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A paradigm shift in language education

Sweeping changes under Quebec’s Bill 96 lead to significant job losses among language teachers at English CEGEPs.

With the introduction of Quebec’s Bill 96, educators  in Montreal English-language CEGEPs are facing a seismic shift that stands to redefine the educational landscape for both students and faculty. Faculty across language departments fear job losses as the new French language law takes its toll, signifying a dramatic change in how languages are taught and learned in the province.

At the heart of this upheaval is the amendments to the Charter of the French Language, as per Bill 96, aimed at reinforcing the use of French across Quebec. With its implementation, English-language CEGEPs, once a beacon for diverse language learning including Hebrew, Greek, German, Mandarin, Spanish and Italian, are now mandated to drastically cut back on their language offerings to make room for more French language courses. This legislation not only impacts the fabric of language education but also the very careers of those dedicated to teaching these languages.

Bill 96, passed in May 2022, represents a significant overhaul of the Quebec Charter of the French Language. It mandates, among other things, that students at English CEGEPs must take a minimum of five courses in French, leaving little space for other language courses. This legislation extends the principles of Bill 101, which has regulated language use in Quebec since 1977, by tightening the requirements for English education and incorporating changes that directly affect English-language CEGEPs and their students.

The immediate effects of Bill 96 have been profound. Christina Chough, professor at Dawson’s Spanish faculty, and her colleagues at Dawson College have been thrust into a state of uncertainty and fear, with the expected loss of 80 per cent of language faculty highlighting the severe impact on educators. The mandate for students to take additional French courses means a drastic reduction in enrollment for other language courses, leading to significant job losses among faculty. This shift not only affects the educators, but also diminishes the diversity of language instruction available to students, limiting their exposure to global languages and cultures.

John Abbott College’s Julie Gagnon-Riopel, a Spanish professor, echoes these concerns, highlighting the irony of having to cut language offerings at a time when the world is more interconnected than ever. The expectation that the language department may shrink by 60 to 70 per cent illustrates the sweeping consequences of the law. 

Looking forward, the ramifications of Bill 96 extend beyond the immediate job losses and curriculum changes. The law poses significant challenges for talent recruitment, making it more difficult for English-language CEGEPs to attract and retain educators in a shrinking field. Additionally, the narrowing focus on French language education may impact students’ preparedness for university and their future careers, particularly in a globalized world where multilingualism is an asset.

As educators like Chough and Gagnon-Riopel grapple with Bill 96’s unfolding implications, the question remains: How will Quebec’s educational landscape adapt to these challenges, and at what cost to its students and teachers? 

The 2024 academic year is poised to see these changes fully realized.t The impact of Bill 96 on English-language CEGEPs in Montreal is a developing story—one that speaks to the tension between linguistic preservation and the rich tapestry of language education that has long characterized Quebec’s educational system.

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News

Tuition hikes loom over Concordia’s Indigenous students

Around 30 per cent of Concordia’s Indigenous students are out-of-province. How will the tuition hikes affect the community?

During recent strikes, student advocates have brought to light the effect tuition hikes may have on Concordia’s student services, as the university loses out-of-province students and the income generated from their tuition. Indigenous faculty and staff fear a potential cut in the services offered to Indigenous students. 

“We believe that these tuition hikes are catastrophic,” said Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of the Office of Indigenous Directions (OID) and Plains Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. “And not just from an institutional budget standpoint. They’re catastrophic in terms of our ability to offer students a unique experience.”

While Concordia does not have specific data about Indigenous students, the OID estimates that about 30 per cent of them are out-of-province. 

“If we don’t get those numbers of students, then we’re going to have a small population,” said Allan Vicaire, Senior Advisor of the Office of Indigenous Directions and Mi’kmaq from Listuguj, Quebec. “It doesn’t enrich the campus and the community at Otsenhákta [Student Center]. I worry about that. I worry about the future of Indigenous education within Quebec.”

According to Vicaire, this diversity in students and experiences is crucial in the effort to decolonize Concordia and other anglophone universities in Quebec. 

“We’re attracting all these wonderful Indigenous youth, First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth, and that’s why this is able to progress,” he said. “So when we have those students coming out-of-province, they’re bringing a richness and pushing the agenda for the Indigenous Directions Action Plan.”

Tremblay fears the hikes will encourage Indigenous students to stay in their own province or study in other provinces instead. The announcement of the tuition hikes came right after universities in Ontario, including University of Toronto and University of Waterloo, announced that they will offer free tuition to Indigenous students from communities around their campuses, and in-province tuition rates for Indigenous students throughout Canada. 

Catherine Richardson Kineweskwêw, director of the First Peoples Studies program and member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia with Cree and Gwichʼin ancestry, said the language requirements accompanying the tuition hikes will create additional barriers for Indigenous students. 

“Why don’t we forefront Indigenous languages?” she said. “Quebec had two layers of colonization [French and English]. Whenever you impose a colonial European language, it’s always Indigenous people that suffer.”

Tremblay believes Indigenous students will not appreciate this obligation to learn French during their time at university. 

“Asking them to learn another colonial language, that’s not going to go down very well,” she said. “We are in a situation of catastrophic language loss for our own languages. Obviously people will counter by saying that if I have to put my back into learning another language, it’s going to be my own ancestral language, not another colonial one.”

The OID is working on scholarship offerings for out-of-province Indigenous students, but they still have little information in terms of what a post-tuition hike budget will look like. 

“The picture is still very unclear,” Tremblay said. “There’s going to be cuts, that’s obvious, and I think everybody knows that. Where those cuts are going to be, I don’t know.”

For Cheyenne Henry, manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Anishinaabe from Roseau River First Nation, it is important that the university continues to focus on decolonization. 

“With the changes that are forthcoming, tuition increases and the potential reduction of out-of-province students to the institution, those are big things that are on the table now,” she said. “But despite that, there still needs to be the commitment to Indigenous students and indigenizing these spaces.”

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News

Concordia’s climate-smart approach to education

How experts at Concordia evaluate the university’s response to the climate crisis and its sufficiency.

At a time when the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident, educational institutions such as Concordia University are at the forefront of integrating climate action into their academic and operational frameworks. The need to adapt and respond to these environmental challenges is reshaping the landscape of education, prompting a reevaluation of traditional practices, and spurring innovative approaches to sustainability.

At Concordia, this shift is evident in the efforts to incorporate climate change understanding and adaptation into the curriculum. Dr. Alexandra Lesnikowski, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Planning, and Environment, leads this charge. “My expertise is around the notion of climate change adaptation. Essentially, I study how governments and other types of actors are responding to the unavoidable impacts of a changing climate,” she explained. Her work underscores the importance of equipping students with the knowledge and tools to navigate a world increasingly shaped by climate-induced changes.

Lesnikowski, who also leads a team of researchers at the Concordia Climate Change Adaptation Lab, emphasized the evolving nature of educational responses to climate change. “We [researchers] essentially look at how we deal with things like extreme heats, floods and wildfires, and some of the changing environmental risks that we’re seeing evolve around us now,” she said. This approach is not just about understanding the phenomena, but about developing practical solutions at the community and policy levels, such as creating resilient infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events, formulating policies for sustainable urban planning, and implementing community-based environmental education programs.

However, Dr. Mitchell McLarnon, a faculty member of Concordia’s education department, offers a contrasting viewpoint. He expresses concern about the university’s “hyperactive optimism” approach to climate action. McLarnon stresses the importance of recognizing the environmental cost of modern practices, such as the digitalization of data. “How many people are deleting their emails? Things aren’t in the cloud—they live in a data farm that requires a lot of cooling,” he pointed out. 

In response to such concerns, Lesnikowski acknowledged the ongoing discussions within the university about the environmental impact of academic practices. “Yes, I think we’re seeing increasingly that universities and research disciplines more broadly are having this conversation about what the environmental implications are of our sort of business-as-usual practices concerning travel, certainly, but also material resource intensity for things like research programs,” she stated.

As Concordia navigates these challenging waters, the perspectives of experts like Lesnikowski and McLarnon are crucial. While Lesnikowski focuses on educating and empowering students to be agents of change in a climate-impacted world, McLarnon calls for immediate, tangible actions. 

Their insights reflect a broader dialogue in the educational sector about the role and responsibility of institutions in combating climate change. The steps taken by Concordia today will not only determine its sustainability, but also shape the environmental code of conduct of its students, the future guardians of our planet.

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News

Echoes of silence: teachings from the pandemic

Students who began their university years online due to COVID-19 revisit the early days of virtual learning.

The rhythmic tapping of keyboards and murmurs of conversation usually fill Concordia’s CJ building newsroom, a place where stories are chased and the news never sleeps. But on a Friday afternoon, just one week before the semester’s start, the room was an island of solitude on an equally empty campus. The only exception was Elisabeth Ndeffo, a fourth-year journalism student, who sat alone, immersed in the quiet that was once a rarity here.

This stillness was a stark contrast to the typical atmosphere, but it was a familiar one for Ndeffo. It mirrored the quiet that had descended upon the space during the pandemic semesters when the vibrant exchange of ideas was replaced by the silence of remote learning. The newsroom became a reflection of the isolation that students like Ndeffo experienced during the height of COVID-19.

Concordia beckoned, but the virus’ shadow loomed. “I knew that it was going to follow me in university,” she recounted, her voice carrying the weight of a premonition come true. The shift to university life in fall 2020 was supposed to be a fresh chapter. Instead, it posed the question: how long is this going to last? 

“It honestly sucked,” Ndeffo admitted. The rites of passage for first-year students—frosh, activities, the social rites of university life—were absent when she started university. “We couldn’t do frosh, activities, or anything that you’d normally do.”

“I didn’t want to do something reduced,” she said. Yet the circumstances demanded compromise and innovation. “We had to craft it out,” she explained. “You had to interview your family. I remember I did an assignment on how to hard-boil an egg. It was a Martha Stewart recipe.”

AJ Cordeiro, media instructor at Concordia, reflected on what came with the shift to online classes. “It got way lonelier,” he said, explaining his expanded role during the pandemic. Troubleshooting shifted to platforms like Zoom.

The delay in accessing professional equipment was also a frustration for Ndeffo, who was keen on gaining practical skills. “I only got to use a lot of the video equipment in third year, a bit in second year,” she said. “I knew about cameras, but there was a lot of hands-on training that we missed out on.”

When in-person classes cautiously resumed, a different kind of connection emerged. “It was exciting. I had met some of my peers, even though we were online. We would see each other on video,” Ndeffo recalled, finding solace in the digital faces of her classmates. Even with the return to campus, the mask mandates created a new barrier, contrasting the openness of virtual interactions with the masked, in-person ones.

Amidst the pandemic’s challenges, Cordeiro observed a significant shift at Concordia’s journalism school, leading to unexpected benefits. “It was an opportunity to reevaluate and explore new solutions,” he said, highlighting the adoption of cross-platform solutions and the use of more accessible technology such as smartphones. This transition, according to Cordeiro, fostered a more adaptable and flexible approach to education.

Despite a rocky start and the uneven playing field that the pandemic exacerbated, Ndeffo is forging ahead with a prestigious internship at CBC News. Her journey, like many others, reflects the resilience and adaptability fostered in the face of unprecedented times.

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Opinions

LGBTQ+ inclusive education must be mandatory

Young people deserve an education that reflects who they are.

This year was filled with rallies across Canada for and against LGBTQ+ school policies. Hundreds protested in downtown Montreal in September, followed by an LGBTQ+ counter-protest an hour later. Most people marching against were parents who said, “Leave our kids alone.” Many religious and conservative parents fear that their children might potentially be influenced by their surroundings. What parents have to understand is that their beliefs will not change their child’s sexual orientation, and LGBTQ+ education is essential.

I was always neutral regarding this issue, but it wasn’t until my professor screened the documentary Abu: Father by Arshad Khan last week that I understood the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusive education. 

When Khan was a child in Pakistan, he was molested by a close family member and never understood that what had happened was wrong. Khan later discovered that he is more attracted to boys than girls. Considering that this was taking place in a Muslim country that condemns homosexuality, Khan internally struggled with the conflict between what his dad expected of him and his sexuality. 

Khan did not have anyone that he could open up to, which led to feelings of confusion, loneliness, and depression. After moving to Canada in the 1990s, Khan slowly started integrating into Canadian culture and finally found other gay friends that made him feel accepted and understood. Khan’s homosexuality was a hard pill to swallow, and it took him years to reconcile with his dad. 

Khan’s story demonstrates precisely why schools should educate children about their sexuality. People who belong to the LGBTQ+ community often struggle with discrimination, which can lead to mental health crises such as depression and suicide. Educating them at an early age can help them avoid confusion and isolation, and help them acknowledge their true selves.

One thing that came up in the documentary was how Khan was constantly bullied at school for being gay. I believe that bullying comes from a lack of empathy and understanding. Having an LGBTQ+ inclusive education will introduce everyone to LGBTQ+ identities and the experiences that come with them. 

It is our responsibility to accept and respect each other. We can make LGBTQ+ people feel welcome by taking a stand against bullying, being compassionate and simply loving them for who they are as people. For instance, students’ chosen pronouns should be respected without condemnation. Restricting young people from being who they are will cause anxiety and depression in the long run.

Schools are meant to be a safe space for everyone, regardless of their background. Educators must seek to help children feel secure in their identities rather than suppressing and rejecting them. It is time to update the school curriculum and stop discrimination against what is considered abnormal in the eyes of society. In the end, every child will end up becoming who they truly are, so we should help them get there.

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News

Students in protest: Blue Falls protest takes to the streets of Montreal

University students from across Quebec gather in protest against the doubling of tuition for out-of-province students.

Hundreds of Quebec university students took to the streets of Montreal last week to protest against the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)  tuition increases for out-of-province and international students studying in anglophone universities.

Tuition at Quebec’s English universities for Canadian students outside of Quebec will almost double from $9,000 to $17,000 dollars starting in September 2024. The CAQ also raised the minimum tuition for international students outside of France or Belgium to $20,000. The proposed framework came as a surprise to everyone especially the English universities administration as they were not consulted. 

This will not apply to currently enrolled students, who will be able to finish their enrolled degrees at their current tuition rate, but if they make changes to your degree, they might not be grandfathered into their current rate. If they take longer than a five-year period to complete their degree, like many students enrolled part-time, their tuition will increase.

The protest started at Dorchester square and traveled past Concordia’s Hall building, ending at the Rodrick gates in front of McGill, where speakers of various backgrounds addressed the crowd across the street from Premier Francois Legault’s office.

Concordia University English professor Nathan Brown was one of the speakers. Brown approved of the protest in an open letter saying that this is an opportunity for students, faculty, staff and administration to resist together against the egregious policies of the provincial government. 

The protest organisers Noah Sparrow and Alex O’Neill, an out-of-province student from McGill, and other Concordia professors displeased with the provincial government’s actions against English higher education in Quebec also gave speeches.

The protest organisers, McGill political science student Alex O’Neill and Concordia creative writing student Noah Sparrow, put the event together in 12 days.

“We are trying to maintain access to education and we’re trying to preserve Montreal’s diverse student body and culture,” Sparrow said.

“An attack on one is an attack on all in regards to that,” O’Neill added. “We’ve received support from the unions at UQAM, Concordia and McGill, and we are working together to make sure that the student body is enfranchised.” 

Graham Carr, the president of Concordia University, said in an internal message to Concordia University community that the tuition hikes for out-of-province and international students will cost Concordia around $62 million. This number makes up around 10 per cent of the school budget. He also stated to the Canadian Press that this new measure could potentially cut out-of-province enrollment by 90 per cent.

Many non-student anglophone Montrealers were in attendance, along with several other professors and members of Parliament, denouncing the new tuition framework. They urged Quebecers to sign the petition that would force the issue to be debated in Quebec parliament.  Despite the backlash, the CAQ has yet to make a comment on the changes. On Oct. 25, the five French language universities in the province wrote an open letter that was published in La Presse to denounce the government’s actions against Quebec’s English universities.

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News

Counter-protesters defend trans rights amid outcry of opposing protest

Trans rights groups and anti-trans groups debate what is best for children’s education about gender identity

Five hundred counter-protesters took to the streets of Downtown Montreal on Sept. 20, fighting for trans people’s rights against the opposing protest “1 Million March 4 Children,” that seeks to advocate the “elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”

Both protests took place nationwide, accompanied by 61 counter-protests. 

Anti-trans protesters chanted “Leave our children alone” and “Parents know best” in the direction of counter-protesters, who they believe are trying to “indoctrinate their children with sexualization” according to their website. 

Celeste Trianon is a trans jurist, organizer of the “No Space for Hate” protest and one of the two national coordinators of the same campaign. She has dedicated her life to standing up for trans rights and creating an environment where they feel safe and accepted.

“There is no space for hate across Canada, and we’ve historically been one of the safest countries for 2SLGBTQ+ people across the world and we want to make sure that continues,” Trianon said. 

“Remember, our Canadian Charter has protected us [the 2SLGBTQ+ community] since the 80s. Where have all those values gone? Let’s not dismantle our Charter and the very things that make us Canadian.”

Corey Kutner, a trans person studying at Concordia, attended the counter-protest. They do not agree with the way the trans community is being presented to children. 

“A lot of people are falsely equating being trans and educating children about what it means to be trans with really awful things like being a pedophile, a groomer. I just want to do my part of combating that misinformation and standing up for trans people everywhere,” Kutner said. 

Caroline Raraujo moved from Brazil to protect her and her sons rights to be a part of the LGBTQIA+, she shares that she thinks it’s ridiculous she still has to do this in Canada as well. Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

Trans rights protesters walked down Sainte-Catherine holding signs such as “Protect Trans Kids,” “We Were Always Proud,” and “Trans people have always existed,” while chanting “Trans Rights are Human Rights.” While there were 750 anti-trans protesters, they were drowned out by the trans rights protesters, who made sure their message of solidarity was clear. 

“I’m hoping that everyone will just be able to get a better idea of just how many people there are out here who want to fight for transliteration and that it is a loud minority that is in opposition,” Kutner said.

Caroline Raraujo, a mother from Brazil, came to support the fight on behalf of her son, who came out as trans at the age of 16. She was actively involved in the 2SLGBTQ+ fight in Brazil and moved to Canada for a better life for the two of them. 

“Since he came out as a trans boy, I’m acting like a shield and I’m going to protect him. I’m going to protect him wherever they try to remove his rights or attack him. And not just him, but all the trans community,” Raraujo said.

Trianon ended her interview by addressing the public:

“To our queer and trans teens, kids, adults, and elders: you are seen, you are welcome. You are welcome here in Canada, and for us, as long as we can continue making sure that you are safe here, we’re going to do everything we can in our power to make sure you are not just welcomed, but loved.”

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News

The Montreal Holocaust Museum’s lifetime preservation of survivor Marguerite Élias Quddus’ story

The importance of taking part in the future of Holocaust education

Attendees gathered at the Montreal Holocaust Museum (MHM) to test out the latest Dimensions in Testimony (DIT) exhibit, which allows one to have an almost real-life first-person interaction with a Holocaust survivor via pre-recorded video responses. 

The test exhibit, based on survivor Marguerite Élias Quddus, features a francophone interactive biography that enables conversation through a 2D interactive display. 

On Feb. 12, the museum held three free, one-hour sessions which took place from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Camille Charbonneau, the museum mediator of the session, shared the initiative’s hopes in gathering over 8,000 interactions with Quddus over the next six months, to ensure the project’s accuracy. 

“It’s very important to give a voice to the people that we still have with us today,” she said.

The University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, an institute for visual history and education, developed the DIT project in 2010, gathering over 55,000 video testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. 

They partnered with the MHM and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to bring their very first French-speaking survivor testimony to life and to preserve Quddus’ story of resilience.

Quddus was born in December 1936 in Paris, France. After Germany’s occupation of France in 1940, the four-year-old and her family found themselves affected by the antisemitic ruling of the Nazis and the Vichy Regime.

In 1942, her father was murdered in Auschwitz. Quddus and her sister were separated from their mother, where they spent three years hiding in convents and farms, under false identities.

The two sisters reunited with their mother after Liberation. Quddus has resided in Canada since 1967 and has devoted the last decade to speaking with thousands of students to help bring Holocaust education to future generations.

In 2013, she published and illustrated her novel, In Hiding, which is her memoir of the Holocaust. 

MHM executives took part in a five-day real-life question period with Quddus. The team recorded over thousands of interactions with the survivor. Quddus’ pre-recorded responses are in the present beta testing display. 

Charbonneau felt touched after hearing some of Quddus’ earliest childhood memories. 

“She was a child,” said Charbonneau. “She was five years old, and she had to stay in those convents with nuns… She needed to change her complete identity and religion to fit into this mold, to be considered a non-Jewish kid. She had to hide herself. That can be very traumatic for a child.” 

Claire Berger is a volunteer tour guide at the MHM and a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Her father, Emil Berger, was born in Chernivtsi, Romania, and lived in a Ghetto. 

“He remembers living in the ghetto, of course, and being hidden on a farm for six months, which saved him from being deported,” she said.

Berger enjoyed the humane, relatable aspect of conversing with Quddus.

“I love these spunky sort of retorts. I think it humanizes the fact that, you know… that they were children, just as we are,” said Berger.

As a former educator, Berger strongly believes in educating today’s younger generations about the Holocaust, especially in ways that make the most of technology.

Berger plans to take part in the future of Quddus’ interactive display, in the hopes of sharing more survivor stories, like her father’s. 

“My dad passed away 18 years ago and every week now we’re seeing in the paper all of our survivors who are aging… I feel like doing my bit to keep the memory going as much as I can,”

Berger Said.

The MHM’s beta testing of DIT is free and takes place at the museum, on the first and second Sunday of every month until July 2023. With the assistance of an animator, attendees are welcomed to ask Quddus questions at the session.

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Features

At 92 years old, Mary Xenos-Whiston is still learning

A profile of Concordia’s oldest student

Mary Xenos-Whiston has been a lot of things in her life: a teacher, a mother, and a guide at an art gallery. But the one thing she has always been is a student. At 92 years old, she is Concordia’s oldest student and is currently enrolled in Dr. Nicola Nixon’s American poetry class. 

According to Xenos-Whiston, lately she has been doing the usual: “Going crazy,” to which her daughter Barbara commented, “Being 92 is not for the faint of heart.” 

Despite going crazy, she is still enjoying her class on American Poetry . “I wouldn’t be taking them if I wasn’t really enjoying them,” she said.

“My life is too short for doing things that I don’t enjoy,  like house cleaning.”

Xenos-Whiston was born to Greek immigrants in Verdun, and she’s lived in Montreal her whole life and has watched the city and University change dramatically. Her father owned a restaurant in Verdun, where she recalls it being the first to get a soft-serve ice cream machine. In her early years, much of her life was based around the church. Her and about 50 other Greek families would gather at Holy Trinity for weddings, funerals and Saturday night dances before the church burned down in the 1980s. 

As a girl Xenos-Whiston had a love for learning; she frequently found herself in the top math and science classes while attending Verdun high school and she always had a book with her. 

This love for learning has kept Xenos-Whiston in school for most of her life. She’s taken courses for fun at Concordia since the ’90s. After originally enrolling in English courses, it wasn’t long until she discovered other interests. “I discovered the FFAR [interdisciplinary fine arts] courses, wow,” she exclaimed. “I took a course in Jazz, I took a course in this, I took a course in that, I was just interested in learning.” 

During this time she earned another bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Concordia and has taken many courses in women’s studies. But her history with Concordia goes back to before the school even went by that name.

Mary Xenos-Whiston’s graduate portrait, Sir.George Williams University 1954/ BARBARA WHISTON

Xenos-Whiston began attending Sir George Williams University in 1950, where she received her Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history as one of the few women attending the school. “Girls did not go to university,” Xenos-Whiston said. She recalled a former teacher questioning her about her enrollment on campus one day. 

“What are you doing, going to Sir.George? You’re only going to get married and have children,” she recalled the teacher saying. “And I thought that’s what you think.” 

She did eventually marry and give birth to her daughter Barbara, but she found time for a great deal of academic success along the way. Xenos-Whiston completed a master’s degree in education at McGill in 1978, and a PhD from the University of Montreal in 1990.

After World War II she saw the city transform spectacularly. “The government allowed educated European immigrants to come here in the late ’40s and early ’50s and Montreal changed.” Xenos-Whinston watched as the city’s identity changed around her: what used to be diners became German, Italian and Chinese restaurants.

“Before you knew it, Montreal was a new place. It was great.” 

Concorida’s Iconic Hall building under construction in Crica 1965, 12 years after Xenos-Whiston had graduated from Sir. George Williams University. JACK BORDAN/Concordia Records Management and Archives

After finishing her first degree Xenos-Whiston began teaching in elementary school and spent her days going to the theater. In 1991 she retired. After a life served in education, some people may never want to look at a classroom again. But this was not the case for Xenos-Whiston who continued her education at Concordia.

“Look, some people go to movies. Some people play hockey. Some people spend hours training for things and then going and doing them. I love taking courses,” she said. 

Today, her family sees school as a part of her. 

“I can’t imagine her not being in school,” said her daughter. The only time Whiston could remember her mother not being in school was after she was born, when her mother left teaching for a few years. 

“After that, she’s constantly been a student; it’s part of her identity. I just can’t imagine her not doing it. It’s always been a surprise to hear about what courses she is taking and what papers she is writing, what ideas she is interested in and what she is discovering. It’s kind of fun.” 

Going to school has not always been easy for Xenos-Whiston, who is now legally blind and uses hearing aids. She has note-takers in class and through the Centre for Equitable Library Assistance (CELA) can get accessible copies of texts used in her class. It’s no easy feat, but she is still determined to be in class.

During the pandemic, her courses at Concordia were what kept her going. When her daughter asked if she could have made it through COVID without Concordia, her reply was simple. “No, I would have died.” 

Concordia does offer a senior non-credit program, which allows older people to audit classes. When auditing courses, students don’t have to write papers or exams like they would for credit. But Xenos-Whiston doesn’t have as much interest in this. 

“I did try it out,” she said, “But, to me, a course is not a course until I write the paper. So I decided that I wanted to write the papers.” 

92-year-old Concordia student Mary Xenos-Whinston has been taking courses for fun since the 1990s. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

It’s professors like Dr. Nicola Nixon who’ve inspired her to keep coming back. Nixon is an associate professor in Concordia’s English department and Xenos-Whiston’s professor this semester. 

“It’s not so unusual to have certain older post-retirement people in your courses, auditing,” said Nixon.

“Of course, they don’t want to write essays or write exams or any of those things and her willingness to do so, I find it quite admirable, But for her, it’s part of, you know, kind of immersing herself in the course, as opposed to just having a passive relationship to it.”

Xenos-Whiston and Professor Nixon have known each other for about five years now. “At first it was basically a professor-student relationship,” said Nixon. “I did go to her birthday party this year […] I suppose we’re more friends now than the first few years she was taking courses.”

Nixon says Xenos-Whiston is a good student, she engages with the class and brings in a lot of her own lived experience. Even considering her age, getting good grades has never been something she has struggled with. 

“If I go home, I could write a paper, get it in tomorrow and get an A,” she said. “My transcript is all As.” This is all but one failure from the year when she took philosophy.

However, school has not been her only hobby over the past 92 years. Exercise has been important to her for much of her life and she was an avid swimmer and walker for some time. A love for contemporary art led her to guide tours at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts between 1995 and 2005. 

Also a passionate music fan, she would go to concerts every other week, frequently attending the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the opera occasionally. Her love for music led her to spend years attempting to learn to play piano, but she never quite got the hang of it. “My family struggled, suffered and listened to me for about ten years try to learn the piano,” she said.

“When I die and go to heaven, I’m going to tell her, she was unfair to give me such a love of music but not the skill to do it.”

Despite not being able to play piano, Mary Xenos-Whiston has accomplished much in her life. At 92 years old she holds four degrees, “Most of it out of sheer curiosity and for pleasure’s sake rather than anything else,” said her daughter. 

But Xenos-Whiston still plans on taking courses. Her only dilemma is deciding if she will leave English for a while and take some more FFAR courses. When asked if she had ever considered taking Hip Hop: Beats, Rhymes and Life, a popular FFAR course at Concordia, she said she hadn’t, but did add “maybe in another 10 years.”

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The end of the volunteer note-taking program continues to negatively affect students with disabilities

Although the program hasn’t been operational since the start of the pandemic, the return to in-person classes is making note-taking services even more necessary for students with disabilities.

As students head into Concordia’s first finals session since their return to campus, many students with disabilities are facing an uphill battle. The university has not reinstated its peer-run note-taking program, leaving those who relied on Zoom transcripts for a year in the dark.

University Spokesperson Vannina Maestracci expanded on the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities’ (ACSD) decision to end the program. “During the winter of 2020, the ACSD completed a review of its service offerings and the peer note-taking program was ended for a number of reasons mostly related to the difficulty in finding reliable peer (or volunteer) note-takers as matches.”

Kaity Brady, a fourth-year student who deals with cystic fibrosis and is registered with the ACSD, is not impressed with the university’s handling of her health and safety needs.

“Because of my medical condition, I have to miss a lot of class due to chronic pain. It wasn’t an issue last year because I was already home,” she said. When asked about safety concerns, Brady had some choice words for the school.

“Do you really think the Hall Building is the safest place for me to be when the school won’t even enforce a vaccine mandate? I would feel safer in my journalism classes in the CJ building, but something as big as Hall? I feel way less safe. I also want to point out that for some disabled students, going back in person has been very beneficial. But because my issue really is physical, it’s been a challenge. I didn’t think they could do it, but Concordia found another way to disappoint me.”

Maestracci confirmed that students registered with the ACSD were notified about this change last year. However, the situation regarding in-person classes was radically different in the summer of 2020 than in the fall of 2021. As of September 2021, Concordia has implemented a hybrid teaching method that combines online classes with in-person ones. Students who relied on lecture transcripts automatically produced by programs like Zoom only have that luxury if their classes happen to be virtual. Every faculty within Concordia has been abiding by the university’s general health and safety guidelines, but some have been more cautious than others.

Brady can attest that before the note-taking service was taken away, the quality was not great. “It really wasn’t fantastic, but it was better than nothing. Now school has never been more inaccessible for me.” One of Concordia’s main reasons for the suspension of the program, as pointed out by Maestracci, was mostly due to a lack of reliable peer notetakers.

Maestracci added that “Students registered with the ACSD can still request professional note-taking at the beginning of the semester, if they face barriers related to written output or accessing print or visual information, for example. Each student’s request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and when deemed as a reasonable accommodation, the ACSD will hire and pay a professional note-taker for that student.”

In the coming weeks, thousands of students will be entering exam periods in order to complete their fall 2021 semester. The community of students with disabilities who relied on note-takers could face additional obstacles in the final sprint to the academic finish line.

 

Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

Edit: A paraphrased comment by Vannina Maestracci in this article was corrected

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Open-source learning: a glance into a new form of education

Since 2019, Concordia’s Open Educational Resources project has provided grants for professors interested in creating their proper learning materials. This new way of learning could benefit future Concordia students for years to come.

Concordia’s Library Services Fund Committee (LSFC) has supported many projects that have benefited students, from allowing 24-hour library access to a laptop rental program. A newly supported grant could not only help and improve the way professors teach, but also reduce the cost of textbooks and resources for students.

Starting in 2019, the Open Educational Resources project (OER) is a program that many universities feel is a step in the right direction. Relatively still in its infancy, the eventual goal for all universities is to nationally network intellectual property from an open-source collection of information that would provide professors with the liberty to alter content for their respective courses. If professors adopt this model, over time, it could drastically slash textbook prices for students.

Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications Geoffrey Little is responsible for the OER project. According to a study from the University of Guelph, just over 60 per cent of students surveyed would spend roughly $250–$750 dollars on textbooks in one semester. Little agrees that prices for textbooks are rising, and a new alternative must be created to combat this problem.

“Number one top of the heap benefit is cost-saving for students,” Little said. “Textbook prices have gone up exponentially in the last several decades and is a big budget for students every year.”

The program was put forth to encourage the creation and adoption of open-source textbooks for students who want to avoid breaking the bank every semester for new books.

The OER program offers three tiers of grants to alter or create textbooks for their respective courses. Starting up to $1,000, the Adopt grants allow professors to adopt a book from the open-source collection, allowing minor changes if need be. The Customize grants, up to $5,000, permit professors to alter textbooks by adding or retrieving content in order to tailor the material for their course. The last option, which goes for up to $10,000, are the Create grants — though it may seem like a hefty price, this grant would allow professors full liberty in creating their own textbook from scratch.

These altered or created textbooks would return to the open-source ecosystem, where other professors would have the liberty of modifying or altering the material. Concordia professors who have used the OER program favoured the Adopt and Customize grants.

Concordia University Assistant Marketing Professor Pierre-Yann Dolbec has utilized the Customize grant. After teaching digital marketing for three years, Dolbec needed to find a book that was tailored more for his course. Unsuccessful, he turned to the OER program.

“I couldn’t really find a textbook that was both proper at a strategic level, but also affordable for students, so I applied for a grant with OER,” Dolbec said. Though the textbook Dolbec modified is now free, the textbooks he used to assign to students averaged around $120–$150. The modifications have allowed Dolbec to teach the course differently.

Usually requiring specific material from other textbooks that he would assign to his students in class, the freedom of having tailored material provided more class interactivity. “We have a Q&A of the chapter we’re reading, and then we have exercises in class to bring that content to life,” Dolbec said. “It allowed me to move to a more interactive way of learning rather than lectures and slides.”

Many students are finding new alternatives to reduce their textbook costs. Biology student Norreen Quansah found ways to do exactly that. Quansah realized that book prices aren’t cheap, prompting her to search for cheaper online editions. “Certain textbooks we don’t use often but it is required that we have to buy them. Textbooks tend to be expensive for no reason, so I try my best to find other options.”

Quansah says that if her professors would ever decide to create textbooks with OER grants, she would be fully on board.

“Oh 100 per cent,” Quansah said. “We’re only going through certain sections of the textbook that we do go over. Having a textbook that a professor would create would be really beneficial.”

The only drawback according to Dolbec is that altering and adding material to textbooks is time-consuming. “I had greatly underestimated the amount of work it would take, it was a substantial weight on my schedule,” Dolbec said. However, Dolbec can’t stress enough how this program can help students and encourages all professors to apply for an OER grant. Dolbec said that the team at the library that assisted him while altering his textbook was a great help. “All of this was phenomenal, from that angle I would totally recommend any professor who might want to delve into textbook writing to reach out to OER.”

Graphic courtesy of James Fay

The road to happiness is paved with… self-help books?

Is the solution to mental wellness finally here, or is it just another fad?

In the 1980s, a psychological theory became all the rage in North America and started to be implemented in institutions across Canada and the United States. You might be familiar with it; it’s now known as the self-esteem movement.

It was based on The Psychology of Self-Esteem, a book originally published in 1969 by Nathaniel Branden, which essentially explains that the key to happiness and success is to work on building a positive self-image for everyone. As the literature on this topic grew, it caught the attention of Californian legislator John Vasconcellos, who loved the idea so much he started funding initiatives to make it a greater part of his state’s policies.

All of a sudden, schools were giving out participation medals by the handfuls and finding ways to compliment children no matter what. Educators found all sorts of ways of minimizing the concepts of “winner” and “loser” in the activities they organized.

And this went on into the 90s. Today, we know that that was complete nonsense; you can’t tell a kid they’re special and coddle them and expect them to continue breaking down barriers and outdoing themselves in everything they undertake. One day they will step into reality and realize that if everyone is unique, then that means no one is.

This is exactly what has happened as a result of this movement. We now have a generation of people who are struggling with mental health issues and broken expectations because they’ve been conditioned to life in a bubble and now have to live in a world that won’t be telling them they’re amazing and great all the time.

In turn, this has caused a societal fear of making mistakes and a culture that favours dishonesty over the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings.

But, at the time, this clearly seemed like a great idea. Everyone agreed: low self-esteem causes people to take less risks, to isolate themselves, to turn in subpar quality work because they don’t believe they can do better, and in general just kind of sucks.

On the other hand, high self-esteem gives many people a drive to become better, to chase their dreams;… the bottom line is, people who view themselves highly invite others to do the same.

The thing they forgot to mention in this movement, however, is that people need a reason to esteem themselves highly. Phenomenal self-perception paired with a terrible personality and a lack of competence is narcissism at best, and will set anyone up for failure.

The more we learn about psychology, the more we realize how little we know about the human brain. In 1973, psychologist David Rosenhan conducted a study where he sent fake patients to 12 psychiatric hospitals in the United States and told the admitting doctors they heard voices in their heads saying the words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud” — but apart from that, they told the truth about everything else, including that none of them had a history of mental illness.

They were all admitted to psychiatric hospitals for up to almost eight weeks and all prescribed various medications.

Full disclosure, journalist Susannah Cahalan somewhat debunked this study in 2019. She found many inconsistencies in the story and suspects some of the pseudopatients were made up by Rosenhan.

But nonetheless, the moral of this study remains and has been retested many times thereafter: even highly trained doctors have trouble telling the difference between people who are mentally ill and those who aren’t.

Psychology gets inserted into popular culture all the time. In the 2010s, self-esteem was replaced by its distant cousins, self-care and self-help; by 2017, the global wellness industry was worth US$4.2 trillion.

And now, these ideas of ‘change your life by changing your mindset,’ ‘98 per cent of what you do is caused by your habits,’ and ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ are seeing a huge surge. The new psychology trend is telling you to take control over your own life because no one’s going to do it for you.

So far, implementing these rules into my life has brought me nothing but positive results and psychological progress. But frankly, I don’t know if this could work for everyone. I don’t know if it’s realistic to tell people that they are responsible for their own success and failure, especially when we start factoring in things like systemic discrimination and wealth inequality around the world.

Could this be the next self-esteem movement? We don’t want to teach people that they can’t do anything and that they won’t be able to achieve their big dreams? Then again, there could be consequences to getting carried away by yet another idealistic method of fixing all of our problems and finally finding happiness.

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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