York takes academic leadership role at Congress 2023 

Female conference lecture teacher professor

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, editor, YFile

Upwards of 250 York University faculty members and scholars are among the presenters during the 2023 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, where they take an academic leadership role in sharing their research with colleagues from across the nation. 

The flagship event of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences – taking place May 27 to June 2 at York University’s Keele Campus – returns to an in-person format this year, following a hiatus in 2020 and the subsequent virtual format in 2021 and 2022. Congress is the largest academic gathering in Canada, with at least 10,000 participants attending this year. The event was last hosted at York University in 2006. 

Congress 2023 provides a platform for critical conversations, including diverse voices and perspectives to create collaborations that help drive the future of post-secondary education. This year’s theme “Reckonings and Re-Imaginings” will guide the direction of discussions and knowledge sharing in presentations, panels, workshops and more.

Andrea Davis
Andrea Davis

“I am excited by this theme because it’s a call to reflection on where we (as scholars, activists, artists and thinkers) are and how we got here,” said York University Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies Professor Andrea Davis, who is serving as academic convenor for Congress 2023, when the theme was announced. “Rather than simply centering the problems, this theme insists that we imagine otherwise – that we consider what a different set of possibilities might look like and that we come together collectively to create the kind of world we want to live in.” 

York faculty and scholars will contribute their humanities and social sciences research and expertise through more than 250 different events scheduled in a variety of programming streams, such as the Big Thinking Lecture Series, Career Corner, Black and racialized programming, Indigenous programming, scholarly presentations and more. 

Contributions come from all 11 York Faculties, three Organized Research Units, two divisions and other units, such as the Teaching Commons and York International. 

“We took the opportunity to apply York’s strengths as an institution that is known for supporting social justice and social responsibility. At Congress 2023, the University is playing an active role in igniting and sustaining positive change through scholarship, creative practice and conversations that generate new perspectives,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Philipps is also a member of the Scholarly Planning Committee for Congress, which is comprised of York faculty, staff, graduate students and senior leadership, who together have helped to guide and shape the themes and programming for this year’s event through broad consultation with the York community. Learn more about the Scholarly Planning Committee here

York programming at Congress 2023 

The School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design will feature work from faculty and graduate students with topics exploring culturally relevant pedagogy, accessible tech for Canadian artists, film screenings and more. 

Diverse programming from the Faculty of Education – which contributes to more than 60 events – includes re-imagining teacher education, book launch events, the risks of queer lives during the pandemic, findings from a Black feminist qualitative study and more from faculty and graduate students. 

Both faculty and graduate students from the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change will participate and explore topics such as the intersectional feminist approach to gathering and analyzing stories that reconsider risk, and a look at ceremonies of mourning, remembrance and care in the context of violence and more.

Glendon College faculty members will consider the ascent of right-wing populism in Canada, the politics of refusal in the Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette novel Suzanne, and more. 

Research by graduate students will be the focus of contributions from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, with a variety of presentations on diverse topics, including the impact of the pandemic on intimate partner violence in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, a focus on mental health and the suicide of Black men, female activists and their relationships with their mothers, and more. 

From the Faculty of Health, faculty members will explore how academic nursing leaders addressed the complexities of sustaining quality nursing education programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, participate in a roundtable on transnational Black communities and overcoming epidemics and a panel on promising practices that support aging with equity. Faculty will also present research on Indian immigrant fatherhood in the perinatal period, the experiences of immigrant Pakistani youths, and Asian Canadian exclusionary experiences in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to research contributions, a graduate program assistant will perform at the Swag Stage.

Lassonde School of Engineering will have contributions from faculty and an undergraduate student that focuses on designing a more equitable science curricula and York’s Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4), which will be presented in partnership with a student from the Schulich School of Business.

Knowledge sharing from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies will come from undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching and research assistants and faculty, with participation in upwards of 80 different events at Congress. Some of the research will cover racial profiling among Canadian university professors of Chinese descent, re-imagining criminal justice, activism and inclusion, decolonizing transnational human rights engagements and partnerships in Africa, queer rural teacher activists and more. 

Osgoode Hall Law School faculty members and a visiting Fellow will present their research on girls and Young Women before the Cour du bienêtre social of Montréal, conflicting interpretations of women in Canada’s thalidomide tragedy and Indigenous laws and jurisdiction for addressing harm. 

Faculty members representing the Faculty of Science will share their research on geological fantasies, the stark effect, and offer perspectives during a roundtable on overcoming epidemics and the transnational Black communities’ response. 

Find more information about open programming events at Congress here: https://www.federationhss.ca/en/congress2023/york-programming.  

Artist-researchers present exhibit on research harassment during Congress

Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts

Sarah Hancock, an artist-researcher and undergraduate student at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), is using data to bring awareness to the harassment experienced by scholars when sharing their work in online spaces. Her work is part of an exhibit running through Congress 2023.

When conceiving her artistic vision, Hancock was inspired by a York University Libraries-led co-curricular workshop she attended that was part of a series on data literacy, research computing, digital methods, research skills and media creation.

Taught by librarians Alexandra Wong and Priscilla Carmini, the workshop “Crochet Your Way to Data Fundamentals,” combined maker and data literacies through experiential learning. With crocheting, it brought data to life through the act of data physicalization, aiming to help students explore, understand and communicate data using physical representations while introducing participants to a research creation modality.

The goal was to not only teach students to crochet and create a physical item visualizing temperature data change in Toronto, but to also purposely foster diversity and inclusivity, and build confidence to engage with data. Student participants interacted with local temperature data, reflected, and chose how the use of different yarn colours could best encode the data to communicate data creatively. The workshop offers an introduction to the Maker Literacy programming that will extend to Markham Campus Library’s Data Visualization, Makerspace, Media Creation and Extended Reality (XR) and Gaming spaces.

Using this data visualization skill, a team of researchers has collected stories from graduate students, known as “storytellers,” on their experiences facing harassment due to their research. The team and resulting exhibit, both titled “Bearing Witness: Hate, Harassment and Online Public Scholarship,” are led by Alex Borkowski and Marion Grant, both PhD candidates in the Department of Communication and Culture in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, supported by Associate Professor Natalie Coulter, director, Institute for Research on Digital Literacies. The project will be displayed as part of a larger exhibit during Congress 2023.

Exhibit by Sarah Hancock on research harassment
Exhibit by Sarah Hancock on research harassment

The exhibit invites three artist-researchers to interpret the interviews and create artistic pieces that allow viewers to experience first-hand research harassment. It is part of an ongoing effort by the Bearing Witness team to establish a research community focused on addressing scholar harassment by providing a safe space for students to voice their experiences, and to highlight the need for institutional change and support.

“My installation is meant to be a space of confrontation. I wanted to highlight the ambiguity of the media’s usefulness in our society,” says Hancock.

She explains that she views data physicalization as a bridge between data and comprehension.

“The first reason I decided to use data physicalization is that I wanted a relevant medium and an art form that could highlight their identity as a researcher, yet humanize their work,” says Hancock.

Wong and Carmini led a consultation with Hancock to discover and understand the existing data for online researcher harassment. Although the topic is under-researched, the Libraries were able to support Hancock in finding an academic survey with data the artist could isolate to compare the victimization of researchers with a monthly online presence versus researchers without a monthly online presence.

“I settled on this data because it demonstrates how removing one’s online presence is not a solution, it promotes erasure and demonstrates that online harassment is independent of the researcher’s online usage,” says Hancock.

Leveraging the expertise of Wong and Carmini, Hancock chose to create her data physicalization as two stacks of cease-and-desist letters to represent the victimization of researchers with and without an online presence. Blending mediums, Hancock crafted a physical “online troll” with a QR code linking to a video simulating the threat of online harassment.

“We are really excited that a small spark of inspiration from our data physicalization workshop could snowball into an ongoing discussion on data and research skills, and finally to being part of an exhibit bringing light to an important topic like researcher harassment,” says Wong. “It really shows the potential of creative teaching pedagogies and the strengths of the Libraries’ support throughout the research lifecycle. Through our participatory workshop, we were able engage Sarah to see data in a new light, which led her to her art exhibit project where we could help her to continue to build her research skills; it was very rewarding to assist Sarah’s learning to critically read academic articles, understand how to read complex statistical analyses to retrieve the data she desired, and then to transform that data into a physicalization.”

Borkowski says the current guidance when encountering harassment online is insufficient.

“Researchers are told to respond to harassment by making themselves smaller, like to use a pseudonym, or to not share on Twitter, which is very detrimental, because so much about being a graduate student is about building a public profile and building a network. It also has the result of limiting what research is allowed to take place, which perspectives are silenced, and which are permitted to be shared. We’re really trying to highlight the stakes of the issue, not only for individuals, but for academia more broadly,” says Borkowski.

The Bearing Witness exhibit will be on display from May 27 to June 2 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in the Special Projects Gallery in the main lobby of the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts at York University (86 Fine Arts Rd., North York).

More information for this project, exhibit and related Congress panels can be found here.

For more information on York University Library workshops, visit https://yorku.libcal.com/calendar/libraryworkshops/. To learn more about the data physicalization workshop, visit https://yorku.libcal.com/event/3706464.

Congress 2023 screens Indigenous-focused films

film camera

A group of female directors will bring their Indigenous-focused films to York’s Keele Campus during Congress 2023 in late May.

Both conference attendees and the general public will have the opportunity to see the works of Ange Loft, Martha Stiegman, Angele Alook and Paulette Moore free of charge as part of the conference’s community programming. They touch on a variety of issues and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including reduced inequalities, life on land and gender equality.

Loft, a multidisciplinary artist, and Stiegman, an associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), are part of Jumblies Theatre & Arts’ Talking Treaties project which is produced By These Presents: “Purchasing” Toronto and screens on May 28. The piece was created to explore the treaty negotiations between the colonizing British and the Mississaugas of the Credit, for the land the City of Toronto now occupies. Afterward, Amar Bhatia, co-director of Osgoode Hall’s Intensive Program in Indigenous Lands, Resources and Governments, will facilitate a discussion with members of the creative team.

“Using archival records and minutes of the treaty negotiations, we see the underhanded calculus and fraudulent means used to acquire Mississauga lands,” says Stiegman. “It [the film] uses sardonic humour as sugar on the medicine of truth to draw people in and engage them in a different way of learning about history so they don’t feel like they are doing homework.”

Alook, assistant professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies brings her work, pîkopayin (It Is Broken), to the screen on May 27. Part of the Just Powers project on energy transition and environmental and social justice, the film looks at the impacts of resource extraction on the community of Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta, Alook’s home territory, which sits amidst the oil sands in the boreal forest. It documents traditional land users’ practices such as hunting, harvesting, and land-based teaching, while talking to the residents about their visions of the future on these lands.

The final films, VeRONAka and Rahyne, screen on June 1 and are followed by a panel discussion moderated by director Paulette Moore, an EUC PhD student, filmmaker and owner of The Aunties Dandelion media organization. VeRONAka is a 10-minute live-action fictional film, both humorous and serious, that explores the true story of how a Mohawk clan mother gave COVID-19 a Mohawk name, personifying the out-of-control virus. Once a person is in relationship with the virus, they can understand why it is here and ask it to leave. Rahyne is a short, animated film about an Afro-Indigenous non-binary teen whose identity is united through two water spirits. Moore will talk with Rahyne’s co-directors Queen Kukoyi and Nico Taylor about how film can help explore concepts of identity and naming. 

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend; community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Meet York University’s latest commercialization Fellows

lightbulb idea innovation

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

Four budding researchers completed York University’s Commercialization Fellowship program – now in its second year – at the end of April.  

The Commercialization Fellowship program is funded by the innovation arm of the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation at York. The program runs from January to April and provides graduate students and postdoctoral Fellows support and assistance to develop their academic research into a commercially viable product.   

The Fellows receive $7,500 as stipend, with a quarter of the funds earmarked for research activities like prototype testing, proof of concept projects, or validation studies. They also participate in workshops and seminars that focus on various topics related to commercialization, including design thinking, intellectual property, licensing, and partnerships. Additionally, Fellows work at and receive advice on patent searching, industry outreach, and pitching.  

“The fellowship provides a valuable opportunity to support and train the next generation of innovators and supports them on their entrepreneurial journey,” said Suraj Shah, associate director, commercialization and strategic partnerships.  

Aspire spoke with the four Fellows about the fellowship program and their products.

Kajanan Kanathipan
Kajanan Kanathipan

Kajanan Kanathipan, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Project title: Modular single-stage step-up photovoltaic (PV) converter with integrated power balancing feature 

Kanathipan’s doctoral research focuses on the development of new extraction techniques for renewable energy, particularly solar power. Solar energy can be tricky to harness for power due to varying atmospheric conditions, like cloud cover.  

Kanathipan is determined to find a way to circumvent this issue and build a device that not only streamlines the conversion process, but can maximize power extraction under all operating conditions. 

Solar energy starts with sunlight, which is made up of photons. Photovoltaic (PV) panels convert the sunlight into electrical currents. This is then converted to electricity that supplies power for machines, homes and buildings to run on. It’s a two-step process involving different converters. 

Kanathipan’s idea would reduce the power conversion to a single step, using the same converter. This converter would also be able to better balance and store power from the PV panels to not stress or drain one converter more than the others.  

The invention would allow the entire conversion system to safely operate under different weather conditions. This would reduce equipment costs and produce a greater amount of energy for PV plants.  

“We are looking to design and control photovoltaic conversion well enough that it provides an innovative solution in the solar technology industry,” says Kanathipan, who works out of the Advanced Power Electronics Laboratory for Sustainable Energy Research (PELSER) and is supervised by John Lam, associate professor at the Lassonde School of Engineering.  

Kanathipan says the fellowship program has provided education and training not found in the lab, like the workshops on how to protect your intellectual property, build business partnerships, or how to determine a potential customer.   

Right now, Kanathipan is working on a scaled down prototype, a key component of his dissertation.   

Kanathipan is a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Lassonde School of Engineering.

Stephanie Cheung
Stephanie Cheung

Stephanie Cheung, Faculty of Education
Project title: VoteBetter 

Cheung created the VoteBetter app, a SaaS (software as a service) product, which aims to drive civic engagement in student politics. The application operates as a virtual election space for post-secondary student constituents, candidates and incumbents, and provides a central source for locating, contributing to and comparing campaign priorities. Users can view candidates’ profiles, submit questions, and view, rank and comment on crowd-sourced campus issues. Once the election is over, the app tracks the campaign promises of elected representatives and serves as a community forum.  

Under the supervision of Natalia Balyasnikova, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, Cheung’s master’s research examines contemporary trends in political participation on diverse campuses in the Greater Toronto Area and explores how undergraduate student election voter engagement and turnout might be improved. The idea for the app was inspired by her research and Cheung’s own experience in student politics, in addition to a former role as a public servant with the provincial government.  

“VoteBetter can be used as a tool for students to deepen dialogue and focus more on the substantive issues their communities face than surface-level politics,” Cheung says. “Student groups can wield hefty budgets and their constituents deserve well-informed leaders who understand pertinent issues and are equipped to pursue sustainable change.”  

Cheung says the fellowship program has offered structure and guidance as she works through her research and development phase. She says she is interested in the commercialization of her master’s research not for profit, but to extend the impact of her academic work.   

“I am often asking myself how research can live off the page,” she says. “And I’m interested in my work facilitating opportunities for co-constructing knowledge and bridging theory to practice.”  

Currently, Cheung’s VoteBetter app is being validated with end users.  

Cheung is a part-time master’s student in the Faculty of Education and full-time staff at York where she works as manager, student success and stakeholder engagement at Calumet and Stong Colleges in the Faculty of Health.

Mehran Sepah Mansoor
Mehran Sepah Mansoor

Mehran Sepah Mansoor, Mechanical Engineering
Project title: A method of fabricating one-dimensional photonic crystal optical filters  

Mansoor works out of York University’s Advanced Materials for Sustainable Energy Technologies Laboratory. His research at the AM-SET Lab has led to him inventing a novel fabrication method for a photonic crystal optical filter, which can transmit sunlight over a broad range of wavelengths.  

Mansoor, under the supervision of AM-SET Lab’s founder Paul G. O’Brian at the Lassonde School of Engineering, believes the invention could have several applications, but it could be particularly useful to improve thermal energy storage systems, particularly those that store solar thermal energy.   

Thermal energy storage involves preventing losses via heat conduction, convection, and radiation. Mansoor’s photonic crystal filter more effectively controls solar radiation and thermal losses simultaneously and can transmit sunlight to be absorbed and converted to heat in a thermal storage medium.  

The filter can also reflect radiative heat from the medium, which has longer wavelengths than sunlight, minimizing heat losses. The stored energy can then act as a power source later when sunlight is no longer available.  

“The innovation is the way the materials in the photonic crystal filters have been fabricated and the treatment applied to them to achieve the optical properties needed to refract or bend light in a desired manner, as well as the way we have been able to stack all of the materials together,” said Mansoor. “Our method eliminates unwanted energy absorption in the photonic crystal while improving the energy transmission of the filter.”  

Mansoor cites the program’s design thinking workshop as a highlight of his time as a Fellow. He says the fellowship also provided him a greater understanding of how to patent technology. This invention marks his first patent.  

So far, Mansoor has completed simulations of the invention and has some preliminary results. He is in the early stages of creating a prototype.  

Mansoor is a second-year master’s student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the Lassonde School of Engineering.

Abbas Panahi
Abbas Panahi

Abbas Panahi, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Project title: A novel portable platform based on field-effect transistor integrated with microfluidics for biosensing applications 

Panahi’s academic work studying biosensors – a device to detect and target molecules – grew stronger after a PhD internship at Mitacs. Now in his fourth year as a PhD student and under the supervision of Professor Ebrahim Ghafar-Zadeh at the Lassonde School of Engineering, Panahi has invented a new biosensing platform that can detect disease.  

The platform uses sensor technology that can be used on a portable device, like a smartphone, to analyze the specific concentration of RNA or any biomarker in a saliva sample.   

“This technology has huge potential for medical application,” Panahi says. “The device could be used in hospitals for non-expert users to run clinical tests and help detect viruses quickly and easily.”  

The portable sensor was developed entirely at York University’s Biologically Inspired Sensors and Actuators (BioSA) Laboratory – from the testing and modelling, to all the engineering – by a team of students and research associates under the direction, guidance and conceptualization of Ghafar-Zadeh. The development process involved a variety of tasks, including in-house testing, modelling and engineering design. 

For Panahi, the fellowship program gave him a complete education for what it takes to start a science-based venture. He says the fellowship allowed him to fully consider every aspect of the commercialization process and develop a strong business model. He also says the program’s teachings on how to match the technology with market needs was invaluable.  

Currently, Panahi is working on technology market matching, and readying the device to undergo clinical tests in the next year.   

Panahi is a fourth-year PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the Lassonde School of Engineering.  

Research shows family members of those with mental illness feel stigmatized

A woman consoling a man

Family members of those with serious mental health issues are feeling stigmatized and alone, say York University researchers in a new study.

It’s well known that those who have serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia face a great deal of stigma in society, but what has been less understood is the concept of “stigma by association” – the discrimination people close to them experience.

Joel Goldberg
Joel Goldberg

A team of York researchers looked at just that in a recent study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, and found that one in three family members of those who have serious mental illnesses experience stigma. Ahead of Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Mental Health Week, starting May 1, Joel Goldberg, lead author on the study, describes this figure as “startling” and points to the need to do more outreach.

“We wanted to reach out to a group of people who we think have been especially marginalized and one of the things that we noticed right away, is that this is a group of people who have really not been well studied. And that really speaks to how isolated they are,” says Goldberg, a York Faculty of Health professor with the Department of Psychology. “We found that family members were not receiving the social support they needed, even from other family members.”

The researchers, including York graduate researchers Suzanne McKeagAlison Rose and Heather Lumsden-Ruegg and York Psychology Professor and Canada Research Chair Gordon Flett, reached out to groups like the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, Reconnect Community Health Services, the CMHA and The Schizophrenia Society of York and were able to connect with 120 family members who were living with relatives with severe mental health challenges.

In surveys, family members described chronic feelings of blame, failure and loneliness. Overall, the researchers found many felt stigmatized, unsupported, and that their lives don’t matter. This last main finding builds on other work by Flett, who studies mattering, which is essentially the idea that all of us need to feel like we matter, and feeling like we don’t, a concept Flett describes as anti-mattering, can lead to a host of problems.

About one per cent of the population is affected by schizophrenia, commonly characterized by auditory hallucinations (“hearing voices”), delusions, and disordered thinking that can affect daily functioning.

“Unfortunately, it’s a condition which has been really misrepresented in media portrayals. The few times when the public hears stories about people with schizophrenia, they hear about someone who hasn’t been taking their medicine, or acts of violence,” says Goldberg. “These ideas become the basis of the stigma, and families are then associated with it.”

Goldberg says that it is very probable that the numbers of family members facing stigma are actually much higher as the cohort they studied were people already connected to support groups. From a public health perspective, the study points to the need to reach out to not only those who have the illness, but also their families, who he describes as “very marginalized.”

“If you’re made to feel insignificant, if you are feeling like those around you treat you as if you’re invisible, this can have really harmful effects on your sense of well-being,” he says. “We’re hoping with this Mental Health Week that this will give great attention to family members, and let them know that we do not see their lives as being insignificant, that we don’t see them as being invisible, that their lives matter.”

Watch a video of Goldberg explain the research.

Learn more at News @ York.

Consultation first step in creating EUC Black Mentorship Program 

Black female students women alumni

When Brandon Hay began working toward his master of environmental studies (MES) degree at York University in 2014, he was the only Black male in many of his classes. 

“I consistently asked myself if I belonged here,” he said. “I questioned how much of myself to bring to class, wondering whether my fellow students would understand me.”

Brandon Hay
Brandon Hay

Hay discovered a sense of community as a graduate assistant to the Transitional Year Program, but he hopes that current plans to implement a pilot Black Mentorship Program at the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) this fall will offer incoming students support from the start of their university careers. 

The Faculty is launching this Black student-to-alumni mentorship program in accordance with EUC’s Black Inclusion Plan to enhance learning opportunities and support for Black EUC students. 

“Black students need spaces where they can talk about things that affect them, whether it’s anti-Black violence happening in the United States or their own experiences,” said Hay, founder of the Black Daddies Club. “If this program is centralized [within York or the Faculty], they won’t have to seek out support.” 

Hay was a speaker at EUC’s first consultation about how to create a meaningful program to address the needs of EUC’s Black community, held on March 22. EUC staff members Rosanna Chowdhury, experiential education coordinator, and Joanne Huy, alumni engagement and events officer, co-led this hybrid event with Senior DEDI Advisor, Education and Communication, Melissa Theodore. The event was attended by about 30 faculty, staff, students and alumni. Attendees who were Black and/or members of equity-deserving groups of the York community were willing to share their experiences and offer suggestions for the type of supports that would be useful.  

EUC Dean Alice Hovorka opened the session by welcoming those assembled in person and attending virtually, followed by Hay’s talk. Participants then took part in a knowledge building circle, discussing how EUC could support Black students and Black futures through community engagement, representation and education. Afterward, there were breakout sessions focused on each of these topics individually. The organizers will use the information provided by participants to consider how to shape the pilot program. 

Chowdhury led the community engagement breakout sessions with Huy and Theodore and found that the discussion centred around building and sustaining community. Participants touched on having recurring events and meetings in a space where individuals can participate. They also mentioned the importance of finding ways to be inclusive of all their intersecting identities. 

“The conversation flowed,” Chowdhury said. “This was a good first step. The goal is to prepare a report on the information we gathered and share it with the attendees and the community as it will inform the best practices for the mentorship program. We will also host a second event or a survey to gather additional input. Once we get feedback, we’ll design a pilot program for September 2023 launch. 

“We’re not sure yet what that program will look like. It could become a community mentorship program where a group of students is mentored by more than one person, or we might create a space for people to meet and find their own mentors. It could be a mix of models.”

Lord-Emmanuel Achidago
Lord-Emmanuel Achidago

Lord-Emmanuel Achidago, a second-year master’s degree student in geography from Ghana, expressed particular interest in career mentorship. 

“I’d like insights on opportunities that exist and networking to help meet other people in the field,” he said. “Talking to people with more experience can be enlightening. They can advise you on the other skills you need to develop to get a competitive edge. 

“When you meet people who share your identity, it’s easier to connect.” 

Chowdhury is confident the program will reap rewards for the participants. “There are many people with a common interest in making it succeed,” she said.  

“Not only will the pilot program assist our Black students, but it will help inform future EUC mentorship programs focused on supporting all students from marginalized groups.”  

EUC champions hands-on learning, immersive outdoor classrooms

For the birds project

By Angela Ward  

In the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), students gain hands-on education through a variety of experiences, dismantling the traditional four walls of a classroom.

Lisa Myers
Lisa Myers
Phyllis Novak
Phyllis Novak

In the Community Arts for Social Change course, taught by Professor Lisa Myers, EUC students collaborated to create the “For the Birds” window mural. Designed out of the student-run Sky Studio Collective and headed by graduate student Phyllis Novak, it now sits outside the first floor of the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies (HNES) Building. It serves as a reminder to care for the songbirds in the design of built spaces, after the estimated 1,000 deaths each year from window glass. 

“The project came out of research in which we considered our relationships with the sky world, and the life cycle of the songbird,” Novak says. “It was great to co-design with 30 students in the class. And to make sure our designs connected with the outdoor space at HNES/EUC including the Native Plant Garden – a great draw and habitat for the more-than-human species around us. I then worked with four EUC students, as a collaborator, to produce the final mural application.”  

As director of Maloca Living Labs – Community and Native Plant Gardens, Novak also sees the arts playing key roles in environmental education. “There’s so much opportunity and so much we can do,” Novak explains. “Both the arts and environmentalism serve each other, but the arts are accessible, make way for subjectivity, and offer a more-than-words-alone way to struggle through and communicate about urgent issues such as land, food and racial justice. 

“The arts are a great way to archive and map stories that have preceded us in these Anishinaabeg territories, and a modality from which to (re)learn relationships with the natural world that can help us all move forward. Interacting withplace’ through the arts broadens ecological consciousness. My aim is to integrate the arts in urban agriculture, community gardening and environmental learning and activations in EUC’s Maloca and Native Plant Gardens.”

Patrick Mojdehi
Patrick Mojdehi

Living labs are a huge part of EUC’s makeup. “The ability to gather your own data, rather than reviewing someone else’s data and getting outside the four walls of a classroom is a neat experience; not a lot of courses have this component to it,” says Patrick Mojdehi, laboratory technician/field course support, EUC. “Some challenges include not always having a roof over your head and calm conditions, but you must prepare for these elements by having the right clothing, right mindset and right protection. Being adaptable and resilient is an important life lesson. 

“I recall an experience where I was very cold, my hands were in the freezing cold water, but we still took the samples and got the work done. We felt better for it and since we were there with colleagues, we made those types of friendships where you collaboratively experience those hardships together.”  

Mojdehi has over a decade of technical experience in environmental geoscience; and is capable of conducting various research experiments, report writing and sampling methods and design. 

Mojdehi believes that experiential education (EE) is fundamental to a student’s education. “I think that students should really get to it, do it and experience it. Once you go through some type of EE experience, you fall in love with it. It’s very rewarding.”  

As for the career readiness and employment EUC provides, EE offers a challenging yet meaningful experience. “There is a huge paradigm shift these days towards experience and hands-on learning. Having this experience on your resume is beneficial because in terms of physical geography and environmental sciences, companies are doing the same on a larger, more repetitive scale,” Mojdehi explains.

Field trip
One of the experiential education opportunities for EUC students

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and how that changed science practices, Mojdehi sees a need for science students in EUC complementing their online research with online resources. He says, “Since things are always changing and adapting, I do see it going this way. We’ve used census data and satellite imagery data in the past; which are a type of old open educational resources (OER), where we make digital maps.”  

Moe Clark, a Métis multidisciplinary artist who held a guest workshop in ENVS 1100 The Land We’re On: Treaties, Art and Environment, says that her work is grounded in environmental soundscapes, spoken word poetry and experiential learning. Clark explains, “The innate power of video and the visual realm are at the frontlines of social and political movements as they communicate directly to convey story and transmit understanding. 

“One example during the workshop I presented includes Anishinaabe writer, poet and activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s piece How to Steal a Canoe. In her video, she used her ancestral tongue, Anishinaabemowin, to speak about power, kinship relationships and the process of locating ourselves. The repetition within her spoken text included images of water as earth blood, used to nurture a dried-out birch bark canoe. I invited students to consider the images and coded symbolisms within their writing and demonstrated how Simpson codifies her work through re-matriation (repatriation) practices of Land Back from an Anishinaabe Kwe perspective.”   

Betasamosake Simpson’s poem was complemented with vivid animations by Amanda Strong. “Strong is a Métis animator based in Vancouver. Her visual language offered examples of ways to weave these living metaphors within the cellphim realm to underscore land acknowledgements. Land acknowledgments then become more than a concept; they become a sensory experience of place.” 

In her workshop, Clark encourages her students to consider how relationships are dynamic and living, explaining, “They should be wary of placing any relationship, any understanding of power, of treaty relations or of land claims or land title as a past thing. I want to ensure students are upholding and uplifting their roles as allies, as immigrants, refugees and settlers and they are improving how they build and maintain relationships.”  

EUC aims to create meaningful experience for its students that are different, unique and rewarding, equipping them to become career ready, and become critically and creatively engaged as future changemakers in this time of unprecedented environmental change.  

Research calls for governance of wildlife trade in pandemic treaty

Black woman typing on a laptop

Researchers from York University’s Faculty of Health have co-authored a study investigating the governance of pandemic prevention in the context of wildlife trade.

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the research considers the current institutional landscape for pandemic prevention and how prevention of zoonotic spillovers from the wildlife trade for human consumption should be incorporated into a pandemic treaty.

Raphael Aguiar
Raphael Aguiar
Adrian Viens
Adrian Viens
Mary Wiktorowicz

Professors Mary Wiktorowicz and A.M. Viens, along with doctoral candidate Raphael Aguiar, collaborated on the research with colleagues from the University of Washington. The researchers argue that a pandemic treaty should be “explicit about zoonotic spillover prevention and focus on improving coordination across four policy domains, namely public health, biodiversity conservation, food security, and trade.”

A pandemic treaty, they say, should include four interacting goals in relation to prevention of zoonotic spillovers from the wildlife trade for human consumption: risk understanding; risk assessment; risk reduction; and enabling funding.

Ideas about preventative actions for pandemics have been advanced during COVID-19, but researchers say more consideration on how these actions can be operationalized, with respect to wildlife trade for human consumption, is needed.

“To date, pandemic governance has mostly focused on outbreak surveillance, containment, and response rather than on avoiding zoonotic spillovers in the first place,” the study states. “However, given the acceleration of globalization, a paradigm shift towards prevention of zoonotic spillovers is warranted as containment of outbreaks becomes unfeasible.”

According to Raphael, “A risk-based approach to wildlife trade and its interconnected threats can be used to situate the governance of pandemic prevention in relation to their shared causal pathways. This approach enables more efficient coordination of responses.”

Trade-offs must be carefully balanced to meet multiple objectives, says Wiktorowicz. For instance, while bans on all wildlife trade could reduce health risks, they may undermine access to food for some local and indigenous populations around the world and alter incentives for sustainable land use.

“Pandemic prevention at source needs to be based on a better understanding of how interaction with wildlife increases health risks to humans along the entire trade chain, so that overregulation does not occur,” says Wiktorowicz.

The researchers note that containment of zoonotic outbreaks and prevention of spillovers into pandemics could become more difficult to manage with increased globalization and urbanization, and this calls for an international institutional arrangement that accounts specifically for these possibilities.

“The current pandemic treaty negotiations present an opportunity for a multilateral approach, to address deep prevention,” adds Viens.

Read the full study “Global governance for pandemic prevention and the wildlife trade.”

Wiktorowicz and co-author Eduardo Gallo Cajiao (University of Washington) will present the paper in a seminar at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research on April 26 at 1 p.m. See the event listing online for more information and details on how to attend.

Study explores barriers, opportunities for implementing Finnish Baby Box concept in Canada

A new study out of York University examines how the Finnish Baby Box concept was instituted across nations identified as liberal welfare states, such as Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., that minimize income redistribution, social spending and management of the labour market. It also identified numerous barriers to building progressive public policy in these nations.

For more than 80 years in Finland, expectant mothers have been provided with a cardboard box containing an extensive collection of clothing, bathing products and diapers, together with bedding and a small mattress, which could be used to place the baby in if necessary.

Dennis Raphael
Dennis Raphael

Faculty of Health Professor Dennis Raphael and Alexis Blair-Hamilton, a recent graduate of the Health Studies program at York and lead author of the study, investigated how the concept was translated in liberal welfare states. Raphael says they were led to do so by their observing that governmental authorities and the media in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. put forth the mistaken belief that Finland’s very low infant mortality rate was achieved by having babies sleep in the box rather than by the advantages provided by Finland’s extensive social democratic welfare state.

Using a critical case study methodology, the study looked at whether the Finnish Baby Box concept’s implementation in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. experienced message distortion (having the box serve as a means of preventing SIDS rather than providing essentials associated with childbirth), commercialization and watering down of content and authorities, and media separation of the baby box concept from the broad array of Finnish welfare state policies that support families with children.

Numerous barriers to building progressive public policy in these three countries were identified, including: “the structures and processes of the liberal welfare state, commercial interests that skew public policymaking and media logic that limits news reporting to the concrete and simple, eschewing complex analysis.”

Additionally, the researchers found that only Scotland and Wales recognized the decommodification and equity roles played by the Finnish baby box and its contents. The authors noted that in Scotland and Wales, like Finland, governing authorities were decidedly on the left-wing of national politics, demonstrating how a commitment to equity and social democracy serve as important spurs to health promoting public policy. Barriers and opportunities in liberal welfare states for implementing such public policy to support families and promote health and well-being were considered.

The full study “A critical analysis of the Finnish Baby Box’s journey in to the liberal welfare state: Implications for progressive public policymaking” is available for free download until May 17. To obtain a copy of the study after May 17, contact Raphael at draphael@yorku.ca.

Harry Jerome Leadership Award goes to York alum Rosemarie Powell

3d golden star golden with lighting effect on black background. Template luxury premium award design. Vector illustration

York University alum Rosemarie Powell (MES ’15) will be honoured at the 2023 Harry Jerome Awards for her long-serving work in advancing social, economic and environmental justice.

Rosemarie Powell
Rosemarie Powell

The Harry Jerome Awards recognize excellence in the African Canadian community. Powell will be presented with the Leadership Award on April 29 during the 41st Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) Annual Harry Jerome Awards Gala.

Powell is executive director of the Toronto Community Benefits Network, a non-profit community-labour coalition where she advocates for disadvantaged communities and equity-seeking groups in the City of Toronto. In this role, she has grown the community benefits movement and strengthened the coalition to create good jobs and opportunities through government investment in infrastructure and urban development for Black, Indigenous and racialized peoples with a focus on those who are youth, women and newcomers.

With more than 20 years of service to grassroots communities and organizations, Powell has led numerous community-based programs and services that support marginalized and under-represented groups and their access to the labour market. Throughout her career, she has advanced equitable approaches to policy development and implementation at various levels of government as it relates to land use planning, infrastructure investment and urban development.

She is the recipient of several awards for her leadership and imagination in community engagement and environmental advocacy, and has previously held roles at the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Jane-Finch Community and Family Centre, and Skills for Change.

Established in the memory of Harry Jerome, an outstanding African Canadian Olympic athlete, scholar and social advocate, the BBPA Harry Jerome Awards celebrates African Canadian achievement that pays tribute to outstanding and inspirational African Canadians who are role models of excellence.

The Harry Jerome Awards focus on a number of different categories, including athletics, leadership, young entrepreneurs, business, professional excellence, leadership, arts/media entertainment, health sciences. These awards are done through a nomination process by individuals and organizations across the country.

The Board of Directors additionally selects the president’s, lifetime achievement and diversity awards.