The playground is a cruel place, says Pepler

Bullying is seen to be such a major problem that the federal government has created a national Centre of Excellence, PrevNet – one of the few in the social sciences – to sponsor research and find ways to promote safe and healthy relationships for youth, reported the Toronto Star April 6 in a story about I Am Safe, the third international conference on bullying, held in Ottawa. York University psychologist Debra Pepler, co-founder of PrevNet, says, "The school playground is a cruel place for children. It’s a lonely place."

Children need to be taught how to play well and feel compassion for others by example, she says. Contrary to popular belief, she says, bullies aren’t sad creatures but people who enjoy "power and status" within the school community. The victims are usually picked "from the margins" such as children who have a disability, belong to a racial minority or are gay. Victims have to come forward and tell a teacher or a parent in order for the situation to stop or get turned around, she says, adding, "We cannot stand by and let children be victimized." And, she notes, once a bystander steps in the bullying has been reported to stop in more half the cases.

The greatest environmentalist you’ve never heard of

John Allen Livingston – who died last year at 82 and called himself "merely a naturalist" – was not merely anything, wrote Louise Fabiani (MES ’92) in an April 8 special feature in the Toronto Star. My earliest memory of John was his voice, wrote Fabiani, a Montreal science writer, naturalist, artist and poet. I was a child, nodding off late one evening in the ’60s, when I heard his deep, sea-captain rumble issuing from the TV. The program was "The Nature of Things", and he was one of the earliest producers. Later, I came to associate that voice with "Hinterland’s Who’s Who," the wildlife vignettes the CBC used to squeeze in between programs. I didn’t meet him until 1989, when I became a graduate student at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, which he co-founded in 1971. I took several courses with him, and found my inner activist – to say the least. What I learned about thinking and doing paled in comparison with what I discovered about being: not only was it permissible to be occasionally emotional, it was actually necessary to push the envelope if the cause merited it. There can be no shame in fighting for what you love, and showing that love, along with the facts – or, sometimes, instead of them, wrote Fabiani. 

Religious origins of Easter are a forgotten footnote

There are two parallel Easters – one religious and the other based on the themes of renewal, rebirth and luxury, reported the Ottawa Sun April 6. "One of the critiques of Easter is that it has become a very self-indulgent, hedonistic holiday," says Russell Belk, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business and one of North America’s leading authorities on the commercialization of holidays. In the US, Easter started taking on a more luxurious bent in the wake of American Civil War in the 1870s, says Belk.

What she is reading

In the April 9 What Are You Reading column, the National Post interviewed a York student:

Who? Laurie McGhie, 23, English student, York University.
Where? On the GO Train heading west toward Oakville.
What? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.
Why? It’s actually for a class of mine. I’m writing an essay on it.
Are you enjoying it? Yeah, I am. I wasn’t expecting to because it’s science fiction and I don’t read much of that. But it’s pretty good.
What do you normally read? Usually fiction but with more heart. This takes place in the future with androids. I like people.

Teacher transforms book into black-light play

An original opera – created exclusively for the students by Canadian composer Ian McAndrew, and based on the children’s book The Rainbow Fish – unveils at Rosedale Public School for two days before a proud audience of camera-wielding parents, reported the Globe and Mail April 7.

The 45-minute show has been conceived as a piece of black-light theatre, courtesy of McAndrew’s sister, Muriel Ali (BA ’98, B.Ed. ’99), a Grade 5 teacher at the school and a former theatre major at York University. "I saw a production by Famous People Players," says the woman affectionately known as Miss Ali, "and I had a vision. I saw how we could do a show of our own in the same way that could involve all the students, from every classroom."

Uppal is only female among seven finalists for Griffin Prize

From an unprecedented 483 submissions, the short list for this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize is finally narrowed down to seven writers, six of whom happen to be men, reported the Calgary Herald April 8. "In previous years we’ve had more women, so I think it’s just the way the dice rolls," said Scott Griffin, founder of the prize, which is now in its seventh year and one of the world’s most lucrative. A total $100,000 is awarded to two winners, one Canadian and one international, who split the money evenly. The judges named Ken Babstock of Toronto, two-time Governor General’s award winner Don McKay and York University Professor Priscila Uppal as finalists for the Canadian short list. The winners of the Griffin prize will be announced on June 6.

What’s fair about Fair Trade?

Gavin Fridell (PhD ’05) brings his own cup when he goes to a coffee shop, chooses only Fair Trade coffee and comments on how he’s not doing enough to help poor farmers in developing countries, reported a Canadian Press story published April 7 in the North Bay Nugget. "You can’t think that shopping is your ultimate political act," he said in an interview at York University, where his book was launched. "You have to do more." Fridell, a politics professor at Trent University and a graduate of York, has just released Fair Trade Coffee: The Prospects and Pitfalls of Market-Driven Social Justice, a book taking a critical look at the successes and failures of the fast-growing Fair Trade sector.

Prof leads challenge of federal prostitution laws

Now that cleaning up Alberta Avenue has become one of the Edmonton Police Service’s top priorities, residents in Westmount are complaining that prostitutes have started plying their trade on their residential streets, reported the Edmonton Sun April 6. "They’re just pushing the girls all over the city," says prostitute and occasional political activist Carol-Lynn Strachan, who blames the city’s escort bylaw for making a bad situation much worse. This spring, Strachan will be in front of the Supreme Court as part of a charter challenge of the federal laws that affect prostitution. The challenge is being led by York University law Professor Alan Young.

Pompom pride

About 100 hopefuls, including me, donned their finest half- tops to "work it" for the Toronto Argonauts Blue Thunder auditions, an annual open-call casting that took place in mid-March at the Diesel Playhouse downtown, wrote Liz Allemang in a special feature for The Globe and Mail April 7. Women aged 19 to 42 were vying for one of 45 coveted positions on the 2007 team roster. With the Grey Cup coming to Toronto for the first time in 15 years, competition among aspiring cheerleaders was ruthless. Nicole, 20, who has spent one season on the Argos’ cheerleading squad, gives the best tips. "Even if you’re not feeling great with the choreography, have fun with it. Work it," Nicole says. (The cheerleaders don’t give out their surnames, because of problems with stalkers.) An undergraduate studying communications at York University, Nicole schooled me in rolling up seductively (backside first), how to spin without tripping and what to do in the event that you draw a blank (freestyle). Of equal importance: When in doubt, flip your hair.

Slain York grad raised funds to fight AIDS in Africa

"She was a beautiful girl, always a go-getter," Henry Adala told 400 people yesterday in St. George’s Anglican Church on Yonge Street, south of Finch Avenue, reported The Toronto Sun April 8 in coverage of the Saturday funeral of his murdered daughter Rispah Maranje Adala (BA ’00). A highly respected member of the Kenyan community, Rispah came to Canada in 1995, graduated from York University and the University of Western Ontario, and was recently manager of a CIBC loans department. She had also dedicated her life to raising funds and awareness of the AIDS epidemic in Africa through the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Her father said she insisted half the wedding gifts go "to the disadvantaged," and the family arranged for an orphanage for AIDS children to benefit. "She wanted a good life for her husband, for her future family," said her father.

On air

  • Robert MacDermid, , York University political science professor, discussed how the next federal election may be even more negative than the 2004 election, on "The Bill Good Show" on CKNW-AM in Vancouver April 5. 
  • Retired high-school history teacher Peter Flaherty, a course director in York’s Faculty of Education, discussed making the Battle of Vimy Ridge, an event that happened 90 years ago on French soil, relevant to students today, in a CBC Radio interview aired on regional programs in Halifax, Sydney, Quebec and Winnipeg April 5. Teachers have to incorporate different ethnicities to make Vimy relevant, he said.