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Student Life

Broken Pencil: Let’s talk campus safety

Leave women alone in public. Everywhere. End of story.

In the past 72 hours, it has come to the student body’s attention that men in their early 20s have been approaching and harassing women on the downtown Concordia campus, according to the Montreal Gazette. Concordia student Lisa Komlos posted an Instagram video on Friday, March 29, detailing two of her experiences with men who first complimented her, then followed her through the lobby of a building on campus. The incidents, occurring within two weeks of each other, prompted Komlos to make her video, since the different men in both instances seemed to follow the same script.

“He started with a compliment, and then he started asking me tons of personal questions. And basically was trying to get me alone with him,” said Komlos, in her video. “He was very pushy about it. Very aggressive. He didn’t pick up on any of my social cues trying to let him know that [I was] uncomfortable with this. He wasn’t listening to me saying ‘No’ many times.”

Since the video was posted on Friday, Komlos has received a wave of support, as well as other students sharing disturbingly similar experiences. On Komlos’s Instagram page, the story highlight titled “PSA responses” had over 15 people respond, recounting the same experience around Concordia, McGill, Dawson, and UdeM, all within the last few months.

Raising awareness about the ongoing harassment, both on and off university campuses, that women experience all too frequently is incredibly important. And this conversation extends far beyond educational institutions. As we saw with the split response to Gillette’s ‘The best men can be’ ad, a lot of people (mostly men) are unwilling to engage in conversations that directly address toxic masculinity, let alone admit it exists.

On Sunday, I woke up to an article in The New York Times about a young woman named Samantha Josephson in South Carolina who was found dead after getting into a car she mistook for her Uber. Last week, my 18-year-old sister Savanna called me at 2 a.m. from Toronto in a panic. She said her friend EKat had to literally jump out of her Uber, while it was still moving, because the driver refused to stop and let her out. EKat said she felt uncomfortable from the beginning, and that he wouldn’t listen to her when she asked to pull over. Words cannot express how thankful I am that Savanna and EKat are safe, and I wish I could say the same for Samantha Josephson.

I could go on and on and on about the staggering number of friends who have experienced sexual harassment or violence. I could write a dissertation unpacking internalized patriarchal structures and how they hindered my ability to come to terms with my own history of sexual violence. I could praise Concordia’s administration for acknowledging Komlos’s experience and for spreading awareness about the pertinent issue of campus safety. But I won’t. Just fucking leave women alone. At school, on the street. Everywhere.

Feature graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

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Student Life

Unity refuses to give tap water to paying patrons

Quebec lacking clear legislation around bars only offering overpriced bottled water

As young people living in Montreal—a city known for its rampant nightlife—hitting St-Laurent Blvd., Bishop St., or anywhere along Ste-Catherine St. E for a night on the town has become almost a rite of passage. McKibbin’s Irish Pub, Grumpy’s, Complexe Sky, Club Unity, and SuWu are just a handful of Montreal’s popular nightlife venues. While there are many variables that can ruin a fun night out with friends, being charged astronomical prices for bottled water after being refused tap water may not be the first thing that comes to mind.

In a Facebook post made to a private group on March 10, Montreal resident Julia Ryan recounted her negative experience with multiple bartenders at Club Unity, located at 1171 Ste-Catherine St. E. “One of my friends got a little bit too intoxicated and was dizzy and sitting on the ground,” wrote Ryan in the comments section of her post. “I went to [the] bar on all three floors and asked three different bartenders for water, as she was almost passed out, and they basically said ‘Tough shit, buy a bottle.’”

In an interview with The Concordian, Ryan went into more detail about the four hours she and her friends spent at Club Unity, which totaled around $90, including the $8 cover charge, coat check, multiple drinks, and tip. “We decided on a pitcher of long island iced tea, which was given to us with three straws and no glasses,” said Ryan. About an hour after the first round, they ordered a second pitcher. “It was reasonably busy, but not a crazy night. By around 1:30 [a.m.], we were dying for water.” Ryan explained that a bartender told her there was no water available by the glass, and instead sold her bottled water for $4.50, which she and her friends shared.

Legislation around restaurants and bars offering free, potable tap water can get pretty convoluted. The majority of people hold false assumptions around what laws are in place, on both the provincial and federal levels. In the Reddit subthread r/ontario, an image posted by user fgejoiwnfgewijkobnew shows a sign in an Ontario comedy venue that reads: “Bottled water is the only water available. Period. (And yes, it is legal.).” The subthread post is headlined with the caption: “Isn’t it illegal in Ontario to deny patrons access to free drinking water at a bar? It’s a safety thing right?”

In a thread on Stack Exchange, a Q&A platform for professionals, students and those with relevant knowledge, user CGCampbell summarized the widespread loopholes in legislation around providing free, potable drinking water in restaurants and bars. “Tap water must be provided by restaurants in their bathrooms for the washing of hands, and that said water must be of drinking water quality,” wrote CGCampbell. “But they are not required to offer it in a glass, free of charge.” As the user goes on to point out, there are many laws in Quebec that strictly govern the quality of water, and what is defined as drinking water, in chapter Q-2, r. 40 of the Environment Quality Act. “There are laws in several other Canadian jurisdictions that do require free drinking water on request, but those laws also do not stipulate the glass must be provided for free.”

Some comments on both the Stack Exchange and Reddit threads are quite informative, and the majority of users agree on one thing: whether it’s legal or not, “denying tap water to patrons sounds like a douchey thing to do,” wrote user baween on the Reddit subthread.

Aside from providing paying customers with free tap water arguably being the ethical decision, discouraging people from regularly drinking water in environments where drinking is encouraged poses health concerns. In a CBC article from 2014, Karen McColl, a researcher hired by CBC, went to 25 bars around downtown Halifax and asked for a glass of tap water. While the majority provided her with tap water, a handful of bars—coincidentally venues that also charged up to $10 in cover fees—would only offer bottled water. The article makes no mention of specific legislation around providing free, potable tap water. Instead, it vaguely references addiction counsellors who recommend intermittently drinking one glass of water per one alcoholic beverage.

Ultimately, it seems that the lack of clear provincial and federal legislation around providing free tap water to paying customers results in bartenders at nightclubs such as Unity taking matters into their own hands. “The three bartenders I spoke to were extremely dry and abrasive,” said Ryan. “I’m more of a bar person, [but] I’ve never had an experience like that at any bar or club ever. I had been to Unity once before, three years ago, and it was a pleasant experience with good staff. Completely unlike the last time.”

Feature and in-text graphics by @sundaemorningcoffee

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Student Life

Exploring identity through film

Jackie Batsinduka explores loss and family history in Geni

“Growing up as a child of two survivors of the [Rwandan] genocide, the big thing for my family—and I think it’s true of many people’s family—is that it’s not really talked about,” said Jackie Batsinduka, a Concordia communications studies graduate. “My mom lost the majority of her immediate family, except for two brothers, and my dad lost his entire family. So imagine that, then you have a kid two years later.”

Jackie Batsinduka is a rising filmmaker and recent Concordia communication studies graduate. Photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka.

Starting on April 7,1994 and lasting about 100 days, the Rwandan genocide resulted in the mass murder of nearly one million people, the majority of whom were Tutsis. Batsinduka was born in Ottawa just two years after the genocide. “I guess it was easier to just forget and live your life,” said Batsinduka, “focus on this new chapter.” Although her family rebuilt their lives and eventually settled in Gatineau, Batsinduka explained how the past would come up in small ways, no matter how much they tried to push it away.

“Whenever there’d be a class project that had to do with your family tree, I’d be like ‘I don’t know,’” said Batsinduka, with a shrug. “Then as a six-year-old, having to explain to your class like, ‘yup, doesn’t go higher than my parents; unfortunately I don’t know anything else’ and everyone else can’t really relate.” Because her parents hardly spoke about the genocide, Batsinduka said she grew up feeling as though asking questions about her family’s history was too painful. “I’m kind of embarrassed to say it,” said Batsinkduka, “but I also wasn’t, like, out there seeking to know more.”

Throughout her childhood, Batsinduka was fascinated with how TV shows and movies could bring people’s imagination to life, despite not thinking of herself as imaginative. “As I got older and into high school, I realized ‘hey, I can make this stuff,’” she said, with a laugh. Batsinduka’s filmmaking career began in high school where she’d make amateur videos with her friends in media club. In CÉGEP and eventually at Concordia, she further explored her multimedia passion and continued developing her unique voice.

After graduating from communication studies at Concordia in summer 2018, Batsinduka delved into writing the script for her first project post-graduation, titled Geni. The short film tells the story of a girl estranged from her mother, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, who is invited back to her childhood home at her mother’s request. Batsinduka is both writing, directing and co-starring in Geni, which explores how one family is impacted by the genocide, the intergenerational trauma carried by the children of survivors, and how each family member’s unique experiences feed into one another.

Christine Kayirangwa, Batsinduka’s mother, was born in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka.

“Whenever there’d be a class project that had to do with your family tree, I’d be like ‘I don’t know,’” said Batsinduka, with a shrug. “Then as a six-year-old, having to explain to your class like, ‘yup, doesn’t go higher than my parents; unfortunately I don’t know anything else’ and everyone else can’t really relate.”

“This project is an opportunity to heal, not just for the Rwandans involved in the making of this film, but for everyone who will watch it,” writes Batsinduka in her director’s notes. “By bringing Geni to life, I can thankfully now say that my identity as the daughter of Rwandan genocide survivors is something I have begun to claim.”

Geni is also the shortened, Americanized nickname for the main character, Mugeni. Mugeni means ‘bride’ in Kinyarwanda, one of the mother tongues of Rwanda. Batsinduka’s mother, Christine Kayirangwa, has no acting experience but is also co-starring in the short film as Geni’s estranged mother. “Having her support and her confidence in me, and trusting me that this is a story worth being told and that I can tell it, has been amazing,” said Batsinduka. “Just her willingness to embark on this exploration of how this story could change our lives, or our relationship.” Though Batsinduka’s father passed away a few years ago, before this film was conceptualized, she likes to think that he’s smiling down on her and Kayirangwa as they explore their shared history together.

Identity reconciliation is a central theme in Geni, as is profound loss and the cyclical nature of family dynamics, which Batsinduka feels everyone can relate to. “The film is for everyone, but it’s especially for my community,” said Batsinduka. “There are nuances that are very much for people of that community, and that was important to me […] to not hold back on the audience. This film will definitely leave you thinking.”

Geni is scheduled to film in early May, and is aiming to premiere at festivals in summer 2019. This year marks the 25-year commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, which took place from April 7 to mid-July 1994. Batsinduka is holding a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo from March 19 to April 16.

Feature photo courtesy of Jackie Batsinduka

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Student Life

Divest Concordia spreads its wings

A hilariously well-networked class reignites the fossil fuel divest movement

Since the formation of Divest Concordia in 2013, the student-run group has been continuously pressuring the Concordia University Foundation (CUF) to freeze current investments in the fossil fuel industry and withdraw all future investments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. The CUF makes all decisions regarding the university’s $185.9 million endowment fund, which is invested in various stocks and bonds that generate funding for scholarships, bursaries and research coming out of Concordia. Approximately 10 per cent of the endowment fund “may have some connection with fossil fuels,” according to former University Spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr.

Research and mobilization around the divest movement has largely been undertaken by student-run groups like Divest Concordia, Sustainable Concordia, and the Concordia Student Union (CSU) in 2016, when the CSU adopted divestment as their annual campaign. However, in January 2019, a group of students enrolled in a 400-level interdisciplinary geography course began brainstorming ways to utilize the class’s resources and networks to reignite the divest movement at Concordia.

“It’s a methodology class where students learn about how to do research that supports, and is engaged with the work of a social justice institution,” said Kevin Gould, an associate professor in the geography, planning and environment department, who created the shell of the course. “The class has become a space where people that have this common interest [of divestment] have been able to engage with each other—to learn, to think, to plan,” said Gould. Students are currently in the early stages of developing scopes of research that examine potential avenues for furthering the divestment movement on campus.

Concordia University Foundation common shares investment breakdown 2010-11. Graph illustration by Loreanna Lastoria

Emily Carson-Apstein, who works closely with Divest Concordia and is the external campaigns coordinator for Sustainable Concordia, was a key member in helping Gould structure the class around divestment. Carson-Apstein said that having the CSU campaigns department working with Divest Concordia meant there was a lot of people-power behind the movement. “[The divest movement] is smaller than it was in 2016 […] but it’s definitely still present,” they said. “It’s more in a negotiation phase than a public education phase.”

Increasing student awareness of the urgent need for full fossil fuel divestment, community mobilization and conveying the message that Concordia is not an institution completely committed to a sustainable economic future are a few of the goals the geography class hopes to help Divest Concordia with.

In 2014, Concordia boasted the creation of a socially responsible investment (SRI) fund of $5 million, which would transfer funds from existing assets to be reinvested in “environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors,” according to the university’s website. Divest Concordia representatives at the time condemned the foundation’s decision, saying it was “a flat-out rejection of student calls for full divestment from fossil fuels,” according to Newswire. Noting the distinction between sustainable investment versus fossil fuel divestment is pertinent, as sustainable investment is used as a redirection tactic to avoid addressing the foundation’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Despite heavy criticism from Divest Concordia, Concordia was praised by some of the wider Montreal community for exhibiting sustainable leadership. The Montreal Gazette published an article on Dec. 2, 2014 claiming that Concordia was the first university in the country to begin taking steps towards divesting from fossil fuels. However, it is important to note the CUF is able to continue to invest in the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously contributing to the SRI fund, as well as other sustainable investment endeavours. In February 2016, the foundation created the Joint Sustainable Investment Advisory Committee (JSIAC) in response to increased pressure from Divest Concordia, Sustainable Concordia, and the student body to fully divest. Divest Concordia and Sustainable Concordia each occupy a seat on JSIAC, and the committee is the only channel of communication either organization has to the foundation’s board of directors. JSIAC’s influence over the board and its investment decisions regarding the endowment fund ends at making recommendations to the foundation.

Concordia University Foundation common shares investment breakdown 2011-12. Graph illustration by Loreanna Lastoria.

In an interview with The Concordian, Carson-Apstein stated that the yet-to-be released 2018 annual report estimate of the endowment fund is approximately $218 million, from what the CUF has informed Divest Concordia. In terms of financial transparency, the foundation has continually failed to clearly state which sectors of the economy it’s invested in since 2011, particularly with regards to energy resources. According to the foundation’s 2010-11 financial report, Canadian common share investments in oil and gas were about $9.1 million, investments in pipelines were about $2.6 million, and investments in metals and minerals were about $2.2 million.

However, in the foundation’s 2011-12 annual report, categories such as ‘oil and gas,’ ‘pipelines,’ and ‘metals and minerals’ cannot be found in the common share investment breakdown. Instead, the report vaguely shows an $11.7 million investment in the relatively ambiguous category titled ‘energy.’ According to the foundation’s 2016-17 annual report, a total of about $10 million in both Canadian and U.S. common share investments fall under the categories ‘energy,’ ‘materials,’ and ‘industrials.’ On Feb. 11, 2019, Concordia announced it is the first Canadian university to issue a $25 million sustainable bond, due by 2039, which will allow the university to finance the new Science Hub at Loyola. However, there have been no discussions of the more than $10 million continued investment in what is arguably the fossil fuel industry.

Carson-Apstein explained that a major challenge faced by Divest Concordia over the years has been institutional memory; the passing down of information and strategies from graduating students to newly engaged students. “Most of the folks who were founders of Divest Concordia have moved on by now,” they said. “But I think Kevin’s class is amazing […] It’s super cool that the work that’s happening in the classroom is going to be directly relevant to stuff that’s happening in the world right now.” Drawing attention to the discrepancies and financial patterns of the foundation’s annual reports is one of many strategies the geography class will use to shed light on the realities of Concordia’s investment practices, and continue pushing for full fossil fuel divestment.

Divest Concordia meets every Monday at 4:30 p.m. to discuss news, ideas and strategies. Meetings are held at 2090 McKay St. in the Z Annex on the top floor for anyone who wants to join the fight.

Feature graphic by @sundaeghost

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Student Life

Memories of the SGW Affair

Re-examining the socio-political climate of 1960s Montreal

In light of the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Sir George Williams Affair, Protests and Pedagogy, a two-day conference commemorating the largest student occupation in Canadian history, took place at De Sève Cinema in the LB building on Feb. 8 and 9.

The series of panels saw speakers, academics and activists from across the country join together to share information and memories of the events on Feb. 11, 1969. Resituating the occupation within the broader socio-political context of racial tensions in the 1950s and 60s in Montreal, as well as globally, underpinned each discussion.

Michael O. West, professor of sociology, Africana studies and history at Binghamton University, kicked off the conference by giving some much-needed historical context to the occupation. On April 28, 1968, eight students approached the Dean of Students with the initial complaint regarding their biology professor. “1968 was a year of protests and rebellion worldwide,” said West. “The Sir George Williams Affair was deeply rooted in the revolution of 1968.” Twenty-two days before the students came forth with their initial complaint “was the assassination, on April 4, 1968, of the King of Love,” said West. “Martin Luther King.”

Following West, H. Nigel Thomas, an author of various novels, poems and scholarly texts, chaired the second panel discussion between four individuals who were all involved, in one way or another, with the events surrounding Feb. 11.

Clarence Bayne, a then-professor at Sir George Williams University; Philippe Fils-Aimé, one of the Hall building occupants as well as one of the 97 people arrested that day; Brenda Dash, a Montrealer who vocally supported the students and was also arrested; and Nancy Warner, then a student-supporter from McGill who was outside the Hall building on Feb. 11. Every panelist had unique, insightful details of the intentionally misrepresented protest-turned-riot, all to convey one theme: it’s time the truth got a fair hearing.

The 9th floor computer centre after Feb. 11, 1969. Archive photo courtesy of Concordia University.

“Many people saw a face of Montreal that they had never seen before. The sheer hostility, the racism, the things that were said to people,” said Warner. “The degree to which what we thought were the rules of due-process, of the people being treated like they had some kind of civil liberties, were dashed.”

Some major news outlet headlines from Feb. 11 and onwards read: “Police Stay Cool in Chaos” and “Riot Squad Impressive” (The Gazette, Feb. 12, 1969) in which police are praised for appearing “relaxed and in good humour,” as well as “Student Moderates Alienated—Extremists go it Alone,” (The Star, Feb. 12, 1969) which stated that black students wanted to “burn down the university.”

“Much has been said about the destructive danuma of February 11,” said West. “A favourite description became and remains: riot. It being assumed that the rioters and protesters were one and the same.”

To this day, the administration and major news outlets present the mysterious fire as a point of contestation from the riots that day, despite the fact that students were arrested and charged with arson, among other offences, in the ensuing trials.

“I am going to also make a few comments on the question of this fire at the computer centre. I will tell you things that I have never said or mentioned before,” said Fils-Aimé. “As we were in jail, I had the chance to talk with Rosie [Roosevelt Douglas] and I said ‘Rosie, did you start this fucking fire, man?’ and he said ‘Phillippe, I must tell you, I didn’t have to.’” Fils-Aimé went on to explain how Rosie speculated that an individual whom they knew to be a devoted anarchist was the arsonist.

Details of the brutal events that took place once the riot squad stormed into the Hall building have not been downplayed—they have been left out of the history books altogether. “It is true that a riot occurred at the computer centre,” said West. “Except the riot only began with the arrival of the Montreal police riot squad.”

“The black occupiers were singled-out for especially brutal retribution. Black women, as could be expected, got the worst of it,” said West. “Subjected to bigoted bile as well as sexual violence. [Black men’s] bodies were ground in broken glass, they were kicked in the groin and genitalia.”

The students who made the initial complaint were taking a biology course, many of whom had dreams of attending medical school and ascending to the professional realm of society. “In sum, the police riot was also an attack on black sexuality and black reproduction,” said West.

West explained that, in regards to holding the police and the university accountable for the riots, “that has occurred to no one; that is, no one in a position of authority.” Fils-Aimé left attendees with a metaphor: when history is written by the lions, you’ll never hear the side of the antelopes. “In the process, truth became another victim,” said West. “It’s time, officially, that truth got a hearing at Concordia University. It’s time.”

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

Categories
Student Life

The rebranding of history

“Blackout” questions how much has changed since 1969

Between Jan. 29 and Feb. 11 1969, about 200 students occupied the ninth floor computer centre of then Sir George Williams University to protest the administration’s mishandling of racism complaints. In nearly all media coverage of the occupation and its aftermath, you’ll read about the $2 million of damage and a mysterious fire, which was all blamed on the students. But you’ll have to do a bit of digging before you come across any information about the nine months these students spent trying to get various professors, student representatives and the administration to legitimately consider their complaints.

Blackout: the Concordia Computer Riots interweaves the coming together of six students who only wanted to be graded justly, the administration’s inexcusable negligence towards their complaints, and how a simple bureaucratic request revealed multiple layers of systemic prejudice. “Whenever there is a question of authority, everyone is involved, and the response [to that scrutiny] can reveal a lot about their motives,” said Tamara Brown, assistant director and part of the writing unit. “An adequate response would have been, ‘Let’s examine this fairly,’ but that didn’t happen, which says a lot.”

About 14 months ago Mathieu Murphy-Perron, owner of the production company Tableau D’Hote Theatre, gathered a handful of talented artists and performers to begin researching and writing what became Blackout. Through the perfect marriage of music, spoken word and creative lighting, Blackout creates a critically immersive, yet unapologetically political view of one of the largest student occupations in Canadian history.

The performing cast of Blackout came out for a second time to bow in front of a standing ovation on opening night. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

The initial six students—played by Briauna James, Gita Miller, Shauna Thompson, Kym Dominique-Ferguson, Michelle Rambharose, and Sophie-Thérèse Stone-Richards—are all introduced while sitting together, sharing stories of frustration over the grades they’re receiving in a biology class.

Exploring the months that led up to the occupation is extremely important, considering that most media coverage downplays the more than a dozen complaints against this one biology professor. As their frustration grows, the six students ask their white friend, played by Lucinda Davis, to swap papers with one of them, played by Thompson, to see if the grades changed. Davis received a 90 on her paper, while Thompson received a 68, and this process was repeated with about six different students, garnering the same result each time.

Blackout shines a light on the story’s details, such as those mentioned above, that are predominantly left out of any mainstream coverage of the protest. What makes Blackout particularly unique is the interaction between the audience and performers in real time. By switching from dark, artistic lighting to completely illuminating the stage, the cast breaks the fourth wall throughout the play, occasionally speaking directly to the audience and asking them to further critically engage with the information they’ve presented.

“Can we take a moment to talk about this fire?” said Davis to the audience. “The fact that, even now, 50 years later, history would have it that it was the students who started it?” A mixture of approval-snapping and mhmm’s rose from the audience in response. “Yeah, that is some serious retcon-ing [retroactive continuity] shit right there,” said Dakota Jamal Wellman, one of the performers. The pair go on to logically unpack the students’ precarious situation of being barricaded inside the location where the fire was started, asking the rhetorical question of why anyone would start a fire in a place they cannot escape efficiently. Wellman continues by telling the audience how students had to use an axe to chop down a door in order to escape the flames; a door that was locked from the outside. “And they would have you believe that it was the students who started a motherfucking fire?” said Davis.

The seamless oscillation between engaging the audience as performers and as the students they played allows viewers to both humanize the students and their experiences, while also reminding audiences that they will never truly understand the alienation the students must have felt. While now, the protest is largely praised for resisting top-down power dynamics, at the time, “[the students] didn’t have support from the population, or from the media or from society,” said Lydia Dubuisson, part of the writing unit for Blackout. The politically charged play raises many important questions: whose side of history are you on? Why did it take so much to ask for so little? Why was property valued over humanity? After almost two hours of highlighting how much history was rebranded by the university’s administration, attendees leave already knowing the answer to these questions.

About 14 months after the protests-turned-riot, the very theatre Blackout performed in was named after the university’s president throughout the occupation: D.B. Clarke. In 1974, only 5 years after the occupation, Sir George Williams University and Loyola College merged to become Concordia University.

Blackout will have shows every evening until Feb. 9th at 8 p.m. with the final show at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 10th.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

Categories
Student Life

Exploring the “Computer Riots” 50 years later

Exploring the Computer Riots 50 years later

Fifty years ago today, on Jan. 29 1969, the Sir George Williams Affair began—also known as the Concordia Computer Riots. According to CBC, about 200 students occupied the ninth floor computer centre in the Hall building and engaged in a peaceful sit-in protest for 14 days. The occupation was organized following the administration’s mishandling of racism complaints lodged by a group of six students against their biology professor, Perry Anderson, who they accused of unjust grading. Negotiations between the administration and the students fell through on Feb. 11. The peaceful protest turned violent after the administration handed the case over to the police, which resulted in 97 arrests, a mysterious fire and $2 million worth of property damage.

Blackout: the Concordia Computer Riots, organized by production company Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, is a play that explores the events that led to the student occupation and questions how race relations have changed in Quebec over the last 50 years. Blackout will essentially explore and interrogate the historical events of the Sir George Williams Affair through fictional characters.

About a year ago, Mathieu Murphy-Perron, the creative director and owner of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, gathered a team of uniquely talented artists, poets and writers to start researching the history of the protests for Blackout. “We were trying to identify with these students who experienced injustice and, when they spoke out against it, realized the root of the problem was much bigger,” said Tamara Brown, a Concordia graduate as well as assistant director and part of the writing unit for Blackout. “We realized that the moments we read about were all too painfully familiar.”

Brown said that while they were exploring archived media coverage of the peaceful protests-turned-riots, the team also tried to look at what wasn’t covered. “When you do research on the event, you find images of the destruction and the $2 million of damage,” said Lydia Dubuisson, part of the writing unit for Blackout. “You don’t read about the events that led up to the riot.” Students were blamed for the mysterious fire that started after police got involved. However, according to the CBC, some believe police set the fire as a means to sidebar the protest.

Blackout invites viewers to question how different the events that unfolded in 1969 are in comparison to current events. “[The students] didn’t have support from the population, or from the media, or from society,” said Dubuisson. “Today, when people of colour express their same frustration, the response is the same.” The intersection of theatre, politics and education is unique to this performance in relation to its context and relevance within our current political state of polarization. “There is a terrifying racist rhetoric circulating now that makes people afraid,” said Brown. “We’re so polarized and it makes people afraid to stand up against injustice.”

In 2014, former Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) Executive Mei Ling, a pseudonym, filed a complaint against the administration after experiencing sexual and racial discrimination from two ASFA executives. Despite Mei Ling winning the case in 2015 and ASFA supposedly reforming its harassment policies to be more survivor-centric, the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) filed a sexual harassment complaint in 2018 against then ASFA president, on behalf of Harris Turpin.

“I observe how much things have changed, but also how they have not changed,” said Dubuisson. “I hope students take pride in knowing that it’s part of your job to fight your administration.” Brown, Dubuisson and Kym Dominique-Ferguson, part of the writing unit and one of the lead performers, all touched on the importance of re-examining history in order to fully understand where we are currently. “It’s time to start looking at the folks that have experienced oppression and look at the groups—white people—who benefitted from this,” said Dominique-Ferguson. “We need to look at that, acknowledge that, respect it and respect the individuals that are still affected by this.”

“I find what these students did to be so remarkable,” said Brown. “Everything we do matters, and the administration tried to tell [the students] otherwise, but they knew better.” Despite the 97 arrests and property damage, the protests led Concordia to revise its policies and procedures, which resulted in the creation of the Ombuds Office, according to CBC. According to Concordia University’s website, “the Ombuds Office’s role is to assist in the informal resolution of concerns and complaints related to the application of university policies, rules and procedures.” It is allegedly independent of all the administrative structures of the university, and impartial.

“We’re trying to frame extremely difficult events with a lens of hope, and I think that will inspire people to not be afraid,” said Brown. “They weren’t afraid, and we can learn from what they did.”

Blackout will show every evening from Jan. 30 to Feb. 10 in the DB Clarke Theatre from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.     

Feature photo courtesy of Concordia University Archives

Categories
Student Life

Sifting through the archives: Satire gone sour

Exploring freedom of speech and censorship within Concordia

As academics, journalists and curators of the public sphere, knowing when to stand by your work is as important as being accountable for it. Journalists in particular carry the responsibility of disseminating information, and, as a result, are rightfully held under constant scrutiny for the content they publish. The same goes for The Concordian, where, throughout its existence, there have been a few instances of backlash to content we’ve published.

Throughout the mid-90s, The Other Side was a column frequently published in The Concordian by then-journalism student, Elena McLeod. On Nov. 2 1994, the column featured a satirical article written by Mark Rollins, an alias adopted by McLeod, taking on the perspective of sexist male-chauvinists she frequently encountered on campus.

McLeod’s column was raunchy yet progressive when you read between the lines, at least for the mid-90s. It opens with: “I love breasts… Breasts of all dimensions, colour and texture. I love ‘em if they salute the sun or kiss the ground… I’m not ashamed to admit that hooters preoccupy my thoughts 24 hours a day,” writes Rollins. The column goes on to reference a GUESS ad: “[…] everytime I saw Anna Nicole Smith hawking Guess Jeans [sic], I’d blow my load… I swear, these ads should come with a handy Kleenex dispenser,” writes Rollins.

Satire, when done correctly, can be a great way to comment on complex issues by poignantly revealing the power dynamics behind the story. In The Other Side, satire was used as a way to reveal how ludicrous the hypersexualization of the female body and conforming to the male gaze is. McLeod, a.k.a. Rollins, sought to comment on this hypersexualization by using nearly every ‘locker-room’ way of talking about breasts, to the extent that it could not be anything but satire.

The Other Side was a satire column that frequently appeared in what was then called the Arts and Culture section of The Concordian in 1994. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

However, satires can often miss their intended mark, whatever that may be. Think back to 2015, when The Beaverton published and quickly retracted their absolutely appalling article after Ashley Callingbull, from the Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta, won Mrs. Universe. The Beaverton published a headline that, as they later stated in their apology, was meant to “call out the media for their failure to properly cover missing and murdered [Indigenous] women.” However, while some say they understood the twisted truth behind the headline, many, including some Indigenous advocates, did not see the humour or value in publishing such a serious topic under the guise of humour. When satires aren’t published in complete distaste, they can often be interpreted literally, which leads to a separate slew of issues.

As one could imagine, not every student on campus understood that The Other Side was a satire. The article’s literal interpretation incited a massive backlash from the student body, and by the following week’s issue on Nov. 9, The Concordian had received heaps of phone messages, letters and faxes (yes, faxes) from enraged students denouncing both the publication and Rollins/McLeod.

Most of these comments were published in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section, next to a column where McLeod came out as Rollins. On Nov. 16, two weeks after the satire column hit print, and a week after McLeod claimed Rollins’ identity, there was still so much continued backlash from the student body, now enraged at McLeod for publishing the column to begin with.

In lieu of all the backlash, McLeod sat down for an interview with Samaana Siddiqui, then-staff writer from The Concordian, to continue to explain that her intent was to generate a public discussion about the hypersexualization of the female body in a way that was not “shoving women’s issues down people’s throats,” said McLeod. However, for many readers, McLeod’s goals in writing the article did not justify the alleged sexism present in the piece that appeared without context, writes Siddiqui.

The Concordian has been telling your stories since 1983. A photo of the archives room in our Loyola office. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

The inclusion of McLeod’s article in a student-funded publication then became a debate between free speech and censorship, generating even more letters to the editor, all continuing to denounce The Concordiansome personally attacking McLeod and her sexuality.

According to Siddiqui, a student-run protest was meant to gather outside of The Concordian’s office to demand the return of their levy fees, though the rally never happened. Many Concordia affiliated groups such as the Women’s Centre and the Quebec Public Interest Group circulated a letter to The Concordian’s ad sponsors, encouraging them to sever their partnerships, according to Siddiqui.

The backlash created so many ripple effects, bordering industry blacklisting, that then-Editor-in-Chief Daniel Nemiroff published an editorial on Nov. 23 supporting McLeod and her piece. “If it will help the offended for me to express regret, I’m willing to weep with you,” writes Nemiroff. “I will not, however…censor young writers, or curtail freedom of expression.”

Journalists are held to high standards for their content, and are constantly faced with the threat of backlash, which is all the more immediate given the advent of social media. This scrutiny is completely necessary, which makes finding a suitable balance between validating the opinions of readers and supporting the freedom of expression for writers highly contextual.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

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Student Life

Sparking engagement throughout Concordia

Get to know the team of students empowering other students

Ever feel like you want to do something—get involved with a social movement or community project somehow—but aren’t sure where to start? Concordia’s extra curricular community is broad and can feel pretty nebulous, which makes it hard to find what floats your boat. “There are a lot of students who come to Concordia, go to their classes, and they graduate, not having done anything with [their time at Concordia],” said Nick Gertler, a communications and political science student, as well as an ambassador for Spark!.

Spark!, a new collaborative initiative that aims to connect students with the larger community on campus, is led by the Dean of Students Office and a team of eight student ambassadors. In fall 2017, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), with support from la Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur and Spark!, began researching the disparity between students’s intentions to engage in high-impact practices (HIPs), and their completion of any by graduation—or the student engagement gap, as the NSSE deemed their findings. Their main goal: decreasing that gap, and increasing student involvement, both on and off campus. “We’re trying to figure out how to best connect students with the opportunities that already exist [at Concordia], as opposed to creating a whole new thing, in and of itself,” said Gertler.

Between a handful of separate faculties, over a dozen organizations, initiatives and community projects around campus and more than 50,000 students at Concordia, it’s fair to say the student body is quite factioned off. When it comes to connecting students, “the constant problem [is] these little communication bubbles,” said Gertler. By building relationships with existing on-campus associations, unions, faculties and networking to new students through a fleet of student ambassadors, Gertler explained that Spark! is hoping to find ways in which those communication bubbles intersect and where they can be popped to spark engagement.

While Spark! has spent this past year researching and preparing for their launch, the student-led initiative will be introducing themselves to first-year classes over the next few weeks. “We’re really trying to keep the perspective of ‘meet students where they are,’” said Philippe Boucher, a first peoples studies student and ambassador for Spark!. “And with these class presentations, the goal is not really to present specific associations or projects, but more to ask questions like ‘Why get involved? What is involvement?,’” said Boucher.

According to George Kuh, founding director of NSSE, students should participate in at least two HIPs throughout their undergraduate degree: one during their first year and one in the context of their major. However, when students think about engaging in extracurricular activities on campus, explained Boucher, there’s a box those activities are put into. “Being involved is not just joining student associations,” said Boucher. “It’s studying abroad, being a research assistant, working in community engagement, […] encouraging students to apply for scholarships—everything.”

Part of being an ambassador, explained Boucher, is showing students the potential for diversity of engagement on campus by being engaged yourself. “It’s the first project I’ve ever really heard about that’s pushing for student engagement with students who are engaged.”

“I’ve been a student leader since like, first year,” said Jessica Lopez, a contemporary dance student and ambassador for Spark!. “I’ve worked with FASA, Art Matters, student council, etc., and my favourite part of all of those was the meetings. I learned how to talk in so many different ways, to so many different people, to have so many different results,” said Lopez. “I really enjoyed gaining that wider perspective of society, and want to bring that to other students.”

In addition to fostering engagement through communication and collaboration, Spark! hopes to empower individuals to see the applicability of skills they already possess. “What’s interesting about [Spark!] is that we have all these ‘resources,’ but we are those resources,” said Lopez. As ambassadors and students, we have such a wide perspective and range of experiences, Lopez explained, and part of going out and talking to students face-to-face is to help them realize they also have this knowledge. “It’s a fantastic system of engaging students, who are already engaged, to engage more students,” said Lopez.

Spark! also hopes to work with students who are already involved to help communicate and further the scope of their engagement, explained Gertler. “On that side of things, part of what we do is give [students] the language around what they’re already doing. You know, enabling people to communicate the fact that they are engaged, and that that presents opportunities for further engagement.”

“We’re kind of overwhelmed at times; there’s just so much information out there [about extracurriculars],” said Boucher. There’s also this expectation that, as students, we can extract the essence of a skill we have and immediately find where it would be applicable, said Boucher. “But there are so many different ways to engage, and part of what we do—part of our goal—is to help be a window for that information.”

To learn more about Spark! and how to contact an ambassador visit: http://www.concordia.ca/students/engagement/about.html

Featured press photo by Concordia University

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Student Life

Slice of Life: To-Do: Smell a rose

Rethinking what it means to set goals for ourselves

From late December to early January, the internet is riddled with memes generally belonging to four categories: empty bank accounts, being drunk from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2, cringey family stories, and, my personal favorite, all the ‘new year, new me’ bullshit. As if overriding our digestive systems with champagne and Jameson somehow flushes out all the toxicity from the previous year, leaving us with a blank-slate liver to tackle the new year with.

Honestly, New Year’s resolutions are pretty dumb. You can search the crap out of it: in January 2013, Forbes reported that only 8 per cent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, and in January 2017, Business Insider reported that 80 per cent of resolutions fail by the second week of February. But why? Why is it so difficult to set a goal—a singular goal—and follow through with it?

About a year ago, The New York Times listed tips for making and keeping resolutions. Just a few days ago, The Guardian published an article that touched on similar points: make a personal plan, join a support community, focus on one goal at a time, find what motivates you, externalize your goals, etc. All good advice, sure, but these fluff articles still have a hollow ring to them.

There are so many issues with New Year’s resolutions (not the inherent concept of goal-setting), but mainly it’s the localization of goal-setting to one check-point window in the year and the pressure to make that window. Realistically, we change so much throughout the year, and it’s important to recognize how your goals evolve with you. On top of the pressure to make a New Year’s resolution, there’s also pressure to make your resolution fit into a cutback-box. For most, resolutions consist of goals like: spend less money, go out less, watch less Netflix, start going to [insert physical activity], read that book, eat less junk, pay off debt, etc.

But what if your resolution was stuff you should do more of? Laugh more. Go outside more. Call more friends. Have more dinners at home. Think you’d have an easier time sticking to those resolutions? Melbourne-based queer artist @frances_cannon posted “Frances Cannon’s Big 2019 List” on Jan. 2, and it may surprise you in all the best ways. Cannon lists goals such as: take a breath, let go of someone who hurt you, apply for something that scares you, tell a really good joke, call someone you haven’t called in a while, smell a rose and many more goals, both small and large. It’s time we start rethinking the wide range of what goals can be for each individual, and accepting that self love is both loving ourselves for accomplishing those goals, and loving ourselves for accepting when we simply cannot.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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Student Life

Four Montreal students take first place at HackHarvard

Four Montreal students take first place at HackHarvard

“HackHarvard was maybe my 10th hackathon,” said Nicolas MacBeth, a first-year software engineering student at Concordia. He and his friend Alex Shevchenko, also a first-year software engineering student, have decided to make a name for themselves and frequent as many hackathon competitions as they can. The pair have already participated in many hackathons over the last year, both together and separately. “I just went to one last weekend [called] BlocHacks, and I was a finalist at that,” said MacBeth.

Most notable of the pair’s achievements, along with their other teammates Jay Abi-Saad and Ajay Patal, two students from McGill, is their team’s first place ranking as ‘overall best’ in the HackHarvard Global 2018 competition on Oct. 19. According to MacBeth, while all hackathons are international competitions, “HackHarvard was probably the one that had the most people from different places than the United States.” The competition is sponsored by some of the largest transnational conglomerates in the tech industry. For example, Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group, a multinational conglomerate specializing in e-commerce, retail, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, as well as Zhejiang Lab, a Zhejiang provincial government sponsored institute whose research focuses on big data and cloud computing.

MacBeth said he and Shevchenko sifted through events on the ‘North American Hackathons’ section of the Major League Hacking (MLH) website, the official student hacking league that supports over 200 competitions around the world, according to their website. “We’ve gone to a couple hackathons, me and Alex together,” said MacBeth. “And we told ourselves ‘Why not? Let’s apply. [HackHarvard] is one of the biggest hackathons.’ […] So we applied for all the ones in the US. We both got into HackHarvard, and so we went.”

Essentially, MacBeth, Shevchenko, Abi-Saad, and Patal spent 36 hours conceptualizing, designing, and coding their program called sober.AI. The web application uses AI in tandem with visual data input to “increase accuracy and accessibility, and to reduce bias and cost of a normal field sobriety test,” according to the program’s description on Devpost. “I read a statistic somewhere that only a certain amount of police officers have been trained to be able to detect people [under the influence],” said MacBeth. “Drunk, they can test because they have [breathalyzers], but high, it’s kind of hard for people to test.”

MacBeth explained that the user-friendly web application could be helpful in a range of situations, from trying to convince an inebriated friend not to drive under the influence, to law enforcement officials conducting roadside testing in a way that reduces bias, to employees, who may have to prove sobriety for work, to do so non-invasively.

Sober.AI estimates the overall percentage of sobriety through a series of tests that are relayed via visual data—either a photo of an individual’s’ face or a video of the individual performing a task—that is inputted into two neural networks designed by the team of students.

“We wanted to recreate a field sobriety test in a way that would be as accurate as how police officers do it,” said MacBeth.

The first stage is an eye exam, where a picture of an individual is fed to the first neural network, which gives an estimation of sobriety based on the droopiness of the eye, any glassy haze, redness, and whether the pupils are dilated. The second stage is a dexterity test where individuals have to touch their finger to their nose, and the third is a balance test where people have to stand on one leg. “At the end, we compile the results and [sober.AI] gives a percentage of how inebriated we think the person is,” said MacBeth.

“Basically, what you want to do with AI is recreate how a human would think,” explained MacBeth. AI programs become increasingly more accurate and efficient as more referential data is inputted into the neural networks. “The hardest part was probably finding data,” explained MacBeth. “Because writing on the internet ‘pictures of people high’ or ‘red eyes’ and stuff like that is kind of a pain.” MacBeth said that he took to his social media pages to crowdsource photos of his friends and acquaintances who were high, which provided some more data. However, MacBeth said his team made a name for themselves at the hackathon when they started going from group to group, asking their competitors to stand on one leg, as if they were sober, then again after spinning around in a circle ten times. “That was how we made our data,” said MacBeth. “It was long and hard.”

Participating in such a prestigious competition and having sober.AI win ‘overall best’ left MacBeth and Shevchenko thirsty for more. “HackHarvard had a lot more weight to it. We were on the international level, and just having the chance of being accepted into HackHarvard within the six or seven hundred students in all of North America that were accepted, I felt like we actually needed to give it our all and try to win—to represent Concordia, to represent Montreal.”

MacBeth and Shevchenko have gone their separate ways in terms of competitions for the time being, however the pair’s collaborations are far from over. Both are planning to compete separately in ConUHacks IV at the end of January 2019, where MacBeth explained that they will team up with other software engineering students who have yet to compete in hackathons. “We’re gonna try to groom other people into becoming very good teammates,” said MacBeth.

The first-year software engineer concluded with some advice for fellow Concordia students. “For those in software engineering and even computer science: just go to hackathons,” advised MacBeth. “Even if you’re skilled, not skilled, want to learn, anything, you’re going to learn in those 24 hours, because you’re either gonna be with someone who knows, or you’re gonna learn on your own. Those are the skills you will use in the real world to bring any project to life.”

Feature photo courtesy of Nicolas Macbeth

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Student Life

Slice of Life: Overexpectations

What happened to stopping to smell the roses?

Higher education is a privilege not everyone has access to, and we’re all extremely fortunate for the learning opportunities at Concordia, but crap is it ever tiring. After three full years spent in Montreal either working my butt off at school, or working my butt off to pay for school, I’m just about done (realistically I still have a year or so left, though—whoop-dee-doo). But it’s not the prospect of hard work that leaves me feeling discouraged; it’s the feeling that I’m not doing enough. The feeling that being in school full-time, working for The Concordian part-time (read: full-time), and trying to pick up whatever photography gigs I can still isn’t enough.

Just the other week, I was talking with my roommate about how I want to spend this summer. Working outdoors is something I fell in love with in 2015, before moving to Montreal, when I worked as a canoe trip counselor in Algonquin Park, a provincial park in southeastern Ontario. Getting outside and into nature is something I’ve been itching to do every summer since then, for my own sanity. Yet, when having this conversation with my roommate, I found myself bringing up my degree, the benefit of staying in Montreal for another summer to take extra classes, maybe pick up an internship; all to get ahead. But of what? Of who?

I’m not sure what makes me more upset: the fact that I have this competitive desire to finish my degree quickly and move on, or the fact that I’m probably going to end up taking classes and whatever internship I think will boost my CV the most. There was one semester, one blissful (yes, blissful) few months in fall 2017, when I thoroughly enjoyed all of my classes. Not only that, but I was proud of the work I was accomplishing, both in and outside the lecture hall. But toward the end of post-secondary education, professors start encouraging students to envision how their degrees fit into their career paths. While this isn’t inherently negative, the insane pressure many of us feel to find that career path early on and pursue every available opportunity within that field, to differentiate ourselves and come out on top is kind of negative (cheers, capitalism), no?

What happened to stopping and smelling the roses? Enjoying the journey, and not the destination? I’ve had one-too-many conversations with students already working full-time in their final years of university who only show up to classes on mandatory attendance days or to hand in assignments because they’re simply done with school. Or students who are in school full-time, pursuing a full-time internship, and also trying to work part-time who have absolutely no time for themselves.

The constant pressure to go above and beyond comes from the overexpectations we all feel, and it really friggin’ sucks. It translates to us constantly focusing on the next stage of our lives, as opposed to drawing value from our current place in life and really growing as individuals.

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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