York’s Miss Universe Canada stays realistic about her chances

A hushed awe descended on the room as York student Alice Panikian – all 6-foot-1 of her – entered the room, reported the Toronto Sun March 29. The new Miss Universe Canada silenced about a dozen reporters and photographers as she strolled into the Rosewater Supper Club for a press conference announcing a speaking tour across GTA schools starting next month. Panikian, 20, struck a commanding presence with her long, chestnut hair, dark eyes, flawless olive skin and most of all, her stature: the long-time model towered over most of the room in her stiletto sandals. Dressed in a sequined corset top and hip-hugging jeans, Panikian – crowned March 21 in Montreal – acknowledged she has big shoes to fill after her predecessor Natalie Glebova, also from Toronto, won the Miss Universe title last year. “It’s important for me not to have any expectations,” said the York University English student and aspiring broadcast reporter. “I know there’s a small possibility of two winners from the same country in a row. I’m doing this for the experience. I’m going to be my own person.”

Despite beating out 48 other Canadian beauties for the title, Panikian said she wasn’t always self-confident, especially because of her towering height and what she calls her natural weight – 130 pounds. “I don’t do a lot of maintenance. A lot of people speculate I’m anorexic and I can understand that, but if anyone spent time with me, they’d see the kind of stuff I eat,” she said.  When asked to comment on beauty pageants, Panikian balked, saying the term offends her. “I think of it more as a competition, not a pageant,” she said. “It’s more about intelligence. Beauty is definitely a part of it, but now it’s changing towards a realistic look as opposed to the Barbie look.” But when it was noted that she’s not exactly the girl-next-door, the Bulgarian-born beauty pointed out that her personality is. “I think I’m real, I’m not rehearsed … I know I’m not a typical Canadian woman. I was born this way. But I can use it to my advantage, it’s my right to do so. That’s a feminist attitude for me.”

Carl James speaks for the disenfranchised

Carl James, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, was featured in the Toronto Star March 29 in one of a series of profiles on recipients of the 2006 New Pioneers Awards presented by Skills for Change, a non-profit agency that helps newcomers improve their employment skills. The awards honour the achievements and contributions of immigrants to our communities.

Arriving in Toronto in 1973 to study at York University, the Antigua native witnessed the profound “disconnect” many Caribbean youth felt after coming to Canada, said the Star. “Many of their parents had left them with their relatives to come here and become domestics. They were not familiar with their parents and didn’t know how to deal with the cultural and social differences here,” recalls James, who went on to earn a doctorate in sociology and Latin American and Caribbean studies. “There’s a huge, significant adjustment to the new social culture in an unfamiliar setting.” While still a student, James volunteered as a tutor and mentor with newly arrived Caribbean youth in connection with the Black Education Project in the Regent Park, St. James Town and Moss Park neighbourhoods. Later, he turned that interest into an academic career.

Now an education professor at his alma mater, James draws on that front-line experience in the research he does on systemic barriers faced by marginalized groups in Canadian society – in turn providing a voice for such groups in the world of academia, the Star wrote. “The disenfranchised communities do need a voice,” explains James. “What is most rewarding for me is being able to engage people with topics like equity, antiracism and healthy development of youth, so discussions become actions.” It’s been a long, sometimes frustrating journey, but changes do come gradually. James observes that the public is finally coming to grips with issues affecting minority youth such as racial profiling and the proposal to fund black-oriented schools for some at-risk students.

As a volunteer member of the Toronto District School Board’s advisory committee on student achievement, James was glad to see trustees endorse a plan to collect race-based data, hoping to figure out how to help minority students survive and succeed in the city’s schools. As an instructor in urban education to student teachers, he says it’s gratifying to help inspire future educators to be part of the solution.

Schulich’s Morgan has a technology mind set for management education

Staying abreast of change and pursuing professional development is increasingly hard to do, reported the Toronto Sun March 29. However, with the right technology and approaches, integrating work and learning is entirely possible, says Gareth Morgan, professor or organizational behabiour at York University’s Schulich School of Business and chairman of NewMindsets Inc. “As organizational activities and production get shifted to places such as India and China, progressive companies are looking to the future and realizing that learning and innovating to create or add more value is only way to stay in business and have a presence in Western countries,” Morgan said. A prominent keynote speaker on management education and author of seven books on the subject, Morgan has consulted with dozens of leading organizations throughout Europe and North America. Six years ago he developed NewMindsets, a system of sophisticated, cost- and time-effective online learning solutions focusing on leadership and management development.

Guest worker concept denies mobility rights, says Sharma

Mexican President Vicente Fox’s “solution” to the problem of labour shortages in Canada and to the demographical fact of an aging population is to create a subclass of people who, by law, are denied the rights available to both Canadian citizens and permanent residents, wrote Nandita Sharma, professor in York’s School of Social Sciences, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, in a letter to The Globe and Mail March 29. She was responding to a story about the Mexican leader’s call for Canada to open its doors to “guest workers”.

The foremost of the rights denied to “guest workers” in Canada are mobility rights, Sharma wrote. By law, “guest workers” are indentured to their employers. It is only with the permission of immigration officials that they can change jobs. As a result, they have no de facto geographical mobility rights, either. Failure to comply results in deportation. With such a penalty hanging over their heads, “guest workers” are forced to accept conditions that are seen as unacceptable to those with the legal rights to be “free” in Canada. Numerous studies show that employers benefit enormously from this process and cite the denial of mobility rights as the main reason why they prefer people classified as “guest workers.” We cannot solve problems by legislating a third-class status for people seeking nothing more than what Canadians take for granted, said Sharma.

On air

  • Tarek Hamam, a member of the Arab Law Students Association at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, joined a panel discussion about Israel and Palestine on the “Michael Coren Show” for Toronto’s CTS-TV March 28.
  • The announcement of a joint York-Queen’s anti-bullying project was reported on CP24-TV and Barrie’s CKVR-TV March 28.