Student Life

The details of data mining

Krzysztof Dzieciolowski shares his passion for teaching and statistics

Krzysztof Dzieciolowski describes himself as a man of two professions, two laptops, two jobs, two locations and two new kittens. However, he’d never want to give any of it up.

For the last 24 years, Dzieciolowski has worked in the telecommunications industry and as a part-time faculty member at the John Molson School of Business (JMSB). “I’m always on the run between them, conceptually as well as physically,” he said, referring to his two jobs.

Dzieciolowski regularly teaches two courses—statistical software for data management, and analysis and data mining techniques—as part of the data intelligence minor at JMSB. His courses allow students to learn the basic concepts and techniques of data management using Statistical Analysis System (SAS), which is the world’s largest statistical software used by many businesses and government bodies. Dzieciolowski also helps students learn data mining techniques using different kinds of data.

Outside academia, Dzieciolowski leads a modeling and analytics group at Rogers Communications, where he helps create predictive models. These types of models are used by businesses to develop techniques for customer acquisition, customer retention and company growth.

“Commercially, companies exist to satisfy their mission to provide returns to their stakeholders,” Dzieciolowski explained. “So in a way, we help companies, using math, become more effective in generating profit, as well as be more cost effective, and providing the products and services to customers.”

Using mathematical and statistical models, Dzieciolowski works to define “events of interest,” such as making a sale, acquiring a new customer or losing a customer, and relate such events to that customer’s profile. Dzieciolowski and his team can compare the profiles of customers who did or did not experience any given event of interest, and their behaviours prior to this event or non-event, to see if a correlation exists between a given profile or event.

Using this data, Dzieciolowski is able to create a model, such as an equation which relates independent variables to the observed event, that can help Rogers predict the probability on a scale from zero to one of a given event of interest, such as making a sale. This probability score allows Rogers to know who is likely to purchase a product from the company. These tools are very useful for marketing and sales, but also benefit customers by providing them with better and more relevant service.

“It boils down to a simple question—who should we talk to, what about and why?” Dzieciolowski said. “I like challenging questions, and my colleagues in the office keep me busy, whether they’re from marketing or product sales or finance. They often come to ask me a variety of questions which are fairly complex. I enjoy working with them and solving those questions together, whether it’s related to mathematical aspects of the solution or whether it’s actually on the applied side.”

Another challenge Dzieciolowski has always enjoyed is teaching, which has always been important to him. When he was living in Poland during the 1980s after having completed his master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Warsaw, Dzieciolowski worked for four years as a math teacher and social worker at a high school for inner city youth who had dropped out of regular schooling and were at risk for using drugs.

“That was a great experience,” Dzieciolowski said. “I was not much older than my students. I was 25.” The school was funded by Poland’s Ministry of Education and Behaviour, but the ministry maintained an arm’s length relationship with the school because, according to Dzieciolowski, they would not officially acknowledge the country’s heroin epidemic.

Dzieciolowski’s young age made teaching an even more rewarding experience. “We were socializing with them as well, by taking them to camps, school cinema which I used to run, also ski camps and cooking together in the kitchen and cleaning up everything afterwards,” he said. “We had a lot of common activities, and it was a fun place to be.”

During this time in the 80s, Poland’s communist government had put the country under martial law. “I was trying to find a job, but as a non-party member, I didn’t have much of a chance to land anything,” Dzieciolowski said. “I finally decided to come to Canada to do my PhD and follow in the footsteps of my colleagues who were also grads of mathematics and also went abroad to continue their studies in Canada or Europe.”

While studying at the University of Warsaw, Dzieciolowski joined a quantitative seminar in the sociology department. It was there that he was introduced to the quantitative applications of math, which Dzieciolowski explained can be used to model social events, social phenomena and social patterns.

“I discovered that I have an interest in real-life applications and how people use math and how their lives and their social lives can be described using mathematics,” he said. “So it was natural to turn to statistics.”

Dzieciolowski started his PhD in statistics at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. Three months before completing his PhD, Dzieciolowski was offered a position at Bell Canada in Montreal.

“I had to quit my studies and move to Montreal and start the job in three weeks. It’s always like this in the business; when they have an opening, it’s always for yesterday. I took the job and I became a part-time, off-campus student and finally finished my thesis two years later,” he said. “Professionally, I think it was a good thing to do because I really enjoyed applied work.”

In addition to the job offer, Dzieciolowski said his decision to move was greatly influenced by Montreal itself. “The reason why [my family and I] came to Montreal was mainly because of the lifestyle and culture the city offers, which is so close to our experience in Europe.”

Several years later, Dzieciolowski was offered a position as a part-time faculty member at Concordia, which allowed him to rekindle this love of teaching.

“The best part is interactions with students and creating a fun environment to learn. I think I promote a lot of teamwork in the classroom. Sharing and presenting and having a learning experience without necessary stress is a great achievement, I think, and I’m always striving to get to that point where people are learning in a stress-free environment,” he said.

Dzieciolowski said his teaching style focuses on allowing students to learn the material on their own, so they are more motivated and interested in the topic. “My role in the classroom is really to help them learn how to learn. We are in it together.”

Dzieciolowski has accomplished a lot during his time at Concordia. One of his proudest achievements, he said, was creating the joint undergraduate certificate between JMSB and SAS in 2016.

“I’m very happy about this, and a lot of students ask about it. We will have another batch of students graduating with this certification this year as well,” Dzieciolowski said. “We’re collecting applications from last year and this year to jointly award them together sometime in May or June.”

Students interested in the certificate must apply to the department of supply chain operations management within JMSB and successfully obtain a B in four out of five option classes. “I’m happy to say I teach two of those classes, and students show a lot of keen interest in learning new methodologies and new thinking and new applications of statistics in data science,” Dzieciolowski said.

“The joint certification means we are now able to use the state-of-the-art statistical software, which has been installed in our labs without fee. Students are learning the leading data mining software that is widely used outside, and they’re getting ready for the jobs that are there which require them to know SAS and understand the business problems the software is helping to solve,” he said.

Dzieciolowski was recently the recipient of a $10,000 Special Project Award from the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) to conduct research into new predictive methodologies and data matching techniques while at Rogers last year. On March 22, Dzieciolowski presented this research, his experience teaching data science to students, and his proliferation of data science applications and artificial intelligence during a talk at JMSB.

Dzieciolowski’s research explored how to create predictive models when a company doesn’t have access to information about all events of interest. “In practical terms, you may think about two different databases that have to be connected or merged together, and those databases are often disconnected and do not talk to each other. The only way to identify if the customers have both accounts would be to merge the data based on their name or address,” Dzieciolowski explained. “But those kind of merges often produce incorrect results. So we think they do have both accounts or they don’t, which is a false positive, or they do actually but we classify them as if they didn’t, which is an example of a false negative.”

Dzieciolowski’s research focused on how to create predictions when confronted with such “fuzzy merges,” and on determining how misclassifications impact the quality of the predictive models. “It’s very much applied, very much up-to-date and of great interest to large companies, whether they’re from telecoms or business, because there’s always a need to conduct those fuzzy matches between the data sources,” he said. “Therefore, there will always be an interest in making sure we predict what we want to predict.”

Although Dzieciolowski enjoys being a part-time faculty member, he said that status has caused some difficulties over the years. “I never had a chance to get a grant, for example for hardware, even though I do conduct research as well as teaching,” he said. However, this is the only disadvantage he has experienced as a part-time professor at Concordia. “I’ve been a part-time professor since day one 24 years ago. I never had an issue getting courses to teach, especially since I teach the data mining classes which not many people are interested to teach for some reason or another,” Dzieciolowski said. Nonetheless, he appreciates that other part-time professors experience job insecurity.

“As you can see I’m a pretty busy person,” Dzieciolowski added with a laugh. Despite his busy life, Dzieciolowski makes time to travel, recently adopted two kittens, and stays in touch with his former students in Poland. “I keep in touch with many of them on Facebook. They discovered I still exist a few years ago and we reconnected,” he said. “It’s all a very rewarding experience.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

Student Life

Spirituality and Sara Terreault

A pilgrimage through the life of a part-time professor

As I enter the room where I will be interviewing part-time faculty member Sara Terreault, I can’t help but notice how strikingly different the rooms in the theological studies department look compared to other departments on campus.

The paintings on the walls and the many books on the shelves seem to mirror Terreault’s  life, while the room’s beautiful wooden furnishings give a rich perspective of theology in contrast to the sterility sometimes prevalent in modern academia.

“God, the G-word—a naughty word in academia—you’re allowed to use it here and take it seriously and understand both historically and in contemporary contexts what that means for people,” Terreault said.

Terreault is a professor of theology and Irish studies. She has taught eleven different theology courses at Concordia, including a class on Celtic Christianity.

“I think something that distinguishes theology and makes it very rich and attractive to a lot of students is that we ask those existential questions while allowing a horizon of transcendence,” Terreault explained. “You’re allowed to ask questions that include ultimate questions.”

Terreault had not envisioned herself teaching theology when she was younger. Despite her Christian upbringing and lifelong involvement with the Church, Terreault initially planned to be an artist.

From the age of 13 to 19, Terreault apprenticed with painter Helmut Gerth, focusing primarily on watercolours. “I convinced my mom to get me these private art lessons, and I just took to it like a duck to water,” she said.

From there, Terreault enrolled in Dawson’s Studio Arts program, where she was able to practice studio art, including painting and sculpting. However, Terreault eventually pursued art history at Concordia—a decision influenced by her travels and year living in the UK. “I went to Europe and saw lots of art and loved it,” she said. “So when it came time to pick a major, I picked art history.”

Though spirituality and Christianity had been important parts of Terreault’s life, she became distant from this aspect of her identity when she started her undergraduate degree.

“At that time, religious things were, in that academic environment, uncool—and the worst of all was Christianity,” Terreault said. “I towed the fashionable line and sort of let that all go.”

But spirituality was never far from Terreault’s mind, she said, even if she wasn’t actively thinking about it. “I did a lot of literature and classics for electives,” she said. “They were all sort of sideways, backdoor ways of getting at that same sort of [theological] area.”

Terreault moved to California in 1988 when her husband was offered a job there. She lived there for seven years, working as a stay-at-home mother for her two boys and running an in-home daycare part-time.

Terreault had a moment of spiritual clarity when she gave birth to her first child. “Having kids really helps you start thinking about what really matters, and I guess I just got the balls to say [spirituality] is what I really care about,” she said.

After being out of school 10 years, Terreault decided to move back to Montreal to complete her undergraduate art history degree and to pursue her graduate degree in theology at Concordia. She is now a part-time professor there, teaching on average one to two courses per semester.

Her favourite course to teach, she said, is THEO 234 Pilgrim Bodies, Sacred Journeys, which allows students to undertake personal pilgrimages or participate in an organized class pilgrimage. She has travelled with students to the Camino de Santiago de Compostella in Spain, across Ireland, and to the Kahnawà:ke Mohawk reservation to explore both Christian and Mohawk traditions of spirituality.

Terreault has undertaken many personal pilgrimages as well, particularly around Ireland and the UK. Her favourite pilgrimage, she said, was one she made to Iona in Scotland.

“I’m interested in those early Celtic saints—their lives and their wishes and dreams and values,” she said. “I really feel like there’s a kind of communion with them when I’m in places that they were in, or where they’re buried, or where others have walked towards them.”

Most of the pilgrimages Terreault does are on foot, though she said this does not have to be the case for everyone. “For some people, the journey is the whole thing. For other people, the end point is the whole thing—they might fly as close to their destination as possible and then take a car,” she said. “I would say, for me, it’s both.”

Class pilgrimage to the Kahnawake Mohawk reservation in 2016. Photo courtesy of Sara Terreault

“There’s a lot that goes on when you walk long distances in a sustained way over days upon days. Physiologically, it changes the body. Psychologically, it slows you down,” Terreault said. “In a walking pilgrimage, the journey becomes part of the point, and it provokes existential questions and reflection.”

Teaching, and her ability to engage with students, she said, is what she is most proud of. “They are just wonderful people to hang out with, and when you get a sense that you’ve contributed something valuable to them, that’s pretty darn fulfilling.”

However, being a part-time professor has been challenging for Terreault. The hardest part, for her, is the lack of recognition and funding. “Funding, if you’re part-time, is a lot harder to get for research,” she said.

But the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association (CUPFA), she said, has been a saviour with regards to her research. “CUPFA has simply been a lifeline in terms of allowing me to do research in these ancient pilgrimage places,” Terreault said. “They’re completely supportive of research, and there’s not much help for that elsewhere in the university unfortunately.”

However, Terreault still struggles. There are semesters when she is given no classes to teach at all. “It’s a small department, and courses have been cut over the last few years with budget cuts, so there are fewer offerings,” she said. “I would certainly love to teach more, but sometimes the courses just aren’t available.”

During these times, she said, finances can be a struggle. “Food bills and mortgage payments and things like that, you’ve got to meet them.” Though she’s thought about getting another job, she has no real plans to do so.

“This is what I love to do,” she said. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to get enough that it keeps me going.”

The classes she teaches now attract a very diverse group of students—and that’s how she likes it. “If theology is about what it means to be human in all dimensions, then all the different disciplines have something to say to that question,” she said.

Terreault works hard to welcome and incorporate all students’ experiences and value orientations into her classroom, whether they are religious or not. “I invite students to bring their experience and understanding into the conversation. You don’t check your beliefs at the door—you bring them in and learn how to look at them critically and in a historical context or cultural context,” she said.

Terreault says her classes are widely popular. Interest in theology, she said, has become less taboo since her university experience in the 80s. Any given class she teaches will include students from many different departments.

“I would say it’s spread pretty evenly across the disciplines,” she said. “I think they find that balance between intellectual orientation and that sort of holistic orientation of theology which speaks to them in some way that’s valuable.”

Terreault said she always tries to bring her curiosity and care to the classroom. “I care about learning and I care about the students. I love them. I think I’m pretty open-minded, but at the same time, a pretty disciplined thinker.”

Outside of her Concordia classes, Terreault has worked as a spiritual and community animator for the English Montreal School Board. In this capacity, she helped students tackle spiritual and existential questions, and incorporated each student’s spiritual and religious beliefs into counseling.

Unlike psychological counseling, which focuses solely on the individual, spiritual animation, she explained, focuses on students’ well-being in a wider community context. At the same time, it gives students the space to think about life’s big questions and what they mean to them.

“Some of my students, I would meditate with them. For some of them, they may want to pray,” she said. “It may, for some, have a religious component. For others it may not. And it’s also a way to give them a space to sort of think about and act on those questions and concerns, and also a way of getting them involved in community action.”

Terreault on the Pilgrim’s Way to Holy Island of Lindisfarne, in northeast England, a location of the early medieval monastery of Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert, in 2016. Photo courtesy of Sara Terreault

One year, Terreault’s students put on a music concert and invited a retirement community to come watch. She says activities like this help grow students’ combined spiritual, personal and community identity.

Terreault said her work as an animator allowed her to work with students from a variety of backgrounds, from Judeo-Christian students, to Muslim students, to Sikh students and even irreligious students. “The school I worked in was complete diversityland,” she said about her work at Holy Cross Elementary. “It was a wonderful, wonderful environment.”

Outside of teaching, Terreault enjoys gardening, travelling and going to art museums. “I still love my art history,” she said. “There’s something about that combination of art and theology.”

Although it’s been awhile since Terreault has painted seriously, she said she hopes to get back into it in the future. “[My eldest son] has sort of gotten interested in painting, so he and I are thinking of setting up a little studio in the basement chez nous, and he’ll come over and we’ll do some painting together,” she said.

Still, spirituality plays a big role in her personal life. Terreault attends Church and engages in what she calls “classical practices revamped to fit [her] lifestyle,” such as meditation and fasting.

She said most of the things in her life are guided by spirituality. “I consider a lot of the things I do, both in the classroom and outside, spiritual,” Terreault said.

“Teaching and learning and connecting with students and discussion is really spiritually important to me,” she explained. “The same goes with engagement with art and gardening and getting your hands into the earth—that whole generative, beautiful thing about gardening—I think it’s all pretty spiritual for me.”


Violence during protests will not get your message across

Whether you’re right-wing or left-wing, violence abuses the value of protests

Recently, many people feel there is a lot to protest. Whether you’re on the left and want to protest Trump’s presidency, or on the right and want to protest the anti-Islamophobia M103 motion, there’s been a lot of activism in the air in Montreal.

And that’s great. The right to protest is a part of free speech—something I strongly support. But recently, I have noticed that this right is being abused by both ends of the political spectrum.

On the evening of Jan. 20, I attended an anti-Trump protest organized by Collectif de résistance antiraciste de Montréal (CRAM). I had initially intended to counter-protest as a joke with my Make America Great Again hat and an “Art of the Deal With It” sign—a parody on Trump’s bestselling book.

I decided against it, however, after reading reports from the Montreal Gazette about a man who was knocked to the ground for wearing a “Hillary for Prison” shirt during an earlier protest.

Instead, I attended purely to observe. The evening protest seemed to be going peaceful at the start. It was lawful for nearly an hour before masked vandals began defacing property. This culminated in several smashed store windows, a lot of graffiti and, ultimately, a rock being thrown at police and shattering a police station window.

I find behaviour like this incredibly disheartening. Whether or not you think there is corruption within the police force, I find it hard to understand why anyone would support this behaviour.

Instead of being able to go out and help people who are actually in need, six or seven cops had to remain by the shattered station window to ensure rioters did not destroy anything else. In other words, local cops were prevented from saving local citizens because people were abusing their right to protest.

During riots, left-wing anarchists and right-wing populists alike think they are punishing a “system,” or that the only people being hurt are those in positions of authority.

But who do you think is going to wash the “Fuck Trump” or “Kill Cops” graffiti off the Koodo store or the HMV? The answer isn’t some rich corporate giant. It’s going to be someone making near-minimum wage outside in the dead of winter. They may even be a college student who agrees with your views.

Personally, I’ve never felt that protesting does much serious good because of the violence I’ve seen it bring. However, I respect that many feel differently. Protesting, then, must not make anyone feel entitled to be violent, destroy property or attack those with whom they disagree.

Last weekend saw another protest—this one involving both the far left and far right—and it too turned violent, according to an article by CBC News. What could’ve been either an opportunity for two sides to debate and come to an understanding, or simply for each side to promote its beliefs to onlookers, turned into a brawl—completely delegitimizing both sides.

If we want a free and civil society, we must allow people we disagree with to spread their message, or counter-message, without violence. We must not destroy our own communities in order to prevent others from speaking up.

Student Life

Laughing at myself with strangers

One Concordian’s experience participating in Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids

Grownups Read Things They Wrote as Kids (GRTTWaK) hosted their fifth Montreal show on Nov. 20 at La Sala Rossa.

On an elevated stage, with bright lights making it virtually impossible to see the audience before me, I shared childhood writings, from elementary school assignments to angsty teenage diary entries, for a night of comedy and emotion.

Katerina Gang reading things she wrote as a kid. Photo by Jenna Misener

GRTTWaK is a travelling, open-mic show hosted by Dan Misener. Misener and his wife, Jenna Misener, have traveled across Canada since 2007, bringing the show to Canadian communities big and small, where locals sign up to read their childhood writing. Misener hosts about 30 shows per year.

The Miseners came up with the concept in 2006, after returning home for the holidays. “We rummaged through a bunch of old boxes that my wife had stored at her parents house. In one of those boxes was her diary from when she was 13 years old,” said Misener.

“We spent a lot of that Christmas reading this thing out loud to each other and laughing and crying, and it was just this lovely perspective that I had never seen before in my wife,” said Misener. “It struck us that lots of people probably have this kind of material.”

Misener records each reading for the show’s eponymous podcast, which is available online. A few readings from each show make it onto the podcast, which is released every second Monday.

The podcast started in 2008, and has evolved as more voices participate—it is downloaded about 250,000 times a month. “Quite frequently, I get notes from listeners who heard a reading on the podcast that really resonated with them and really spoke to their experience,” said Misener. “And that’s really gratifying.”

Each show opens with Misener reading his own childhood writings. “Nobody wants to go first, so I always go first,” said Misener, who shared an elementary school journal entry about “root bear flats” during the latest show.

As a long-time fan of the podcast and the concept, I decided to share my own writing at the latest event on Nov. 20.

After attending a GRTTWaK event in January 2016, I went home and searched through my old writing. I spent hours reading and laughing at old poems, assignments and diary entries. I put some pieces aside in anticipation of GRTTWaK’s next event.

Selecting writings really allowed me to reflect on how I’ve changed since my pre-teen years. Some of the stuff I found was funny and light-hearted, but some of it was downright embarrassing. I knew I wanted to share it, but I initially felt very unsure.

“I think some people are apprehensive about the idea of sharing personal or private stuff that they’re maybe not super proud of—the parts of themselves that they like to keep hidden or the parts of themselves that aren’t on public display,” said Misener. “But I think there’s a lot of power in that.”

I shared one poem I wrote when I was 10, which featured lines like “I worry what the world will become with racism and terrorism” and “I cry at the knowledge of death.” I found it quite dramatic and funny for a 10-year-old. I also shared a diary entry I wrote when I was 12 about lost love, being “emo” and President George W. Bush.

“It can be really kind of scary,” said Misener. “We’re asking people to get up on stage and be open and honest and vulnerable in front of a crowd full of people that they don’t know.”

Getting up on that stage was an amazing feeling in that, once I started reading, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was shocked at how easy it was to open up to a group of strangers. With each line or phrase, I could feel the warmth emanating from the crowd. It was really refreshing, and almost therapeutic, to laugh at myself with strangers.

Another participant, Kristen Witczak, read several journal entries about Shakespeare and the 1994 referendum from her elementary school journal. “When I stumbled on my grade five English journals, I just couldn’t stop laughing and I thought, ‘This is kind of unique,’” said Witczak.

“Reading to the audience was a blast. It was a hugely supportive crowd and, as soon as they started laughing, I felt completely relaxed and just enjoyed the moment,” said Witczak. “I’ve been to a GRTTWaK event before and I think they’re a fantastic evening spent with a warm, kind community of strangers.”

“Our show is a show where the audience is already on your side,” said Misener. “When people get up on stage and they see the warmth in the room and they see the authenticity of the readers who share their writing, they warm up to the idea a little bit.”

Going forward, Misener hopes to incorporate a visual element to the show and create a web series to accompany the podcast. There’s no end in sight for the show, as Misener said he’s going to keep doing it so long as people are willing to share.


Why discontinuing male birth control wasn’t sexist

Examining the prospect of a male contraceptive in a female-dominated market

When it was revealed the male participants complained about side effects similar to those of female birth control methods and menstruation in general, many started assuming the medical community had devious sexist motives behind canceling the study.

The new method of birth control involved injecting a concoction of hormones near a man’s genitalia. The concoction, if successful, would reduce the man’s spermatozoa to one million per milliliter.

Looking into the incidence rate of side effects helps dispel rumours of sexism. Participants reported over 900 cases of side effects related to the contraceptive. Nearly half (45.9 per cent) of men experienced acne, 38.1 per cent experienced increased libido and 16.3 per cent experienced emotional disorders.

According to a report by Vox, Dr. Jen Gunther said the side effects in this study occurred at a much higher rate than in comparative studies for women. The Mirena IUD—a device inserted into the uterus and serves as a form of contraceptive—only saw 6.8 per cent of participants report acne.

Other reported side effects in the male birth control study included eight men being rendered infertile for over a year, including one man who is still infertile today.

Women have a plethora of birth control options, including the oral pill, the NuvaRing, IUDs, the shot and more, which offer benefits apart from pregnancy prevention. More regulated periods, less painful periods and acne reduction are just a few of the benefits women experience when using hormonal birth control.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which specializes in sexual and reproductive health, saw 58 per cent of all contraceptive pill users—the most common birth control method for women—use it for noncontraceptive reasons. In fact, 14 per cent use it for exclusively non-contraceptive reasons.

On the flipside, men are limited to two methods: condoms or vasectomy. Neither method provide them with extra benefits, nor does the newly proposed injection method.

Many articles have painted men as weak due to the discontinuation of this study. However, the data collected revealed that, at their final visit, 82.3 per cent of men were willing to continue using this method. Women, on the other hand, were less keen, with only 76 per cent willing to continue. Male weakness is therefore not the issue.

The study suggests the method was 96 per cent effective. However, this success rate was calculated using data only from “continuing users,” meaning couples who completed the study, and only assessed the method’s success within 24 weeks.

A closer look at the study shows only 274 of the 320 men who received at least one dose of the contraceptive method had their sperm counts lowered to the acceptable level. That is an 85.6 per cent success rate—far lower than other contraceptive methods on the market. So low, in fact, I would not trust it as my sole method of birth control.

Medical standards have improved throughout history. According to an article by the FDA, the first contraceptive pill was approved prior to the FDA’s knowledge of the dangers of thalidomide or the passage of the 1962 Drug Amendments. This, they claim, would have made the pill much harder to approve.

In the 1950s, according to the FDA, pregnancy and childbirth were much more dangerous, and so more risks were worth it to prevent pregnancy. Furthermore, one of the riskiest side effects of the pill—blood clots—was not linked to the pill until more than a decade after it was approved.

Women do indeed take on a disproportionate amount of risks and responsibilities when it comes to birth control, and I strongly hope one day we can find better options for both men and women. But we shouldn’t lower our current medical standards to 1950s-levels in the name of equality and fairness. That will only harm more people.


The study:


Vox article:

FDA article:

Graphic by Florence Yee


Exploring controversial meme art

How comedic memes can spur controversy in our society 

Memes have been largely confined to the Internet. Recently, however, memes and Internet culture have been bleeding out into the real world. Mainstream media has been reporting on them and our culture has been affected by them.

It’s no secret that many people enjoy memes. They’re funny, they’re creative and yes, they can be political.

They’ve become so pervasive and influential that, back in August, a Texan poll revealed individuals had registered to run under the names Harambe and Deez Nuts to run for President.

The poll revealed Harambe was tied with Green party candidate Jill Stein, at two per cent of the vote, according to New York Daily News. Deez Nuts was beating both, at three per cent, according to the same report.  

However, the newfound relevance of memes in the political and social sphere has put them under attack. In September, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a picture where the faces of his father, other prominent conservatives and Pepe the Frog had been photoshopped onto the bodies of the actors on The Expendables 3 movie poster.

Soon after, a Clinton campaign staffer released a blog post on Clinton’s website explaining how Pepe, the cartoon frog in the picture, was a symbol of white supremacy. Hillary’s  campaign website cited a now-defunct Twitter account, @JaredTWift, as proof that Pepe is, in fact, racist. Clinton even held a rally slamming Pepe.

Those entrenched in meme culture might find this overreaction to memes funny, but it’s actually frightening. The notion that a politician can use their authority to come out and declare any symbol—especially a meme hate symbol—controls people’s ability to express a wider range of thought.

Pepe is a reaction image. Some Pepes are happy, some are angry, most are sad. The problem with classifying memes as hate speech is their very nature: they are pictures that can be manipulated to mass-produce a wide variety of jokes.

Sure, there are racist Pepes. There are racist uses of any meme. But calling Pepe, in general, a hate symbol, is like calling a blank canvas a hate symbol because someone can potentially paint a swastika on it. That is not a good way to prevent a few instances of hateful behaviour.

You might be thinking, “Okay, but Clinton hasn’t outright banned Pepe”and you’d be right. But politicians are not the only figures of authority attacking memes. Many universities have started banning memes, especially Harambe.

Clemson University in South Carolina sent out an email to one of its dorms stating that Harambe memes could not publicly be displayed because they were “racist” and promoted “rape culture,” according to The Independent.

The university never provided a reason for why they considered the Harambe meme to be racist or to be promoting rape culture, which ironically, makes those imposing the ban seem bigoted. While Clemson officials later overturned the decision, according to the same report, people who use the meme have continued to be shamed.

The McGill Daily printed an editorial about a Harambe vigil being held in Montreal, accusing those celebrating Harambe of racism because they were making a bigger deal of Harambe’s death than black deaths. This prompted a lot of outrage. Many comments on the article pointed out that the Harambe meme is often used to mock those who advocate against shooting him rather than to protect the child who fell in his enclosure.

If such malleable things as memes are classified as hate speech, many who have used the non-racist depictions innocently will be labeled racist, sexist or bigoted.

It may be hard to take memes seriously. But how we treat any expression of creativity or culture reflects on us as a society. We need to be more careful about what we label as “hateful,” and right now, we are not being careful enough.


Art and film in the post-Holocaust era

Hungarian set designer László Rajk spoke at Concordia about his oscar-winning film, Son of Saul

Hungarian set designer, architect and activist László Rajk was at Concordia on Friday, Nov. 4  to discuss post-Holocaust art and his film, Son of Saul.

Rajk was the production designer for the Oscar-winning film, Son of Saul. The film was controversial in Germany and France because it focused on the Sonderkommando—work units made up of death camp prisoners who were forced to herd others into gas chambers and clean up corpses.

“This is still very touchy—you can never know if they are victims or if they are just cold-blooded murderers,” said Rajk. “There is not an agreement on this. It is still something we have to discuss.”

Son of Saul does not take a narrative approach. It does not show the barracks, the tragedy or the people. The story is told using noise—soldiers talking, people screaming, footsteps down corridors. “Noise became a partner for my visual design,” said Rajk, “because sometimes it’s the noise which describes the set and not the set itself.”

The camera focuses on protagonist Saul Auslander’s face almost exclusively, blurring the sets Rajk created. It forces you to “concentrate on the man, on the person, and not on the surroundings,” said Rajk, “because you understand [the background] without seeing it.”

Empathy, said Rajk, made the technical aspects of set design difficult as, “on one hand, you have to be very cool, almost cynical. Not cynical, but almost; on the edge,” said Rajk. “On the other hand, you cannot—you must not—be cynical, because then you lose all the emotions. To balance it out, that’s a very, very hard thing.”

Rajk talked about how art after the Holocaust evolved from taboo to personal. He also explained the debate over whether it was right or wrong to produce art about the Holocaust—if one even could.

Some artists, like Claude Lanzmann, known for his Holocaust film Shoah (1985), believed the only acceptable art was documentary or eyewitness testimony. Art about the Holocaust initially documented what happened, with drawings produced by liberators, Rajk explained.

Immediately after the Holocaust though, Rajk explained, art entered an “amnesia” period. “People didn’t really talk about it—there were very few oral histories about those people who survived,” said Rajk. “They rather wanted to forget.”

Abstract commemorations were erected, as narrative pieces were taboo. Similar imagery was used worldwide, like Moses’ broken tablets and the Star of David. These monuments were huge, Rajk said, to show the weight of the Holocaust.

Art moved into a naturalistic period during the 50s and 60s, explained Rajk. Monuments depicted the tragedy – often featuring starved and brutalized depictions of people. The focus, however, began to shift from tragedy to victory in the 60s, when socialist countries began to shift the narrative to their resistance.

In the late 60’s Holocaust art began to shift, according to Rajk, from depicting people as a group of victims to honoring individuals. Monuments and museums focused on names, photographs and belongings. Artists began laying stomping stones, meant to commemorate those who died during the Holocaust, outside victims’ homes with their names on them.

“In front of my house, there is a stone. I don’t know the family, but I’m sitting on the same stairs—I’m using the doorknob. It’s a very smart monument,” said Rajk. “It really gets into your mind and it’s always there, somewhere.”

Rajk created the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum exhibit for Hungary in 2004. It tackles personal aspects of the Holocaust, through the lens of missing culture. “All those people had been killed. They didn’t have a grandson, they didn’t have a family, they didn’t compose their symphony, they didn’t build their houses,” said Rajk. “There is an unbelievable gap in the European culture.”

Rajk has also been at the forefront of many Hungarian activist movements. He was part of the Democratic Opposition during the Soviet Regime, and was a member of Hungary’s first post-Soviet Union parliament for six years. “After a while, as a creative artist or a creative intellectual, you start to realize you cannot do your creativity,” said Rajk, referring to life within the Soviet sphere of influence. “It’s boring to be a slave, to be not free.”

Rajk’s fight for human rights continues. Rajk recently returned his state awards to the government after they gave state honours to a few racist and anti-Semitic individuals. “The government is probably not directly supporting anti-Semitic movements, but doesn’t put an obstacle,” he said. “It doesn’t want to stop it. It’s just kind of laissez-faire.”


Donald J. Trump is my personal choice

A look into the Republican candidate’s policies before next week’s election

Bill Clinton’s job approval rating reached 73 per cent, his highest recorded, after his infamous sex scandals and impeachment. Clearly this, and numerous unconfirmed sexual assaults, have not stopped him from being beloved for his policies.

Policy is what matters in an election, not whether or not candidates are good people. Neither candidate is a good person, so from here we must discern whose policy is better. The clear answer is Trump’s.

Trump is the peace candidate. People claim he’s divisive and dangerous, but Clinton’s policies have politicians fearing World War III. And no, I am not being hyperbolic.

Clinton doubled down during the third debate on her plans to enact a no-fly zone over Syria and establish safe zones for Syrians. According to The Guardian, many military personnel feel this would likely lead to an air occupation and open conflict with the Russians, who were invited into Syria by President Bashar al-Assad. Some believe it could lead to nuclear war.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the end of Cold War, said the situation has “reached a dangerous point.” After the Kremlin stated it would shoot down Western aircrafts, Gorbachev told the Russian news agency, RIA Novosti: “We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake.”

Trump sees Russia as the powerful nation it is. He has repeated throughout the debates that he wants to sit down and negotiate with Russia and come to a diplomatic solution.

“It’s actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier than Donald Trump’s, who does not want to go to war with Russia,” said U.S. Green Party candidate Jill Stein during an interview with the American television network, C-SPAN. “He wants to seek modes of working together, which is the route we need to follow.”

Such radically interventionist policies make Clinton a rehash of neoconservatives like George W. Bush. Trump’s outlook on interventionism, outlined in his book Crippled America advocates helping out only if countries can reimburse the U.S. This should be music to people’s ears.

Trump is also pro-ethics and transparency. In an Oct. 18 press release, he promised a constitutional amendment imposing congressional term limits, banning executive officials and members of Congress lobbying for five years, expanding the definition of “lobbyist,” banning former executive officials from lobbying for foreign governments and banning foreign lobbyists from interfering in American elections.

Hillary’s ethical stances simply do not stack up. Although Clinton has said she wishes to expand the definition of “lobbyist” and has historically supported a two-year ban on former government servants taking jobs at companies they oversaw, her relationship with lobbyists is far more concerning than Trump’s.

The Washington Post reported that Clinton’s campaign has received $7 million in donations from federally registered lobbyists, while Trump’s campaign has received no such money. Lobbyists raised an additional $2 million for the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the DNC. That’s a lot of owed favours.

WikiLeaks revealed that Clinton participated in the unethical campaign financing that Trump wishes to ban. Clinton advisors took contributions of questionable legality from foreign lobbyists registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to The Daily Caller. Her campaign accepted such donations based on donors’ relationships with the State Department during Clinton’s tenure there.

Her campaign may have used American lobbyists to launder this money, according to WikiLeaks. Campaign staff admitted in the leaked WikiLeaks emails that donors have pushed policy change onto Clinton. That should be terrifying—she can be bought. Trump, however, is not beholden to the same expectations from lobbyists.

Clinton is corrupt. WikiLeaks showed she took money in exchange for favours from both Morocco and Qatar, using the Clinton Foundation, while she was Secretary of State. These countries have awful human rights records, as both jail homosexuals and allow marital rape, according to Human Rights Watch. This shows she cannot be trusted to put American interests before hers or foreigner leaders’.

While we cannot verify the full authenticity of the WikiLeaks leaks, they raise disturbing questions regarding Clinton’s ethics.

Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policies, while viewed as promoting inequality, put Americans first. Clinton’s policy, to deport only violent illegal immigrants, would be completely unfair to Americans who’ve attained citizenship legally.

The American Immigration Center explained while wait times for citizenship vary, a person moving to the U.S. can wait upwards of six years before being granted citizenship.

There would be few incentives to obey immigration law in Clinton’s America. The Center for Immigration Studies found that over 2.5 million people entered the U.S. illegally since President Obama took office—an average of about 350,000 per year. Amnesty can only make this number go up. Protecting your citizens, laws and sovereignty is not racism.

Trump’s immigration plan would also benefit current American citizens. The Federal Reserve found youth decline in employment is linked to unskilled, immigrant labour.

Trump plans to create a resumé bank for inner-city youth to help replace jobs made available by the removal of illegal immigrants and the elimination of the J-1 visa program. Trump claims this would greatly help Americans in disenfranchised communities, including many predominantly black communities.

Many accuse Trump of misogyny. While he has said things others deem offensive, it is also worth noting he is campaigning for paid maternity leave. Trump has been accused of being out for the rich, but has proposed a huge tax break on lower-income families, allowing families with a combined income of up to $50,000 to pay no taxes.

Clinton is not the moral candidate. Those siding with her for moral reasons forget she flip-flops on progressivism. Clinton was an opponent of gay marriage until 2013, according to PolitiFact. Some leaked Podesta e-mails imply she still privately holds this view.

Both candidates have scandals, from “locker room talk” to illegal e-mail servers, and neither of these candidates are clean choices. But Clinton’s corrupt, war-hungry policies make it is clear that Donald J. Trump is the candidate to elect. His pro-American policies will Make America Great Again.

Music Quickspins

Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life

Regina Spektor – Remember Us to Life (Sire Records, 2016)

Regina Spektor’s seventh studio album, Remember Us to Life, is arguably one of the singer’s strongest to date. The album is full of slow, melodic tunes that tell stories reminiscent of Spektor’s previous albums, including Far and What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. However, this new album also has a maturity and sadness that her previous albums lacked. While Spektor takes risks with more electronic sounding, fast-paced tracks, like “Bleeding Heart” and “Smalls Bill$,” the album’s strongest songs feature mainly piano and orchestral strings. Songs like “Sellers of Flowers” and “Grand Hotel” really use these instruments to create a stunning dream-like vibe, while telling stories of an old winter marketplace and a hotel haunted by indolent demons. The album tackles themes such as aging and death, leaving loved ones and disillusionment. Spektor’s masterful storytelling, poetry and timing are what really make this album a masterpiece.

Trial track: “Grand Hotel”

Rating: 9/10

Music Quickspins

Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me

Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me (Total Treble Music, 2016)

Against Me!’s most recent studio album, Shape Shift With Me, is a true-to-form, punk rock album. The loud drums, screaming vocals, and crazy guitars really take the listener back to pre-New Wave Against Me! with its quality instrumentation. However, the album lacks some of the lyrical depth present in their earlier works. Songs like “White People for Peace” and “High Pressure Low,” focused on politics and were featured on their earlier albums. Those songs, along with their most recent album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, were far more lyrically interesting than the songs on Shape Shift With Me. Most songs on this album focus on the singer’s disdain for the past, the loss of old love, or budding new ones. And while the songs are still very entertaining, like “Rebecca,” which still has that raw, vocal anger fans have come to expect from Laura Jane Grace, the songs seem to lack a level of depth and “punkness” due to their subject matter.

Rating: 5/10

Trial Track: “Rebecca”


Concordia is not an intellectual “free market”

Why liberal bias on campus hurts freedom of speech

Free speech has recently become a contentious topic at The Concordian. Last week, the newspaper published an article titled “Safe spaces: Both useful and necessary,” refuting my previous objections to safe spaces.

One of the article’s main arguments, stated that “the increase in safe spaces across university campuses is a sign that the concept of a safe space is succeeding in this ‘free market.’” But claiming that all universities, and Concordia specifically, represent a free market is not just intellectually dishonest—it’s laughable.

Liberal bias is institutionally entrenched by students and universities. Dissenters can do little to be heard when universities, university groups and students stifle opinions.

The Toronto Sun reported that Generation Screwed, a group opposing expanding entitlements and government control, was kicked off a parking space at Laval University last month for “unsanctioned activism.” The university demanded the group get a permit to protest, which the school refused to give, without stating a reason.

“The very concept of having to get a permit to express yourself we think is just absolutely ridiculous,” said Aaron Gunn, executive director of Generation Screwed, according to the same article in the Toronto Sun. Protesting is a right—one university’s should not institutionally control.

Even when universities do the right thing, many students help perpetrate this authoritarian control of the narrative. According to CBC News, a student from Mount Royal University in Calgary was recently threatened and robbed of his “Make America Great Again” hat by students who called it “hate language.”

I like to wear my “Make America Great Again” hat too. The pro safe spaces article in The Concordian indicated speech limitations in safe spaces are no more extreme than Canada’s Charter. But when political disagreement is deemed hateful, like the incident in Alberta and through my own experiences as a conservative have shown me it is, we’re left with no choice but to succumb to Big Brother or be shunned.

Narrative-control happens at Concordia too, albeit more insidiously. Recently, Reggies hosted a Rap Battle for Climate Justice, organized by the CSU and student groups, to discuss the topic of pipelines, fossil fuels, and tar sands through a rap battle. Despite featuring arguments and counterarguments for environmental justice, the event was anything but a real battle.

The pro-economy performers were caricatures “dressed in suits, walking around throwing fake $100 bills in every direction,” it was written in The Concordian article covering the event. Participant Mutatayi Fuamba even admitted that everyone present shared the same opinions. “We are all against fossil fuels—we are all for social justice and climate justice,” he said.

Climate justice is complex. Yes, protecting the environment and communities is important—but so are the millions of jobs and dollars tied up in Alberta’s oil industry.

I’m tired of our campus pretending it wants to tackle big issues, then asserting its bias as inherently correct through careful manipulation of speakers. We’re not having discussions so much as lectures in echo chambers.

The opinions of marginalized students should be heardbut dissenters shouldn’t automatically be labeled hateful, racist, sexist or anything else.

I don’t want liberal or marginalized speakers silenced—I want a variety of speakers. I want to be persuaded with well-formulated arguments from both sides. I want to be encouraged to share my opinions and political affiliations without fear of attack, theft or character assassination.

When Concordia organizes events with speakers from the same side of the argument under the guise of discussion, not all sides are being truly addressed. Those who haven’t done a lot of research on some of these complex issues might assume all sides are being represented, and that liberal ideas are winning. But they’re not—they’re just not competing.

Graphic by Florence Yee


Safe spaces hurt our campus and students

Exploring the contentious topic of safer spaces at Concordia

Recently, the University of Chicago sent a letter to incoming freshmen informing them that safe spaces and trigger warnings would not be tolerated on campus. The university also said they wouldn’t cancel controversial speakers simply because they were deemed offensive.

“Members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas,” the letter stated.

The letter, which was shared online, provoked a social media frenzy —many praising and decrying the decision alike. Decriers, however, are gaining traction. Pew Research Center, a Washington D.C.-based “think tank,” found 40 per cent of millennials support limiting free speech to avoid offending minority groups.

Safe spaces have overtaken college campuses. According to The New York Times, when Brown University invited libertarian Wendy McElroy to debate the existence of “rape culture” on college campuses, student volunteers set up a safe space next door for “triggered” students.

In an incredibly infantilizing move, the space offered cookies, colouring books, Play-Doh and videos of frolicking puppies to adult students.

Here at Concordia, we have started to embrace safe space culture. Campus clubs such as Queer Concordia, sell themselves as “safe spaces,” while official campus events like ASFA Frosh tout new “safe spaces” as a major progressive change and selling point. This hurts students.

Exposure to new ideas is the basis of higher education. Assuming students can close themselves off, as if they’re sure their ideas are inherently correct, is limiting. Confronting new ideas, exploring other options and understanding others allows us to expand or update our worldviews.

Open dialogue also helps us strengthen our beliefs, as hearing thoughtful critique allows us to explore why we hold these ideas, and defend them more succinctly.

“We expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement,” said the UChicago letter. “This may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

Uncomfortable ideas shouldn’t be feared. “Bad” ideas can’t survive in the free marketplace of ideas. Like an Adam Smith-esque free market, the best ideasnamely “true” or “moral” ideaswill win out in a fair and transparent competition against inferior ideas. The best way to fight “bad ideas” is to let everyone hear them.

At a talk given at the University of Massachusetts, provocateur and journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos, explained that, after its first real media exposure on the BBC’s Question Time, the far-right, racist British National Party lost mainstream support and the few local seats it had won in the previous election. The party is virtually non-existent today.

“This is why it isn’t just important to give platforms to ordinary speech,” said Yiannopoulos, who was banned by social justice groups at several colleges. “It’s important to give platforms to all speechbecause sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

University should prepare students for adult life – which doesn’t care or cater to feelings. It’s a hard adjustment, but the corporate world doesn’t offer cookies and Play-Doh.

Students need to discern between disagreement and harassment, and learn how to act independently in each situation. Forcing students to confront their issues head-on teaches them to speak up for themselves, which is beneficial. To assume students can’t or shouldn’t be fiercely independent in the defense of their beliefs and needs is infantilizing and insulting.

Critics of UChicago’s policy fear that students with mental illnesses, like PTSD, will be negatively impacted. Yet students with diagnosed disorders have a responsibility to inform peers and professors. Most, if not all, would be sympathetic. But this should be dealt with on an individual basis, not as university-wide mandate. You can’t limit education to cater to the minority.

Safe space culture stifles individuality, creativity and independence, which are good qualities to foster in our future leaders. As John F. Kennedy said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Graphic by Florence Yee

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