York-developed curriculum and Web site examine what puts kids on streets

In five gritty skits they wrote themselves that will premiere this week, teens at a Markham high school portray some of the reasons people land on the streets as part of an experimental new curriculum developed by York University that is a cornerstone of a new awareness project on homelessness, wrote the Toronto Star Oct. 26.

The Homeless Hub Web site, run by York’s Faculty of Education, is believed to be the world’s first user-friendly clearing house on homeless issues – including the spread of the H1N1 virus in shelters – from videotaped testimonials to reports from front-line workers and scholarly research made easy to read.

As part of the move to bust stereotypes and boost awareness, York has developed lesson plans on this uneasy topic, plus primers for students themselves. The drama unit was being pilot-tested at Bur Oak Secondary School. Cameron Ferguson, who teaches at Bur Oak, helped write the new curriculum.

This is exactly the kind of awareness Professor Stephen Gaetz, associate dean, Research & Field Development, of York’s Faculty of Education, was hoping would come from the project, wrote the Star after quoting student reactions. As associate dean of research in York’s teaching faculty, he has overseen the gathering of more than 25,000 items, including podcasts and reading lists, onto the Web site at www.homelesshub.ca.

“The reality is, youth are often scared of the homeless because they don’t have an understanding of how they got there, yet the homeless are far more likely to be victims of violence than to commit violence,” said Gaetz. “Our role is to seed the public discussion on the issue with facts, rather than stereotypes.”

Teachers can find reading lists of books that provide opportunities for a discussion about the homeless, noted York Professor Evelyn Wilson, coordinator of leadership programs, Research & Field Development – from The Odyssey to The Grapes of Wrath and even Harry Potter.

York prof takes his Halloween history to California

“Halloween and the Culture Wars” will be discussed 7:30pm Monday at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, wrote California’s Pasadena Star-News Oct. 24.

The Distinguished Fellow Lecture by Nicholas Rogers, professor of history in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and the Fletcher Jones Foundation Distinguished Fellow at the Huntington, will focus on how Halloween has led to debate over the use of urban space, alternative religious practices, Latino identity and more.

Falling through the cracks

“There is no one body that actually speaks on behalf of trafficked persons. I don’t understand why,” says Natalya Timoshkina, a professor in York’s School of Social Work in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies who co-authored two studies exploring the issue, wrote the Toronto Sun Oct. 25. “There has been so much talk about it and so many studies around the world showing the needs…. Do we really need to wait until we have 2,000 trafficked victims busted in one raid? That’s when we all of a sudden realize?

“But let’s say we found 2,000, how are we going to deal with them if there is no infrastructure in place?”

“You hear it from agencies all the time: ‘I wish I could do more, but we are completely powerless,’” Timoshkina says. “So basically, you offer a Band-Aid solution, you try to support people, hoping someday that something will happen that will make their life better and it could take forever and it may never happen.”

Revenge of the paper pushers

I don’t know why I’m bothering, wrote columnist Roy MacGregor in The Globe and Mail Oct. 26. After all, print is dead, isn’t it? In the New Media Reality of bloggers and Twitters, the world is soon going to overrun with trees. Hard copy is going the way of eight-track, Beta, LPs, Kodak film, pipes and Progressive Conservatives.

But don’t tell that to Irvin Studin (BBA Spec. Hons. ’99), the stubborn Sisyphus who edits Global Brief: World Affairs in the 21st Century and who has enough of a sense of humour that he’s titled his editorial in November’s magazine “GB is back.”

This, in the second issue.

Studin and his co-founder, Sam Shoamanesh (BA Spec. Hons. ’04), a Canadian lawyer working at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, are unapologetic about the intellectual bent and elite target audience. At the moment, they direct mail the quarterly to about 6,000 “select” readers but trust that their sophisticated Web site (globalbrief.ca), with its 14 bloggers in 10 languages, will help them reach a far wider audience. They hope, as all new magazine publishers do, that a time will come when advertising will carry the day and they can expand into more issues and wider distribution.

Despite the naysayers, Studin believes he can sell a very serious magazine in a country that he believes refuses to take itself seriously enough.

“Strange fact,” the 32-year-old Rhodes Scholar wrote in his opening editorial, “Canada has no top-tier international affairs magazine. No high-level platform for emerging and top thinkers to argue about the world. No authoritative ‘rag’ to spur decision makers. We’re a substantial country,” Studin says. “We have a good foreign affairs reputation. But no place for debate and ideas.”

He knows it will not be easy, but he is one who believes the buggy whip of print still has some worthwhile snap left in it. “I intend to be around for a while,” he says.

Project in the ‘burbs brings new meaning to art house

It was with considerable glee that I happened upon The Leona Drive Project, a wacky and often poignant unearthing of suburban life that takes place in five vacant postwar bungalows located just east of Yonge Street, directly south of Sheppard Avenue in northern Toronto, wrote Lisa Rochon in The Globe and Mail Oct. 24. The art intervention opened last night and is part of the Toronto International Art Fair.

In the kitchen [of one house], Shana MacDonald and Angela Joosse, Toronto filmmakers and doctoral candidates at York University, have mined the books of Ruth Gillespie, a longtime resident of 9 Leona Dr. Gillespie lived in the house for 40 years, and the filmmakers uncovered stacks of her quite personal books in the basement: a yearbook, a shorthand exercise book, an autograph book with hearty, enthusiastic greetings to Ruth such as “save a piece of wedding cake for me.” It seemed only right to pay homage to a woman’s life before the wrecker’s ball demolished her home and her handwriting.

The Leona Drive Project is not always pretty – the homes, once designed as places of pitched-roof convention and suburban decency by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. for young families in the late 1940s, have been abandoned and squatted in over the last several years. When the co-curators of The Leona Drive Project, Janine Marchessault, an artist, professor and Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media & Globalization in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and Michael Prokopow, a professor at Ontario College of Art and Design, first descended on the site, along with dozens of artists, filmmakers and designers, they discovered piles of rat and raccoon feces, soiled shower curtains and sheets, and condoms everywhere, even in the trees in the backyards. Once conceived as places of brick-clad modesty and affordability, as places where children could grow up in safety and a lifetime of memories could be stored in the basement, the houses have morphed, most recently, into crack houses and sex stops.

A word of thanks must go to Hyatt Homes, the owner of the five bungalows, for indulging the Leona Drive Project, and allowing the show to be launched in the first place. Many of those participating are acclaimed artists: filmmaker and York Professor John Greyson continues the quirky story of a couple of gay penguins who, in this scenario, are uprooted from their “starter” home on Leona Drive; Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak have created a Hollywood Hills-inspired sign called Terminus that lights up at night. The curators secured several sources of funding, though about $15,000 still needs to be raised.

The Leona Drive Project continues until Oct. 31, with daily artist talks at 1 and 6pm. A round table on art and place-making in the suburbs takes place at the North York Central Library, 5120 Yonge St., on Wednesday, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, featuring Spacing magazine’s Matthew Blackett, York University environmental studies Professor Roger Keil and artist Robin Collyer, and hosted by city councillor John Filion (Willowdale).

  • The project was also mentioned in a report on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” Oct. 23.

When judges make policy

Parents of children who went to an unsubsidized “bridging school” [for English language instruction] sued to have the exclusion declared unconstitutional, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the National Post Oct. 26 in a column about the latest court battle of Quebec’s language laws. The Supreme Court of Canada agreed, in a unanimous decision in Nguyen vs. Quebec last week, and ordered the Quebec government to come up with a narrower solution. In so doing, the court gave surprisingly little deference to the legislature and the legislative compromise. The decision that “bridging schools” posed a threat to the integrity of French language laws was found insufficient to support the exclusion.

The court considered the number of students involved with “bridging schools” and noted that it was small. While acknowledging the problem could get worse, the court said "this legislative response seems excessive in relation to the seriousness of the identified problem and its impact on school clientele and, potentially, on the situation of the French language in Quebec." The court’s words suggest a policy determination – “seems excessive” is hardly the language of deference to a legislative choice.

The importance of the court’s decision goes beyond the details of English language instruction in Quebec. The court has, in effect, substituted its view of the seriousness of a problem for that of an elected legislature and done so in the language of policy options and choices. While the court’s view may well be reasonable, the issue is one of who shall determine policy choices. This willingness to consider policy matters may have implications for future cases.

Doctor alumna joins York Sport Hall of Fame

Ottawa family doctor Karen (Jackson) Northey (BSc Comb. Hons. ’97) of Gloucester has been inducted into the York University Sport Hall of Fame, wrote the Ottawa Citizen Oct. 24. A basketball player, Northey was a five-time Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Association all-star (1994-1998), female athlete of the year in 1997, and Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union silver medallist in 1997.

Samvâd expresses new cultural dialogue

Internationally renowned choreographer Lata Pada (MA ’96) wanted to create a new dialogue between cultures, wrote the Mississauga News Oct. 24. The founder and artistic director of the Mississauga-based Sampradaya Dance Creations said multiculturalism has had its time in the spotlight and it’s now time to let interculturalism shine.

“I see a new Canada,” said Pada. “I see a Canada of the second and third generations, and I’m seeing that they live their lives very differently. They think about themselves differently and they have the courage to express themselves honestly.”

Interculturalism is explored in Pada’s latest show Samvâd, which had its world premiere last night at the Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre in Toronto.

Samvâd, which is the Sanskrit word for dialogue, integrates South Asian, First Nations and African-Caribbean cultures with the discipline of dance, music, visual arts and storytelling to create a whole new language.

It was a collaborative project by young professional dancers Meena Murugesan, Nadine Jackson and Shelly Ann McLeod under the direction of Pada, Native actor and York University Professor Michael Greyeyes and the Collective of Black Artists co-artistic director Charmaine Headley (MA ’07).

On air

  • Yvonne Bohr, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Health, spoke about her research into the phenomenon known as satellite babies, on Radio Canada International’s “The Link” Oct. 23.