Students entering university are faced with many new things: new classes, new friends and sometimes even new living arrangements. But students living in on-campus residences should not have to worry about their safety.
To help students transition into living away from home, and to enforce the rules of residence life, McMaster University community advisors live with first-year students in their residences. Their purpose is to “develop and maintain an environment that is conducive to learning and personal growth.”
To be a CA, one must fulfill many qualifications including maintaining a minimum sessional average of 6.0, being a full-time McMaster University student, demonstrating responsibility and leadership abilities and have a working knowledge or building community within students.
But for all the listed requirements, CAs are not required to complete any sort of police background check, including a very important vulnerable sector check.
VS checks are a collection of offence information that is restricted to applicants seeking employment or volunteering in a position of authority or trust over vulnerable persons in Canada. They can be obtained easily from the police service in your residing jurisdiction.
The lack of VS checks for CAs is problematic for many reasons. For one, many incoming students are under 18-years-old. In these cases, it is evident that these students are considered vulnerable persons and subsequently require additional protection from those in positions of authority and trust like CAs.
But even for incoming students who are legally adults, their role as a first-year student inherently places them in a lower position of power relative to their CAs. This power dynamic can be harmful if the CAs have a history of offensive behaviour.
CAs have a lot of influence over the first-year students under their supervision. CAs are oftentimes students’ first interaction with upper-year students and are meant to be the go-to person for questions about campus and residence life. To not conduct a proper background check on them is negligent of the university in ensuring that students are protected.
The lack of VS checks is not an exclusive issue of CAs. In addition to CAs, residence-affiliated positions such as the residence orientation representative are not required to complete VS checks.
In fact, part-time managers, the board of directors and other McMaster Students Union positions do not require the completion of a VS check.
Considering that almost all of these roles involve interaction with and power over a vulnerable population of students, it makes no sense why these roles do not require VS checks. If anything, the lack of VS checks puts students in avoidable danger.
In addition to VS checks, McMaster University should do a more thorough job of ensuring that individuals hired for their positions are positive reflections of the university. This includes ensuring that these individuals have not been reported to university administration or asked to withdraw from their positions previously.
The lack of sufficient and necessary screening of individuals in positions of power within the university is alarming. For McMaster University to truly commit to ensuring student safety, they must create better hiring policies that begin with implementation of VS checks.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
It’s that time of the year where everyone is looking for a place to rent. Searching for off-campus housing is a source of headache for many students. But what students shouldn’t have to worry about is invasions of their privacy.
As of now, my landlord could text me saying he has a viewing for the house within the next hour and he’d be allowed to enter the property. Why? According to Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act, once tenants have given notice to terminate their tenancy, landlords are allowed to show prospective tenants the property so long as they make a “reasonable effort to inform the current tenants of their intentions to do so”.
The ambiguity of “reasonable effort” allows landlords to barely give any notice that they will enter the property. It even states in Section 26 that this “reasonable effort” does not have to be within 24 hours’ notice. Though this is technically legal, it serves as a major inconvenience to tenants who cannot be expected to schedule their day around frequent and inconsistent house showings.
Beyond a mere inconvenience, allowing landlords to enter student-rented property essentially whenever they wish to do so can be seen as a threat to student safety. Without adequate notice, students may have not have time to secure their valuables or ensure that they are not in compromising positions.
Students are in especially vulnerable positions, many of whom are not well-versed in their rights and may even be minors.
Although it may very well be in the best interest of students to allow their landlord to show the property to prospective tenants — as the sooner the new lease is signed, the sooner the invasions of privacy can stop — it does not excuse the blatant disrespect that students have to endure when their landlords appear at odd hours of the day with little notice.
The only requirement of landlords when showing the property to prospective tenants, besides “reasonable effort to inform”, is that they must enter between the times of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. This should barely be considered a requirement as that timeframe basically cover the entirety of waking hours.
Realistically, appointments for house showings are made well in advance of 24 hours. As such, landlords should be mandated to inform tenants at least 24 hours in advance prior to entering the property, as they are required to in almost any other situation.
In fact, as it stands, landlords can only enter the property without giving 24-hour notice in cases of emergency, under the tenant’s consent, where the tenancy agreement allows for the landlord to enter the property within specified times to clean or during property showings.
While the other situations make sense, as with the exception of an emergency, they require the tenant’s consent, there is no reason to not give tenant’s 24-hour notice before property showings.
Beyond such a requirement being in the best interests for the tenants, giving adequate notice can benefit the landlord as it gives the tenants time to clean the property and make it look presentable.
The government should seriously consider revisiting their tenancies act in order to make these changes. This not only affects students, but tenants across Ontario.