Massacre’s chilling effect on campuses

Alumnus Jeremiah Bach (BA ’05) was in a York campus pub when he learned that Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho had killed 32 people before taking his own life, wrote the Toronto Star May 19.

Bach, a graduate student in York’s Critical Disability Studies Program, had the same shocked reaction as everyone else. But there was an extra layer to his unease. As someone who himself has been diagnosed with mental illness, he knew immediately that the shooting would feed society’s misconceptions about the relationship between psychiatric disabilities and violence.

"Pulling apart stereotypes and building communities is what’s important now,” says Bach, an active member of the Mad Students Society, an inter-university group organized for and run by students who have experienced the psychiatric system (

Like other universities across the country, York has on-site counselling services for students. "We have 16 counsellors – two at our Glendon campus and 14 at the main Keele campus," says Keith Marnoch, the University’s associate director of media relations. Counsellors include psychologists and people who have earned a master’s of social work.

Although it may take a week or so to get a routine appointment, those who feel they are in crisis can be seen immediately, Marnoch says. Charges for the service are covered by ancillary tuition fees. Marnoch says the University has confidence in its service and hasn’t felt the need to change in the wake of what happened at Virginia Tech.

Feldman joins review panel about ‘The Simpsons’

Anniversaries are occasions for stock-taking, so in anticipation of the 399th and, more importantly, the 400th episodes of "The Simpsons" tonight, the Star this week convened a "virtual panel" of die-hard devotees, including Seth Feldman, professor of film and television studies in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, to share their thoughts on the show’s legacy, the current state of things in Springfield, USA, and what we might expect from July’s feverishly anticipated The Simpsons Movie, wrote the Toronto Star May 20. Some of Feldman’s observations during the panel:

The Simpsons is intelligent satire at a time and from a country that seems to have lost the ability to satirize itself, said Feldman. It’s the cartoon H.L. Mencken would have made, Jon Stewart before Jon Stewart.

I think the show is a victim of 9/11. "The Simpsons" was fairly political and generally fearless all through Bush I and Clinton. And it was just about to get started on Bush II when 9/11 made that problematic. Soon thereafter Fox went off the deep end as Republican TV. The show started looking over its shoulder and has never really recovered.

Remember Picasso in his old age complaining that he had been reduced to making phoney Picassos? Or the old Karl Marx admitting that he was no longer a Marxist? That’s what worries me about the movie. If it’s just a pretty good TV episode stretched out to 90 minutes, yes indeed audiences will see it as the show’s obituary. It will prove that there is nothing more to say, even on a feature film budget. And it will be time to let it go.

Disorder in the courts

Allan Hutchinson, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, agrees that radical changes are needed to make judges more accountable, but stops short of endorsing elections, wrote Canada’s Western Standard magazine May 21. "There’s not a lot you can do if you don’t like what they do when they are up there [on the bench]," he says, "and it’s not as if they are corrupt or anything like that. It’s just that we put them on a pedestal and that’s unhealthy in a democracy." He argues that, because of the "enormous power" society has given judges, governments should, at the minimum, adopt a "more rigorous, vigorous" system to scrutinize potential appointees. "If they are not prepared to be asked questions in public [about where they stand on issues], we shouldn’t give them the enormous power that we have," Hutchinson says.

Water footprints

Korice Moir, second-year master’s student in environmental studies at York, is studying the hidden life of water and exploring a new ethic in production, consumption and water use, wrote the Toronto Star May 22 in its Deep Thoughts series on university graduate research.

Everywhere you look, people are talking about their "carbon footprint" – how much of a trail of pollution they leave behind when, for instance, taking a plane. Moir is researching the idea of "water footprints" or, how much water is used in everything from production of goods to the quantity we use in our homes, to find ways to reduce that trail.

Moir plans to create a pamphlet educating people on the phenomenon of a water footprint and what can help.

MacLean is giving back

"There’s a similarity between training at the level [of elite gymnasts] compared to the training that’s required as an astronaut," said Steve MacLean (BSc ’77, PhD ’83) who is in Regina serving as the honorary Chair of the Canadian gymnastics championships. "Physically, gymnastics is more difficult, but there are some similarities. In doing an EVA (a spacewalk), you do a seven-hour run in the pool once a week where your suit is 300 pounds. It feels like you’ve done a marathon after the training. In space it’s a lot easier because you’re floating."

During his most recent trip to space, MacLean performed a seven-hour, 11-minute spacewalk while installing solar panels on the International Space Station – something he called the ultimate gymnastics routine.

Poverty activists push for civilian panel: The Poverty Project

Local poverty activists are tired of waiting for the province to review and revise social assistance rates, so they’ve drafted a law to give that power to a citizens panel, wrote the Hamilton Spectator May 22. Craig Foye and Osgoode Hall Law School student Auriol Marasco have proposed the Ontario Social Assistance Rate Determination Act, 2007, draft legislation to create and empower a civilian panel and charge them with researching, reviewing and revising the benefit rates for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

The draft law directs the panel to include funding for fire insurance and to base food expenditures on the price of the "healthy food basket" data collected by each regional health department every year. It would also more closely track energy and utility costs for the recipients, all of which goes well beyond the current calculations used in arriving at a social assistance rate. Currently, benefits are based on the 1996 rates set by the Mike Harris government with a couple of small increases added in the past two years to cover inflation.

"There’s no question this is going to cost money. The question is, is this a wise investment for us? We believe it is…there are thousands upon thousands of children growing up on social assistance in this community. (If we do this) we will have higher levels of education and lower levels of crime."

Health Canada faces huge backlog in the licensing of natural health products

The more specific a product’s health claim, the more rigorous data Health Canada requires to approve it, says Joel Lexchin, a health policy expert at York University. If, for example, a company claims its product "leads to weight loss," it likely has to submit a large amount of data, including clinical trials, to prove it is safe and effective, wrote the Toronto Star May 21. But if it claims a product "helps maintain a healthy body weight," it only has to provide historical evidence.

  • Natural weight-loss supplements and over-the-counter diet remedies make up the largest portion of the weight-loss industry, wrote the Star in another story May 21. Health Canada launched the Natural Health Products Directorate on Jan. 1, 2004, to make sure all natural health products sold in Canada are reviewed for quality, safety and efficacy. But critics say the review process isn’t stringent enough. Lexchin says over-the-counter medications should receive the same scrutiny as prescription drugs, whose manufacturers have to submit reams of scientific data, including rigorous human trials, to prove a potential drug is safe.

  • Any obesity drug – either prescription or over-the-counter – that doesn’t prevent or reduce a person’s risk of developing the health problems associated with the disease, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, shouldn’t be sold, said Lexchin in a related story in the Star May 21. "They are garbage. They are not effective," he said. "If something is not effective, and it is not 100 per cent safe – and nothing is 100 per cent safe – there are no grounds for keeping it on the market."

Youth no barrier to gender change and happiness

There was no indication when he was growing up as a girl in West End Toronto that life would change so dramatically for Brody Giambrone, volunteer coordinator for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPRIG) at York University, wrote the Toronto Star May 21. It wasn’t until he hit puberty that he became utterly uncomfortable in his body.

At first he didn’t know what was wrong. He began floundering – drinking and skipping classes before finally dropping out in Grade 12. He became depressed. He started cutting himself. He stopped talking to his parents.

The realization that he was a man in a female body dawned slowly. His transition to Brody happened slowly too. First he changed his name. He began living as a man. He told his parents he wanted to change genders.

"Mom was sad to lose her daughter," says Giambrone, 25, and now transgendered. "She wasn’t sure if who I was to become was going to be the person she knew."

He’s passionate about changing society’s perception of transgender people but it won’t necessarily be his life’s work. "I’ve had personal and political struggles around this, but I don’t think it has to be a tragedy or cause conflict for the rest of your life," he says.

Patience plays out for Richmond Hill coach

Tim Baulk wasn’t Durham College’s first choice to become their new women’s basketball coach for the 2007-2008 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association season. But it all worked out in the end for the Richmond Hill High School teacher when he was named to the position Tuesday, wrote the Richmond Hill Liberal May 20. He served as the assistant women’s basketball coach at York University from 1995 to 2002 and at McMaster University in 1994.

Lee pins down a couple of medals at Worlds

It’s a good thing former York student Jim Lee doesn’t listen to his colleagues, wrote Oshawa-Whitby-Clarington This Week May 18. If he did, they wouldn’t have a world champion among their mix. At the World Police and Fire Games held in Australia, Lee did himself and the rest of the crew at Station Five in Oshawa proud, winning gold in Freestyle and bronze in Greco-Roman wrestling in the 69kg weight category.

The 37-year-old Port Perry resident recalls hitting the mats as far back as Grade 7, continuing through high school at G.L. Roberts in Oshawa and right into York University where he really excelled. He was part of a national championship team at York, where one of his teammates was York alumnus Stan Tzogas (BA ‘98), who heads up the successful Team Impact wrestling club that attracts members from all over Durham Region.

York co-sponsors Caledon transit event in Bolton

In partnership with the Citizens for a Clean Caledon, Mudrocker Entertainment and York University, Help Improve Transit in The Caledon Hills (HITCH) is presenting the ‘Taking Back Suburbia Tour’ on Saturday, May 26 and the first stop is Bolton.

Throughout the day there will be community speakers, free bicycle tune- ups, local artistic demonstrations and of course, lots of music. The fun starts at 12pm and runs all day at the Albion-Bolton Community Centre. Among the groups will be Kate Moura, The Big Man Himself, Maximum RNR, Slight of Hand, Hello Beautiful and Eden Ants. It is a ‘pay what you can’ event ($5 minimum) with profits offsetting the expenses.

Booze, sports aren’t mixing all that well any more

"They’re still underage and often subject to different laws outside of Canada," Leafs development coach Paul Dennis said of players at the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects camp in The Toronto Sun May 19. "We try to keep them aware of a few things: How alcohol affects the brain, impairs performance, and makes driving dangerous for you and a bystander. There is also a professionalism expected of you on the ice.

Dennis, who holds a PhD in sports psychology and is an adjunct professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, says the stress on a pro hockey player can be similar to other aspects of the workforce in a go-go world.

"The easiest thing for anyone is drinking to relieve stress, but there are other ways," Dennis said. "After a home game, we encourage our guys to stick together and look out for each other, which is where a guy such as (team captain) Mats Sundin is there to ensure it happens. That leadership is one of our biggest deterrents."

On air

  • Allan Middleton, marketing professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about the recent CRTC ruling allowing more advertising on television, on CBC Radio (Vancouver) May 18.
  • Debra Pepler, psychology professor at York’s Lamarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution and in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about bullying in schools on Montreal’s CJAD radio May 18.