A Q-and-A with Humaira Pirooz, director of Health, Safety & Employee Well-Being

People walk through Vari Hall, which is located on York U's Keele campus

Whether it’s for a common space or the workplace, there will be a plan to ensure everyone is kept safe on York University’s campuses this fall. Humaira Pirooz is the director of Health, Safety and Employee Well-Being (HSEWB) at York and leads a team that plays an essential role in advising the University community. Pirooz and the HSEWB team are responsible for running a host of health and safety programming in addition to policy development, well-being initiatives and helping to manage claims for staff and faculty on York’s campuses.

Q. Who is responsible for leading health and safety planning at York?

Humaira Pirooz
Humaira Pirooz

A. Health, Safety and Employee Well-Bring has been integral to York’s pandemic response. They have worked closely with the COVID-19 Planning and Response Team and have created a suite of programs, protocols, procedures, tools and templates for every unit to use for their health and safety planning. They also play an important role in educating and advising planning leads, staff and faculty in each area so that they understand what is required.

Every area across the University is responsible for creating a plan that is tailored to their specific work environment to ensure safety. Health and safety advisors at HSEWB are always available to help out with this process and ensure plans align with expected standards.

HSEWB has been involved in COVID-19 planning and support since the start of the pandemic and will continue to be involved in the transition back to York’s campuses. They support the community of care commitment, where everyone has a role to play in protecting the health and safety of the community.

Q. What is being done to make sure workplaces will be safe to return to?

A. A lot of work has been happening on campus since last March to keep campuses safe and facilitate a safe return. From enhanced ventilation to automated screening and case management, there are a number of things the University is doing to prepare.

Each unit will also be required to conduct a Health and Safety Risk Assessment and have the COVID-19 safety control measures in place that have been identified in their area-specific workplace safety plan. These measures can include things like screening requirements, wearing masks or face coverings, clear signage, frequent cleaning and easily accessible hand hygiene facilities.

Q. What are safety plans and how do they work?

A. HSEWB has an updated template for developing workplace safety plans, and that aligns closely with the latest public health guidance. The plans themselves will be completed by managers or designates in collaboration with health and safety officers in each unit within the University.

The COVID-19 Area-Specific Workplace Safety Plan lists the measures that have been put in place to protect those who are working or studying on York’s campuses. Due to the evolving nature of the pandemic, the template has been designed to help managers and area supervisors adapt their plans to position closely with the latest public health guidance and the steps in the province’s Roadmap to Reopen.

Q. How will health and safety inspections for COVID-19 work?

A. We all have a role to play in keeping ourselves and those around us safe by following the latest safety and public health measures, workplace safety policies, procedures and programs that are implemented, and reporting any hazards.

Health and safety officers carry out COVID-19 inspections in their assigned areas or units to ensure safety criteria are met, and they work with leadership to resolve any identified issues or escalate them to the COVID-19 Planning and Response Team.

The Joint Health and Safety Committee conducts regular COVID-19 inspections in all the applicable areas open for regular occupancy since the early days of the pandemic. They regularly visit applicable labs, shops and studio spaces to look out for hazards and report them to area managers or designates for followup and implementation of corrective action.   

Q. How will contact and case management be handled for staff and faculty?

A. While Toronto Public Health continues to suspend contact tracing for COVID-19 cases (with some exceptions), the Office of Student Community Relations (OSCR) and HSEWB facilitate contact management for students, staff and faculty, to prevent transmission on York’s campuses.

OSCR and HSEWB work closely on contact management, always maintaining confidentially for cases involving students, faculty, instructors, researchers or staff. A potential close contact of any confirmed positive COVID-19 case on York’s campuses will be contacted and advised to seek guidance from their local public health unit.

HSEWB manages all confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 of staff and faculty at York and potential close contacts through the sick leave and/or accommodation process. HSEWB continues to support employees or faculty members until they are cleared to return to work on York’s campuses.

Updated: Eleven athletes with ties to York University are competing in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan

Eleven athletes with connections to York University are taking part in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (The games were postponed from 2020 to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Competing are Jason Ho-Shue (Badminton), Katie Vincent (Canoe-Kayak), Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Paredes (Beach Volleyball), Shady El Nahas (Judo), Brittany Crew (Shot Put), Pierce Lepage (Decathlon), Bismark Boateng and Khamica Bingham (Track & Field), Arthur Szwarc (Indoor Volleyball) and Syed Muhammad Haseeb Tariq (Swimming). Alumna Andrea Prieur, a certified athletic therapist, will be part of the Health Services team, and alumna Natalie Ghobrial is the athletic therapist for the Women’s Softball team.

Jason Ho-Shue  Badminton
A Canadian badminton player from Markham, Ont., Ho-Shue is a student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. In 2015, he settled triple crowns at the Pan Am Junior Badminton Championships in the boys’ singles, doubles and mixed doubles events. He won the bronze medal in the mixed team event. In 2016, he became the youngest Canadian badminton player to win the national title in men’s singles event. He also won double titles at the XX Pan Am Individual Championships in men’s singles and doubles. Ho-Shue competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. He was a gold medalist in the men’s doubles event partnered with Nyl Yakura at the 2019 Lima Pan American Games, earning a bronze medal in the men’s singles.

Katie Vincent – Canoe-Kayak
Currently an undergraduate student in York’s Faculty of Health, Vincent is a Canadian athlete competing in the Canoe-Kayak Sprint. She first represented Canada in 2013 at the World Junior Championships, and the next year earned two golds in the C-1 200m and the C-2 500m. In 2015, she continued to show her podium potential at the ICF World Cup when she earned medals for individual and team competitions. In 2016, she secured her first solo World Cup gold, and went on to bring home three more gold medals from the U23 World Championships. Vincent’s winning streak continued through 2017 with three more individual podiums at the World Cup, and a team gold. In 2018, Vincent and team mate Vincent Lapointe brought home two World Cup gold medals, and twice broke their own world record; in 2019, the continued their winning streak with a World Cup bronze and silver in Poznan, Poland, followed by two more silvers in Duisburg. Vincent qualified for Tokyo 2020 during the national trials in March 2021 when she one a C-1 race-off against long-time team mate Lapointe. She qualified with a third-place finish by 0.32 of a second.

Brandie Wilkerson – Beach Volleyball 
Arguably one of Canada’s greatest medal threats, Wilkerson attended York until 2014 and starred for the women’s volleyball team during her time with the Lions. She earned Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) second-team all-Canadian and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) first-team all-star honours for two straight seasons, 2011-12 and 2012-13. The native of Toronto also ranked fourth in the OUA and first on the team in scoring in 2013-14 (3.91 points per set) and sixth in kills per set (3.10), despite starting just 11 matches. Wilkerson’s career began on a high note at the beginning of the last decade – now 29-years-old, she was named York’s female rookie of the year in 2010-11 and earned the OUA rookie of the year award. She was a CIS and OUA all-rookie team member and an OUA East second-team all-star that season.

Melissa Humana-Paredes – Beach Volleyball
A six-time FIVB Gold Medalist, 12-time FIVB Medalist, five-time Canadian champion, two-time AVP champion, Commonwealth Games champion, and most recently, a world champion, earning the first-ever Gold for Canada, Humana-Paredes is an extremely accomplished volleyball player with roots at York University. Humana-Paredes and her family have been synonymous with the York volleyball programs for decades. A York alumna, she previously played for four years for the Lions, her brother Felipe was a five-year member of the men’s team and their father Hernan Humana was a long-time coach of both teams. Humana-Paredes’ Lions career included three OUA all-star honours, a CIS second-team all-Canadian selection and York’s female Athlete of the Year award in 2012. She won back-to-back bronze medals at the U23 world championships, competed at the 2015 Pan Am Games, the FISU Games in 2013, and toured around the world to compete at the FIVB and NORCECA events, winning numerous medals in the process. The team of Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan won the gold medal at the 2019 Beach Volleyball World Championships, defeating the American team of April Ross and Alix Klineman 2-0 for Canada’s first-ever medal in the event.

Shady El Nahas – Judo
A 23-year-old Canadian from Alexandria, Egypt, El Nahas competed as a wrestler at York in 2017, where he went a near-perfect 23-1 in OUA competition with 19 pins. He was a gold medallist at Concordia, McMaster and York regular-season events. He was a 2017 York rookie-of-the-year nominee, and earned the men’s wrestling MVP during his only season with the Lions. Since then, El Nahas has achieved considerable success on the international stage. He is a two-time gold medal winner at the Pan American Judo Championships in 2019 and 2020 and also took gold at the 2021 IHF Judo Grand Slam in Tbilisi, Georgia. He has four other medals at Grand Slams, three bronze medals and a silver at 2018 Osaka. At the 2021 World Championships, El Nahas got into a bronze medal match where he lost to Ilia Sulamanidze of Georgia to finish in a tie for fifth.

Brittany Crew  Shot Put
Crew is a decorated former Lion with multiple medal-winning performances at international competition and recently earned a slew of impressive awards for York at the national stage. A 27-year-old shot putter from Toronto, Ontario, Crew graduated from York University in 2019 with a degree in kinesiology and health science. She is a three-time gold medallist at the U SPORTS Championships (2015, 2016 and 2019) and earned bronze at the 2015 FISU Summer Universiade in South Korea. Crew was rewarded in each of those gold-level seasons with the York female Athlete of the Year award in 2015, 2016, and 2019. She set a U SPORTS record for shot put with a 16.96m toss at 2016 nationals, then broke her own record in 2019, launching a 17.56m throw. She out threw her nearest competition by more than two metres en route to winning the event. Crew returns to the Olympics for a second time after donning the red and white in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Pierce Lepage – Decathlon
The 25-year-old runner from Whitby, Ont., graduated from York University in 2019 with a degree in interdisciplinary social science. It was also a landmark year for Lepage because he struck gold at three different events at the York-hosted OUA championships, winning in 60m hurdles, long jump, and high jump. At the 2019 U SPORTS championships, he earned gold in 60m hurdles and long jump. He was also part of the silver medal-winning 4x200m relay team, and won bronze in high jump. Lepage was named 2019 York male Athlete of the Year. At international events, Lepage is known for competing as a decathlete, routinely reaching the podium on the world stage. In his first decathlon of 2019, LePage scored a personal best 8453 points to win the Decastar meet in June, which gave him the decathlon qualifying standard for Tokyo 2020. He shared the podium with Canadian teammate Damian Warner at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, winning bronze, after a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. LePage did not compete in the decathlon in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2021, LePage attended the famed Hypo-meeting in Götzis, Austria and won silver with a personal-best of 8534 points.

Bismark Boateng – Track & Field
The 29-year-old Canadian from Accra, Ghana wasn’t always a track & field athlete. He began his post-secondary athletic career with the Rams as a soccer player, but eventually discovered track and transferred to York to join the team. His sprinting career took off from there, proving he made a wise decision. He struck gold in 60m at the CIS Championships in 2015 and took home silver in 2016. Internationally, Boateng was part of the gold medal 4x100m relay winning team at the 2018 NACAC Championships in Toronto.

Khamica Bingham – Track & Field
A 2020 humanities graduate, the 27-year-old sprinter from Brampton, Ont., has played a key role in Canada’s Olympic efforts since she joined Canada nationally. She is a two-time medallist in the Pan American Games, earning a silver with Canada at Lima 2019 and a bronze at Toronto 2015. Bingham made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016 where she anchored the 4x100m relay team to a sixth-place finish, in what was Canada’s first Olympic final in the event since Los Angeles 1984. She missed advancing to the 100m semifinals by just one place. In 2013, she represented Canada at the Universiade, finishing fourth in the 100m semis.

Arthur Szwarc – Indoor Volleyball
Szwarc was a Lion for two seasons, earning accolades in both years for men’s volleyball. His team won an OUA bronze medal in 2015 and he was named a CIS second team all-star in 2016. While at York University, he also represented Canada at the 2015 Universiade and FIVB Junior World Championship and won bronze at the 2015 U21 Pan Am Cup. Szwarc turned pro in 2017, joining French club Arago de Sète for two seasons and being named the Best Middle Blocker of Ligue A in 2018. He then moved to Italian side, Top Volley Cisterna. In January 2020, Szwarc was named best middle blocker at the NORCECA Continental Qualifier as Canada went undefeated to secure their spot at Tokyo 2020.

Syed Muhammad Haseeb Tariq – Swimming
Tariq is a York University graduate from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. During his time at York, he was a member of the York University Lions competitive swim team, holding the position of team treasurer and then team president in his final year. Tariq began swimming competitively at the age of 15, and in 2015 he broke his own York school record by swimming a 27.40s in the 50m backstroke at the 2015 OUA championships. He competed for his native Pakistan at the South Asian Games in 2016, earning four gold medals during the trials in 2015. He won the 50m and 100m freestyle events and also broke two national records in winning the 50m and 100m backstroke events.

Athletic therapists

Joining the Canadian Olympic team is alumna Andrea Prieur, a certified athletic therapist who will be part of the Health Services team. Prier will be working hard to keep Team Canada healthy during this very unusual Olympic Games. A York alumna, she earned a certificate in sport therapy in 1997. She is well-versed in major multisport events, having served as a therapist at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Summer Olympic Games; at several Pan American Games, including most recently in 2015; and at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2014. She has also worked as part of the integrated support team for the Canadian diving team since 2010 for events around the world. She was also Team Canada’s chief therapist for the 2019 FISU (International University Sports Federation) Summer Games.

Natalie Ghobrial is  in Tokyo with the Women’s Softball team as their athletic therapist. Ghobrial is a York University alumna who and former member of the Lions varsity lacrosse team and varsity soccer team.

York and CUPE 3903, Units 1, 2 and 3 successfully negotiate renewal collective agreements

Vari Hall

The following is a message from Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps and Vice-President Equity, People & Culture Sheila Cote-Meek:

On behalf of the University, we are very pleased that CUPE 3903, Units 1, 2, and 3 and the University have successfully negotiated renewal collective agreements for the period 2020 to 2023.

These three-year agreements are in keeping with the mandate directed by the provincial government’s Bill 124. These collective agreements also make important advances in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion through language and other changes to terms and conditions that we expect will support CUPE 3903 and York’s shared commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

The University looks forward to working with CUPE 3903 and mediator Chris Albertyn on a new joint committee that will be established expressly for the purpose of making recommendations for a new, comprehensive job stability program for CUPE 3903 Unit 2.

We would like to express our sincere thanks to the members of both bargaining teams for their hard work toward achieving negotiated agreements, while also successfully adjusting to bargaining in a virtual/remote environment.

Lisa Philipps,
Provost and Vice-President Academic

Sheila Cote-Meek,
Vice-President Equity, People & Culture

York University PhD student receives Autism Scholars Award

Carly Albaum
Carly Albaum
Carly Albaum

The Autism Scholars Awards recognize outstanding researchers working to establish novel treatment options and services for children with autism. This year’s recipient of the $20,000 Doctoral Award is Carly Albaum, a PhD student in York University’s Clinical Developmental Psychology program. Focused on better understanding the conditions that lead to positive results in psychotherapy, Albaum’s research describes the parameters that allow mental health interventions to be successful for children on the autism spectrum.

Adding to Ontario’s scope of diagnosis and assessment, along with the quality of its treatment system, the Autism Scholars Awards Program supports innovative ideas with the potential to positively impact the lives of families across Canada. The program is funded by the Council of Ontario Universities to ensure that the province continues to promote cutting-edge scholarship in autism, a condition that, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, affects one in 66 children.

Albaum’s research investigates the impact of different components of psychotherapy in the achievement of successful treatment outcomes for children with autism. Centred on improving our understanding of why certain children benefit from psychological treatment while others do not, her work outlines the standards that allow mental health interventions to be effective for all youth with autism.

Concerned with process elements common to treatments across different types of therapy, Albaum’s research hopes to elucidate exactly who benefits from psychotherapy and why. Interested in the care of those with social and communication difficulties, she examines factors such as the role of parents in supporting youth involvement in therapy sessions, and the relationship between client and therapist to enhance the mental health of children on the autism spectrum who are often unable to fully engage in psychological interventions.

Providing new insight into how processual components are related to specific treatment results, Albaum’s work translates theoretical knowledge into more effective practices and services. Helping to inform mental health-care providers of the most compelling therapeutic methods, she aims to ensure that all youth with autism, along with their families, can benefit from psychotherapy.

Albaum received both her bachelor of arts with specialized honours and her master of arts from York. Her undergraduate thesis focused on expressed emotion in parents of children with autism, while her master’s project examined therapeutic alliance in cognitive behaviour therapy for children on the autism spectrum. Her interest in positive psychology aided the completion of her clinical training at the Toronto District School Board and at Mackenzie Health’s Shaw Clinic, Child and Family Services. She continues to be actively involved in advancing the mental health of her community as well as the standards of scholarly excellence in the field of autism research.

Meet the recipients of the 2021 Alumni Awards and Scholarships

Alumni Awards and Scholarships

The York University Alumni Board has recognized four distinguished York students with 2021 Alumni Awards and Scholarships for their academic excellence and leadership.

The Alumni Awards and Scholarships started in 2009 and are adjudicated by the York University Alumni Board every year. Awards include the Silver Jubilee Scholarship, the Alumni Golden GRADitude Award and the Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship.

Alumni Silver Jubilee Scholarship

Meena Shanmuganathan
Meena Shanmuganathan

The Alumni Silver Jubilee Scholarship is awarded each year to a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence both in and out of the classroom. This year’s recipient, Meena Shanmuganathan (iBBA ’21), has been recognized for her significant contributions within the Tamil community and the considerable leadership she displayed during her time as an international bachelor of business administration (iBBA) student at the Schulich School of Business.

“Schulich placed a lot of emphasis on excelling outside of the classroom as well as inside,” she says. “There were so many opportunities in the last four years to participate in case competitions and research studies, and not just go to school and come home.”

In 2020, Shanmuganathan became vice-president of academics for the iBBA program and faced the challenge of making Schulich still feel like Schulich for students, despite the global pandemic. This involved planning the school’s annual flagship conference virtually for the first time, which saw 125 delegates and 100 alumni successfully come together in an online environment.

Outside of York, Shanmuganathan has been a member of the Tamil Cultural and Academic Society of Durham since 2009, working to educate communities about Tamil culture in an effort to preserve it for future generations. Most recently, she helped spearhead the first month-long Tamil mental health awareness campaign, which included planning four successful events and securing over $3,000 in sponsorships.

In September, Shanmuganathan will attend the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law to pursue her interest in human rights.

“It is such a big honour to be recognized, not just within the Schulich community but the York community as well,” she says about her scholarship win.

Alumni Golden GRADitude Award

Anjelica Ramsewack
Anjelica Ramsewack

The Alumni Golden GRADitude Award recognizes graduating students who leave York University a better place thanks to the significant leadership they demonstrated during their time on campus. This year, there are two recipients of this award.

Communications studies graduate Anjelica Ramsewack (BA ’21) has been recognized for her vast contributions to the student community during her time at Glendon College.

Ramsewack held various senior positions within Glendon College Student Union, including vice-president of communications and vice-president of operations. In her role as vice-president of bilingual affairs, she became a key voice at York and Glendon by advocating for the importance of bilingual services and communications across the University to serve both francophone and anglophone students on campus.

In addition to her involvement in student governance, Ramsewack was co-secretary general of the Glendon Model United Nations, helping to develop and execute the first-ever bilingual conference for high-school students. Her experience in student government and clubs led her to establish the Glendon Communications Student Association, of which she was also president.

“Being a part of these organizations and being able to contribute significantly to the school and the students brought me joy during my time at Glendon,” she says. “I was able to grow as an individual and that is something I will take away with me.”

In September, Ramsewack will be returning to York to pursue a master of management at the Schulich School of Business, with the hopes of building a career in business management or marketing.

“The energy I spent during my time at Glendon was worth it,” she says, regarding her Alumni Golden GRADitude Award win, “and this puts into perspective for me that my work was valuable to the community.”

Moboluwajidide Joseph
Moboluwajidide Joseph

Moboluwajidide Joseph (BA ’21), a communications studies graduate and former president of the Glendon College Student Union, has been recognized for his noteworthy contributions to student life at Glendon College and York.

A vocal supporter of the Centre for Sexual Violence Response, Support and Education on campus, Joseph assisted with campaigns and initiatives that aimed to tackle toxic masculinity on campus. He was also a student representative on the Sexual Violence and Policy Advisory Committee for two years.

As a national executive representative for the Canadian Federation of Students’ Black Caucus, Joseph has been a key voice in student-led and student-centred responses to the anti-Black racism framework development processes and lobbying efforts.

“My time at Glendon has been amazing and wondrous,” he says. “One of the reasons I wanted to go to university was to discover myself and figure out who I was, what my values and principles were and how these coincided with my goals and ambitions. Glendon created space for me to do that.”

This fall, Joseph looks forward to joining the University of Toronto as an MA candidate in geography.

“I hope to specifically focus on Black geographies and the experience of Black communities in Toronto when they come under surveillance and how that impacts their lived experiences,” he says. “I’ve always believed that research should have a practical impact on day-to-day life, and being given this opportunity to do this research at such an institution is beyond my wildest dreams and hopes.”

Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship

Ishi Madan
Ishi Madan

The Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship is awarded to an incoming undergraduate student who is the child, sibling or grandchild of a York University graduate and who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and accomplishments in community service, volunteerism or other endeavours.

Incoming Schulich School of Business student Ishi Madan has been awarded this year’s scholarship. She follows in her brother’s footsteps as she joins the Bachelor of Business Administration program at Schulich for the Fall 2021 semester.

Madan immigrated to Canada in 2017 and learned to adapt to a whole new educational system.

“Coming here to Canada in Grade 9 was really tough for me,” she shares. “I had to adjust to a lot of changes. The guidance counsellors and teachers at my school were very helpful and I think my drive comes from within myself. You can find support from unexpected corners.”

Outside of school, Madan has been a regular volunteer in her community. Harnessing her own experiences, she became a peer mentor for the World of Welcome program to help newly immigrated students acclimate and adapt to their new academic system. Most recently, Madan created an online community response group to combat the isolation created by the pandemic, while also co-ordinating food bank distributions. Having played piano for the past 14 years and earning her first class honours from the Royal Conservatory of Music, she regularly performs before live audiences and volunteers to teach piano to younger students in her community.

Madan looks forward to developing her critical thinking skills and exploring her personal and ethical values while studying at one of Canada’s best business schools this fall.

What Ontario’s Step 3 reopening means for York University

Vari Hall from the exterior
Vari Hall

On Friday, July 16, the province officially moved into Step 3 of its Roadmap to Reopen.  At this time, it is encouraging to see an improving public health situation and surpassed vaccination targets; however, it is important to be mindful of recent comments made by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health about the need to have the highest rate of vaccination possible heading into September, as more will begin to gather indoors.

The latest health data also shows that there is a disproportionate rate of infection among those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. The University continues to strongly recommend that all eligible members of the York community receive their COVID-19 vaccines this summer.

A preliminary review of the impact of Step 3 for York suggests that while there are no major changes posed to the delivery of the Summer 2021 term (with courses largely delivered remotely), some fitness and in-person research activities involving human participants will resume. The following will apply under Step 3:

  • Beginning on July 19, the Tait McKenzie Fitness Centre will have a limited reopening for York students only, with workout times available on a reserved basis. The Fitness Centre has scheduled fitness classes to resume the following week by reservation.
  • While indoor gatherings must allow for all to maintain a physical distance of at least two metres, in-person instruction will continue to abide by existing gathering limitations (10-person maximum), with an exception for a maximum of 50 persons allowed for in-person instruction in the School of Nursing.
  • All indoor gatherings must still abide by two-metre physical distancing, masking/face covering requirements and/or the proper use of personal protective equipment.
  • Students filming outdoors or undertaking other activities outdoors must abide by the 100-person outdoor gathering limit.
  • Beginning on July 16, in-person/face-to-face research involving human participants will resume with exceptions, subject to approved health and safety plans, current ethics and/or permit approval and applicable physical distancing requirements.
  • If you do need to come to campus, please request access through the Campus Access system or have pre-existing approval to access campus spaces. Completion of daily screening is also part of this process.

The University continues to await guidance from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities on what will and will not be permitted for the Fall 2021 term and it is anticipated that this information will be shared with Ontario’s post-secondary sector soon. Plans continue to be developed to implement changes to on-campus activities, in-person classes and student experiences at the appropriate times.

In the coming weeks, more information will be shared via weekly Wellness Wednesday Return to Campus Special Issues and on the Better Together website. If you have questions about York’s safe return to campus that are not currently covered under any of the existing FAQs, feel free to submit them here.

Two York PhD students awarded prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships

research graphic

Two York University PhD students dedicated to the advancement of trailblazing research have been awarded 2021 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships. Valued at $50,000 per year for up to three years, this prestigious scholarship is presented by the Government of Canada to support doctoral students who are conducting world-class research. The scholarship recipients embody all of the rigorous selection criteria: academic excellence, research potential and leadership.

This year’s Vanier Scholars, Debbie Ebanks Schlums and Maureen Owino, are advancing knowledge in areas that can stimulate positive change on a global scale. Both of their research areas have a diverse reach, from addressing the issues around the underrepresentation of small diasporic communities in formal archives to tackling injustices of pandemic responses that often overlook vulnerable populations.

“York University and its community are proud to support these incredible scholars in the advancement of their groundbreaking research and empower them for long-term success,” says Thomas Loebel, dean and associate vice-president of York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies.

Debbie Ebanks Schlums, cinema and media studies/film
Debbie Ebanks
Debbie Ebanks Schlums

Ebanks Schlums acknowledges the important role small diasporic communities play in the constitution of the Canadian nation in her proposed dissertation titled “Community-Engaged Memory Preservation: Co-Creating an Audio-Visual Archive of the Jamaican Diaspora in the Greater Toronto Area.”

“Small diasporic communities significantly impact the national fabric of Canada, yet their contributions are marginalized within official archival collections and, therefore, within the idea of the nation,” says Ebanks Schlums of her project.

This cutting-edge study challenges the work done by official archives through creating an alternative presentation of artifacts that does justice to preserving the cultural heritage of the Jamaican diaspora in the Greater Toronto Area. Ebanks Schlums underscores that there are portable and non-material forms of archiving that carry history on and through bodies of communities that have a migratory nature. This project will embody a creative and collective imagining of a diasporic archive by creating a variety of unique artifacts from musical compositions to cellphone portraits of people and places. This innovative type of archive will be shared in mainstream spaces to provide as much accessibility to these cultural artifacts as possible.

Through this research, new methods dedicated to the study of diasporas and under-examined archives will emerge through the creation of novel forms of artifact presentation. The project aims to support the Jamaican community in exploring their own identity and sense of belonging through creating connections to community members, their homeland and the society in which they reside.

In addition to the cutting-edge academic work that Ebanks Schlums performs, she is also an active leader in her community. She was a founding member of the Out of a War Zone and To Lemon Hill collectives, both addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.

Maureen Owino, environmental studies
Maureen Owino
Maureen Owino

Owino’s research, titled “When HIV and COVID-19 Pandemics Collide in Black Communities in Canada,” confronts issues relating to pandemic responses that impact already vulnerable communities.

Through institutional ethnography, the research will examine the cumulative impacts of existing and emerging social and public health policies on Black people’s health and well-being in Canada. “It will do so by: 1. Tracking the rapidly changing health and public policy landscape in Canada; 2. Using critical feminist and race theories to analyze, compare and contrast COVID-19 and HIV containment and mitigation strategies; and 3. Examining how these policies address, reify, challenge, and uphold existing health inequities from the perspective of Black people living with and at risk of pandemics in Canada,” says Owino of her research.

This research is vital, as it exposes how pandemics reveal inequities in health outcomes for vulnerable communities who also face racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty, which create acute conditions for these vulnerable populations. The findings will be accessible to a diverse audience base through a collaboration with Black organizations, community members, researchers, activists and scholars.

“Whereas most Canadians are reeling from the impact of COVID-19, Black people also remain in an HIV pandemic zone and must deal with the impact of both pandemics simultaneously,” says Owino. “This structural inequities creates conditions of vulnerability that are increased by barriers to effective and timely health care, and increases the Black communities’ risks to future pandemics.”

In addition to being a dedicated scholar who promotes these vital social causes, Owino also shows exemplary leadership skills. She is the director of the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment and a member of the Ontario Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS.

“Both Debbie Ebanks Schlums and Maureen Owino are outstanding examples of Vanier Scholars through their innovative research and dedication to the community,” says Loebel.

York scholars receive Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships

Life Sciences Building FEATURED

York University Postdoctoral Fellows Mohammad Naderi and Vasily Panferov have been named among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Awarded by the Government of Canada, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship is valued at $70,000 per year for two years, supporting postdoctoral researchers who will positively contribute to Canada’s social, economic and research-based growth. Following a highly competitive selection process, this esteemed award allows researchers the privilege of conducting ambitious work, while focusing entirely on advancing their respective fields.

Mohammad Naderi
Mohammad Naderi
Mohammad Naderi, biology

Naderi’s project investigates the impact of early-life exposure to environmental chemicals in the development of autism spectrum disorders. Identifying a dramatic increase in incidents of autism in Canada (from one in 94 children in 2008-10 to one in 66 children in 2018), Naderi’s research focuses on one of its possible causes, the chemical compound bisphenol, widely used in the production of plastic and packaging materials.

Titled “Understanding the role of environmental contaminants in the development of autism using the zebrafish model,” Naderi’s study focuses on uncovering the mechanisms through which bisphenol may contribute to the pathogenesis of autism. Recognizing the high level of genetic and physiologic similarities between humans and zebrafish, Naderi’s work uses zebrafish as a means of modelling relevant autistic behavioural characteristics.

“This project can be a crucial step towards identifying the role of environmental contaminants in the etiology of this brain disorder,” says Naderi, thus offering both governments and private institutions a means of redefining regulations while searching for safer alternatives.

Vasily Panferov, chemistry
Vasily Panferov
Vasily Panferov

Panferov’s study proposes an innovative technology for the diagnosis of sepsis, one of the major causes of death in hospitals worldwide. Combining a test strip (similar to those used in home pregnancy tests) with a smartphone, Panferov’s research focuses on developing an inexpensive diagnostic tool that can be widely accessed, thus expanding the opportunities for prevention of this life-threatening condition across the globe.

Titled “Technology for Rapidly Diagnosing Sepsis at the Bedside,” Panferov’s device monitors the blood levels of several inflammatory biomarkers capable of confirming a diagnosis of sepsis even before the onset of symptoms. In the form of a 10-minute test to be performed by nurses at the bedside, this technology would eliminate the current need for expensive laboratory equipment and time-consuming practices.

Privileging “early-stage diagnosis and long-term prognosis,” says Panferov, this reliable yet cost-effective tool will inevitably “benefit patients’ health worldwide.”

Study shows arts-based relational caring helps those living with dementia thrive

hands relationship love heart
hands relationship love heart

A newly published study addresses the compelling call for connection and relationships for persons, families and communities living with dementia.

The qualitative research study, “Free to be: Experiences of arts-based relational caring in a community living and thriving with dementia,” aims to address the gaps in literature by focusing on experiences at an arts-based academy for persons living with dementia that is guided by a relational caring philosophy.

It shares what is possible when the focus is on relationships and where the arts are the mediums for meaningful engagements that are both human and non-human.

Christine Jonas-Simpson
Christine Jonas-Simpson

Led by York University Associate Professor Christine Jonas-Simpson from the School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health, the study’s findings contribute to the growing body of knowledge about both relational caring and arts-based practices that highlight an ethic of care that is relational, inclusive and intentional.

The research was conducted in collaboration with: Gail Mitchell, York University School of Nursing; Sherry Dupuis, University of Waterloo; Lesley Donovan, Unity Health Toronto; and Pia Kontos, KITE-Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network, and Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

Few studies explore the meaning of arts-based, relationship-centred care or relational caring with an entire community living with dementia where the voices of persons living with dementia are also included. For this research, 25 participants were recruited from the arts-based academy and interviewed one-on-one or in small groups. Participants included five persons living with dementia, eight family members, four staff, five artists, one personal support worker and two volunteers. Participants were asked to describe their experiences of relational caring or relationships in the academy space.

Three themes were identified in the analysis of the interviews with participants:

  • freedom and fluid engagement inspire a connected, spontaneous liveliness;
  • embracing difference invites discovery and generous inclusivity; and
  • mutual affection brings forth trust and genuine expression.

“Findings from this study shed light on what is possible when a relational caring philosophy underpins arts-based practices – everyone thrives,” the study states. “As new settings and programs are developed, grounding them in a relational caring philosophy from the beginning and providing ongoing support of the principles will better support the transfer of the philosophy into practice.”

Relationships, human and non-human, are essential for human flourishing and this is no different for a person living with dementia, says Jonas-Simpson, adding that when engagement in the arts is guided by relational caring philosophy, the arts become powerful mediums for connection and for relationships to grow and thrive.

Study provides insight to help parents reduce post-vaccination stress in young kids

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

Looking forward to a fall with hopefully one of the most important vaccination uptakes of children in a generation, a new study provides insights to help parents with reducing post-vaccination distress in younger kids. The study, published in the journal PAIN, looked at preschool children who were at least four to five years old and what their parents said that could help reduce distress during their vaccination.

This study is part of the largest study in the world – coined the OUCH Cohort – looking at caregivers and children during vaccinations from birth to the age of five. The OUCH Cohort originally followed 760 caregiver-child dyads from three pediatric clinics in the Greater Toronto Area and were observed during vaccinations during the first five years of a child’s life.

Rebecca Pillai Riddell
Rebecca Pillai Riddell

“What we found is that in the first minute after the needle, the more parents said coping-promoting statements such as ‘you can do this’ and ‘it will be over soon’ or tried to distract them with talking about something else, the higher distressed the children were. This really surprised us,” said Rebecca Pillai Riddell, senior author, professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health, and director at the OUCH Lab at York University. “We found, however, during the second minute after the vaccine when the child was calmer, these same coping-promoting statements resulted in them calming down faster. On the other hand, distress-promoting statements such as criticizing the child or reassuring them that they were fine had no relationship with child distress in minute one, but in minute two the distress-promoting comments were strongly predictive of higher distress in kids. We also showed with preschoolers that the more distressed they were prior to the needle, the more distressed they were after the needle – like a domino effect of previous pain.”

“Previous research has shown that the vast majority of preschoolers calm down within two minutes after a vaccination; however, about 25 per cent of children did not,” said Ilana Shiff, first author and master’s student in Pillai Riddell’s lab. “We wanted to determine what parents were saying before or during the vaccination appointment that could be leading to these children feeling distressed during and after a vaccination.”

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that in first minute after a vaccine parents should not start encouraging coping right away, but rather keep children calm by using physical strategies such as hugging, cuddling or hand-holding. This should be done instead of trying to give a child verbal direction on how to cope when they are in peak distress. Once children get over that initial minute of high distress, Pillai Riddell says, they think children are more able to benefit from parents’ coping-promoting statements. The findings also provide insight for health-care providers and caregivers on how to support children during immunization appointments. 

Researchers say that because preschool children show the prior pain “domino effect,” it is critical for health-care providers to try to vaccinate calm preschoolers. Routinely adopting techniques that allow the child to be approached without distressing them prior to the needle (e.g. allowing a child to stay close to their caregiver while viewing a video on a smartphone as a distraction) will help minimize the pain domino effect these findings suggest. Moreover, for both groups, supporting caregivers to avoid distress-promoting behaviours before and during the vaccination will be critical.

“This type of data has never been found in preschoolers before,” said Pillai Riddell. “It’s important to understand post-needle reactions at this age because needle phobia and phobias in general start coming on at five to 10 years of age, so understanding how children can be coached and how parents can have a really powerful role in reducing stress post a vaccination is key.”