York’s Institute for Technoscience & Society looks to shape public debate, policy

Institute for Technoscience & Society web page graphic cropped
Credit: Zoran Svilar

York University’s Institute for Technoscience & Society (ITS), established in 2022 as an Associated Research Centre of the new Connected Minds: Neural and Machine Systems for a Healthy, Just Society initiative, is on a mission to build a global hub focused on the complex relationship between technoscience – the scientific study of how humans interact with technology – and society. In particular, the institute is committed to unravelling the configuration of social power that underpins science, medicine, technology and innovation.

According to Professor Kean Birch, the inaugural director of ITS, the institute was established to cement York’s international standing and reputation in disciplines such as science and technology studies, communication and media studies, design, critical data studies, the history and philosophy of science, and other related fields in which York is a global leader. Aligned with the University’s Strategic Research Plan, especially when it comes to the topics of digital cultures and disruptive technologies, its members are actively engaged in research on the social, political, and economic implications of artificial intelligence (AI) and neuroscience.

Kean Birch
Kean Birch

Birch is enthusiastic about the future of research in this area: “We’re seeing a lot of interest in these topics,” he says, “especially in the societal implications of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and other digital technologies.”

He insists, however, the institute’s depth in expertise is not limited to those areas, extending into topics such as the history of science through games design, the global governance of biotechnology and pharmaceutical innovation.

To support this diversity of knowledge, ITS is organized into the following four research clusters to help create synergies and support collaboration:

  • Technoscientific Injustices, which deals with the implications of emerging technoscience, its impacts on different social groups, and how to create just and inclusive science and technologies;
  • Technoscientific Economies, which deals with the entanglement of science and with different economies, what kinds of innovation get promoted by which kinds of economy, and how to support responsible and inclusive innovation;
  • Technoscientific Pasts & Futures, which deals with how the future of science and technology is bound up with our pasts and how the past helps us to build hopeful visions of and policies for the future; and
  • Technoscientific Bodies & Minds, which deals with the societal implications of prevailing understandings of health risks, diseases, and health-care delivery, as well as how prevailing understandings reinforce social injustices, inequities and divisions.

The institute is making its impact known in Canadian debates about the role of science and technology in society. Recently, Birch was interviewed by the CBC about the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Apple Inc. for antitrust violations; and his recent opinion pieces about personal data as a collective asset and the social costs of generative AI were published in the Globe and Mail.

ITS plans to continue on this trajectory through regular events and policy briefing papers, as well as interventions in public and policy debates.

“York is incredibly well-placed to make an important social, political, and economic impact when it comes to these issues,” explains Birch, “because of the institutional strength and expertise of faculty and early career researchers here.”

Teaching Commons helps navigate difficult classroom conversations

Teacher speaking too students in class

To help instructors navigate sensitive issues and challenging classroom dynamics, the Teaching Commons has launched a new toolkit and series of professional development sessions focused on difficult moments and conversations in the classroom.

Nona Robinson
Nona Robinson

On March 14, the Teaching Commons will host the second of a series of workshops in partnership with Nona Robinson, vice-provost students. Titled “Effective Classroom Facilitation: Managing disruptions, addressing controversial topics and supporting equity-deserving students,” this virtual session will offer concrete tools, strategies and resources for facilitating productive conversations in the classroom.

“I’m always happy to work with faculty members on student support, inclusion, and preventing and managing conflict” says Robinson. “I know this can be a source of stress for many of us, and this is a great opportunity for colleagues to share experiences and helpful ideas.” 

The session accompanies a new Facilitating Dialogue and Challenging Conversations in the Classroom resource site, also referred to as a toolkit, housed on the Teaching Commons website. and led by educational developer Shani Kipang.

“One of the goals has been to help members of the University community revisit commonly used terms like ‘safety’ and ‘comfort,’ and to think critically and collaboratively about what it means and looks like to build accountable spaces,” says Kipang, who has worked with the Teaching Commons over the past year to support initiatives in decolonizing, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI).

The toolkit provides a range of resources to support productive dialogue and collaborative learning in the classroom. Included in it are topic-specific resources such as strategies for facilitating discussion, addressing harm and creating community guidelines.

Shani Kipang
Shani Kipang

“Our hope is to help instructors walk into the classroom with clear goals and responsive strategies, so students can be motivated to engage and have the sense that it will be worthwhile,” she explains. “We want to help instructors address unanticipated situations with intention, and to support meaningful and carefully guided opportunities for learners to engage with critical issues in ways that shape how they learn and work and interact in the world.”

Ameera Ali
Ameera Ali

In addition to the March 14 workshop, the Teaching Commons offers a variety of other opportunities to explore strategies for teaching in times of crisis and integrating DEDI-informed pedagogies. Among these are a workshop series on trauma-informed pedagogies and a DEDI community of practice – a space where teachers can come together to learn, share, and question a wide array of topics related to DEDI in teaching and learning.

In partnership with York’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion and faculty co-facilitators, these initiatives are led by Ameera Ali, an educational developer in the Teaching Commons with a portfolio focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.

“These offerings invite folks to come together to collectively reflect on and discuss various aspects of trauma, race, disability, gender, wellness, belonging and more,” she says. “And through this work, building understanding in these areas, we can better support meaningful dialogue and connection within the classroom.”

For more information on resources and upcoming sessions, visit the Teaching Commons website or contact them via email at teaching@yorku.ca.

Study looks at LGBTQ2S+ workplace discrimination in Canada

LGBTQ rainbow BANNER

A York University research team from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) that researches lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, Two-Spirit and others (LGBTQ2S+) has released a study highlighting the state of workplace discrimination in Canada.

As much as Canada enjoys a reputation as a progressive country friendly to LGBTQ2S+ people, it is not perfect.

Workplace discrimination against sexual orientations, identities and expressions still exists. One York research team sought to seek out to what extent.

“There has not been much empirical evidence to show where we are at in Canada. We are quite happy to have sought an opportunity to gain better understanding of the current state of LGBTQ2S+ workplace discrimination,” says Professor You-Ta Chuang, who leads the project.  

Through a three-stage project titled “Act Up: From managing LGBTQ2S+ identity to changing workplace discrimination” that is funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, Chuang and his team pursued a project that surveyed 4,205 participants to further understand the prevalence of workplace discrimination against LGBTQ2S+ employees in Canada and how they cope.

The study found that while discrimination against LGBTQ2S+ employees in Canada is declining slightly, its prevalence is still in line with a recent survey by advocacy organization Egale Canada, which showed that 72 per cent of Two Spirit, transgender and non-binary (2STNB) survey participants had experienced workplace discrimination.

The York study found too that perceived discrimination was above the national average in six provinces and territories, with the highest levels in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

In terms of how participants responded to discrimination, the study found that more than half spoke up when they experienced discrimination, typically by addressing it or suggesting improvements to workplace inclusivity.

Those in Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Nova Scotia were found to be most likely to speak up and participants in Alberta and Nunavut were least likely.

The study marks the completion of Stage 1 of the Act Up project. Summer 2024 will see the beginning of Stage 2, which will involve a study examining which emotion regulation strategies used by LGBTQ2S+ employees help them cope with and stand up against workplace discrimination. Stage 3 will then look toward sharing findings with academics in communities to help realize Act Up’s ultimate mission.

“We hope to increase awareness of LGBTQ2S+ workplace discrimination and to see more people (both LGBTQ2S+ employees and allies) are able to speak up against workplace discrimination,” says Chuang.

World Health Organization extends Global Strategy Lab collaboration

heart and stethoscope

A World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHOCC) at York University’s Global Strategy Lab (GSL) – specializing in the global governance of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – had its impact recognized with a four-year extension, and expansion, of its mandate by WHO.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses and other microbes – and the infections they cause – stop responding to the medicines designed to treat them. AMR has a profound impact on global health and development – especially in low- and middle-income countries. It contributes to an estimated five million deaths annually and rolls back progress on many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), including SDG 3 (Good Health & Wellbeing), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

GSL has emerged as a leader in addressing pressing global and public health challenges. In the area of AMR, GSL aims to use policy research to support evidence-informed decision-making by the world’s governments and public health institutions to ensure sustainable antimicrobial use.

Susan Rogers Van Katwyk
Susan Rogers Van Katwyk

As a result, in 2019, GSL was designated the WHOCC on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance. “Collaborating centres have a concentration of expertise that WHO recognizes as valuable to achieving their mandate,” explains Susan Rogers Van Katwyk, who is co-director of the WHOCC at GSL along with Steven Hoffman.

In the past four years, the WHOCC at GSL has played a critical role in supporting the WHO’s work on AMR policy and governance, resulting in its renewal for another four years. “It’s exciting to know that the WHO values our support and the work that we’ve been doing with them for the last few years,” says Rogers Van Katwyk.

While the WHOCC at York will continue its mandate of supporting evidence-informed AMR decision-making, its new mandate will include a greater focus on equity as it relates to policy and the governance of AMR. “A focus on equity is something that the Global Strategy Lab is committed to and we’re glad to have it spelled out in our mandate for the renewal term,” says Rogers Van Katwyk.

Among the additions the redesignation has brought to the WHOCC at GSL, Rogers Van Katwyk is especially excited about the greater emphasis on a “One Health” approach, which recognizes that human health, animal health and the environment are interconnected. “Most of our research at the Global Strategy Lab already includes that perspective. It’s where a lot of health research, especially around infectious diseases, is headed,” she says.

Following its redesignation, Rogers Van Katwyk believes the WHOCC ­at GSL has the potential to make a profound impact on the future of global health and sustainability. “We recently undertook a mapping exercise of how AMR impacts the United Nations SDGs. There’s almost none of them that aren’t impacted,” she says. “If we don’t address AMR, we’re not going to achieve the SDG on health and most of the other SDGs.”

Rogers Van Katwyk and her team are ready to support better AMR policymaking and governance for a healthier and more equitable future.

York hosts conference examining impact of AI on law

Update: New information after publication of this article indicates the March 13 conference will now be held online only.

Leading legal thinkers from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School and beyond will gather to assess the seismic impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the law during a special conference on March 13 sponsored by the Osgoode-based Jack & Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime & Security.

All York community members are welcome to attend the hybrid event, titled Artificial Intelligence and the Law: New Challenges and Possibilities for Fundamental Human Rights and Security, which will take place both online and in person in 014 Helliwell Centre on York’s Keele Campus from noon to 6:15 p.m.

Trevor Farrow
Trevor Farrow

“I am delighted that this incredibly important discussion is being hosted at Osgoode Hall Law School,” said Osgoode Dean Trevor Farrow.

“Academics, lawyers, policymakers and the public are already heavily influenced by and reliant upon AI,” he added. “Osgoode very much sees itself at the centre of these discussions and innovations.”

By bringing together researchers with AI expertise across various fields of practice, conference speakers and attendees can engage with larger questions about law’s role in the regulation of emerging technologies, legal neutrality, ethics and professional responsibility, said Carys Craig, associate dean of research and institutional relations, who will speak on AI and copyright.

Carys Craig
Carys Craig

“I’m very excited about this conference,” she said. “Osgoode is known for its thought leadership and critical, interdisciplinary thinking, which is exactly what is needed as Canada grapples with the rapid acceleration of AI across almost every facet of society.”

The featured speakers will also include Professor Barnali Choudhury, director of the Nathanson Centre.

“Although AI offers numerous opportunities to society, it also poses risks, particularly in relation to human rights and security,” Choudhury noted. “Lawyers should be well versed in these risks to ensure that AI use aligns with legal standards.”

 Barnali Choudhury
Barnali Choudhury

The conference’s comprehensive examination of artificial intelligence will include the growing use of generative AI, which powers tools like ChatGPT, said Professor Valerio De Stefano, a co-organizer of the event and a panellist who will address today’s challenging issues around AI and work. 

“The law will have to react to a lot of the challenges that arise from artificial intelligence in order for society to thrive on the opportunities that AI offers,” he noted.

De Stefano said that almost no area of the law will be left untouched, including criminal, copyright, labour and tax law. Conference speakers will also dig into the implications of AI for legal ethics, practice and education.

Valerio De Stefano
Valerio De Stefano

“It’s extremely important that lawyers, both academics and practitioners, start discussing how to react to all these new things that are coming out of the AI landscape – and this is the opportunity to do that,” he added. “There’s a lot of people at Osgoode that do top-notch, groundbreaking research on law and technology.”

Other speakers will include Professor Jonathon Penney, who will examine whether AI safety standards are really safe, and Professor Allan Hutchinson, who will discuss AI and law’s multiplicity. Rounding out the list of Osgoode experts are Professor Sean Rehaag, PhD student Alexandra Scott and Osgoode PhD alumnus Jake Okechukwu Effoduh, now a law professor at Toronto Metropolitan University.

In the afternoon, De Stefano will chair a roundtable discussion on AI, due process and legal ethics. Panellists will include: Dean Farrow; Professor Patricia McMahon; Professor Richard Haigh; Glenn Stuart, the executive director of professional regulation for the Law Society of Ontario; and Professor Amy Salyzyn of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

Registration is required. For more information about the event, email nathansoncentre@osgoode.yorku.ca and copy vdestefano@osgoode.yorku.ca.

New working group builds on York’s leadership in social procurement

small houses businesses on blocks connected

York University is a leader in social procurement – a process that considers how buying goods and services can positively impact the social well-being of communities and assist in reducing poverty, promoting economic and social inclusion, and supporting local economic development and social enterprises. A new working group is seeking staff to help advance its efforts further.

For York University staff who aspire to become advocates for social procurement and whose roles involve a significant focus on purchasing, an exciting opportunity awaits. Strategic Procurement Services is actively seeking staff to join a social procurement working group with the goal of building social procurement awareness across York’s campuses. This group will, in part, help build tools and resources and identify future areas to build capacity to strengthen York’s leading social procurement program.

The group – and its future efforts – looks to build upon York positioning itself at the forefront of championing social procurement, taking a proactive approach to educate and engage its staff in the principles and practices of social procurement.

Among its recent endeavours is a pivotal new Anchor YU course, built from York’s Anchor York U Framework, designed to highlight the ways participants can champion social procurement within their respective roles alongside other ways to contribute to community wealth-building. The inaugural course held last fall received widespread attendance and positive feedback. Due to popular demand, a second offering is now available, and interested individuals are encouraged to register early to secure their spot through YU Learn.

York University’s success in social procurement has not been confined to its campuses; it has extended its impact across the province. The institution’s social procurement vendor portal, developed as an open-source tool, has become a catalyst for collaboration. Recently, York has signed memorandums of understanding with five university and college partners, designed to collectively build a robust social procurement ecosystem, leveraging York’s tools and expertise. This joint effort involves both institutional and community working groups, fostering a shared commitment to advancing social procurement practices.

As the University continues to lead the way in social procurement, these initiatives underscore its dedication to fostering a culture of sustainability and social responsibility. Through education, collaboration and community engagement, York is empowering its staff to become champions of social procurement, both within the University and across the broader community.

To express your interest in the social procurement working group, reach out to Brent Brodie at bbrodie@yorku.ca. To learn more about social procurement at York and the University’s current impact, visit the Social Procurement web page.

Prof’s new book reveals communicative capacities of textile

Peruvian Andes weaving patterns

Long before the invention of the typewriter or the telephone, and even before humankind had a functioning alphabet, communication was taking place through textile craft. Ganaele Langlois, a professor in York University’s Department of Communication & Media Studies, has published a new book exploring just that – the often-ignored transformative communicative capacities of traditional textiles.

A Shipibo-Conibo (Peruvian Amazon) design being drawn on textile using natural pigments. Photo by Ganaele Langlois.
Ganaele Langlois
Ganaele Langlois

How Textile Communicates: from Codes to Cosmotechnics (Bloomsbury, 2024) is a thought-provoking contribution to the fields of both fashion and communication studies, challenging readers’ preconceptions and shining new light on the profound impact of textiles on human communication.

Textile, Langlois explains, has been used as a medium of communication since the prehistoric period. Up until the 19th century, civilizations throughout the world manipulated thread and fabric to communicate in a way that she believes would astound many of us now.

“We often think of the digital as something that is brand new and contemporary, but the fact is that digital modes of communication such as textile weaving, knitting, lace-making, and so on have existed and been used as means of communication and information storage long before the invention of the alphabet,” says Langlois.

In the book, she dissects textile’s unique capacity for communication through a range of global case studies, before examining the profound impact of colonialism on textile practice and the appropriation of the medium by capitalist systems.

“I was intrigued as to why in my own field, communication and media studies, textile has never received the same in-depth treatment as other media,” she says. “I explain the reasons for this in this book – mostly related to colonialism and capitalist appropriation – and explore how traditional textile practices continue their important and unique work of communication today.”

Bestselling author to share publishing secrets at upcoming event

Pile of books

If you’ve ever fantasized about becoming a published author, or are simply curious about how the book industry works, you won’t want to miss this upcoming event. On Wednesday, Jan. 31, York University’s Writing Department and Creative Writing program are hosting a talk and Q-and-A session with Cody Caetano, a literary agent and award-winning Indigenous author whose bestselling debut memoir, Half-Bads in White Regalia (Penguin Random House Canada, 2022), won the 2023 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English.

Cody Caetano
Cody Caetano

Caetano, who is of Anishinaabe and Portuguese descent and is an off-reserve member of Pinaymootang First Nation, holds a master of arts in creative writing from the University of Toronto, where he wrote his memoir under the mentorship of Indigenous Canadian writer and academic Lee Maracle.

The highly successful memoir that resulted, Half-Bads in White Regalia, was longlisted for the 2023 Toronto Book Award, the 2023 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and Canada Reads 2023. It was also named one of the best books of the year by the Globe and Mail and CBC Books.

To make his career trajectory even more impressive, Caetano was writing his bestselling debut memoir while working his way up the corporate ranks in the publishing industry, from his entry-level role as contracts administrator to his current job as a literary agent at the CookeMcDermid agency.

At this in-person event, the author and agent will speak about how to break into the book publishing industry and the challenges and rewards of being an author while also working a day job. After his talk and Q-and-A, he will read from his forthcoming novel and sign copies of his memoir.

The event will take place in the Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson Building, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Registration is not required and all York University community members are welcome to attend.

Students launch clothing drive for job seekers in need

Clothing donation

In competitive careers like law, first impressions can be last impressions if prospects don’t present a professional image. But for some law students, having the appropriate clothing for on-campus interviews or other formal occasions is not always a luxury they can afford. That’s why the Osgoode Venture Capital Law Society (OVCLS) is holding its first-ever clothing drive on Jan. 17 from noon to 2 p.m. in the Goodmans LLP Junior Common Room in the Ignat Kaneff Building on York University’s Keele Campus.

“Outside of the financial burden associated with attending law school, interviewing and recruitment periods also bear less obvious but equally burdensome costs associated with the process,” said Osgoode student Emma Kirwin, director of communications for the OVCLS.

“The cost of formal business attire can create an additional financial barrier that often goes unacknowledged,” she added. “Alleviating this burden can help students feel more confident, prepared and less stressed during an already stressful and arduous period.”

Emma Kirwin and Yianni Patiniotis
Emma Kirwin (left) and Yianni Patiniotis (right) of the Osgoode Venture Capital Law Society.

Yianni Patiniotis, a second-year student in Osgoode’s Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration Program and the co-director of external relations for OVCLS, said the organization hopes the inaugural clothing drive will become an annual event that involves other Osgoode student clubs.

“During recruitment and at other times when we’ve been in corporate business settings, we’ve realized how fortunate we were to not have to stress too much about the business attire that we were required to wear,” said Patiniotis.

“If anything,” he added, “we had options to choose from. But we recognized that not all our peers and colleagues have that luxury.”

OVCLS is seeking donations of lightly used suit jackets, dress pants, dress shirts, belts, ties, dress socks and shoes, including heels or flats for women.

The organizers plan to donate the clothing collected to Dress for Success Toronto and Suits Me Fine at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction & Mental Health. Osgoode students who need business attire will need to access it through those charities.

York Circle Lecture Series presents experts on topical subjects

York Circle Lecture series

In collaboration with Jennifer Steeves, the York Circle Chair and associate vice-president research, the Office of Alumni Engagement invites the community to York University’s Keele campus for a new instalment of the York Circle Lecture series.

Beginning Nov. 25 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Life Sciences Building, prominent faculty members will delve into a diverse array of compelling subjects, reflecting the defining themes of York University.

The York Circle Lecture Series is held four times a year and is open to York’s community, including alumni and friends. Tickets are $5 and include coffee, light snacks and lunch.

Sessions will feature the guest speakers, and attendees will be asked to select one lecture from each session during registration.

10 a.m. sessions

Maxim Voronov
Maxim Voronov

Maxim Voronov, professor, organizational behaviour and industrial relations, Schulich School of Business, presenting “The good, the bad, and the ugly of authenticity.”

Authenticity seems ever-present in today’s society, and it has become an important research topic among organizational scholars. Much of the time, both scholars and practitioners see authenticity as unambiguously good. But we need to acknowledge the darker side of authenticity and explore its implications. The purpose of this talk is to explore “the good, the bad and the ugly” of authenticity, shifting the focus away from authenticity as an attribute of people and things and toward unpacking the process by which people and things are cast as authentic. A particular focus will be on unpacking the contribution of authenticity to both social good and social harm.

Emilie Roudier
Emilie Roudier

Emilie Roudier, assistant professor, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, presenting “Wildland fires: studying our blood vessels to better understand the impact on health.”

Over the past decade, the intensity and size of wildland fires have increased. Wildland fire seasons have lengthened, and these fires contribute to global air pollution. This presentation will highlight how wildland fire-related air pollution can impact our heart and blood vessels.

11:20 a.m. sessions

Usman Khan
Usman Khan

Usman Khan, associate professor and department Chair, Department of Civil Engineering, Lassonde School of Engineering, presenting “Harnessing the power of AI for flood forecasting.”

Floods are the most frequent weather-related natural disasters, affecting the largest number of people globally, with economic damages in excess of $900 billion (between 1994 and 2013). Globally, climate change and urbanization have led to an increase in floods in recent decades and this trend is projected to continue in the coming years, including in Canada. Despite this, Canada is the only G7 country without nationwide flood forecasting systems, which are key to saving lives and reducing the damages associated with floods. Hydroinformatics, the study of complex hydrological systems by combining water science, data science and computer science, attempts to improve traditional flood forecasting through the use of advanced techniques such as artificial intelligence (AI). This talk will outline recent research in this area and plans to build a Canada-wide, open-source, real-time, operational flood forecasting system that harnesses the power of AI to improves our ability to predict and prepare for floods.

Antony Chum
Antony Chum

Antony Chum, assistant professor, Canada Research Chair, School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, presenting “The impact of recreational cannabis legalization on cannabis-related acute care in Ontario.”

This presentation will discuss the effects of cannabis legalization on cannabis-related acute care (emergency department visits and hospitalizations). The research conducted discovered specific impact patterns among different demographic groups. Additionally, the talk will delve into regional disparities and analyze the policy implications arising from the legalization process.

Since 2009, York Circle has showcased the ideas and research being generated by York University’s community. Topics come from every Faculty and have included discussions around gender issues, brain function, mental health, international aid, sports injuries, financial policy and many more evolving subjects.