Setting a legal precedent: mother, daughter study at Osgoode

Wendela and Monique Roberts are mother and daughter, but you might also say their ties are legally binding, reported the Toronto Star May 11. Both left the work force and are studying to become lawyers. They just spent a year together at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and are believed to be the first mother-daughter duo in the institution’s 117-year history. Pursuing a legal career wasn’t an open and shut decision for either of them. “It’s not that I’ve dreamed of it all my life,” says Wendela, 59, who just finished her third and final year of classes and started the bar admission course this week. “I thought I was too old to go back to school,” says 32-year-old Monique (BA ‘98 Glendon). She entered Osgoode as a first-year student last fall, inspired by her mother’s experience.

The story of how they both got there is filled with unexpected turns and life lessons, the Star said. Wendela was a self-proclaimed “artsy” with a long background in the fine arts. She taught architecture and art history part-time at Glendon for 10 years while her three children were young. After 15 years in the family business (Cottage Life magazine), Wendela started at Osgoode in the fall of 2003 as a “mature” student.

While many children follow their parents into the legal profession, it’s unusual to have two generations embarking on their careers together, says Osgoode Professor Alan Young, who taught criminal law and procedure to both Roberts. Their arrival shows how much the school and the profession have changed, he said. When Young was at law school in the late 1970s, his class was “almost exclusively 20-something white males.” The 1980s brought an increase in visible minorities, followed by mature students, defined as 30 and over. Now about 30 people, or 10 per cent of Osgoode’s first-year class, fall into the “mature” category.

A turning point in both their lives came when Wendela worked at Parkdale Community Legal Services in her second year of law school, the Star said. It was Wendela’s first hands-on experience providing legal assistance. “I loved it. I totally loved it.” She decided it was the type of law she wants to practise. “What I want to do is flesh-and-blood law. Not finance, not mergers and acquisitions. None of that. I have no interest in commercial law.”

Monique visited her mother at Parkdale and was also drawn to the clinic’s work. She hadn’t even applied to law school, but ended up volunteering with one of the clinic’s community outreach programs. “One of the reasons I went to law school is because I saw my mother doing this program in poverty law,” she says. In August, Wendela will begin her articling, or apprenticeship, at a small downtown law firm. “When I’m called to the bar, I’ll be 60. That’ll be a milestone.”

Bridging program at York celebrates its 25th anniversary

Anyone skeptical that a person’s life can change with one night-school course should meet Amy McNally (BA ‘04), reported the Toronto Star May 11. Seven years ago, she was battling clinical depression after a decade of family turmoil. Having struggled through high school, she worked as a nanny, convinced that domestic help was her only employment opportunity. McNally, 32, holds one bachelor degree in sociology from York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, will complete her second BA in social work this summer, and is a supervisor at a mental health facility. She’s to begin studies on her master’s degree in social work at York next fall. McNally is one of about 2,000 women to complete the bridging program for women at York.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the program offers a pre-university course to those who have, for various reasons ranging from gender and race to economic and family constraints, typically never begun postsecondary studies, the Star said. “It sparked so much enthusiasm in me,” said McNally, who took the women’s studies course at night in 1999. “Higher education went from something I’d never seen myself getting to something that was now attainable. “It was what I needed to send me in the right direction.”

“Students who’ve been denied access to education, for whatever reason, feel intimidated by a university,” said Ruby Newman, professor in York’s School of Women’s Studies and coordinator of the bridging program. “We want to reach out to the community and demystify the campus.” Newman, who has taught in the bridging program for about 20 years, said, for most women in the class, their desire to move on to higher learning has never been a barrier. But when they’re unable to track down a 20-year-old high-school transcript or their credentials from another country cannot be found, the chance of ever taking postsecondary classes seems virtually impossible, she said.

“It’s not hard to be an instructor in this program because everybody wants to learn so badly,” Newman said. “We help them start on a journey.” Some of the students’ stories, as well as a history of the program, have been compiled in a new book on the program – You CAN Get There from Here: 25 Years of Bridging Courses for Women at York University, the Star said.

Valerie Thomas, 42, always wanted and expected to go to university. The daughter of two school teachers, she completed high school and two years of college and was teaching in a convent in her native Grenada before coming to Canada in 1983, the Star said. But married, raising two children and trying to make ends meet, life always seemed “just too hectic to schedule education in there,” said Thomas. So, it was not until she saw a newspaper advertisement for York’s bridging program in 1998 that she decided to go back to school. “It stirred up my latent ambition,” said Thomas, who completed the bridging course, got into York and in 2002 graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in women’s studies and communication studies.

She started her master’s in women’s studies last fall at York, where her daughter is now also a student. “It opened up so many possibilities,” Thomas said of the bridging course. “It gives you that link between where your life is at that moment…and where you’d like it to be.”

Film’s subject founded York’s graduate program in film studies

James Beveridge was a filmmaker – and a very special one, reported Canadian Press May 11. In a career that spanned a half-century he made some 150 documentary films. He was the first filmmaker hired by Canada’s National Film Board in 1939. Beveridge used cinema as a tool for social change in post-independence India and amid the civil rights upheaval in 1960s America. Back in Canada he also founded the graduate film studies program at York University where he taught from 1970 to 1987.

Now his daughter, York graduate Nina Beveridge (BA ’81), in her own documentary titled The Idealist, travels in her father’s footsteps as she seeks to understand his principles and the price paid for them. The film, which airs Wednesday night on TVOntario’s “The View From Here”, recently won an award at the Houston International Film Festival. “My parents believed passionately that film should be used as a tool for social change around the world,” says Beveridge. “They dedicated their lives to the pursuit of this ideal.” (Wednesday, May 17, Sunday May 21, TVO)

Student digs in for farmers

Half a world away, Orleans, Ont., native Alice Wan is helping cotton farmers appreciate the benefits of commercialization, reported the Ottawa Sun May 11. The 26-year-old graduate student in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies is one of three Canadian students who hopped a plane for Africa last week, where they will spend the summer teaching the world’s poorest about good living practices. It’s all part of a program sponsored by CARE Canada, through its newest division, CARE Enterprise Partners (CEP).

Wan’s work in Africa this summer is a result of York’s creation of the East African Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Enterprise earlier this year. The centre works in collaboration with the Dar es Salaam University in Tanzania, CARE Canada and CARE Tanzania.

Letter writer sees contradiction in Hutchinson’s remark

In a letter to The Globe and Mail May 11, reader John Barnet wrote: In a remarkably ill-disciplined column (The Globe May 10), Allan Hutchinson says “it is imperative that judicial performance is the subject of vigorous questioning.” I suspect that few would disagree with that. But Mr. Hutchinson, while recognizing that Maurice Vellacott “might well have crossed the line in falsely attributing particular views to the Chief Justice” and admitting that mean-spirited or ad hominem assaults are unwarranted, urges the MP to “rave on.” Surely an associate dean at Osgoode Hall Law School can see the inherent contradiction here, said Barnet.

  • Hutchinson was also interviewed about his views on CBC Newsworld’s “Canada Now” May 10.

Playwright Marion André taught at York

Playwright and director Marion André died in Toronto May 9 after a long illness, reported The Globe and Mail May 11. He was 85. He was born in Le Havre, France, in January, 1921, but was raised in Poland. He survived the Holocaust and established a career in that country as a director and playwright for theatre, radio and television. He immigrated to Canada in 1957 and settled in Montreal, working as a drama specialist for the Protestant School Board. From 1967 to 1971, he served as the first artistic director of the theatre at the Saidye Bronfman Centre in Montreal. After moving to Toronto, he taught in the theatre department at York University (1972-1973), founded Theatre Plus at the St. Lawrence Centre and managed it from 1973 until 1985. He also wrote several radio and television plays and documentaries that were produced in both English and French. His plays, mostly dealing with Jewish life in Poland during the Nazi occupation, have been presented on stages in Toronto, London and New York.

On air

  • Steven Skurka, adjunct professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the plea bargin in the Cecilia Zhang murder case, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” May 10.
  • Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s comments that the extension of the Spadina Subway to York Region via York University would proceed with or without help from the federal government were broadcast on CBC Radio (Toronto) news bulletins May 10.