instruction methods and marking.

These diverse experiences do not merely extend to separate courses. In fact, it is conceivable that two students taking the same course could have dramatically different learning experiences primarily due to different TAs instructing or grading them. The reason for this disparity is rooted in three distinct problems.

First, the vast majority of undergraduate programs do not prepare students for teaching roles. This in and of itself is not a problem. Developing skills required to teach in addition to meeting standard program outcomes would be an immense undertaking with little to no benefit for most graduates. But, as some TAs are even undergraduate students themselves, this lack of preparation can serve as a serious hindrance to the students being taught.

Additionally, some universities do not conduct standardized TA training. At McMaster University, the faculty of engineering requires TAs such as myself to participate in a six-hour training session in which we are taught the fundamentals of good grading practice and lesson planning. On the other hand, my colleagues from the faculty of science were not provided formal training from the faculty itself, leaving their expectations to the discretion of their individual departments or instructors.

Finally, the faculties that do offer training for their TAs often do not enforce their expectations. During McMaster’s training, engineering TAs are told to give marks based on the student’s thought or work process and not solely on the final answer. Marking schemes though are ultimately created by the instructors, who are free to reject the principles endorsed by the faculty.

With these factors in mind, it is difficult to view teaching assistantships from the perspective of the university as anything more than a means to subsidize someone’s education in exchange for lightening the workload of faculty members. Without approaching this role with the appropriate care, and the proper training, the unpreparedness of TAs can severely impact student learning.

For example, due to this problem, York University has experienced several strikes. According to the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903, the York administration was “not interested in improving the working condition of its workers, or the learning conditions of its students.”

The role of a TA is incredibly important to get right. TAs share responsibility over student learning with the instructor and are often the first point of contact for students seeking clarification and feedback. They are leaders in the classroom and have incredible influence over the quality of a course.

For graduate students seeking faculty positions, teaching assistantships are their first opportunities to grapple with the teaching responsibilities that will be expected of them. University faculties have an obligation to these TAs, and by extension the students that they teach, of providing some form of standard in teaching that cannot be overwritten at the departmental level.

Though there is certainly much to be improved, McMaster presently offers some resources for TAs. The MacPherson Institute is the teaching and learning center on campus, and they offer plenty of resources to both undergraduate and graduate students, and are currently developing a TA guide.

For those seeking to learn more about pedagogy, the Students as Partners program allows students to work collaboratively with faculty and leaders in education to conduct research or complete projects.

For graduate students seeking to improve upon their teaching methods, MacPherson offers a series of courses at no charge which can be completed towards two certificates of teaching and learning which appear on the student’s transcript. MacPherson also offers support to departments and faculty upon request, and has been working to increase awareness of the services that they offer.

McMaster would do well to make use of these services to create and enforce standardized TA training so that students can expect some degree of consistency throughout their program.

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