Teen ‘sexting’ no worse than playing doctor, says York prof

Youths exchanging nude photos of themselves over cellphones, known as “sexting”, should not face child pornography charges, as some have in the United States, a humanities conference heard Tuesday, wrote Agence France-Presse May 27.

Peter Cumming, a humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts and coordinator of the Children’s Studies Program at York, presented a paper on children’s sexuality at the 78th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences defending the practice as a modern variation on “playing doctor or spin-the-bottle”.

“Technology does change things and there can be very serious consequences,” Cumming said. “But that obscures the fact that children and young people are sexual beings who have explored their sexuality in all times and all cultures, and all places. A distinction has to be made between nudity and child porn,” he added.

“It would be very unlikely to see dozens of news stories announcing that some children were caught playing spin-the-bottle, or doctor, or strip poker,” Cumming said in his presentation.

  • Teens who use cellphones to disseminate suggestive messages and images are just doing what teens have always done – exploring their sexuality – a researcher in child and youth culture says, wrote the Ottawa Citizen May 27.

“Sexting” is neither a phenomenon, a craze nor an epidemic, says Peter Cumming, coordinator of the Children’s Studies Program at York University, who spoke Tuesday at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Carleton University.

Cumming points to his own near-disgrace in Grade 2 after he was “hauled before the authorities” for trying to look up girls’ dresses in 1957.

Despite the uproar in the popular media, no charges have been laid in connection with sexting in Canada, he said. In some countries, though, child pornography laws have been applied like a “sledgehammer”. “The law is a very blunt instrument,” Cumming said.

Cumming concedes there can be real-world consequences for sexting. Cyberbullying and sexual harassment are indeed cause for concern. “However, teenagers have no monopoly on foolish choices and devastating consequences,” he said.

  • “Sexting,” as described by York University Professor Peter Cumming, is the increasingly common practice among teenagers of sharing images – ranging from coy to sexually explicit – via cellphone with classmates, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, wrote The Ottawa Sun May 27.

Young people are being prosecuted, said Cumming, for what amounts to a 21st-century version of spin-the-bottle.

Cumming compares the reaction to sexting with the furor generated by Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips in the 1950s, and said labelling a teen a lifelong sex offender over a sexting incident “defies common sense.”

Groups continue protests over Israel/Palestine conference

York University – where pro- and anti-Israel students have clashed – is under fire for co-sponsoring a conference it defends as a forum for scholars on several sides to debate the country’s future, wrote The Toronto Sun May 27.

But B’nai Brith Canada executive vice-president Frank Dimant yesterday claimed York tolerates anti-Semitism, fearing accusations of stifling free speech. The June 22 Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace conference will challenge Israel’s existence, Dimant said.

Queen’s University Professor Sharry Aiken, a co-organizer of the conference, said “the anxiety, which is very legitimate, is not well-informed.” She is convinced many critics have not read or understood the conference’s listed objectives, scholarly debate by up to 200 Canadian and overseas participants – including Palestinians and Jews who disagree over Israel’s future. “The core value is about dialogue and co-existence,” she said, “ not about obliterating the Jews and pushing the Jewish state into the sea.”

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri defended the conference last Thursday, the day before a University-appointed adjudicator ordered sanctions against two students involved in a Feb. 11 confrontation between student groups.

  • As the date nears for York University’s two-day academic conference called Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace, Jewish groups are continuing to express concern that the event will promote the Israel boycott movement, wrote the Canadian Jewish News in its May 28 edition.

UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) released a joint statement last week condemning the June 22 to 24 conference, which is being co-sponsored by Queen’s University and York, and is an official part of York’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri released a statement in response to complaints that the conference should not be part of anniversary events. “This would have involved excluding a conference because of its subject matter, which would in itself have been a fundamental violation of academic freedom,” Shoukri said.

He added that the organizers and academics have the freedom to explore such issues, and it would be inappropriate for the University to intervene. “[T]he choice of topic, of who is to speak and of what is said at the event lies squarely with the individual academics who organize and/or participate in it and no one else. The University provides a forum for the robust exchange but does not align itself with a particular set of views or positions.”

The Jewish Defence League’s (JDL) national director, Meir Weinstein, who promised earlier this month that he would hold weekly demonstrations at York to protest the conference, said he was picketing on campus on May 15 when a York security guard handed him a letter written by Harriet Lewis, York’s University secretary & general counsel.

The letter said that York was aware of the JDL’s plans to hold weekly demonstrations on campus but that the Jewish organization, an “outside group”, did not have permission from York “to use our campus lands for protests.” Lewis added that future demonstrations on York property will be considered trespassing and urged the JDL to hold future protests on public property.

  • “A blatant exercise in anti-Zionist propaganda,” is what B’nai Brith is calling the coming June conference at York University, titled Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace, wrote the Jewish Tribune May 26.

“This sham of a conference, which questions the Jewish state’s very right to exist, promises to be a veritable ‘who’s who’ of anti-Israel propagandists,” said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice-president.

B’nai Brith has also condemned a statement made by York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri supporting the conference.

In the statement, Shoukri affirmed York’s commitment to the conference: “It would be entirely inappropriate for the University administration to intervene in or to take responsibility for the academic content of such events.”

“This is not an issue of academic freedom, despite the great lengths the University is going to try to paint it in that light,” Dimant said. “It is purely and simply about delegitimizing the Jewish state and its supporters here at home – an exercise that runs far afield of so-called legitimate academic discourse.”

Anti-Israel rhetoric flies at CUPE meeting, but no time left for voting

An unexpected roadblock to a vote proposing a boycott of Israeli academics was not enough to prevent a barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric at a recent CUPE Local 3903 membership meeting at York University, wrote the Jewish Tribune May 26.

Pro-Israel members in attendance were relieved when the vote on the motion, which proposes a boycott of Israeli academics, was not called as time ran out. However, that couldn’t silence the anti-Israeli voices.

“They reject notions of collaboration,” said Judith Cohen, an ethnomusicologist in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, who was one of few CUPE members to speak to the Jewish Tribune after the members-only meeting. “It’s in their mandate to support these causes, but does anyone really know enough to make proper and thought-out resolutions?” Cohen asked.

She helped lead a group of pro-Israel CUPE 3903 members in early April, creating a petition urging fellow members to oppose the motion to boycott Israeli academics. The pro-Israel CUPE members claim the proposal is one-sided and unethical, and moving ahead with it represents a violation of basic academic freedom. The petition has more than 100 signatures, many of them from York CUPE members.

CUPE did pass a resolution allowing the holding of forums to discuss “Israeli Apartheid”. Pro-Israel members are also looking to organize a forum where legitimate representatives from both sides could participate.

Cohen is helping to organize a faculty support group for Israel.

  • A proposal to boycott Israeli academic institutions never came to a vote at a meeting of CUPE Local 3903 last week, wrote the Canadian Jewish News May 28.

As time ran out, the local representing teachers and staff at York University shelved the vote until the next meeting on June 25.

Longtime union member and ethnomusicologist Judith Cohen, of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, attended the meeting to try to forestall adoption of the resolution. Cohen has become involved in meetings only in the last year or so as she witnessed the labour organization’s increasingly strident criticism of Israel.

Whether York workers pass the resolution at the local’s next meeting is still up in the air but the music professor and a few like-minded academics have begun to challenge the orthodoxy of the leadership’s views on Israel.

One day after the union meeting, York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri released a statement saying, “Universities at their core are free institutions that must be open to the widest range of ideas, argument and debates. Thus the concept of an academic boycott, which would prescribe a form of blacklist, is antithetical to the very purpose of a university. It would undermine the freedom of individual scholars to make their own academic choices and would suggest that the University ‘owns’ its academics or their opinions. In fact, it would be contrary to the very purpose of the University to dictate those with whom its scholars may or may not associate.”

Reward raised as parents renew pleas for information on son

The parents of missing 19-year-old Shane Fair have renewed their plea to the public for information on their son’s whereabouts, wrote the National Post May 27. No new leads have materialized since his disappearance almost two weeks ago.

The York University student was last seen in the early morning of May 16 near the Atlantis Pavilions at Ontario Place, where he was attending a year-end party.

At a news conference yesterday in downtown Toronto, Fair’s mother, Lisa Malo, said the family hopes he is still alive but fears for his safety. “Eleven days is a long time for anyone. Let’s bring him back soon,” she said. Authorities were continuing to search for Fair, who was last seen wearing a blue formal suit with a blue shirt. The reward for information leading to his discovery has been increased to $7,000.

  • Toronto police say they are stepping up the search for a 19-year-old York University student who’s been missing for more than a week, wrote The Canadian Press May 27. Shane Fair, who is also an army reservist, hasn’t been seen since he attended a formal dinner and dance at Ontario Place by Toronto’s waterfront on May 15.

Det. Jason Kraft says police have completed an initial search, and they are now adding more officers to the case.

  • The hunt for missing 19-year-old Shane Fair has been escalated to a “level-three search,” Toronto Police Det. Jason Kraft said yesterday, explaining additional resources have now been assigned to the case, wrote The Toronto Sun May 27. The marine and mounted units as well as two officers from every division are involved in the police search, wrote insidetoronto.com May 26. Anyone with information is asked to call 31 Division at 416-808-3100 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).
  • Toronto broadcast media continued to report on the disappearance of York student Shane Fair May 27, including CBC-TV, Citytv, CTV, CP24-TV, Global TV, CBC Radio, CFRB Radio, 680News and Waterloo’s Kool FM.

Kids follow peers and parents

Placing such troubled children in foster care isn’t necessarily the best solution, and could cause additional turmoil, instability and separation anxiety, wrote The Globe and Mail May 27 in a story about a case of parents who taught their children to be racist. “That is the last resort. Successful intervention can be done in school and the child can be kept in her family,” says Stuart Shanker, distinguished research professor of philosophy, psychology and education in York’s Faculty of Health, and director of the Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative at York.

Classroom programs designed to help vulnerable children – including those with aggression problems – learn “emotional intelligence” have been very successful, several research studies show. Children can be taught to develop empathy, resolve conflicts respectfully and calm themselves when angry.

In the case of the girl with the swastika, Shankar believes the key is to identify the core issue that triggered her to emulate her parents’ “maladaptive behaviour”. It is likely that she has difficulty controlling her emotions. Adult skinheads are often angry as well, he suggests, and their sense of disenfranchisement prompts them to form a community of “like-minded deficits”.

Investment reflects government confidence in York’s future

Construction is set to begin this summer on a new life sciences building at York University, thanks to joint provincial and federal funding announced Monday, wrote the North York Mirror May 26.

“We are very grateful to the government for recognizing through this difficult economic time that the most important thing to invest in is the new generation,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York president & vice-chancellor, calling the new facility “critical” to student retention and the ability to attract and retain highly qualified people for faculty and research positions. “We feel this investment reflects the confidence this government has in this University and the University’s future.”

Reflections from a human rights champion

Louise Arbour, former professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, is the most influential Canadian jurist ever to make a mark in global politics, wrote The Globe and Mail May 27 in a lengthy feature interview and story about her new role as president & CEO of the International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based independent organization that analyzes conflicts around the world and proposes solutions.

It is a natural outgrowth of her four years as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a three-year stint as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, sadi the Globe. The new job also appeals to Arbour’s love of being challenged intellectually: “I love an environment in which I don’t quite know what is going on, and I’ve got to figure it out.”

The ICG presidency may also be the first predictable step in Arbour’s career, which began when she was admitted to the Quebec bar in 1971. A law professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, she was only 40 when she accepted an Ontario Superior Court appointment in 1987.

In 2004, she accepted the UN human rights job but the unrelenting negativity of the Bush administration and vocal interest groups dissuaded her from seeking a second term. She recalled that after every press conference in which she denounced the US detention centre in Guantanamo, “I would come back to Geneva and have the American ambassador in my office the next day, saying: ‘Why are you always making these statements?’”

Crossing moat to reach York University

There are two solitudes here: Jane/Finch and York U, town and gown. Rarely the twain shall meet, wrote columnist Peter Kuitenbrouwer in the National Post May 27. On the bus up Jane yesterday, I had noticed a young woman typing on a MacBook. We got chatting when the 35 Jane dumped us at Finch, a corner dominated by a wasteland of shopping mall parking lots.

Annette Dubreuil was headed to York, where she is a project manager in York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability. “Are you walking through York at all?” she asked. I said I hadn’t planned to. “Good, then I’ll spare you my rant about York,” she said. I asked for the rant. She said her school has no decent pub and plus, the school’s separation from its surroundings, enforced by the moat of Black Creek, makes it a sterile place. “We call it a fast-food campus,” she says. “People come in, take their courses and leave.”

Ellie Perkins, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, says she recently discovered a makeshift bridge across the creek, of planks laid on oil drums. A bridge is necessary, she says. “If a subway is coming to York University, they are going to need a way to come here,” she says. And she adds: “There is a summer camp here. It’s supposed to be for people from the community but how are they supposed to get here?”

York ’s design challenge goes further: if roads or at least paths connected the University to the surroundings, Jane-Finch might become more like the Annex, with student housing, coffee shops, cheese-mongers and bicycle repair shops.

Life as we knew it

Even if the banks get back to the business of making loans, post-peak oil prices will curtail economic growth, leaving York University Professor Peter Victor’s observations probably closer to our immediate future reality: No growth, job sharing, reduced standards of living but more time to enjoy your family, wrote Janet Seabrook in a letter to The Mississauga News May 26.