Announcing the 2022 Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars

glasses and pen resting on notebook

York University has announced Sylvester Aboagye, Landing Badji, Leora Gansworth and Graeme Reed as this year’s recipients of the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars.

This important initiative supports up to four scholars annually in any field of study and provides the successful applicants with a salary of $70,000 annually for a two-year term.

“The University is committed to creating positive change and this means taking action on the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. Our University Academic Plan prioritizes an inclusive higher education environment and these postdoctoral Fellows reflect that commitment. We very much look forward welcoming them to our community this year,” says Acting Provost and Vice-President Academic, Lyndon Martin.

The program’s aim is to address the under-representation of Black and Indigenous scholars in many disciplines and fields of research and associated careers. The initiative aims to address the lack of supportive mentorship and network-building opportunities available. Recipients of the fellowship are provided with collegial resources, supervision, mentorship and funded time to help them achieve their chosen career goals. The initiative promotes the inclusion, integration and nurturing of diverse backgrounds, knowledges and ways of researching, thinking, communicating and relating in order to provide equitable access to opportunities for emerging scholars. 

Thomas Loebel, dean and associate vice-president graduate, believes that, “An inspiring part of this program is the window it provides on the great range and significance of scholarship and research undertaken by the applicants. This years’ Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship holders, each with a unique specialization and focus, are committed to conserving, caring for, and newly developing the world as comprised of sometimes simple, sometimes inordinately complex networks of organic and inorganic elements. Whether exploring energy efficiency, species and habitats, climate solutions, these scholars recognize the fundamental importance of an ecological approach to life in future times.”

Sylvester Aboagye
Sylvester Aboagye

Sylvester Aboagye
Aboagye is completing his PhD in electrical engineering at Memorial University of Newfoundland. His stimulating research investigates how humans can improve the achievable data rate, coverage and energy efficiency performances of communication technologies. Specifically, his project focuses on wireless communication networks.

“For this fellowship, I will use optimization theory and machine learning tools to design communication technologies that operate in the terahertz and the visible light spectrum for the next generation of wireless networks,” says Aboagye. “Special thanks to Professor Hina Tabassum, a global leader in this research area, who will be my supervisor for this project at the Next Generation Wireless Networks research lab.”

During the fellowship, Aboagye will be housed with Lassonde School of Engineering.

Landing Badji
Landing Badji

Landing Badji
Badji earned a PhD in ecology and ecosystem management from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal. Badji’s cutting-edge research focuses on Chimpanzee self-medication, hormones and human-chimpanzee interactions.

“The Provost’s Postdoctoral fellowship will allow me to study factors affecting the health and behaviour of a critically endangered animal, the savanna chimpanzee, in its increasingly altered natural habitat,” says Badji. “I am looking forward to collaborating with Dr. Valerie Schoof in the Primate Behavioral Endocrinology Lab, and to work with someone who recognizes the importance of supporting scholars from primate-habitat countries in becoming research leaders.

During the fellowship, Badjo will be housed with Glendon.

Leora Gansworth
Leora Gansworth

Leora Gansworth
Leora holds a PhD in critical human geography from York University. Her innovative project investigates the environmental health priorities in the Algonquin territory.

“I am so thankful to join the Center for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages as an incoming postdoctoral Fellow. Chi Meegwech/gratitude to Dr. Deborah McGregor, the Osgoode Hall Law School, and the many others who have made this opportunity possible,” says Gansworth. “My research will continue to investigate environmental health priorities as determined by Indigenous Peoples. I am especially interested in working with those who continue to seek mino-bimaadiziwin, a good way of life, in reciprocity with all our relations, and an emphasis on restoring kinship with migrating eels.”

During the fellowship, Gansworth will be housed with Osgoode Hall Law School.

Graeme Reed
Graeme Reed

Graeme Reed
Reed is a PhD candidate in rural studies at the University of Guelph. He will be advancing his work on Indigenous visions for self-determined climate solutions by working with the Center for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages (CIKL) catalyst project “Indigenous Climate Leadership and Self-Determination Futures.

“This work is my commitment to deconstruct the dominant assumptions underlying colonial systems of climate solutions to advance solutions grounded in our knowledge systems, legal orders and governance practices,” says Reed. “I’d like to send a chi-miigwech to Profs. Deb McGregor and Angele Alook to agree to walk with me in this journey. I’d also like to send a chi-miigwech to all those Indigenous experts who have walked with me on this path, as well as all those Elders, women, youth, leaders and academics who shared their insight with me.”

During the fellowship, Reed will be housed with CIKL.

McGregor, director of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages, says “CIKL is looking forward to working with both Reed and Gansworth as part of this fellowship program. Their work is timely, original, and important and will make great research contributions. We look forward to supporting them with their academic and community-oriented objectives.”

Learn more about the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowships for Black and Indigenous Scholars at York University by visiting the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ website.

York lands in top five in ‘Maclean’s’ comprehensive university ranking

Two students in front of Vari Hall

York University has advanced to the top five in the 2023 Maclean’s University Rankings in the comprehensive category, moving up one spot from last year.

Universities in the comprehensive category have a significant amount of research activity and a wide range of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Over the last 10 years, York has also advanced 19 spots on the national reputation ranking, this year moving up one spot to No. 17 in Canada.

“York’s impressive fifth-place ranking as one of Canada’s top comprehensive universities confirms to our students, and the broader community, the growing importance of the work we are doing to drive positive change,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “Rankings are important indicators, and we always strive to do well. It is through teaching, research and discovery, innovation, and community building, that we achieve our goal: to have a lasting impact on the world around us. That’s exactly what we will continue to do.”

Other highlights include:

  • Sixth place ranking in Best Education Programs (Faculty of Education)
  • Seventh place ranking in Best Business Programs (Schulich School of Business)

For more, visit the Maclean’s website.

Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA ranks No. 1 in Canada

Schulich School of Business

The Financial Times of London has ranked the Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA (EMBA) at York University the No. 1 EMBA program in Canada. The 2022 Financial Times ranking marks the 14th time that the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA program has been ranked in the top spot in Canada.      

The Kellogg-Schulich EMBA program was ranked 30th globally and placed 10th among programs based in North America in this year’s Financial Times ranking. Among Canadian-based programs, the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA placed ahead of the Cornell-Queen’s EMBA, which ranked 47th; the Rotman School of Management, which ranked 53rd; the Queen’s EMBA, which ranked 82nd; and the Ivey EMBA, which ranked 89th.

Complete details regarding the 2022 Financial Times EMBA ranking, are available here.

Other survey highlights

The Kellogg-Schulich EMBA also ranked among the top 25 in the world in the following categories:

  • Second in the world in the “International Course Experience” category, which measures the percentage of classroom teaching hours that are conducted outside the country in which the business school is located.
  • Fifteenth in the world in the “Career Progress” category, which measures changes in the level of seniority and the size of company alumni work in now, versus before their EMBA.
  • Eighteenth in the world in the “Work Experience” category, which measures the seniority and years of work experience of the EMBA program’s students.
  • Twentieth in the world in the “Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG)” category, which measures the proportion of core courses dedicated to ethical, social and environmental issues.
  • Twenty-second in the world in the “Research” category, which measures the number of articles published by the faculty in leading academic and business practitioner journals.

The Kellogg global network of EMBA partner schools collectively performed very well in this year’s ranking, with the Kellogg-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) EMBA Program placing first overall, the Kellogg-WHU Beisheim EMBA Program based in Germany ranking 16th, and the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA Program placing 23rd.

“We’re delighted to have once again been ranked the No. 1 EMBA program in Canada and one of the top EMBA programs in the world,” said Schulich Dean Detlev Zwick

The Kellogg-Schulich EMBA Program was also ranked No. 1 in Canada and among the top 10 in the world in the most recent EMBA ranking conducted by The Economist. The Kellogg-Schulich EMBA Program was ranked No. 9 in the world among joint programs by QS Global EMBA in its 2021 global ranking.

New Provostial Fellows engage community to lead on Sustainable Development Goals

Vari Hall

Four new Provostial Fellows have taken up their roles this year. The program is now in its second year running, with current fellowships in place until spring 2023.

As an initiative led by the provost, each of the Fellows will build capacity across the institution to advance the University Academic Plan and York University’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Challenge. At the same time, the program offers tenured faculty an opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with University leadership. Here is a look at what the Fellows will be doing in Fall 2022 through to Spring 2023.

Changing transportation patterns to reduce York’s carbon footprint

Burkard Eberlein
Professor of Public Policy and Sustainability
Schulich School of Business

Burkhard Eberlein
Burkhard Eberlein

Burkard Eberlein’s project, “Advancing Carbon Neutrality at York: Reimagining Mobility,” targets carbon emissions from commuting and travel related to studying, research and other University business activities. 

The project will support University Academic Plan priority “Living Well Together” and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 13, Climate Action.

The first phase of this project identified best practices for reducing emissions from other universities around the world. Data from York’s carbon inventory was also weighed to understand the dynamics of York’s current carbon footprint. This data analysis will enable the project to match innovative ideas and best practices with York’s emissions profile so that proposals for action can target relevant areas and make an impact. The next phase of this project will involve a community-wide transportation survey, set to roll out this October. The goal of this survey is to gain a better understanding of community’s support for reducing mobility-related emissions. Overall, the project aims to find opportunities to reduce emissions within York’s current carbon footprint, so that the University can right the future on climate change.

Ensuring LGBTQ2S+ students can access support to successfully launch careers

Jen Gilbert
Faculty of Education

Jen Gilbert
Jen Gilbert

Jen Gilbert’s project, “LGBTQ2S+ Students’ Experiences in their Professional and Clinical Placements,” will engage the York community in identifying new ways to better support early career nurses, social workers and teachers.

The project will support University Academic Plan priority “From Access to Success” and the UN Sustainable Development Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities.

This work will look at the experiences of LGBTQ2S+ professionals as they embark upon clinical placements and positions in their field. Often, as students leave the university and begin working in their professions, they can enter less LGBTQ2S+ positive spaces. These students frequently enter the field full of excitement only to encounter homophobia and transphobia from supervisors, co-workers, clients, patients or students.

Faculty, staff and students will meet to talk about what kinds of supports should be put in place to best prepare these students in their professional education. A pan-University advisory group will also be created, alongside focus groups and consultations across the York community.

During Pride Month in June, 2023, meetings will be held over the course of a day to formally identify ways to support 2SLGBTQ+ students through experiential education. Students, program administrators and representatives from professional accrediting associations will meet, share strategies, and hear from student representatives. The project will conclude with a report on best practices for supporting 2SLGBTQ+ students in experiential education.

Diversifying and decolonizing curriculum at York

Lalai Ameeriar
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Lalaie Ameeriar
Lalaie Ameeriar

Lalaie Ameeriar’s project “Diversifying and Decolonizing Curriculum” sums up the progress made at York in this area and looks to identify opportunities to further maximize impact. As an anthropologist and ethnographer with more than 10 years of experience in research and teaching, Ameeriar brings unique expertise to this work.

In order to understand more about the experiences and viewpoints of various units and faculties who have implemented these efforts, a wider consultation will take place. Meeting with members of the Indigenous Council and the Advisory Council on Black Inclusion, the project will examine what efforts are making a difference at York University. A report will identify these experiences and create a benchmark for action.

Ameeriar will also review the literature, exploring what is meant by decolonizing the curriculum. Texts written on decolonizing and Indigenizing the curriculum in Canada, such as Sheila Cote-Meek’s Colonized Classrooms: Racism, Trauma and Resistance in Post-secondary Education (2014, Fernwood Publishing), will guide the review.

Supporting international student success after the pandemic

Saskia Van Viegen
Associate Professor
Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Saskia Van Viegen’s project “Engaging the Multilingual University” sets out to improve experiences and support for bilingual and multilingual international students at York.

Saskia Van Viegen
Saskia Van Viegen

The pandemic had a disproportional impact on international students. Restrictions to global travel interrupted access to campus life and many of the benefits of studying abroad.

This project examines levels of support that are currently available to students and will identify opportunities to enhance the student experience, with a particular focus on factors that drive academic success and persistence towards graduation. It will delve into how students navigate and access the University’s support networks.

Van Viegen will consult with students and stakeholders from across the primary faculties, departments and programs that admit international students. The project will also identify critical networks of support and effective changes to program delivery models within an equity, diversity and inclusion framework. Finally, the project will provide a concrete set of recommendations that align with University Academic Plan priorities on 21st Century Learning and Next Generation Student Supports, and contribute to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education

Award for research paper on how external shocks affect online voting

person using computer keyboard

A paper by a research group including York University Associate Professor Zachary Spicer that examines the impact of exogenous shocks on online voting has earned the award for Best Paper at the International E-Vote Conference in Austria.

The research group that also includes faculty from the MGGill University, Toronto Metropolitan University, Brock University and Dalhousie University, focused its work on the impact of exogenous shocks – namely COVID-19 and a 2018 technical outage – on the course of online voting adoption in Ontario. More than 200 municipalities across Ontario are using online voting in the 2022 municipal election cycle, making the province a world leader in online voting adoption.

Zachary Spicer
Zachary Spicer

“Ontario is a world leader in the advancement of online voting, a subject that is particularly sensitive to some voters and some government decision-makers,” said Spicer, an associate professor in the School of Public Administration and Policy, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “This research has demonstrated that despite the impact of several external shocks, the development of online voting has proceeded here without much interruption. Other jurisdictions should take notice.”

The team of researchers used a comprehensive data set – funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant – they compiled on attitudes towards online voting from the public and politicians.

Findings draw upon both survey and focus group data, and show that the two exogenous shocks affected perception and adoption of online voting, and researchers conclude the COVID-19 pandemic had a greater perceived effect on the decision to adopt online voting than the technical event in 2018.

However, the perceived effects of the 2018 technical incident were just as likely to be felt in unaffected municipalities as they were in those that had been directly affected. Municipalities that had not used online voting in 2018 and medium-sized cities were more negatively affected by the 2018 technical incident. In contrast, the perceived effects of the COVID-19 pandemic did not hinge upon the previous use of online voting, city size, or the urban/rural divide.

The paper “The Effect of Exogenous Shocks on the Administration of Online Voting: Evidence from Ontario, Canada” was presented Oct. 5 at the E-Vote Conference; the award was announced on Oct. 6.

“This award further demonstrates York’s impact on the international research community. It is great for the international community to recognize the innovative, practical and forward thinking research being conducted here at York,” said Spicer.

Welcome to the inaugural issue of ‘ASPIRE’

Header banner for ASPIRE

“ASPIRE” is a special edition of YFile publishing on select Fridays during the academic year. It showcases research and innovation at York University. “ASPIRE” offers compelling and accessible stories about the world-leading and policy-relevant work of changemakers in all Faculties and professional schools across York and encompasses both discovery and applied research. “ASPIRE” replaces the previous special issue “Brainstorm.”

In this issue

Research supports development of inclusive technologies to enhance quality of living
York design Professor Shital Desai combines her expertise in robotics with product design to create innovative solutions that are both inclusive and inspired.

COVID-19: Social networks helped spread fear among investors
Schulich Professor Ming Dong, whose research specializes in examining in behavioural and social finance, worked with two former PhD students to research the role that social networks played in emotional decision making among mutual fund managers in five hot spot cities in the United States.

York startup provides real-time medical expertise in Ukraine
A YSpace venture is using their innovative telehealth technology to pair Canadian health care expertise to local doctors in Ukraine.

Biologist finds hope for critically endangered species
Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux, a Glendon biology course director, is working to save the pancake tortoise that is native to some areas of Africa and assessing what it will take to develop a community-based conservancy plan.

Book offers exploration of sugar, power and politics
Glendon associate professor of history Gillian A. McGillivray delves into Latin America’s past through the lens of sugar. The result is her book Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868-1959.

COVID-19: Social networks helped spread fear among investors

image shows a graphic featuring social networks

By Elaine Smith

A York professor specializing in behavioural and social finance worked with two former PhD students to research the role that social networks played in emotional decision making among mutual fund managers in five hot spot cities in the United States.

Stuck in lockdown during the spring of 2020, York finance professor Ming Dong and two of his PhD students began to suffer from the lack of in-person social support and wondered if everyone else was also relying on Facebook to get together.

Dong, an associate professor of finance at the Schulich School of Business, specializes in behavioural and social finance, a cutting-edge area of finance research. He and his former PhD students, Shiu-Yik Au, now teaching at the University of Manitoba, and Joseph Zhou, now teaching at Ontario Tech University, realized that the COVID-19 outbreak, as devastating as it was to daily life, could be a natural experiment to explore social finance. They hypothesized that the behaviour of institutional investors (i.e., mutual fund managers) would be influenced by fears about COVID-19 which might lead them to sell stocks as the market dropped in response to the WHO announcement.

Ming Dong
Ming Dong

“In behavioural finance, we believe that emotions affect trading and investing decisions,” says Dong, “so we decided to look at mutual fund managers, who are professional investors, to see if their behaviour reflected pandemic fears. We discovered that even they are influenced by fear.”

The trio based their study in the U.S., in part because of the variation across states in response to the pandemic, and made three hypotheses: (1) fund managers in cities defined as hotspots based on the number of cases would be more affected by fear and divest themselves of more holdings than those in less-affected locales; (2) social media contact between hot spots and other locales would lead fund managers in those locales to divest themselves of more holdings than those in places where there was weak social media contact with hot spots; and (3) the most skilled managers should be less affected by panic.

Using case numbers, the researchers identified five hot spots in the U.S.: Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle. They then turned to Facebook data that showed social media connections between the hot spots and other cities to identify those cities with high social media traffic and those without. They measured fear among mutual fund managers in each of these cities by the volume of their buy and sell decisions in March 2020 after the WHO announcement and measured skill using past returns.

Dong and his students found that the data confirmed their hypotheses. In the hot spots, fund managers sold off more total stocks in March 2020 than did managers in the other cities across the country. In addition, they discovered something interesting: in the cities with strong social media ties to the hot spots – such as Miami, home to many NYC snowbirds – fund managers were even more fearful than their NYC hot spot counterparts and sold off more stocks, while those in cities with minimal social media connections to hot spots sold off fewer stocks than either the hot spot fund managers or those in connected cities. They also found that skilled managers were much steadier, avoiding fire sales and coming out of the initial crisis virtually unscathed.

In other words, notes Dong, “If colleagues or investors in NYC tell me on Facebook or Twitter about all the fear that is rampant there, as a Miami fund manager, I will be influenced and more likely to sell – even more likely than my colleague in NYC, the hot spot.

“Our study provides confirmation that emotion matters in trading,” Dong says. “Classical finance assumes investments are rational, but behavioural finance proves that the opposite is true, even for professional investors. They are also human beings and influenced by emotion.”

But, “if you’re skilled, you tend to make better decisions,” Dong says.

All of this information, he adds, should be useful to investors in choosing a fund manager; to fund managers as a reminder to make rational decisions based on a stock’s fundamental value; and to policy-makers as they attempt to steer the economy through a crisis.

York startup provides real-time medical expertise in Ukraine

Flag of Ukraine

A YSpace venture is using its innovative telehealth technology to pair Canadian health care expertise to local doctors in Ukraine.

When the Ukraine conflict made headlines throughout the world, ROSe Telehealth, a scale-up company based in British Columbia that provides critical health expertise to general physicians in remote and rural locations, acted quickly. ROSe Telehealth worked to provide instant access to specialized health care and support to health-care workers on the front lines of the Ukraine with help from YSpace at York University.

Dr. Don Burke, MD, an intensivist, infectious disease specialist and one of the cofounders of ROSe Telehealth, went to Ukraine to provide humanitarian support. ROSe Telehealth, which has seen an increase in reliance from patients due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bridges the gap between virtual consultation and in-person aid with critical care. It is an all-in-one, single-click service that connects local doctors with specialized medical expertise in real-time.

It is a service direly needed in Ukraine, where doctors are limited in the type of specialized care they can provide and have tenuous connections with the outside world. “ROSe Telehealth has so much to offer others. York University and YSpace have accelerated our potential to address crises, and the positive effect will be felt globally,” said Burke.

Neil Cesario, information systems manager at ROSe, noted that ROSe’s design was developed to accommodate lower bandwidth connections, while still providing important tools for physicians and specialists to collaborate, an important consideration in Ukraine given concerns around cybersecurity and unreliability of the internet.

Despite solutions to protect user privacy, there are many precautions to be taken when communicating in Ukraine. “When I first entered Ukraine, I was asked by a cyber security expert there (from the U.S.) to remove Zoom from all my devices for two reasons: cyber security risk, and bandwidth issues,” said Burke.

With internet and wireless network control, Burke relied on the Wi-Fi he was provided within Ukraine, which is often slow and unreliable. However, ROSe’s platform is designed to support low bandwidth adaptation, scaling video and audio quality with bandwidth capacity.

“ROSe was welcomed, as it functioned well in a low bandwidth setting, and it did not pose the same security or privacy concerns,” Burke added. “It also showed us that the ROSe platform could be used anywhere, and in any scenario. It is incredible how, knowing that you have immediate backup from specialists, the ‘fear factor’ is considerably lowered. You are then able to perform your tasks with greater confidence and ability.”

In addition to providing a sophisticated communications platform, ROSe revolutionizes communication by including live transcriptions, writing tools, and sharing images of ultrasounds. Cesario says: “Zoom or Skype [are] just business tools. ROSe telehealth is actually a health tool.”

With the crisis in Ukraine, ROSe Telehealth has come fully prepared to bridge the gap between physician aid and specialist intervention.

David Kwok
David Kwok

David Kwok, associate director of entrepreneurship at YSpace, was approached by Cesario and his team when they first started to tackle this issue of reliability and accessibility for critical care. Cesario believed that YSpace could provide access to the network necessary for ROSe to build its team of specialists and directors.

As York University’s innovation hub for startups and entrepreneurs, YSpace is home to innovative changemakers who are driving positive change in their local and global communities. York’s enduring commitment to innovation and research is bringing extraordinary solutions to complex worldwide health challenges.

Cesario notes the importance of YSpace in building up ROSe telehealth as a startup: “It takes a village, YSpace provided that village, that community. Galen Udell, program advisor at YSpace, has been excellent in guiding us. Without his mentorship we would just be another startup.”

“YSpace is proud to be supporting ventures like ROSe Telehealth that drives a direct impact into the communities, serving people not just across Canada but helping the global community as their technology scales. ROSe has engaged with YSpace actively over the past year to capitalize on the mentorship and curated venture support, designed to help bring the founders’ mission of bridging healthcare access into fruition,” says Kwok.

The tools and expertise which ROSe Telehealth provides to physicians will continue to be important long after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and other humanitarian crises. With the rising demand in telehealth services, this industry may become deeply embedded in the future of health care.

Biologist finds hope for critically endangered species

Pancake tortoise

By Elaine Smith

Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux, a York biology course director, is working to save the pancake tortoise that is native to some areas of Africa and assessing what it will take to develop a community-based conservancy plan.

Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux in Lewa, Kenya
Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux in Lewa, Kenya

York biologist Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux is off to Kenya in October on a search for critically endangered pancake tortoises, an unusual creature that took a circuitous route to capturing his attention. But, then, nothing about Dupuis-Desormeaux’s path to studying turtles – including tortoises, who belong to the turtle family – has been ordinary.

Until about 20 years ago, Dupuis-Desormeaux was successfully working as an investment banker, but didn’t find it satisfying. He returned to York University to study wildlife conservation and environmental studies and earned his PhD, taking a particular interest in how fencing changed the behaviour of animals. He began studying prey trails and safe passage at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. When the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) sought someone to design fences and underground passageways for its population of snakes, turtles and frogs, Dupuis-Desormeaux realized that he had the requisite skills and could be of assistance.

“Of course, I had to learn more about turtles,” he says.

Although Dupuis-Desormeaux’s primary research focused on predators in Kenya, at home in Canada, he became the TRCA’s turtle consultant. In 2019, the two interests merged.

“I was at a turtle conference taking a break and talking to a well-known turtle researcher,” Dupuis-Desormeaux said. “I told him that I did work in Kenya and he told me about the plight of the pancake tortoise. The terrain he described sounded like the area where I usually work, so I began asking around.”

Pancake tortoises are small reptiles, growing to only about 17.8 centimetres and weighing no more than 400 grams. They are native to Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, but habitat destruction and poaching have taken a toll, and female tortoises generally lay only one egg annually, so increasing the population is challenging. The tortoises live in crevices in rock outcroppings call kopje. Given that such terrain abounds at Lewa, Dupuis-Desormeaux was hopeful that more of the population had escaped plunder.

A pancake tortoise in its natural habitat
A pancake tortoise in its natural habitat

His questions about pancake tortoises didn’t ring a bell with the Kenyan wildlife guides he knew, but an area lodge owner sent him a photo of something that looked like the small reptile. Immediately, working from Canada, Dupuis-Desormeaux organized his Kenyan colleagues to conduct a three-day survey to confirm the presence of the rare tortoises at Lewa; they found seven. Intrigued, he assembled a team to search the area for more evidence of the tortoises, but the pandemic struck and the trip didn’t take place.

Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux holds two pancake tortoises

In 2021, Dupuis-Desormeaux returned himself and worked with Kenyan wildlife experts to search the conservancy property; the group found 59 of the small creatures. He found more on a subsequent trip, also locating 40 of the reptiles at two smaller conservancies during single day surveys. Now, he’s returning to these smaller properties to determine how large their populations are.

Finding and counting these “critters” is work done on foot, given the rocky, hilly terrain. He and his colleagues systematically work their way up the hills, peering into cracks in the rock to look for pancake tortoises. It can be challenging, since the reptiles may share their space with lizards and snakes.

“I don’t want to come face-to-face with any spitting cobras,” Dupuis-Desormeaux said with a laugh, but noted, “This is very exciting; we discovered undocumented populations. Because rhinoceroses are protected at Lewa, there are armed guards to prevent poaching, which gives us a chance.

“The goal of this work is to end up with a community conservation plan, since the communities in the area share the land with their wildlife.”

Saving a species from extinction? It’s a conservationist’s dream, one that may soon become a reality for Dupuis-Desormeaux.

Book offers exploration of sugar, power and politics

Sugar cane fields in Cuba

By Elaine Smith

Glendon associate professor of history Gillian A. McGillivray delves into Latin America’s past through the lens of sugar. The result is her book Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868-1959.

Gillian McGillivray became fascinated by Latin American culture in high school after reading a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer. After earning her master’s in Latin American studies and PhD in history at Georgetown University, McGillivray, an associate professor of history at Glendon, began delving into Latin America’s past through the lens of sugar.

Her first book, Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868-1959 (Duke, 2009), considered the origins of the industry, slavery and colonialism and discussed how and why sugar workers contributed to the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. Now, McGillivray has turned her gaze toward Brazil and the insights to be gleaned about politics and culture through sugar. She hopes to publish Sugar and Power in Brazil in 2023.

Cover of Blazing Cane
Cover of Blazing Cane

“I did my postdoctoral studies on the sugar zones in Mexico and Brazil and realized that Brazil was so complex that I needed to focus on it as its own project,” McGillivray says. “It was a challenge to move from studying Spanish-speaking Latin America to Portuguese-speaking Latin America.”

Her current research seeks to answer two larger questions: why São Paulo became one of the most successful economic zones in Latin America and how politicians and elites – not just in São Paulo, but throughout Brazil – kept the rural masses from organizing a successful revolutionary movement to combat the nation’s extreme socio-economic inequalities.

“Sugarcane, which planters have cultivated on different scales in pretty much every state of Brazil, has played a central role in the nation’s past and present,” says McGillivray. “Using sugar as a prism into Brazilian society, I argue that the Brazilian state’s support for industry and agriculture allowed elites in all of Brazil’s sugar zones to divide, co-opt, and coerce the vast number of residents who lived in the countryside.”

To prove this, she explores the changing relationships of three social classes – sugar workers, cane farmers, and refiner-industrialists – in three regions of Brazil – Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and the Northeast – from the end of slavery and empire in the 1880s to the beginning of dictatorship in the 1960s. McGillivray aims to explain how “policy-makers, landowners and industrialists managed to keep the millions of rural residents engaged in sugar production from becoming revolutionary actors capable of altering the political economy in their favor, in contrast to their counterparts in other places like Cuba and Mexico.”

McGillivray is participating in two additional projects alongside Sugar and Power. She is serving as a co-editor of the Entangled Histories of Brazil and the United States, a volume of academic essays by Brazilian and North American scholars that is slated for publication in January 2023.

“It grew out of a symposium in Brazil and we are happy to be publishing in both languages,” she says. “It’s important to share ideas across borders and that often involves translation. It’s nice to be based at Glendon, because we have a reputation for languages.”

Her second project involves a chapter comparing Cuba and Brazil for an edited volume based on the June 2023 “Plantation Knowledge” workshop at Cologne’s “Global South Centre.” Fifteen scholars from Europe and the Americas workshopped papers ranging from a geographer’s reflections on “the Plantationocene” to tea plantations in India, coconuts in the Philippines and cocoa in Africa.

What’s next on McGillivray’s agenda? After her book about Brazilian sugar, she’d like to collaborate on a public history project bringing together stories of sugar production and consumption in the American hemisphere with other historians and digital humanities specialists.