Ron Westray

Headshot of Ron Westray

Music website All About Jazz published a glowing review of York University Associate Professor Ron Westray’s new autobiography, Life in Reverse: Tales of a Very Stable Narcissist

Research-based exhibit on vaccination features panel discussions with York experts

A photo with a black backgroud that features two vials of COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe

York University faculty members and graduate students will participate in an exciting series of panel discussions running this fall as part of <Immune Nations>, an evidence-based exhibition about the constructive role that art can play in public discourse around life-saving vaccines.

<Immune Nations> is the first multi-year research-based exhibition to specifically address the issue of vaccination from a collaborative, interdisciplinary perspective, attentive to the arts and its many roles for advocacy and political intervention. The outcome of a multi-year project that was developed prior to the pandemic (2014-17) and co-led by Natalie Loveless (University of Alberta) with Steven Hoffman (York University) and Sean Caulfield (University of Alberta), the exhibition explores complex issues related to the use and distribution of vaccines in the world today and the capacity of artistic research to solicit complex forms of affective engagement when dealing with difficult and divisive social and political topics such as vaccination.

Steven Hoffman
Steven Hoffman

Hosted at the McMaster Museum of Art, the exhibition presents features collaborative art and research projects, including original work alongside new work produced in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The panel discussions feature York’s ​Steven Hoffman, Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair in Global Governance and Legal Epidemiology, professor and director of the Global Strategy Lab; Alison Humphrey, Vanier Scholar and PhD candidate; and Caitlin Fisher, professor and director of the Immersive Storytelling Lab.

The discussions will be hosted on Zoom, and include an audience Q-and-A. All panels are free and open to the public.

Ensuring Equitable Access: Life-Saving Vaccines during COVID-19 and Beyond

Thursday, Oct. 14, 12 to 1:30 p.m.

This panel will explore the global deployment and lack of access to life-saving vaccines.

Moderator: ​Steven Hoffman, director, Global Strategy Lab

Annemarie Hou, appointed executive director, United Nations Office for Partnerships;
Alison Humphrey, Vanier Scholar and PhD candidate, York University;
Lauren Paremoer, senior lecturer, University of Cape Town; and
John-Arne Røttingen, ambassador for global health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

To learn more about the panellists and to register, click here.

Research-Creation and Global Crisis: Interdisciplinarity, Creativity and Collaboration

Thursday, Nov. 25, 12 to 1:30 p.m.

This panel investigates the role of research-creation in tackling pressing social and global problems.

Moderator: Natalie Loveless, associate professor of contemporary art and theory, University of Alberta

Ted Hewitt, president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada;
Charu Kaushic, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Infection and Immunity, and professor in the Department of Medicine, McMaster University;
Caitlin Fisher, director of the Immersive Storytelling Lab and Professor of Cinema and Media Arts, York University;
Patrick Mahon, artist, curator and visual arts professor, Western University; and
​Kim TallBear, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples, Technoscience and Environment, and professor of Native Studies, University of Alberta.

To learn more about the panellists and to register, click here.

Vaccine Confidence, Fear and Misinformation in an Age of COVID

Thursday, Dec. 9, 12 to 1:30 p.m.

A panel exploring the impact of misinformation on vaccination as well as ways of countering the negative impacts of misinformation in relation to public health.

Moderator: Sean Caulfield, Professor, University of Alberta

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, University of Alberta;
Rachelle Viader Knowles, head of international for arts and humanities, Manchester Metropolitan University;
Dr. David Price, professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine, McMaster University; and
Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada.

To learn more about the panellists and to register, click here.

Robarts Centre announces Barbara Godard and Odessa award recipients

Image announcing Awards

Two York University students have earned academic awards for their work advancing Canadian studies. The prizes, awarded by York’s Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies, recognize one graduate and one undergraduate student every year.

The Barbara Godard Prize for the Best York University Dissertation in Canadian Studies recipient is Andrew Zealley, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), for “Risky Beeswax: Artistic Responses to the Biopolitics of HIV/AIDS.” The recipient of the Odessa Prize for the best undergraduate paper in a fourth-year course is Emily Belmonte for “Understanding Treaty One: Subsistence and Survival 1871-1888.”

The Barbara Godard Prize

Andrew Zealley (photo by Walter Segers)
Andrew Zealley (photo by Walter Segers)

Zealley’s work maps the artistic response to the complex and contradictory experience of living with HIV-AIDS within the Toronto gay community. He uses audio, video and writing to argue for experiential and situated knowledges as forms of HIV management and prevention.

“I want people to understand that pleasure is possible; pleasure is within grasp if we can learn to let go of – or refuse – institutionalized mandates around sex and intimate relationships,” he says. “I want people to find ways to talk about their personal health goals during sexual moments, to integrate sexual health talk into sexual play. I hope that people will better understand, through my work, the insidious role that gentrification plays in our pleasure lives. Homogeneity poisons imaginations and desires.”

The prize adjudication committee praised his research for exposing the underlying tensions between art and scholarly practice as processes for understanding this experience, by sourcing material often inaccessible or undervalued by institutional research. Overall, the committee noted the thesis provides a timely reminder of the numerous social discourses that continue to pathologize HIV-AIDS.

Zealley is currently working on multiple projects, both in an artistic and academic capacity. He is part of the Wetrospective exhibition at the AGO this month and has a new vinyl LP record, The Magic of the Think Machine Gods, releasing in October. He is also working on research projects with EUC graduate Peter Hobbs and Nick Mulé, a professor in York’s School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS); and participating as a video maker in “Viral Interventions,” a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and overseen by EUC Professor Sarah Flicker and Associate Professor John Greyson of York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD).

The Odessa Prize

Emily Belmonte
Emily Belmonte

Belmonte’s essay was completed under the supervision of Professor Sean Kheraj (Department of History, LA&PS) as part of the fourth-year Honours Thesis Seminar (HIST 4000). Her honours thesis focused on interpreting Treaty One (with the Chippewa and Cree Indians of Manitoba) and examining the events leading up to the signing, as well as the immediate aftermath in the 1870s.

“Canadians should not only be interested, but they should feel a sense of urgency to learn about the history of the land they are privileged to live on and how its first people were treated so shamefully at the hands of the government,” says Belmonte. “Canadians need to understand the treaty-making period, how we are all treaty people, and how there were very specific promises and rights granted to Indigenous people during the treaty process that were never upheld in a very deliberate process in order to secure land acquisition and pave the way for agrarian settlement.”

The prize committee recognized her work as a thoughtful and well-considered synthesis of scholarship on the history of Canada’s colonial expansion into the northwest. The committee noted the thesis is exceptionally well-organized and well-written, and demonstrates great care and sophistication in sorting out the layers of events and meanings surrounding this critical moment in Canadian history.

Belmonte is entering her final year at York and aims to graduate in June 2022 with a degree in both history and education. She plans to become a teacher with her certification to teach at the primary and junior levels, “but one day I may also consider teaching history at the senior and intermediate levels as well,” she says.

The work of both prize recipients was nominated by the Robarts Centre for the Canadian Studies Network – Réseau d’études canadiennes prizes for the Best PhD Dissertation and Best Undergraduate Essay Prize in Canadian Studies. Belmonte’s essay earned the Best Canadian Studies Undergraduate Essay/Thesis Prize and was noted for being well-written and carefully documented, and was highlighted as an example of undergraduate scholarship of very high quality, according to the Canadian Studies Network in their congratulatory email.

Zealley and Belmonte were both interviewed about their work by the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. Read those reflections here.

About the prizes

The Barbara Godard Prize for the Best York University Dissertation in Canadian Studies, which has been awarded annually since 2012, is named in memory of Professor Barbara Godard, former Avie Bennett Historica Chair of Canadian Literature and former professor of English, French, social and political thought, and women’s studies at York University. The Odessa Prize for the Study of Canada, first awarded in 2011, was established through the generosity of York alumnus Irvin Studin (BBA Schulich, PhD Osgoode Hall Law School), who dedicated the award to his parents who hailed from the famous port city of Odessa, Ukraine. Learn more about these prizes at

Save the date: Sept. 28 panel explores the intersection of disability with the arts

A drone image of Vari Hall on the Keele campus

This panel is the third in York University’s acclaimed series titled “Insights: A speaker series on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” organized by the President’s Advisory Council on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and hosted by Professor Sheila Cote-Meek, York University’s vice-president of equity, people and culture.

Four scholars from critical disability studies, visual arts, and cinema and media arts will participate in a dynamic panel discussion exploring the intersection of disability with the arts, taking place Sept. 28 starting at 12 p.m.

Created to inspire University community members to take action, provoke thought and conversation about issues related to equity, diversity and inclusion, the Sept. 28 panellists will share their success stories and lessons learned from their research and experiences. This event is free and will be presented using Zoom webinar technology. All are welcome; however, registration is required and can be completed online by visiting

The panel will be moderated by Jenifer Papararo, director and curator of the Art Gallery of York University. Participating in the panel from York University are Mary Bunch, assistant professor of cinema and media arts in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), and Rachel da Silveira Gorman, associate professor and graduate program director of the Critical Disabilities Studies program in the School of Health Policy and Management in the Faculty of Health. Joining them on the panel will be Eliza Chandler, assistant professor in the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, and York PhD candidate Syrus Marcus Ware, who is an assistant professor in the School of the Arts at McMaster University.

Meet the panel participants

Jenifer Papararo
Jenifer Papararo

Jenifer Papararo (moderator) joined York University from the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art on the campus of the University of Winnipeg, where she has held the position of executive director for the past five years. At Plug In, she provided leadership for its mandate of research and education, fostering new artistic works, expanding audiences and conducting strategic planning. Her initiatives include the STAGES biennial, a public art exhibition throughout Winnipeg; the Interpreting Youth program; and several other community-based lectures, screenings and performances. Prior to her appointment at Plug In, she served as curator of the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver from 2004 to 2014. She has been engaged in the contemporary art field in a range of roles for more than 15 years as a curator, writer, institutional director, and member of the service-oriented curatorial and artist collective Instant Coffee. Throughout her positions, she has undertaken production and distribution of contemporary art, partnership building, publishing, and promotion of interdisciplinary approaches and interactions. Papararo holds a master’s degree in art history from Western University. She is a frequent presenter and moderator for a variety of audiences in and beyond universities, and has published several exhibition-related catalogues, an anthology of collected writing and two artist book works.

Mary Bunch
Mary Bunch

A Tier II Canada Research Chair in Vision, Disability and the Arts, as well as an assistant professor in cinema and media arts in AMPD, Mary Bunch is also affiliated with theatre studies and Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) at York University. Bunch’s teaching and research interests include interdisciplinary and collaborative critical disability, feminist and queer studies, critical theory and research creation. She works at the intersection of the political imagination and its visual/sensory expressions. Her current project on ecstatic freedom engages theoretical, activist and arts epistemologies as these re-envision the forms that democratic participation, political belonging and justice take. She has published articles in the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies; Feminist Theory; Culture, Theory and Critique; and the Canadian Journal of Human Rights. Bunch has taught at McGill University, the University of Toronto and Western University. She holds a PhD in theory and criticism from Western University.

Rachel da Silveira Gorman
Rachel da Silveira Gorman

Rachel da Silveira Gorman is an associate professor and the graduate program director in the Critical Disability Studies program at York University, and an artist working in dance theatre, performance and curating. Da Silveira Gorman’s research engages theory and method from fine arts, humanities and sciences. Her writing has appeared in Auto|Biography Studies, American Quarterly, Somatechnics, thirdspace, and the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies. Da Silveira Gorman has created and choreographed 14 dance-theatre and site-specific productions, 10 of which have been remounted or screened at festivals. Since 2009, she has been on the curatorial committee at A Space Gallery in Toronto, where she has curated four exhibitions. In 2017, she received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts for a performance-based research-creation project called “Year Five of the Revolution.” She spent the 1990s working in social services and as a feminist and union organizer, and the aughties in anti-occupation organizing and in disability and queer arts scenes.

Eliza Chandler
Eliza Chandler

Earning her PhD in social justice and education from the University of Toronto in 2014, Eliza Chandler leads a research program that centres disability arts. This research interest came into focus when, from 2014 to 2016, she was the artistic director of Tangled Art + Disability, an organization in Toronto dedicated to showcasing disability arts and advancing accessible curatorial practice. Chandler is currently an assistant professor in the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University, where she teaches and researches in the areas of disability arts, critical access studies, social movements and crip necropolitics. Chandler participates in a number of research projects, including co-directing “Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life,” a partnership project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), and leading the SSHRC-funded insight development project “Accessing the Arts: Centring Disability Politics in Critical Access Design.” Chandler regularly gives lectures on disability arts, accessible curatorial practices and disability politics in Canada. She is also a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Syrus Marcus Ware
Syrus Marcus Ware

Syrus Marcus Ware is a Vanier Scholar, a visual artist, community activist, researcher, youth advocate and educator. For 12 years, he was the co-ordinator of the Art Gallery of Ontario Youth Program. Ware is currently a facilitator/designer for the Cultural Leaders Lab (Toronto Arts Council and the Banff Centre). He was the inaugural artist-in-residence for Daniels Spectrum (2016-17) and is also a core team member of Black Lives Matter Toronto. As a visual artist, Ware works within the mediums of painting, installation and performance to challenge systemic oppression. His work explores the spaces between and around identities, acting as provocations to our understandings of gender, sexuality and race, and has been exhibited at the Toronto Biennial of Art (2019), the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Windsor, the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of York University, the Gladstone Hotel, ASpace Gallery, Harbourfront Centre, SPIN Gallery and other galleries across Canada.  His work has been reproduced in FUSE Magazine, the Globe and Mail, THIS Magazine, and Blackness and Sexualities, among others. His work has also been included in several academic journals, including Small Axe (Duke University), and Women and Environment International. Ware holds degrees in art history and visual studies, and a master’s in sociology and equity studies from the University of Toronto. He is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University.

York University’s groundbreaking Academic Innovation Fund turns 10

A hand clasps balloons

York University’s Academic Innovation Fund celebrates an important anniversary this year. The program has promoted exceptional innovation in teaching, learning and the student experience, and it continues to grow and thrive.

By Elaine Smith, special contributor

A photograph of York's President
Rhonda Lenton

Bring on the balloons, the streamers and the cake for York University’s Academic Innovation Fund (AIF), which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The AIF, overseen by the Office of the Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning, financially supports projects that advance York University’s priorities in terms of teaching, learning and the student experience, allowing faculty to experiment and innovate in new and creative ways, both in teaching and in pedagogy. Its creation was spearheaded by a team that included President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton, who was vice-provost academic at the time.

“I am delighted to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Academic Innovation Fund,” said Lenton. “By supporting groundbreaking approaches to teaching and learning, including technology-enhanced learning, and facilitating increased access to fundamental student success programs and international perspectives that extend around the world, the AIF continues to provide our faculty and course directors with the resources they need to push pedagogical boundaries and enhance the student learning experience, solidifying York’s reputation as an innovative, progressive and forward-thinking institution dedicated to teaching excellence.”

Will Gage
Will Gage

The AIF was also a means of elevating and celebrating teaching and learning in the eyes of the York community, said Professor Will Gage, associate vice-president teaching and learning.

“It showed how committed the University is to teaching and learning and provided leadership to the higher education world around teaching and learning,” Gage said. “When AIF began, our early investments paid dividends in a number of different ways, including helping faculty members advance their priorities, putting a focus on technology-enhanced learning, and creating champions of teaching and learning among the faculty, who served as role models for their colleagues.”

In fact, a report by York’s Institute for Social Research validated the importance of AIF, noting how impactful it was in furthering innovation in pedagogy and curriculum.

Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps has seen the AIF continue to flourish and believes it sends “an important signal to faculty that at York we have an aspirational culture around teaching and we value the effort and creativity of our faculty in developing new, high-quality learning experiences for our students.” 

Lisa Philipps
Lisa Philipps

A number of projects that date back to the early days of the AIF are now fixtures at the University: the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4); globally networked learning (GNL); YU Start, the transition program for incoming students; SPARK, the Student Papers and Academic Research Kit; and an e-learning program from the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD) that connects students to the community. The originators of these programs are enthusiastic about the effect that the fund has had in making these projects possible.

Franz Newland
Franz Newland

“The funding makes a huge difference,” said Franz Newland, an associate professor at the Lassonde School of Engineering and one of the creators of C4. “It really enables us, because it pays for things that make innovation possible. Innovation around teaching and learning requires a community of engaged, interested people and AIF is a mechanism to bring them together.”

Danielle Robinson, co-creator of C4 and an associate professor at AMPD, said, “There is no way that C4 could have been launched without the AIF. It gave the program legitimacy and a vote of confidence that amplified its impact across the community, not to mention the financial resources required. Students have directly benefited, because C4 is designed as a personal and professional journey of self-discovery for them.”

Globally networked learning “began as a provost-driven initiative in 2015 with a three-year AIF grant​ that allowed the GNL initial team to work closely with students, faculty and senior administration at both York campuses to inform and train on best GNL practices around the world,” said Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, an associate professor in the Department of French Studies who helped create York’s program.

“York GNL has grown so much that in 2020-2021 alone, more than 600 students – 312 from York and 293 from international partner institutions – have had the opportunity to learn, share perspectives on challenging world-related questions,” added Scheffel-Dunand, who has also taught at the Glendon Campus.

Lara Ubaldi, a member of the team that created YU Start, is appreciative of AIF too. “What a thrill to have an idea and have the University recognize it with funding to help get it started,” said Ubaldi, now director of student advising and academic services. “It makes you feel invested; you can do something to make a change.”

The YU Start program has become an award-winning success.

Danielle Robinson
Danielle Robinson

SPARK also grew out of an early AIF grant. “This was our first real pan-University project,” said Sarah Coysh, digital engagement librarian. “It involved the library, the Writing Department, Learning Skills Services and other groups across the University that supported students. It was an opportunity for us to work together and look at best practices.

“We were one of the first to license such an effort through a Creative Commons licence, something that the AIF afforded us the opportunity to do. It has now been adapted by universities nationally and internationally as a result. We also know that it’s widely used; I hear from faculty if it’s not up to date,” said Coysh.

In addition, SPARK has been translated into French at the Glendon Campus, thanks to a Heritage Canada grant.

Dominique Scheffel-Dunand
Dominique Scheffel-Dunand

At AMPD, faculty members David Gelb, Michael Longford and Judith Schwarz were early adopters of online learning for the arts and pioneers in offering blended studio courses. Their initial grant allowed them to work with a team to build the infrastructure to support online learning across the faculty; develop six large introductory courses, a combination of blended and online; develop best practices for online pedagogies; and nurture a community of practice. They have received subsequent AIF grants to augment these opportunities and establish excellence in media production.

“When the pandemic struck and we had to move fully online, AMPD was prepared to step up to the challenge, offering a full range of support to faculty during that time,” said Longford. “We’re quite proud of that.”

In fact, said Gage, all of the AIF advances “emerged as essential when COVID shut the world down. AIF established a foundation that helped us respond as an institution.”

Karthiga Gowrishanger, program director, teaching and learning strategic initiatives for the Office of the Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning, agrees: “AIF innovation helped prepare us to be creative, agile and resilient.”

At York, AIF has become one of the proverbial gifts that keeps on giving.

The Royal Society of Canada elects five York professors into its ranks

Royal Society of Canada FEATURED image for YFile

The York University faculty are among 89 new Fellows who have been elected by their peers for their outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievement, and 51 new members of the RSC College.

Five York University professors have been elected to the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). They are: Philip Girard, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School; Jennifer Hyndman, associate vice-president research and a professor in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS); Michele Johnson, associate dean of students and a history professor in LA&PS; and Christina Petrowska Quilico, a music professor in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. Appointed to the RSC College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists is Jane Heffernan, a professor of mathematics and statistics in the Faculty of Science.

“York is delighted to see that professors Girard, Hyndman, Johnson, Petrowska Quilico and Heffernan have been recognized by the Royal Society of Canada,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “These exceptional researchers embody our vision to enhance our impact on the social, economic, culture and overall well-being of the communities we serve.”

Royal Society Fellows

Philip Girard
Philip Girard

Philip Girard
Osgoode Hall Law School

Philip Girard’s prize-winning work on the legal history of Canada has shaped the field and redefined its agenda for the 21st century. Tracing the roots of today’s legal pluralism to the historic encounter of two European empires with Indigenous peoples in northern North America, he stresses how this pluralism allowed Quebec civil law to flourish on a continent of common law and now creates space for the renaissance of Indigenous law.

Jennifer Hyndman
Jennifer Hyndman

Jennifer Hyndman
Centre for Refugee Studies
Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Jennifer Hyndman studies geographies of forced migration, ethnography of the international refugee regime, feminist geopolitics, critical refugee studies and extended exile. Her research addresses violence in relation to diaspora and displacement among Tamils and other people on the move, international humanitarianism in war zones, as well as refugee and migrant inclusion in Canada.

Michele Johnson
Michele Johnson

Michele Johnson
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

An international leader in Black history, Michele Johnson is esteemed for rigorous and methodologically innovative studies of cultural production and performance, race and racialization, gender relations and labour among persons of African descent in the Caribbean and Canada. Equally committed to networking and communicating with multiple audiences, Johnson has employed her global prominence to benefit students and scholars around the world, and to promote wider community engagement with Black history.

Christina Petrowska Quilico
Christina Petrowska Quilico

Christina Petrowska Quilico, C.M.
School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design

Appointed to the Order of Canada “for her celebrated career as a classical and contemporary pianist and for championing Canadian music,” Christina Petrowska Quilico, professor of musicology and piano performance at York University, has opened the ears of students and audiences with numerous premieres of music of our time, featuring many women composers and repertoire ranging from baroque to the present in solos, chamber works, 45 concertos and on over 50 internationally acclaimed CDs.

RSC College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists

Jane Heffernan
Jane Heffernan

Jane Heffernan
Faculty of Science

Jane Heffernan is a recognized international leader in infectious disease modelling. Her Modelling Infection and Immunity Lab tackles important questions in mathematical epidemiology and in-host pathogen dynamics, using mathematical and computational modelling to ascertain key characteristics of pathogens, individual hosts, and populations that allow for disease spread and to determine public health and medical intervention strategies that will be needed to contain or eradicate an infectious disease.

These York University faculty are among 89 new Fellows who have been elected by their peers for their outstanding scholarly, scientific and artistic achievement, and 51 new members of the RSC College. Recognition by the RSC for career achievement is the highest honour an individual can achieve in the arts, social sciences and sciences. The RSC College consists of mid-career leaders who provide the RSC with a multigenerational capacity to help Canada and the world address major challenges and seize new opportunities, including those identified in emerging fields.

“This year, the Royal Society of Canada welcomes an outstanding cohort of artists, scholars and scientists, all of whom have excelled in their respective disciplines and are a real credit to Canada,” says RSC President Jeremy McNeil.

On Friday, Nov. 19, the RSC will welcome the Class of 2021 new RSC Fellows and new members of the RSC College and present awards for outstanding research and scholarly achievement.

Celebrating the great Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson (image: Tom Marcello Webster, New York, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
Oscar Peterson (image: Tom Marcello Webster, via Wikimedia Commons)

As we begin a new academic year, students, faculty and staff at the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design are delighted to recognize the 30th anniversary of Oscar Peterson‘s Installation as Chancellor of York University on Sept. 13, 1991.

The recipient of numerous honorary degrees and international accolades, Oscar Peterson maintained a special relationship with York, where he lent his considerable expertise to the Department of Music’s jazz program as a teacher and mentor, and his service as York’s Chancellor from 1991 to 1994. Ambitious musicians, such as Andy Milne (BFA ’90), came to York to study with Peterson. Thanks to the Oscar Peterson Scholarships, his legacy continues to launch bright, emerging musicians, including Sarah Thawer (BFA ’15), also known as the Drum Guru.

Image of the stage in Burton Auditorium, just before the installation of Oscar Peterson as York University Chancellor. Included in the front row: The Hon. Bob Rae (Premier of Ontario), Harry Arthurs (York University President), Oscar Peterson, Professor Louise Ripley(Chair of the Senate of York University) and Michelle Hughes (President, York Federation of Students). (Image citation: York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Computing and Network Services fonds, ASC60780)

Internationally, Peterson was recognized as one of his generation’s most accomplished pianists and performers. Jazz great Duke Ellington praised Peterson, calling him the “Maharaja of the keyboard.” During his lifetime, Peterson garnered nearly every major award available, including the Order of Canada, multiple lifetime achievement awards, numerous Grammy awards, and induction into multiple music halls of fame. Today, tributes and named recognition of him can be found throughout Canada and the United States, in his hometown of Montreal, and the cities of Mississauga, Toronto and Ottawa.

Although known primarily as an electrifying pianist, Peterson was also an accomplished composer and dedicated advocate for music and human rights. His “Hymn to Freedom” (composed in 1962; released in 1963 on Night Train) became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement and was played at the inauguration of American President Barak Obama in 2009.

Image of Oscar Peterson (seated at centre of image)
after his installation as Chancellor of York
University. Image citation: York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections, Computing and Network Services fonds, ASC60795.

Throughout his lifetime Peterson espoused the importance of music and education as essential to human flourishing and his role as York’s Chancellor provided students with a powerful figure to follow. As Chancellor, he took great joy in working with the students at York University and congratulating them and their families at their graduation.

“Oscar Peterson is often remembered as one of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz, but he was also an extraordinary leader, teacher, and advocate,” said Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor of York University. “As both York’s Chancellor and as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Music, he inspired a generation of York students to seek musical distinction, and his work to increase access to music education has made a lasting impact on our students, our institution, and our society. York University is honoured to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his installation as Chancellor.”

“In the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), students, faculty and staff are proud and humbled by Peterson’s example of artistry, leadership and excellence,” said AMPD Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng. “Peterson offers York University an aspirational legacy, an important part of our collective history, and an example of what the arts and artists can accomplish in society as we continue to aspire to excellence across the arts, design and creativity at the University.”

The AMPD community continues to honour Peterson’s legacy through their work in support of emerging musicians at York, including the new Summer Jazz and Groove Lab, and through collaborations such as the Helen Carswell Chair for Community-Based Research in the Arts.

The Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance, now held by trombonist and AMPD music Professor Ron Westray, an acclaimed musician in his own right, continues Peterson’s legacy of leadership both at the University and beyond.

Amid all the challenges of the global pandemic and calls for racial justice, Peterson’s legacy continues to inspire a sense of connection and unity. As the lyricist Harriette Merolla (née Hamilton) wrote in “Hymn to Freedom” in 1961,

When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty,
That’s when we’ll be free.
When every hand joins every hand and together molds our destiny,
That’s when we’ll be free.

“Peterson’s music, leadership and activism remind us of the power of the arts in forging our collective humanity: only together can any of us truly be free,” said Bay-Cheng. “As a community of artists, designers, creators, makers, thinkers, and scholars, AMPD remembers Oscar Peterson as both an exemplary musician and human being, one who sought a better future for all. We will continue to aspire to live up to his legacy of creative greatness in service to the greater good. Thank you, Oscar.”

Reminder: Music Professor Ron Westray’s autobiography is available now

An open book

York University Associate Professor Ron Westray, in the Department of Music, School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design, released an autobiography this month titled Life in Reverse: Tales of a Very Stable Narcissist (Anthem Press).

Ron Westray

“It is possible that we exist in a predominantly narcissistic society in which people want you to love them; and then they don’t want you anymore,” says Westray, the inaugural Oscar Peterson Chair in Jazz Performance at York, about the book’s key message.

Starting from present and going back 30 years to 1990, the story of African-American jazz musician Westray’s life journey – striving for knowledge, opportunity, acceptance and understanding – is written in reverse.

An embedded road itinerary guides the progression of the book. Years are rarely mentioned in the text; and, in most cases, only initials are used for all characters. People, places and things are all real in relation to the timeline. The work involves the insertion of common conversations – from sources such as texting and emails – to shed light on the fallibility of human relations. To a large degree, and within reason, the length of conversations are meant to be overbearing, countered by other aspects of the writing. Stories from Westray’s father and grandfather are featured in the book and his mother’s free-verse poetry is the soul that binds it together like a second narrator.

Westray’s book is available now on Google Books,, and other places books are sold. For more information about Life in Reverse: Tales of a Very Stable Narcissist, visit the publisher’s website.

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design brings six new faculty into its ranks

AMPD Featured image dance lighting and set design

This story is published in YFile’s New Faces Feature Issue 2021, part one. Every September, YFile introduces and welcomes those joining the York University community, and those with new appointments. Watch for part two on Sept. 10.

This fall, six new faculty join the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD). They are Rebecca Caines, Moussa Djigo, Danielle Howard, Marissa Largo, Taien Ng-Chan and Archer Pechawis.

“On behalf of everyone in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, I am delighted to welcome our newest AMPD colleagues to York University. The exceptional artists, scholars, creators and researchers who join us this year embody both the shared values of our school and our ambitions to both challenge and empower our students and each other,” said AMPD Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng. “These newest colleagues join a growing body of leading faculty members who are committed to excellence in research, creation, teaching and service, both to the University and the global communities it serves.

“What excites me most about this exceptional cohort are the connections that they bring to AMPD and York. These newest colleagues work across cultural contexts, artistic techniques and emerging technologies, diverse histories and contemporary practices. There is an invigorating restlessness and curiosity in each that speaks to both the legacy of AMPD as one Canada’s leading centres and to new directions,” added Bay-Cheng.

Rebecca Caines

Rebecca Caines
Rebecca Caines

Rebecca Caines is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar whose research crosses between creative technologies (including sound art, new media and augmentation) and socially engaged art, with a special focus on improvisatory practices. She joins the Department of Theatre as an assistant professor.

Caines, who holds a PhD in performance studies from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, completed two postdoctoral research fellowships at the University of Guelph before moving to the University of Regina to help build a new cross-faculty program in creative technologies. She was also the director of the Regina Improvisation Studies Centre, a partnered research site and faculty-based research centre at the University of Regina.

Caines serves on the executive team of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, a long-running, $2.5-million Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council partnership. She has completed large-scale, community-based art and research projects in Australia, Northern Ireland, Canada, China and the Netherlands. Her work investigates the role of art and technology in social justice, contemporary understandings of community and the fragile promise of ethical connection offered through dialogic approaches.

Moussa Djigo

Moussa Djigo
Moussa Djigo

Moussa Djigo joins AMPD as an assistant professor in the Cinema and Media Studies program. An award-winning director, screenwriter and producer with a background in journalism and cinema studies, his research interests include Canadian Indigenous cinema, African American cinema, city symphony films, research creation and space in cinema.

Djigo is the author of Spike Lee: Aesthetics of Subversion in Do the Right Thing (Paris, Acoria, 2009), a book that examines how images can use very specific formal tools to convey a political message. He is currently working on another book, Cinema and otherness: a perspectivist anthropology of Wapikoni Mobile, that explores the notion of “otherness” in films made by young Indigenous filmmakers. Djigo has written, directed and produced Obamas and Rosalie, two fiction features that have earned more than 20 awards and have been screened in more than 60 venues around the world. He previously taught in France (at Jean-Moulin University Lyon 3 and Sorbonne Nouvelle University Paris 3) and Quebec (at André-Laurendeau, Outaouais, Bois-de-Boulogne and Rosemont).

Danielle Howard

Danielle Howard
Danielle Howard

Danielle Howard joins AMPD as an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre. She recently taught within the University of California-Los Angeles’ School of Theater, Film and Television.

Howard writes at the intersections of race, gender, performance, visual and sonic culture. She is currently working on a manuscript titled Making Moves: Race, Basketball, and Embodied Resistance that spans the 20th and 21st centuries.The project foregrounds Black basketball players’ virtuosic and improvisational movements as oriented towards a kinetic knowledge of freedom and akin to contemporaneous jazz aesthetics. An article excerpted from this work, “Dribbling Against the Law: The Performance of Basketball, Race, and Resistance,” will appear in a forthcoming collection of essays titled Sports Plays. Her article “The (Afro) Future of Henry Box Brown: His-story of Escape(s) through Time and Space” won The Drama Review‘s 2020 Graduate Student Essay Contest Award and will appear in the publication’s September 2021 issue.

Originally from the United States and trained in music, dance and theatre, Howard is invested in improving the health and resilience of her communities through their participation in the collective making of artistic expressions with different forms of art.

Marissa Largo

Marissa Largo
Marissa Largo

Marissa Largo joins AMPD as an assistant professor of creative technologies in the Department of Visual Art and Art History. Her work focuses on the intersections of community engagement, race, gender and Asian diasporic cultural production.

From 2006 to 2020, Largo honed her love and skill for teaching as a full-time secondary school art teacher. She has also taught at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) University, where she was awarded the OCAD University Teaching Award for Continuing Studies and Non-Tenured Faculty in 2020. From 2020 to 2021, she was an assistant professor in art education in the Division of Art History and Contemporary Culture at NSCAD University.

Her forthcoming book, Unsettling Imaginaries: Filipinx Contemporary Artists in Canada (University of Washington Press), examines the work and oral histories of artists who imagine Filipinx subjectivity beyond colonial logics. She is co-editor of Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries (Northwestern University Press, 2017) and a guest co-editor of the “Beyond Canada 150: Asian Canadian Visual Cultures” special issue of the Journal of Asian Diasporic Visual Cultures and the Americas (Brill Press, 2018). She is the recipient of an Ontario Arts Council grant for Indigenous and culturally diverse curatorial projects and a Canada Council for the Arts grant for the Arts Across Canada program for her forthcoming curatorial project “Elusive Desires: Ness Lee & Florence Yee, opening at the Varley Art Gallery of Markham, Ont., this month.

Taien Ng-Chan

Taien Ng-Chan
Taien Ng-Chan

Taien Ng-Chan is a writer and media artist joining AMPD as an assistant professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Arts. Her research explores experimental processes of urban mapping and sound art, “object-oriented storytelling” and futurist imaginings of everyday life in the Asian diaspora through immersive cinema, both in virtual-reality headset and dome projection modes. Her writing ranges from scholarly work in publications such as Intermediality and Humanities to books and anthologies of creative writing, collaborative multimedia arts websites, and drama for stage, screen and CBC Radio.

Ng-Chan has shown her digital media works in film festivals, art galleries and conference events across Canada and internationally, including at the Biennale internationale d’art numérique in Montreal, Toronto’s ReelAsian Film Festival, the International Mobile Innovation Screenings in New Zealand, Waterloo’s Lumen Festival, the Art Gallery of Windsor and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. She is Chair of the Commission for Art and Cartography at the International Cartographic Association, one half of the Hamilton Perambulatory Unit (with artist Donna Akrey) and one half of Centre for Margins (with artist Carmela Laganse). In 2019, she won the City of Hamilton Arts Award for Media Arts, as well as the AMPD Junior Faculty Teaching Award.

Archer Pechawis

Archer Pechawis
Archer Pechawis

A performance, theatre and new media artist, filmmaker, writer, curator and educator, Archer Pechawis joins AMPD as an assistant professor in the departments of Theatre and Visual Art and Art History. Pechawis was born in Alert Bay, B.C.

He has a particular interest in the intersection of Plains Cree culture and digital technology, merging traditional objects such as hand drums with digital video and audio sampling. His work has been exhibited across Canada, internationally in Paris and Moscow, and featured in publications such as Fuse Magazine and the Canadian Theatre Review.

Pechawis is the recipient of many Canada Council, British Columbia and Ontario Arts Council awards, and won the Best New Media Award at the 2007 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival and Best Experimental Short at imagineNATIVE in 2009. Of Cree and European ancestry, he is a member of Mistawasis Nehiyawak, Saskatchewan.