Media report ‘dramatic moments’ at York rally against racism

Black student leaders at York University got a rude awakening earlier this week when they arrived at their office to find racist graffiti scrawled on their door, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 25.

Yesterday (Jan. 24), they invited members of the news media to campus for an anti-racism rally to express their outrage – an event that produced a crush of cameras and reporters and some dramatic moments when organizers refused to let University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri take the microphone and respond to their demands, said the Globe.

The racist slogans – found at the office, in a nearby washroom and at another building on Tuesday – are the latest in a string of events that have put the campus and concerns about the safety of York’s more than 50,000 students in the news. School had barely started in the fall when two female students were sexually assaulted at night in their residence rooms. Last week, a third sexual assault of a student was reported in a University residence. The appearance of the graffiti this week has further heightened student worries.

All this comes as the University – a sprawling collection of buildings, parking lots and fields that is nestled against one of the toughest areas of the city – tries to raise its profile as a research institution, said the Globe. Shoukri, its new leader, was specifically chosen for that purpose.

The latest events at Canada’s third-largest university also come at a time when high-school students are considering their university options for the fall.

"We are a large campus and we are a very open campus. That’s what we want," Shoukri said in an interview after yesterday’s rally. He added that York is working to minimize risks through new security measures.

This week the administration decided that an outside party would be hired to conduct a full safety audit of the Keele campus. Shoukri promised that the selection process will be an open one and that students will be part of it.

Before yesterday’s rally, student leaders called for just such an audit to examine the physical safety features of the University as well as the attitudes on campus. "This is no longer just about security cameras," said Gilary Massa, vice-president equity for the York Federation of Students. She said the University must also look at such things as how it trains student leaders in its residences and the education it provides to students running events like frosh week.

Zannalyn Robest, vice-president community with the York University Black Students’ Alliance and an organizer of yesterday’s rally, said the University needs to examine the attitudes that would produce this week’s racist attack. "This is something reminiscent of an era that we thought had gone by," the fourth-year political science student said.

She also defended her decision not to allow Shoukri to address the crowd. "We organized this event. They had a chance to speak to us," she said. Robest criticized the University for failing to take the slogan incident seriously until students brought the news media to campus. A meeting between student leaders and senior University officials was scheduled to occur after the afternoon rally.

Shoukri stood with the crowd listening to speeches in the crowded student centre for close to half an hour before he was acknowledged by organizers, approached the microphone and was rebuffed. However, he said he understands the organizers’ anger. "They are very emotional. They have a very good reason to be emotional," he told reporters. "They have a very legitimate concern. There was a crime committed. There was a hate crime committed."

Such hate crimes hurt all communities at the University, the Egyptian-born engineer said. "There is a long-term challenge that we all face," he said, "related to hatred, related to violence."

  • In loud, clear and united voices they had a simple message: Enough is enough, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 25. Hundreds of angry York University students yesterday lashed out at racists – and school administration – after anti-black graffiti was scrawled at two campus locations.

"This space is ours," Nazareth Yirgalem of the York University Black Students’ Alliance (YUBSA) told a rally in the Student Centre. "We pay enough money to be here. York has to do a better job of protecting us."

Phrases including "All N- – – – – s must die" and "N – – – – s go back to Africa" were found Tuesday on the door of YUBSA’s office and an adjacent washroom, wrote the Star. It was the second such discovery on campus this month, Yirgalem told the crowd.

President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri has ordered an audit of the safety and security of York’s Keele campus by an independent third party. He also said he will work with students to develop better programs to address all forms of hatred and violence, whether racial, gender-related or physical. "We’d like to minimize [these incidents] through improved security and safety," he said.

York students acknowledge that other university and college campuses have faced recent incidents of sexual and physical assaults as well as racism, said the Star. But many say the recent wave of violence has them fearing for their personal safety.

"It’s not to say that York is a breeding ground for racists and homophobes and sexual predators," said Gilary Massa, vice-president equity of the York Federation of Students. "It’s just that we’re a large campus – like a small city – so we need to be looking at this at an institutional level to prevent it from happening again."

"All of this is making the community unsafe," said Besmira Alikaj, 22, a fourth-year political science student who attended the rally. "We’ve heard enough ‘It’s just a bad apple’ argument. This institution has a lot of systemic problems that have to be overcome."

The Star story was also printed in The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) and Toronto’s Metro Jan. 25.

  • Shoukri and Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations, were heard on various radio and television news reports about the incident, as were Robest and Yirgalem.

Accreditation seen as a triumph for York’s engineering programs

The recent accreditation by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) of York University’s engineering programs is regarded as a triumph for a University generally regarded as a bastion of liberal arts and humanities, wrote Engineering Dimensions, in its January/February 2008 edition.

“A lot of people seem surprised that York even has an engineering school, let alone that it has been accredited,” says Richard Hornsey, associate dean of York’s School of Engineering. Hornsey was key in seeing the painstaking accreditation project through to completion. The accreditation came through in July 2007, following an intensive series of visits and evaluations by CEAB officials.

CEAB accreditation of its engineering program is welcomed by University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. In a message published in the October issue of YorkU magazine, Shoukri alluded to the school’s tradition of humanities and liberal arts education, but said science, engineering and technology studies are set for expansion.

Nick Cercone, dean of York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, suggested the school’s niche offerings were an important consideration in gaining accreditation. “In the heart of engineering country [southern Ontario], York decided to pursue a non-traditional approach rather than duplicate existing programs,” Cercone said in a statement. “The unique at-York solution means our space engineering is one of the strongest in the country; geomatics is offered only by a handful of universities in Canada; and computer engineering, which suffered from the dot-com bubble, is poised to grow as the industry recovers.”

“Graduating from an accredited engineering school permits you to bypass all of the P.Eng. exams, except, of course, the ethics exam,” said Michael Liscombe, a graduate of the school’s computer engineering program. “At the time of enrolment, I was aware that York’s engineering programs were not accredited, but I didn’t take this as a setback. I saw it as a chance to get involved.” Space engineering graduate Matthew Cannata suggested that future employers of engineers pay close attention to accreditation matters. For master’s degree student Noushin Khosrodad, the nature of York’s space engineering program was more important than accreditation concerns.

TDSB report on Afri-centric school idea recommends working with York

The Toronto District School Board has released a staff report recommending the board open a black-focused high school in 2009. The highly controversial issue is to be discussed at a special meeting of the board on Jan. 29, wrote CBC News online Jan. 24. The report makes four main recommendations, including working with York University to improve school achievement.

Girl’s detention spotlights bail process

James Stribopoulos, a law professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said there are “systemic factors” to explain why so many people remain in custody before due process takes its course, wrote the Toronto Star, Jan. 25, in a story about the bail hearing for a female young offender charged with murder. “We don’t live in a perfect world and our justice system is far from perfect, we have limited resources so…once your case is ready you often have to wait,” he said.

At a certain point though, charges can get thrown out due to unreasonable delay, he noted. “Bail is the most important decision that gets made in the process, short of the determination of guilt or innocence at trial,” said Stribopoulos. “If someone is detained, the impact on them can be pretty profound. If you’re an adult, you could lose your job, lose your apartment. It’s pretty hard to maintain a relationship or contact with relatives when you’re in custody.”

  • Debra Pepler, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about studies that show 15-year-old girls (and boys) are at the highest risk of committing offences, on CTV’s Canada AM Jan. 24.

Lawyers renew battle after 35 years

Malcolm “Mac” Lindsay, now a retired prosecutor, admits an investigative report exonerating Romeo Phillion in the slaying of Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy was something the Crown and police had at the time of the 1972 trial, which ended in Phillion’s conviction for second-degree murder, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 25. He served 31 years in jail.

Lindsay told the court he believes he gave the report to Phillion’s trial lawyer, Arthur Cogan, but Cogan said that never happened. Taking his turn before a three-judge panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal reviewing the case, Cogan testified he only learned of the report years later, in 1999, when York law students from Osgoode Hall Law School‘s Innocence Project brought the document to his Ottawa office.

York grad Zoie Palmer takes the plunge on ‘The Guard’

You might think somebody who nearly drowned as a child would not want to grow up to play a water rescue specialist on TV, wrote The Canadian Press Jan. 24. Yet there is York graduate Zoie Palmer (BFA ’01) taking the plunge every week on “The Guard.” The Vancouver-lensed drama airs Tuesday nights on Global.

Palmer plays Carly Greig, part of a crew of daring Canadian Coast Guard saviours who put their lives on the line to help others even when they can’t always save themselves. Palmer, a native of England who grew up in Toronto (and attended York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts to study drama), says her own real-life rescue occurred when she was around nine.

She and her older sister were swimming about an hour north of Toronto near Sutton, Ont. Both had recently taken swimming lessons and were testing their limits. Palmer panicked when she got in over her head. “I went under and she rescued me,” she says. Palmer emerged with a fear of water. But she credits her father with her sense of adventure. So when it came time to audition for “The Guard,” she wasn’t fazed by the swimming requirements. “The show is really character driven as well,” she says, “but we were told up front that, 50 per cent of the time, we would be in the water.”

Dazzling dance hides drab dialogue in How She Move

"It’s funny how one moment changes a million after it," says Raya Green, the heroine at the centre of How She Move, an amiable rags-to-riches dance movie set in the world of Toronto step competitions, wrote Jason McBride in his review for The Globe and Mail Jan. 25. Yes, it is – and it’s also funny how the million clichés that litter this picture still don’t change how relentlessly entertaining it is.

Step has popped up in a few other films (School Daze and Stomp the Yard to name just two) and screenwriter Annmarie Morais (BFA ’95) made a short documentary on the subject, Steppin to It, while at York University.

Dialogue isn’t Morais’s strength, and it’s only when the actors stop trading "Just give me a chance" chestnuts that the film really takes off…. You might see the ending of How She Move from the first frame, but you’ll tap your toes the entire way, wrote McBride.

  • There’s a scene in the step dance drama How She Move where the mother of one of the dancers – young men and women who stomp their feet, flail their arms, leap into the air and pose with that sullen aggression that appears to mark all teenage activity these days – says to her daughter, "Leave the fools to their foolishness,” wrote reviewer Jay Stone for Canwest News Service Jan. 25.

She’s talking about step dance and frankly, I’m with her: How She Move is a familiar and clichéd showcase of the attitudes and ambitions of a million films…[but] for all its foolishness, step is amazing to watch and when it’s going on, How She Move – for all its foolishness – is amazing to watch along with it.

The movie is based on a screenplay by Morais, who learned about step at the campus of York University near the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, and seems to have learned about storytelling from Drumline, Stomp the Yard and the rest.

Artist Askevold remembered as pioneer

David Askevold, an experimental artist, died Jan. 24 in Halifax at the age of 67, wrote CBC News online Jan. 25. Askevold was known primarily for his conceptual photography and video work, but he was also a painter, performance artist and sculptor. He was also known for his unorthodox art classes at Halifax’s NSCAD University. He took a short-term position at York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts in 1981 and returned to NSCAD in 1985, teaching there until 1992.

On air

  • Perry Sadorsky, an economist in York’s Schulich School of Business, spoke about the week’s volatile stock market activity, on AM640 radio, Jan. 24.