AMPD design students learn to overcome fear of coding, algorithm biases

computer code colorful

By Elaine Smith

School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) Professor Gabi Schaffzin has a goal: eradicate the fear that design students feel when they hear the word “coding,” while teaching them that they have alternatives to the biases built into the algorithms that govern the standard digital design programs used in the industry.

When it comes to those in his third-year generative design course, Schaffzin has noticed something. “One of the challenges of the class is that only about one of 10 students is comfortable with coding,” he says.

Gabriel Schaffzin
Gabriel Schaffzin

Schaffzin wants his students to lose their fear of basic coding, with its loops, variables, functions and if statements, but he also wants “to challenge their assumptions about code being unbiased. For example, who decided that something should be in English or to always place a certain button in a specific spot on the page?”

Schaffzin does a lot of work with user interfaces and data-generated visualization, which can be lucrative, but he wants his students to know that, as artists and design professionals, they have options besides the programs that are automatically assumed to be the only choice for generating designs online.

“I want to to challenge many of the assumptions that are often baked into the design process,” he said. “A class like this provides students with marketable skills, while also being introspective and canon-challenging.

“By exploring user interfaces using code, rather than pixels, designers start to understand how the choices they make about their users’ experiences are strongly related to the digital technologies used to build them.”

In other words, there are people behind the algorithms that design programs use and these people are making choices designers simply take for granted.

Schaffzin asks students take on the task of learning p5.js, a creative coding library and platform that has the goal of making coding accessible to a wide variety of people. Their text Aesthetic Programming combines theory and practice and provides weekly exercises for them to complete as they familiarize themselves with the code and learn to use it to create designs.

Once they have become conversant with p5.js, they are asked to print their final design project using a Risograph, an automated version of screen printing that produces images that are less precise than those created with digital printing.

“They are used to doing highly curated design using pixels and this [the Risograph] is an imprecise technique – it produces fuzzy edges, not the crisp ones made by a digital printer – that creates a lovely sense of the artist being present,” Schaffzin says. “In a world of artificial intelligence, anything reminiscent of this is something in its favour.”

By understanding that they have choices, rather than blindly using the most common technology, Schaffzin says students “are encouraged to bring a critical eye to each project they undertake going forward, both in the design program and beyond.”

April Dang, a third-year graphic design student who enrolled in the generative design course in Fall 2023, has felt that impact. “Using p5.js, I can make things with data manipulation that I normally couldn’t as a designer … It broadens my scope.”

She was thrilled to learn how to create dynamic type and images using code rather than a mouse or a trackpad. However, debugging her programs took time.

“I needed to go through 100 lines of code to see what I’d typed wrong,” Dang said. “It was frustrating, but the end result was very satisfying, and it taught me to embrace mistakes. It’s important to treat them as a learning experience, because failures may look cooler than expected.”

Dang has a summer internship lined up with a local graphic design firm and is hoping to put her new skills to use there.

It’s an attitude that Schaffzin heartily embraces as part of AMPD’s mission that “infuses every level of practice with critical thinking and social critique.”

“Although my students won’t turn into programmers in 12 weeks, I want them to recognize the inherent bias in our technologically-determined lives,” he said. “And from a professional standpoint, I want them to feel comfortable interfacing with tech people.”

If Dang is typical of the students who finish the course, mission accomplished.

Professional opportunity engages AMPD students

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By Elaine Smith

When a group of researchers approached Professor Angela Norwood to ask about hiring a few of her York University design students to provide data visualization for the results of one of their studies, Norwood saw an opportunity to provide the students with a career-enhancing experience.

In anticipation of Congress 2023, the annual meeting of the Federation for the Social Sciences & Humanities hosted by York, a research team led by York’s Laina Bay-Cheng and Sarah Flicker, along with Jen Gilbert, needed some visual help.

Their mixed-methods study looked at the risks to which LGBTQ and racialized young women ages 16 to 22 were exposed during COVID-19 in three cities: Melbourne, New York and Toronto. The researchers sent out surveys, conducted interviews and had the participants maintain timelines of their risk-taking behaviours. They wanted the resulting data to be translated into a pop-up display for Congress.

Angela Norwood
Angela Norwood

The team approached Norwood, who applied for an Academic Innovation Fund grant and created a special topics course, Representing Risk: A Physical and Virtual Pop-Up Gallery, which would turn students into consultants for the research team.

Twenty-three students registered for the course, which was designed as a vertical studio – meaning that design students from second to fourth years could enrol.

“It allowed students to mix with others from different years and offered an opportunity for everyone to contribute,” Norwood said.

“It was the perfect bridge between the worlds of design and education,” said Helen Han, a York master of fine arts graduate working toward a PhD in education, who Norwood hired as her research assistant for the project.

The researchers visited the class to present the data and discuss ways it could be shared with the study participants, other researchers and the public. They collaboratively decided on a website with interactive visuals from the data set and a pop-up gallery that could travel.

Norwood's students presenting their progress to the research team via Zoom during class.
Norwood’s students presenting their progress to the research team via Zoom during class.

The students formed teams to work on various aspects of the project, often resulting in a fruitful mix of perspectives and collaboration.

“The youth in the class saw things differently than the older principal investigators, and they had to be open to new ways of seeing the data,” Norwood noted as an example.

The project resulted in a significant experiential education opportunity. “Professor Norwood made it possible for students to bring theory to life in class,” said Han.

“We allowed them space to reach their goal, and the work mirrored real life as professional designers,” said Norwood.

As for the end result? “They came up with totally dynamic, fantastic ideas, and any failures (problems) were just as interesting as the successes, because we learned a lot about collaborating with designers and about the data itself,” praised Gilbert. “The students amplified the voices of the young people in our research through their design choices.” 

The pop-up exhibit was featured at Congress 2023 and will be viewed in the other cities involved in the study, too. The researchers held a launch for the exhibit, attended by their design partners, who are grateful for the collaboration.

“We’ll definitely always build a design element into future research projects,” said Gilbert. “We also learned that it would be valuable to collaborate with designers from the beginning, because their design thinking can help us hone our research questions.”

Norwood, too, is open to overseeing future collaborations between her students and researchers.

“It was very much about the process of getting to the final product,” Norwood said. “The students brought all their advanced technical skills to the project and left understanding more about teamwork, peer mentorship and social science methodology.

“They know more about themselves as designers and what design can contribute to projects like this.”

Professor creates performances that reclaim women’s history

Temple of Zeus in Turkey BANNER

By Elaine Smith

Thanks to York University’s Profesor Erika Batdorf, attendees at the Bergama Theatre Festival in Asclepieion, Turkey, have a treat in store for them this August: a large, site-specific, immersive event with multiple performers placed on location throughout the grounds, known as an ancient healing site. Its aim: bringing the stories of contemporary women to ancient sites where women’s history has often been disregarded and forgotten.

Batdorf is the creator of the Batdorf Technique, an embodied physical theatre practice with which she likes to explore a means of bringing women’s stories back to a site where they have been ignored.

Erika Batdorf
Erika Batdorf

“In visiting ancient sites, I find there is almost no mention of women,” Batdorf said. “The perception is that they are nothing. How do we prevent losing more stories of women?” 

Batdorf, together with master of fine arts graduate Gulce Oral, tested a model of this approach in the summer of 2023 in Troy, an ancient archeological site in Turkey made famous in Greek mythology. For a performance project, they asked students from Çannakale Onsekiz Mart University in Turkey to study their grandmothers to learn about the dreams they had as young women, their understanding of freedom and what symbolizes power to them.

In the process, students soon began to see themselves in their grandmothers and – with guidance from Batdorf and Oral – turned these findings into three-minute pieces that they performed live at Troy.

A similar process will unfold in Asclepieion this fall, made possible with funding from the festival and the Canada Council for the Arts, as well as actors, musicians, and puppeteers from Istanbul and areas around Bergama, including local female Romany musicians and Kozak women.

Asclepieion, Turkey
Asclepieion, Turkey.

“Our work is devised theatre, rather than text-based,” Batdorf said. “I’m not a historian myself; I’m a contemporary theatre artist, so I know how to devise and create actual, physical theatre that animates a space.”

Among their projects, one will include a piece at Zeus’s temple, which will incorporate stick games played by local women and music by Romany drummers, as a way of reclaiming that space as their own.

Parchment making is being revived locally, too, and one of the sculptural pieces at the festival will be a giant book that holds Turkish stories, recipes and wisdom shared by women with whom they have been meeting.

While ancient sites are less accessible in Canada, Batdorf has involved York students in her performance creation class in a similar project.

In the classroom, for example, she asked her students to each research their mothers and grandmothers before choreographing a piece inspired by their findings – much like the Troy project.

Similarily, next year Batdorf will be leading a group of students in a site-specific project called Haunted Honeywood, working with tales of paranormal occurrences that have occurred in a small town north of Toronto. Batdorf is mentoring them, not only in creation but in grant writing and outreach, skills that will be useful to them in funding their personal performance work in the future.

Kayla Silvestre
Kayla Silvestre

Kayla Silvestre, an upper-year theatre student, is one of the participants in the Haunted Honeywood project, because she has been influenced by Batdorf’s movement classes and is eager to continue learning from her.

“Her movement class has been the most beneficial acting course of my career,” Silvestre said. “I use 95 per cent of what I learned in my theatre work.”

She says the Haunted Honeywood project will incorporate some of the same principles that Batdorf is using in her work in Asclepieion, allowing people to wander an outdoor path running through the woods, where they’ll encounter guides and ghosts. A writing team is working on stories based on local history and culture, in addition to creating some new stories. The group is also planning to bring workshops to the schools in the area to promote the arts.

The 2025 debut of Haunted Honeywood is still more than a year away, but each of Batdorf’s site-specific works requires time to put all the pieces in place. She has been working toward Asclepieion for three years, yet it will be performed for only three days during this highly respected festival.

“We’ll do the best we can to document the piece,” Batdorf said, “and we hope to have a website to host conversations among local women and others.”

Although the performances are fleeting, for those who participate, either as actors or as visitors, she hopes the experience will be enduring and impactful.

York University announces Black Research Seed Grant winners

Colored confetti flying on blue background

Six York researchers in five Faculties are the latest recipients of York University’s Black Research Seed Grants, totalling more than $150,000 in combined funding.  

Created by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation and the Office of the Vice-President Equity, People & Culture in 2022, the grants support Black scholars at York, particularly emerging and early-career researchers, including postdoctoral fellows.

The newly funded projects range from an investigation into the accessibility and inclusiveness of ride-hailing services for visually impaired, Black passengers to studying a mining conflict in Jamaica to examining the biopsychosocial differences of back pain in low-, middle- and high-income countries, among others.

“Knowledge generated by Black scholars is integral to York University’s research excellence and continuing to grow our inclusive and equitable research environments,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “These seed grants support Black researchers as they pursue innovative work in a variety of fields, strengthening their capacity to create positive change and thrive within York’s research community.”

The funding is part of York’s Action Plan on Black Inclusion and Framework on Black Inclusion, which are intended to help address systemic anti-Black racism and white supremacy within academia.

“York University is committed to taking concrete action on dismantling systemic barriers for Black scholars, allocating funds and resources to support their success,” said Laina Bay-Cheng, interim vice-president equity, people and culture. “This seed grant is just one of many important initiatives that allow York to demonstrate our commitments to equity, to an inclusive and diverse intellectual community, and to recognizing the expertise and contributions of Black scholars at York.”

The six recipients are:

Alvine Boaye Belle, assistant professor, Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Lassonde School of Engineering
Building human trust in ML-enabled autonomous driving systems
$25,000

Stephanie Fearon, assistant professor, Faculty of Education
My Sister’s Keeper: Black Girls as Resistance Leaders
$25,000

Mahtot Gebresselassie, assistant professor, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change
Race, Disability, and Uber and Lyft Usage
$24,625

Michael Kalu, assistant professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health
Exploring Challenges in Identifying Homebound Black Older Adults and Understanding What Strategies Work: A Comprehensive Scoping Review and Descriptive Qualitative Study in the Greater Toronto Area
$25,000

Aliyu Lawan, postdoctoral fellow, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health
Biopsychosocial Identity and Back Pain Disability, Access to Care and Return to Work: A longitudinal Analysis of Low-,Middle-, and High-Income Countries
$25,000

Tameka Samuels-Jones, assistant professor, School of Administrative Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Raising Afro-Voices: Black Indigeneity, Bauxite Mining and Community Empowerment in Jamaica
$25,000

Find out more about the Black Research Seed Grants and their creation.

York U a Canadian leader in autism support

York University’s Strengthening Transitions for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) program has emerged as a leader within Canada for providing comprehensive support to students, faculty and staff.

Autism prevalence in Canada has surged in recent years, with approximately one in every 50 individuals aged one to 17 receiving a diagnosis, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. This increase has led to a growing need for universities to adequately support students with autism as they pursue higher education.

In response, York has emerged as a leader in offering solutions with its ASD program, one of the most comprehensive initiatives in Canada.

Raymond Peart
Raymond Peart

Led by Raymond Peart, the co-ordinator of York’s ASD program, with support from intake manager Angela Lecompte, the initiative provides a wide array of services aimed at helping students with autism succeed academically and socially. Starting with early engagement opportunities such as ASD Transition Days and workshops for high-school educators, the program aims to equip incoming students with essential skills for university life, while also fostering a sense of belonging and confidence. 

Other key features include personalized sessions addressing individual needs and fostering crucial social connections. Driven by an adaptive, feedback-driven approach, the program aims to ensure responsiveness and anticipate challenges, enhancing both academic and social skills development.

“By focusing on individual strengths,” Peart says, “the program counters societal misconceptions, advocating for a future where neurodiversity is acknowledged and supported.”

Angela Lecompte
Angela Lecompte

In their evolving approach to supporting students, families, faculty and staff, Peart and Lecompte acknowledge the contributions of the Autism Mental Health Literacy Project and the Autism Mentorship Program (AMP), which have helped shape their services, while the dedicated mentors of the AMP have provided invaluable support to students with autism, fostering a sense of belonging and recognition.

While York’s program is an example of comprehensive support, reports by organizations such as the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) and the Canadian cross-disability charity National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) highlight the broader challenges faced by students with autism in Canadian universities. 

According to CAHS, there is a notable lack of autism-specific assistance at post-secondary schools across the country. Similarly, a 2021 study in the United States revealed that only 2.2 per cent of public and not-for-profit universities and colleges have autism-specific college support programs. 

This scarcity of dedicated support programs is further highlighted by NEADS’ findings of frequent ineffective accommodations for students with disabilities at universities, along with an over-reliance on teaching those students to self-advocate, creating additional challenges for them.

In its efforts to provide comprehensive support and proactive engagement, York’s ASD program collaborates with institutions nationwide to foster a stronger support network for students with autism. Looking ahead, it plans to further refine its support services and strengthen ties with career counselling to prepare students for life after graduation. 

Initiatives such as the Conversations Create Change podcast series, designed by adults with autism at York, foster understanding and connection within the neurodivergent community on campus. 

“Through our program, we’re striving to help autistic students establish a sense of belonging and work towards self-actualization,” Peart says. “Our goal is to give them the confidence to move forward and succeed in both academic and social aspects of university life.”

Student-led group tackles Indigenous food sovereignty

Learning Spirit Alliance workshop group photo

After personally experiencing food insecurity, and witnessing its effects first-hand, a group of York University Faculty of Health students decided to do something about it.

The Learning Spirit Alliance is an Indigenous student-led group, open to all York students, committed to educating the community about food sovereignty and helping to prevent poverty and food insecurity on campus. Led by current students Leo Manning and Rainingbird Daniels, and former student Shanice Perrot, the initiative was established as a result of discussions with Indigenous students about access to food – particularly healthy and traditional food, and especially for students who had moved away from home.

“Members of our leadership team have personally experienced the effects of food insecurity and lack of food access throughout their time in post-secondary education,” explains Daniels. “There are many Indigenous students facing the increasingly high cost of housing both on and off campus; required meal plans at institutions and/or inflation of food costs; transportation costs associated with travelling home; and a lack of sufficient funding while completing post-secondary education.”

Launched last year with funding from a national organization called Indigenous Youth Roots, the Learning Spirit Alliance held three Food is Medicine workshops this semester, where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students were welcomed at Skennen’kó:wa Gamig – the gathering space for York’s Indigenous community – and taught how to make traditional Indigenous foods such as elk stew, bannock, three sisters salad and various soups. Each participant was also given an honorarium towards groceries.

According to Daniels, the feedback received from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The different dishes we learned to make gave me the knowledge to make affordable and healthy meals while in residence and away from my traditional territory,” said workshop participant and York student Doreen Scow.

“The workshop helped me feel more culturally involved and connected,” said another participant, student Miigwan Mainville. “This initiative allows us to share stories and laughter with others while sharing cultural food; food is truly medicine.”  

In addition to the workshops, the Alliance held weekly free lunch events for the community, to help bring more traditional and nutritious meals to students in need.

With no plans currently in place for the next academic year, the group’s leadership is using its resources to apply for more grants in hopes that they can continue to host events and workshops on culturally relevant food and food sovereignty, giving Indigenous students the tools they need to cook at home at a low cost.

“We are striving to make a difference in ways that strengthen community and provide relief,” said Manning.

To learn more about this initiative and its future events, follow the Learning Spirit Alliance on Instagram or email learningspiritalliance@gmail.com.

Alum explores history of AIDS films, videos

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Filmmaker, activist and York University alumnus Ryan Conrad has launched a new book, Radical VIHsion: Canadian AIDS Film & Video, marking the latest accomplishment in two decades of artistic and academic work – parts of it completed at York – examining the impact of AIDS on Canadian society and culture.

Comprising interviews and critical essays, including some by other York scholars, Conrad’s edited anthology explores the history of Canadian AIDS film and video, with a particular focus on the significance of the public access cable television program Toronto Living With AIDS from 1990 to ’91.

Ryan Conrad
Ryan Conrad

Created and co-ordinated by the late video maker and AIDS activist Michael Balser with York film Professor John Greyson, the program played a crucial role in addressing the HIV-AIDS crisis through community-driven media collaborations. The series paired artists with community organizations to create much-needed educational tapes – that were also culturally appropriate and engaging – about living with and preventing the spread of HIV.

As the book’s principal researcher and editor, Conrad conducted detailed historical work on the Toronto Living With AIDS series, including its creators, public reception, circulation and censorship by Rogers Cable, uncovering previously untold stories.

The project began at York where, as a recent Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in Cinema and Media Studies, Conrad worked closely with Janine Marchessault, a Tier One Research Chair in Media Arts and Community Engagement who recently received the prestigious Killam Prize, to preserve AIDS activism and history in media.

Conrad’s work forms an integral component of Marchessault’s Archive/Counter-Archive initiative, which seeks to safeguard the audiovisual cultural heritage of marginalized communities.

Conrad’s presentation, “AIDS Activist Media: Toronto Living with AIDS & Second Decade,” presented last July at York University’s Congress 2023 event, further spotlighted ongoing efforts for representation and advocacy within 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

Conrad, 41, has been participating in activism, researching, writing and making films about HIV-AIDS for nearly two decades. A cultural studies scholar whose work also encompasses queer theory and identity, he is co-founder of the U.S.-based collective Against Equality, which challenges “assimilationist tendencies” in mainstream 2SLGBTQIA+ movements – the subject of his 2011 book Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion.

“Against Equality is not an organization, nor is it a movement. We are merely an archive, and I try to be really humble about what we are doing as a collective and what role we play in the broader social and economic justice movements,” Conrad said in a previously published interview.

“That being said, I think our archive has been influential to some degree in opening up space for more people to have discussions about what kind of political work can and should be prioritized to benefit the greatest number of queer and trans people,” he said. “A vanguardist professional political elite from the gay and lesbian non-profit industrial complex dictating the priorities of a group of people is something we rally against and is a top-down model we aren’t looking to recreate.”

In that way, he has something in common with the archive: through works like Radical VIHsion: Canadian AIDS Film & Video he is opening up overlooked parts of history, and important discussions, around the experiences of 2SLGBTQIA+ people.

Researchers receive grants to advance Indigenous scholarship

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Six Indigenous scholars at York University have been awarded a combined $204,298 in new funding from the latest round of Indigenous Research Seed Fund Grants to explore language revitalization, Indigenous-led land restoration, decolonizing physical education curriculum and more.

The York Indigenous Seed Fund was established in 2021 by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation in collaboration with the Office of the Vice-President Equity, People & Culture, the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Languages (CIKL) and the Indigenous Council, an internal committee at York that works to improve access, input and opportunities for Indigenous peoples in higher education. The fund aims to build on the University’s ongoing commitment to support Indigenous early career researchers, their knowledge creation and the Indigenous communities they are working with.

“York University is wholly invested in advancing Indigenous research excellence, recognizing the critical importance Indigenous perspectives have in the pursuit of new knowledge and learning capable of creating positive change,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “The seed fund grants contribute to an emerging area of research expertise at York focused on Indigenous futurities, which emphasizes scholarship that can directly benefit Indigenous communities and imagines a brighter future for nations, communities and individuals.”

Recipients of these grants, supported through CIKL and the Office of the Associate Vice-President Indigenous Initiatives, include:

  • Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing, assistant professor, Faculty of Education
    “Gekinoomaadijig Mashkiki Gitigaaning Endazhi-Baakwaanaatigikaag: Restoring Urban Land Relations through Indigenous Leadership, Towards Establishing a Land Education Collaboratory”
  • Kiera Brant-Birioukov, assistant professor, Faculty of Education
    “Research Support to Conduct Literature Review for 2024 SSHRC Insight Application”
  • Ashley Day, assistant professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science
    “Wiisokotaatiwin – Gathering to Discuss & Re-Imagine Health & Physical Education”
  • Jeremy Green, assistant professor, Department of Humanities, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
    “Tehontenhnhonterontáhkwa ‘That by which they are connected’ – Co-creating supportive learning environments for second language learner teachers of Kanien’kéha ‘Mohawk’, an indigenous language”
  • John Hupfield, assistant professor, Faculty of Education
    “The miikaans: movement lab”

“These projects cultivate positive relationships between university-based researchers and Indigenous communities,” said Susan Dion, associate vice-president Indigenous initiatives, who served as co-chair of the committee that reviewed the applications alongside Sean Hillier, interim director of CIKL.

“The institutional commitment to supporting these scholars through the Indigenous seed grant will have impacts beyond their own work and will reverberate throughout the Indigenous communities and peoples they engage with, as well as the wider York community,” said Hillier, as institutional grants for early career researchers provide not only support for foundational and pilot projects but often lead to larger grant proposals.

“The seed fund program is not only about supporting these specific researchers and research programs; it represents a longer-term and wider-ranging commitment to creating conditions in which Indigenous students, colleagues and communities can thrive at York,” said Laina Y. Bay-Cheng, interim vice-president equity, people and culture.

York’s University Academic Plan 2020-2025 affirmed its commitment to the Indigenous Framework and identified six priorities for action for building a better future, including stronger relationships with Indigenous communities. 

Additionally, York’s Strategic Research Plan 2023-2028 (SRP) identifies Indigenous futurities as an opportunity to help research make a positive impact on Indigenous communities and advance social, cultural, artistic, legal, policy, economic and justice areas that holistically shape Indigenous experience.

The Indigenous Research Seed Fund supports the goals of York’s Academic Plan and SRP. The pilot round of the fund awarded a total of $204,298 to 10 scholars in May 2022.

Prof exemplifies York excellence in global health research through worldwide partnerships

Africa map on a globe

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

As a world leader in global health research, York University is fully committed to international collaborations across multiple sectors with academic, government, industry and community partners. Among those highlighting the impact of these partnerships is Professor Godfred Boateng. 

Forging strong relationships beyond geographical boundaries enables the York community to conduct meaningful work that defines the University’s approach to research and innovation: interdisciplinary, collaborative and equitable.  

Among those leading the way in this is Boateng, a quantitative sociologist and epidemiologist who was recently appointed Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Global Health and Humanitarianism

Godfred Boateng

One of Boateng’s latest research projects is related to his CRC appointment, which aims to measure and quantify different forms of resource insecurity, including food, water, energy and housing, as well as to advance our understanding of the overall health effects of environmental contaminants, both in the Global South and in Canada. This work exemplifies, he said, the importance of having international partners and collaboration.  

“Partnerships are key and without them, global health research isn’t possible,” he said. “York University’s partnerships in the Global South greatly expand the scope of my research and allow me to reach populations and communities that would not be accessible otherwise.”  

Boateng’s project looks to collect physiological, ecological, and demographic data from informal settlements in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.  

Using high-cost field equipment, the researchers will assess the quality of the air and water samples (stored, drinking and groundwater) found in and around the settlements.  

The data will be used to validate scales, like the Household Water Insecurity Experiences Scale, co-developed by Boateng for use by public health practitioners, non-governmental organizations, government officials, and development agencies to monitor and assess progress on targets set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals around achieving equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water, as well as adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene. 

This is particularly important in sub-Saharan Africa, where flooding due to climate change is a considerable health risk and bacterial infections like dysentery and waterborne illnesses like cholera are widespread.  

The scales would help researchers and health-care professionals to assign a score to the environmental contaminants found in settlement households, which enables them to determine if water, for example, is safe for consumption without the need for further testing.  

For local governments, this would streamline water, air, and housing quality assessments and provide valuable information to inform health-care policy and decision-making.  

“Our project will also produce the necessary data for comparative studies, so that this evidence can be used in other contexts, including in some Indigenous communities in Canada that face similar resource insecurity challenges,” said Boateng.  

Boateng and his former professor, Dr. Fidelia Ohemeng, during the York delegation’s visit to Ghana. Ohemeng taught Boateng during his undergraduate studies at the University of Ghana
Boateng and his former professor, Fidelia Ohemeng, during the York delegation’s visit to Ghana.

The project is slated to start this summer with 300 households in Accra, Ghana, alongside Boateng’s partners from his alma mater, the University of Ghana, and the University of Cape Coast, before moving onto research sites in Nigeria, Kenya and Malawi, and subsequently to Colombia and Mexico.  

Last month, Boateng was also part of a York delegation that visited Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. The Africa trip helped the University engage with prospective students and explore partnership opportunities with local universities and research institutions.  

For Boateng, studying global health helps bridge the inequality divide.   

“It’s important to identify the sources of health disparities and the structural determinants of health, so that proper interventions can be put in place,” he said.  

“Global health research, when applied, can not only enhance the quality of life for the world’s most vulnerable populations – women, children and seniors – but it also has life-saving potential for people worldwide. It’s teamwork at its best.”  

Learn more about York University’s Global Engagement Strategy.

York recognized as one of Canada’s Best Diversity, Greenest Employers

York University top 100 employer banner

Continued sustainability and decolonizing, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) progress has earned York University a spot on Canada’s Greenest Employers list for the 12th year in a row, and its first ever inclusion in the Best Diversity Employers list.

Organized by the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, both lists are annual editorial competitions that spotlight institutional excellence across the nation. The Greenest Employers list recognizes those that “lead the nation in creating a culture of environmental awareness in their organizations,” and the Canada’s Best Diversity Employers list recognizes those with exceptional workplace diversity and inclusiveness programs.

“This is the first time York University has achieved two top employer designations. This impressive milestone is a testament to our community’s commitment to our values as a progressive university dedicated to excellence, social justice, diversity, inclusion and sustainability”, said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “I am grateful for the significant contributions community members continue to make toward driving positive change locally and globally.”

“Being recognized as Canada’s Best Diversity and Canada’s Greenest Employers is possible because of the values and dedication of York employees, staff and faculty alike. I hope York and all our colleagues can take pride in how hard we work to be a place where so many different people, all taking so many different paths in their careers and lives, can thrive and feel like they belong,” said Laina Bay-Cheng, interim Vice-president of Equity, People and Culture.

Laina Ya-Hui Bay-Cheng
Laina Bay-Cheng

One of the reasons York was selected for Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the first time was the launch of the Decolonizing, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which formalizes and co-ordinates DEDI efforts across the institution. Importantly, the strategy appreciates that there are many forms of discrimination and oppression that exist in society that must be addressed to create an equitable and inclusive world. At York, DEDI values are also infused into other key planning documents, and existing frameworks, including the Framework and Action Plan on Black Inclusion and the Indigenous Framework.

The DEDI Strategy also includes the “rights of the planet,” reflecting York’s determined leadership and ambitious goals in advocating for environmental justice and sustainability. Over the years, the University has made considerable investments and proactive efforts to safeguard the environment in response to the burgeoning climate crisis, placing York’s campuses ahead of other post-secondary institutions, organizations and entire municipalities.

For over a decade, those efforts have consistently led to York being named on the Greenest Employers list due to its sustainability initiatives aimed at reducing the overall environmental impact of the University through conservation and measurement, decarbonization and innovation. Among recent examples is the release of York’s own detailed emissions data and ecological footprint assessment, compiled by the Ecological Footprint Initiative at York. With its release, York became the first Canadian institution to compile and publicize its own comprehensive data of this nature.

The University also recently announced it would be accelerating its timeline and aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040 – a decade sooner than its previous commitment.

This year’s Greenest Employers list recognized employee and senior-level involvement in new and ongoing sustainability projects across the University, such as annual Earth Month tree planting and campus clean-up events, community partnerships with organizations like the Global Footprint Network and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce, and York’s leadership in hosting the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the largest fair-trade event in Canadian history.

Other notable sustainable features highlighted through the editorial competition were long-standing York waste management initiatives such as Zero Waste, York’s comprehensive, multifaceted waste management program that was first established in 1990 and has been expanding for over three decades. The program has continually surpassed its targets, growing from an initial goal of 50 per cent waste reduction to a recent achievement of 70 per cent of waste diverted from landfills in 2019.

In areas of teaching and research, York’s over 500 sustainability-focused courses supported its application in being named as a Greenest Employer, in addition to its Eco-Campus in Costa Rica that operates as a local, national and international school dedicated to education and research on neotropical conservation, eco-health, community well-being and sustainable livelihoods for neighbouring communities.

“York’s collaborative and holistic approach to sustainability has played a large part in why we continue to excel in sustainability leadership,” said Mike Layton, York’s first chief sustainability officer. “This work wouldn’t be possible without the support of students, faculty, instructors and staff. Community adoption of green initiatives and a continued desire to support the University in expanding its impact to create a more sustainable future is integral. This recognition is a reflection of community efforts.”

For more information about the Top 100 Awards that York has been recognized for, visit the Diversity Employers site or the Greenest Employers site.