Award-winning law student works to educate hip hop generation

Michelle Dagnino says she doesn’t want to tell people what to think, she just wants them to think, reported the Vaughan Citizen May 20. Specifically, the York law student wants young women to think about how they are being portrayed in hip hop song lyrics and music videos.

Although she is only 23, the Woodbridge resident has spent much of the past five years fighting against negative social influences and aiming to improve the prospects of young people, said the Citizen. Because of her work, she was honoured May 20 with the 2004 YWCA Toronto’s Young Woman of Distinction Award. The recognition follows hard on the heels of being chosen by Maclean’s magazine as one of Canada’s 25 best and brightest university students of 2004.

A graduate of York University, with BA and MA degrees in political science, she has just finished her first year at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and plans to eventually work in the field of women’s health law and labour rights.

Her most recent project, The Commodification of Women in Hip Hop, is a training program highlighting the anti-woman images and messages in the popular media, especially in hip hop. She would like to see the program taken into schools to raise the issue in classroom discussions. She is frustrated with how women, especially black, Asian and Latino women, are being portrayed by mainstream media. “In the rock ‘n’ roll of the 60s, there was a sense of revolution, of wanting to change things for the better,” she said. “The hip hop generation wants to conform to the message of accumulating wealth. For women, the message is they’re accessories, not contributing anything in any meaningful way.”

Dagnino concentrates on youth issues because she believes young people feel disenfranchised, apart from their communities. “These are the people who will run the country but they feel they have no stake in the community,” she told the Citizen. “Gang violence in Toronto is a direct result of youth being left to hang.”

Not surprisingly, she said politics might play a role in her future. “Do I become part of the system and try to change it or do I stand outside rattling their chains?” she mused, adding municipal politics could be the route she takes. “That’s where the real possibility for change lies.” She said she comes by her social activism as a result of her parents’ emigration from Uruguay. “They always instilled in me how lucky I am to be in Canada,” she told the Citizen. “My drive for social activism is a desire for others to have the same opportunities I’ve had.”

Dagnino also talked about the importance of funding for youth groups, her work with children, women, and people of colour, and being named the YWCA Young Woman of Distinction for 2004, on a “Liveable City” segment aired on City-tv’s “CityPulse” and CP24’s “Evening Newsflow” May 19.

Glendon’s time to glitter

For people who love design makeovers or who are looking for design ideas, Glendon Hall is the place to be until June 6. And it’s all for a good cause, reported the Toronto Star May 20 in a two-page spread in the homes section on the Junior League of Toronto’s latest project. Interior designers descended on the grand, circa 1924 manor house on York University’s Glendon campus for eight weeks this spring, transforming dull rooms into polished upscale spaces. The interior designers volunteered their time to devise the more than 50 design spaces, with the help of tradespeople and suppliers who also donated time or supplies. In all, more than 1,500 people are involved with the show house, said Ela Landegger, who shares co-chair duties for the show house with fellow Junior League member Jane Clark. Proceeds from this show house will benefit Pathways to Education, which provides financial assistance, tutors and mentors to help Regent Park students get to and stay in high school, and to break the chain of childhood poverty.

Consumers buffeted by gas prices

Ballooning pump prices have affected everything from the cost of running a cab to toting flowers to towing a truck, reported Orillia’s Packet & Times May 20. Without a ceiling on gas prices, consumers are at the mercy of crude oil prices, turbulence in the Middle East, a shortage in refining stations and a recent surge in demand – all causing gas costs to soar in recent weeks, said Bernie Wolf, economics and international business professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. Consumers are also at the competitive whimsy of local stations, said Wolf.

Mass transit revolves around Toronto

In the Toronto Star’s opinion May 20, Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara’s first budget serves cities well. It includes a plan to create a region-wide transportation agency. The Greater Toronto Transportation Authority would provide much-needed coordination to help integrate transit services across this sprawling area. And the budget inches toward construction of a new subway line, to York University, by providing money for an environmental assessment. “This government is moving ahead on the new deal promised to municipalities,” said the Star. “That progress must not be derailed by a flawed formula for dividing gasoline tax revenues. For good or ill, mass transit in Ontario revolves around Toronto. And the city’s needs must not be downplayed or ignored.”

Doors Open features York’s ‘green’ building

The Toronto Star highlighted York University’s Computer Science & Engineering Building, notable for its groundbreaking environmentally conscious design, as a location worthy of particular interest during this year’s Doors Open program. During the May event, many public and private buildings in the Toronto area open their doors and offer tours to the public.

Fatal crash still being probed

Police are still investigating a fatal car crash that killed Tom Arnold, York University’s executive director of Security, Parking and Transportation Services, and his elderly mother Friday night as they were travelling to a Lakefield-area cottage, reported the Peterborough Examiner May 20. “That investigation is still ongoing,” Peterborough OPP Const. Bob LaFreniere said. “There have been no charges.” Arnold, 51, of Aurora, and his 83-year-old mother Vera, of Toronto, both died of multiple internal injuries, while 11-year-old Lauren Arnold was taken to Peterborough Regional Health Centre with non-life-threatening injuries. Their van was turning onto County Road 23 from County Road 20 at Selwyn when it was struck by a car. John Calnan, 36, of Peterborough, was the driver of the other vehicle. Calnan was also treated for non-life-threatening injuries in hospital.

Photographer takes digital ‘death masks’

Jack Burman is not just any other dead head, wrote the Toronto Star’s Peter Goddard in a May 20 column. Burman’s obsession is not the Grateful Dead of rock ‘n’ roll fame, but human heads and other body parts, prepared and preserved for anatomy classes long since forgotten. The faces won’t be forgotten, though. The 55-year-old Toronto photographer has invested each of them with a charged individual identity in a series of large-format “Recent Photographs” at the Clint Roenisch Gallery. Here’s digital technology’s answer to the death mask, wrote Goddard. Burman is aware of his obsessive behaviour. After all, his PhD thesis at York University – where he also earned an MA – was on the fiction of Herman Melville, particularly Moby Dick, with its “all that most maddens and torments” stuff, a case study of an obsession.

Student runs for Green Party

A familiar face from the Toronto area will be seeking the federal seat for Timmins-James Bay in the upcoming election, reported the Timmins Daily Press May 19. Marsha Kriss, a 49-year-old liberal arts student at York University, is running for the Green Party. In the October provincial election, Kriss also ran under the Green Party banner. She finished a distant fourth in the election, collecting 219 votes.