Glendon professor sings Scarborough’s praises

"Honk if you love Scarborough." That message, with an accompanying graphic of the Lawrence 54 East bus – the TTC’s longest route, running from the Eglinton subway station to the Rouge River – is emblazoned on a T-shirt and available for purchase at the recently opened 54 East Studio in the Wexford Heights strip mall at Warden and Lawrence avenues, along with designs featuring other stops along the route, such as Don Mills and Leaside, wrote The Globe and Mail June 1. Also on offer is a CD of songs inspired by intersections along the Wexford portion of the route and back issues of 54 East, "the magazine that moves."

None of these, it’s worth noting, are endorsed by the Toronto Transit Commission, said the Globe. Instead, they’re the brainchild of 34-year-old York University economics professor Rafael Gomez, who grew up in the area, and his handpicked team of twenty- and thirtysomething artists, historians and journalists who make up Think Tank Toronto. "[The 54 East bus] is symbolic of our city because it traverses many neighbourhoods," he begins, "and what we’re trying to do with that bus route is use it as a vehicle – pun, I guess, intended – to identify these neighbourhoods more clearly, find out what’s happening inside them and also delve into their pasts."

For Gomez, the 54 East Studio also performs as a great and wonderful marketing experiment for his students at York’s Glendon campus. A marketer’s biggest challenge, he says, is to "take one reputation and try and transform it into another." While older Scarborough residents remember it as the place to be in the postwar period – it had the "golden mile of industry," excellent housing, amazing parks and was worthy of a visit by the Queen in 1959 – by the 1980s, the self-billed "city of the future" was more often referred to as "Scarberia," and bouts of gang violence led to an image problem that lingers. "We wanted to think of something positive that could be done quickly to maybe change that reputation," he offers. "We don’t have millions of dollars, but what we have are lots of creative people and ideas – you can’t rebuild a neighbourhood, so what you do is rethink it."

  • Gomez also spoke about his efforts at rebranding his Scarborough community on CFRB radio May 31.

How five women artists present their bodies

Stephanie Hart, a fifth-year doctoral student in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies, is studying the female body as an object of both desire and derision in literature, art and subcultures such as punk, wrote the Toronto Star June 1 in its Deep Thoughts feature on graduate research. Depending on the representation, the female body both attracts and repels the spectator, she says.

Despite the ubiquity of the female form, Hart says an individual’s body image is harder to gauge. "The problem is that nobody really looks at their body. It’s sort of a blind spot," she says. Instead, "You rely on how people react to you. In particular, many women’s self-worth is tied to how others see them." Hart looks at the work of five female artists who present their bodies in various ways, many of which are deliberately not pretty.

Hart’s going to keep working the punk angle with a paper called "The D.I.Y. Body: Representing Gender in Punk" she’s presenting at a cultural studies conference in England next month. It’s part of her dissertation, Desiring Bodies: Theorizing Corporeality in Text, Image and Performance. She also plans to sex things up this fall with a research project at Indiana’s Kinsey Institute, famed for its groundbreaking studies on the sexual patterns of America in 1948 and 1953. Hart will look at the work of John Money, a sex researcher credited with defining the terms "gender role" and "identity".

Life as a fat kid helps author

Little did Jenny Ellison know that growing up overweight would allow her to approach the topic of her PhD dissertation from a personal perspective, wrote The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) June 1 in a story about the 2007 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. The York graduate student is studying the acceptance throughout history of fat people in activist groups, aerobics classes and clothing stores in her dissertation, Large as Life: Self-Acceptance and the Fat Body in Canada.

"As a kid I experienced all of the dramas that come with being fat so I had something to bring to my research," she said. "I was able to identify with a lot of the experiences my interview subjects related to me."

Ellison, who presented the first chapter of her dissertation to delegates at Congress May 30, is studying the emergence of the response to fat oppression in the 1970s. Ellison says she first became interested in pursuing the study of fat acceptance after reading women’s activism literature, while doing her master’s in women’s studies. "I didn’t see my personal history reflected in literature, that often mentioned women being too thin and starving themselves," said Ellison.

Think about the birds and bees

If you’re planting a garden this weekend, you may want to take a moment to think about the birds and bees, wrote, May 31. A York University researcher has found the diversity of bumblebees is suffering in southwestern Ontario.

The use of pesticides and the tendency of many to plant non-native species in their gardens have hurt bumblebee populations, and while there were about 14 species in the 1970s, most bumblebees we see today are all the same species, said Sheila Colla, a PhD candidate in biology in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies.

But what’s the big deal about bees? Since different birds and mammals all depend on different kinds of plants, anything affecting the bees affects the overall food chain, Colla said. Fruit and vegetable plants such as tomatoes and raspberries, wild roses and echinacea provide a steady supply of food for bumblebee colonies, said Colla.

Top jazz artists help students

Four accomplished jazz musicians, including a Wellington secondary alumna, will perform to help raise money for Nanaimo’s music students, wrote BC’s Nanaimo News Bulletin May 31. Performing are Brad Turner, Phil Dwyer, Emma Love and Christian Fabian. Dwyer was one of those child prodigies who headed to New York on a Canada Council study grant in his early teens. He was soon hob-nobbing with the jazz greats.

Dwyer is also a highly respected educator and clinician in Canada having taught music at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Humber College in Toronto and Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo. Despite a hectic schedule Dwyer provides mentorship and support to young jazz musicians through The Phil Dwyer Academy of Musical and Culinary Arts, based in Qualicum Beach, a summer jazz program for highly motivated students.

York student likes her west Toronto neighbourhood

York University psychology student Claudia Marchesano, 20, sips a slushee as she walks to work along St. Clair Avenue West, wrote the Toronto Star June 1, in its “4 city blocks” feature. Marchesano grew up on Atlas Avenue in the maze of homes between St. Clair Avenue and Vaughan Road. She still lives in the red-brick house with her parents and each spring the backyard is taken over by a vegetable garden her father tends diligently. "My dad’s Italian, so there are always lots of tomatoes."

What’s the best part of this neighbourhood? The best part of walking to work is meeting and interacting with customers on the street, she says. "Everyone’s so friendly. It’s a community area. I love this neighbourhood so much. On my street we have, like, 20 kids who lived there and we’re all the same age. Everyone was friends with each other and we all grew up together. It was a family community. It was really nice."

We allowed rich to win class war

Probably the most overlooked story of the past two decades is the fact that there was a class war and the rich won, wrote columnist Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Star June 1. By getting governments to cut taxes and slash social benefits, our financial elite has greatly enriched itself and worsened the fate of the poor. Inequality has reached a level not seen in this country for about a century, as Neil Brooks, professor and tax expert at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, has noted.

York grad scouted Ducks’ star Pahlsson

Sami Pahlsson, the hottest hockey player on the planet right now, thanks to his work for the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring, was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 in the seventh round, wrote The Globe and Mail June 1. The Avalanche scouts who pushed for him are Dave Draper and Brian MacDonald (BA ’91, BEd ‘91), a former all-Canadian university player with York who played a couple seasons in Sweden. When MacDonald looks at his scouting report from back then, he sees the words "strong skater, average scorer, smart player" next to Pahlsson’s name. "That’s exactly what we see from his game today," said MacDonald, who now works for Siskinds Sports Management in London, Ont., a company that represents Oshawa Generals wunderkind John Tavares.

York alumnus takes the helm at St. Clair College

Chris Whitaker (MA ‘84), who helped stabilize the Brockville campus after it appeared to be on the brink of collapse 10 years ago, will become president and chief executive officer of the tri-campus of St. Clair College, Ont. on Aug. 1, wrote the Brockville Recorder and Times May 31. A media statement from the college praised Whitaker’s appointment as a testament to the high quality of leadership to be found at the college, which also operates a satellite school in Smiths Falls.

New firm champions Aboriginal and environmental law

Three lawyers with a specialty in aboriginal, environmental and natural resource development law are officially banding together today to form a new law firm in Old Montreal, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) June 1. "We are three lawyers who have worked together in the past, who have enjoyed working together and get along personally, all three of whom thought it was better to practise with other people who do similar work," said David Schulze (LLB ‘93), one of the principals of the newly constituted general partnership of Dionne Gertler Schulze.

Schulze, Paul Dionne and Franklin Gertler met while working at Hutchins, Caron & Associates, a Montreal firm that represents Aboriginal communities across Canada. Schulze, who turned to law and studied at York under Osgoode Hall Law School aboriginal scholars Kent McNeil and Brian Slattery after specializing in Canadian history, is starting the business venture after 11 years of practice at Hutchins Caron.

On air

  • Roger Keil, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and director of the City Institute at York University, spoke about the past, present and future of the Town of Markham, on CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” program May 31.