Human Rights Violations in Guatemala: A matter of Canadian foreign relations

 
 

 

During Guatemala’s thirty year long civil war, the population suffered a massive genocide, whereby an estimated 200 000 people were killed, most of whom were a part of the Mayan Indigenous population. The civil war ended in the 1990’s, but the struggle did not. The country continues to exist under a repressive government.

This February, I was fortunate enough to join a delegation of students traveling to Guatemala. We went with Service Learning and Breaking the Silence (BTS), a solidarity network based out of the Maritimes. The purpose of the trip was to learn about, and bear witness to the human rights violations that have occurred in Guatemala, and the ongoing repression that Guatemalans face. During the trip, we were also called upon to consider Canada’s relation to the Guatemalan state, and how we can hold our own government accountable.

I would like to use two cases of injustice to illustrate the ongoing challenges that Guatemalans face: the Rio Negro Massacres, and exploitative mining practices. While in Guatemala, the group spent the first days in Rabinal, hearing from a survivor about the Rio Negro Massacres. We got to visit Pacux, where many survivors have resettled, and built monuments to commemorate their lost loved ones.

These massacres were a part of a larger politics of extermination by the Guatemalan government. In particular, the Rio Negro Massacres were over the building of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam, which was funded by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Residents of Rio Negro resisted the project, and were labelled as guerrillas because they stood up for their rights. What followed was a series of assaults on the town, which essentially wiped out the population. Today, the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam stands tall, but at a great cost; thousands of Indigenous people were senselessly murdered.

My delegation travelled to Rio Negro by bus and boat. Once there, we hiked an hour and a half to the Rio Negro Massacre site, where 170 women and children were brutally murdered. This was only one of a series of assaults that whose intentions were to exterminate the Indigenous population in the town for the construction of the dam. Today, survivors are returning to Rio Negro to rebuild. They have reclaimed the land, and are bringing life back to the region. Survivors of the Rio Negro Massacres have been fighting for recognition since the genocide, and they continue to resist efforts to extinguish their culture. The Guatemalan government has failed to pay adequate reparations to survivors, and they have failed to recognize the genocide as such. Genocide trials, spearheaded by survivors, are still ongoing.

Following the civil war, Peace Accords were signed, which essentially opened the country up to foreign investment. Today, there are four major mining corporations in Guatemala, all of which are Canadian. Due to the nature of these mega-projects, they have been harmful to the land and peoples surrounding them. Beyond this, a number of the corporations have committed atrocious human rights abuses.

In particular, I would like to touch on nickel mine in Guatemala, located near the town of El Estor. The Indigenous population living near the mine were forcibly removed to make room for the mine. As a result of conflict caused by this relocation, there have been a number of murders, assaults, and other human rights violations. Including: two academics who were assassinated, seven men who were killed, eleven women who were raped during evictions, and a community leader who was killed during protests in 2009. The company responsible for these actions is Hud Bay Minerals.

The company has had three lawsuits filed against them. However, Canadian courts are not required to hear these cases if they find that Guatemalan court would be more appropriate, or if the Canadian mining company does not owe a duty of care to the Guatemalan people. Fortunately, all three cases were accepted by Canadian courts in 2013 and are still in progress.

To complicate things even further, Hud Bay was previously owned by INCO – also a Canadian company. INCO became involved in Guatemala at the beginning of the civil war, in the 1960s. The Canadian Department of External Affairs was supportive of this venture. INCO planned to mine near the town of El Estor, however there were two significant challenges: law prohibited open pit mining and guerrillas in the area.

INCO worked around these challenges by having a lawyer rewrite the policies, so that open pit mining was made legal. They also gained permission from the military government to mine in the area, so long as stability was ensured. Colonel Carolos Arana Osorio was responsible for relocating the Indigenous people who were living where the mine was to be. Osorio then began what has been called by some a “reign of terror”. Between three and six thousand people were killed in the relocation.

During this time, Canada continued to support the creation of the mine, and the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala even toured the region. Also during this time, the mine was widely protested by the Indigenous population, as well as concerned Guatemalans. In particular, the topic was publicly protested by a group of professors at the University of San Carlos, who were silenced, and two professors were assassinated. These types of brutal acts of repression continued with Canadian support until 1982, when the mine was shut down because of the declining price of nickel.

I am telling these stories to bring readers attention to the importance of holding our government accountable. Recently, the government has implemented an office for the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. This was a fought for position, which will hopefully improve the conditions under which Canadian corporations operate. However, it is crucial that as Canadians, we continue to keep a watchful eye on the office, and we hold our government accountable for their actions.

 

A Word About The Bursary

 
 

My goodness has time ever flown by. It seems like just last week The Xav published an article introducing the Class of 2018 Student Refugee Bursary but with only a couple of weeks left in the school year, I figured it is time for an update and many thank yous.

We began our campaign in September with the goal of raising $50,000 to establish a bursary to help students who attend StFX and who were at one-time refugees. The goal was bold and seemed very ambitious from the start but thanks to the X-Ring Store, our Chancellor, UNIFOR, StFX for SAFE, StFX WUSC and students like you, we just might make it. To date, we have raised more than $21,000 and that number doesn’t even include Dr. Crocker’s offer to match all student contributions up to a maximum of $20,180 or the commitment that the X-Ring Store has made to donate all net proceeds from the year to our bursary. This means that our fund will grow from its current state, but we are far from guaranteed to reach our goal and any contribution would be so so appreciated.

I am so proud of our class for coming together and raising so much this year, and I would also like to recognize a few additional people and groups for working so hard over the year. Firstly, thanks to StFX for SAFE and StFX WUSC who have worked tirelessly doing coat-checks, bake sales and raffles to raise money. These students have donated their time to an incredible cause and for that I say a tremendous thank-you. Thanks to Drs. Susan Crocker and Kent MacDonald as well as everyone in StFX Advancement and the X-Ring Store for their encouragement, guidance, generosity, contributions and hard work. You know who you are and for your help I will always be grateful. Thanks to Majd Al Zhouri for performing his harrowing one-person, one-act play “To Eat an Almond” and shooting a video to raise funds and awareness. His story is incredible and he is even better. Thanks to Sylvia Phee for her help securing $2500 and $500 donations from UNIFOR national and local. An incredible union with a generous and socially conscious membership. Finally, thanks so much to Dr. Norine Verberg for all of her hard work and guidance throughout the year. Thank you thank you thank you thank you, you have all made a wonderful difference.

 

Sisters of St. Martha move out of The Bethany House

 
 

The sisters take big steps into their new residence

March 1, 2018, the Sisters of St. Martha have officially moved out of the Bethany House, which has been home to many sisters since being built in 1921. Their new home which has been developed over the last year is situated adjacent to the Bethany House. As soon as everything is removed, the building, which has many structural problems, will be demolished. The move was sparked by a number of safety concerns associated with the Bethany building including a lack of emergency sprinklers. The building was also found to be too old and too big for the aging residents.

The new facility, Parkland Antigonish, is sponsored and run by Shannex, a family-owned organization that offers many services including home care, retirement living, assisted living, memory care and nursing care. The new building includes 25 nursing home beds, and modern amenities. In the next 10 to 20 years, when beds are no longer needed by the sisters, the facility will open up rooms for community use and revert to become a public nursing home.

The move was contested at first, as many of the sisters have lived in the old Bethany building for decades. However, continued safety concerns have pushed residents to make the move into the Shannex building next door.

Shannex CEO Joe Shannon told the Casket “We’re thrilled to be able to bring this forward for all the Sisters as well as the community of Antigonish…and we are honoured to be apart of the next journey with the Sisters of St. Martha.”

The Sisters of St. Martha are a beloved and active part of our Antigonish community. Since their formal establishment as a religious congregation in 1900, they have continued to contribute to community work and causes including the Antigonish movement during the 1940s. Dr. Moses Coady was a strong admirer of the sisters, and once declared that fifty of Saint Martha's sisters could change the world.

Today, the sisters continue to celebrate and promote activism in the community such as Pink Shirt day against bullying, African Heritage Month, the Antigonish Affordable Housing Society, just to name a few. As well as events happening on the StFX campus through their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The new Parkland Antigonish location will have it's grand opening celebration on Monday, March 19, 2018 between 2:00pm and 4:00 pm to invite members of the community to come join them in their new journey.

 

Fighting Disappointment With Action

 
 

At every graduation, there are numerous speeches that congratulate the new graduates on everything they have done in the past several years and motivate them to do great things in the future. Each year, one graduate from each ceremony at StFX is chosen to be the senior class graduate speaker. I nominated myself for this position because I felt I had something to share with the senior class, and my friends encouraged me through heart-warming letters of nomination to include in the package I submitted. I met with a committee, and they interviewed me on the theme I would be speaking about. I chose the theme of home, inspired by the lyrics of the song “To Build a Home” by Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately, I was not chosen as a candidate to run before the senior class as their Grad speaker. I would like at this point to congratulate all of the candidates on their selection and I know that all of you would have done a fantastic job had you won. To Cameron, I look forward to hearing your words of encouragement as I experience the joys and sorrows of convocation alongside the lifelong friends I made here at StFX.

My desire to share my own words was not extinguished upon hearing that I was no longer in the running for the position. I was bitterly disappointed, and looked for excuses as to why I was not viewed as able to deliver this address. I went back to the committee to ask for feedback, and was told that it wasn’t my ability to speak, but rather the message I chose to speak about that limited this opportunity for me. They urged me to not be discouraged by this outcome, instead to think about it as “deking left instead of right.” I reflected on this feedback, and looked forward to find a way alleviate this disappointment. My grandfather says “if you don’t stand tall enough, you won’t see far enough” and this quote has inspired me so much that I had part of it engraved on my X-Ring. My interpretation is that you can never forget why it was that you started and what motivated you to put your hat in the ring in the first place. You will face adversity along the way, but you must stand tall and keep sight of your goals. My goal was to share words of congratulation, inspiration, and expectation with my graduating class, and although the platform of convocation is not available to me, I have the privilege of another avenue to spread my message. This avenue strips me of my ability to hide behind presentation skills, and forces me to focus purely on the message I was told would not resonate with my graduating class. To those of you reading this, I hope you find meaning in the words. This is the convocation speech I won’t get to make (at convocation).

“There is a house built out of stone, wooden floors, walls, and window sills. Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust. This is a place where I don’t feel alone. This is a place I feel at home.” Graduating class, parents, faculty, staff, and administration, welcome to our graduation ceremony. After years of work, we gather here today to celebrate perseverance, growth, and success. We come together as a community, to reflect on the chapter of our lives that is coming to a close, and to look forward to the exciting journey each of us will embark on. A short time ago, before we experienced this campus and understood exactly what it meant to be a Xaverian, we were explorers seeking out our next adventure. We were leaving our old homes with the values taught to us there by our families and friends in our hearts, and venturing into a new world. In this world, we would find new friends, new passions, and build new homes. Each of us brought our own values here, and shared them with each other. One of the magical things about this place is its ability to bring people together in ways it is difficult to explain. This sets the foundation of what we have created during our time here. Every passing hello, class discussion, and late night debate strengthened the floors, walls, and roof. This is a place where I don’t feel alone. This is a place where I feel at home. Home means something different to each of us. It could mean the quiet buzz of the Angus L. MacDonald Library as you study or pretend to study, the softness of a Students’ Union Building couch for a mid-afternoon nap, or the comfort of a Schwartz bathroom. With our exams behind us and nothing but the world in front of us, we can turn around and admire everything we have accomplished. These homes that we leave behind have everything we brought with us when we began, and now include everything we have shared with each other. Like every home, there are countless memories we look back on with happiness. But we can also see the imperfections born of missed opportunities and regretted decisions. It is our duty to learn from all of this, and as we walk into our futures to carry those lessons and use them as we build our next homes. No matter where we end up, the values we brought, learned, and carry with us will be forever intertwined into the homes we build for ourselves and the ones we care about. On behalf of the graduating class, thank you to everyone who has contributed to our growth, we hope you grew with us as well. To the graduating class, thank you for sharing your values with each other and with me. We have built magnificent things here, and we should be so proud of ourselves. We made it, and as we leave this home behind with our steps, we keep it close in our hearts and our hands, and we will build something even greater with these lessons in our heads. Congratulations to the graduating class, may we go forward and build places where we do not feel alone, and create a future where we can all feel at home.

 

X-Sledge hockey tournament

 
 

 The Motor Activities with StFX (MAX) program hosted an X-Sledge hockey tournament on March 14 from 2-4pm on the KMC main ice.  The MAX program, run through the Department of Human Kinetics, holds a weekly recreational sledge hockey program that allows HKIN students and community members with and without disabilities to participate. The program allows participants to be physically active and improve their fitness while having the opportunity to play a sport they love. Human Kinetics students learn about how to adapt physical activity programming for various disabilities and apply their knowledge in community practice.

The MAX program designs events and activities based on feedback from the individual participants.  Last semester, the participants were asked what they want to see happen in the program.  The immediate response from the participants was that they would like to hold a competition where family and friends can come watch them play a game with peers without disabilities. Secondly participants stated that they want more than one practice per week with increased access to resources, coaches and training. We are trying to take steps towards these goals and we have had great collaborative support from both StFX and County Recreation, the Antigonish Bulldogs Minor Hockey Association as well as the wider community.

Danielle Pellerine was one of the first participants in the MAX sledge hockey program 12 years ago and is very excited to finally have the opportunity to compete in a tournament.  Danielle states “I really enjoy coming to the MAX Sledge Hockey Program every Wednesday.  It gives me an opportunity to get some exercise and I love hanging out with my teammates and the StFX Human Kinetic students.  You really get to know everyone and they become life-long friends.  I am happy we’re able to do this and bring more awareness to our program and the sport in general.”

Indeed, the tournament illustrated that designing an event for various ability levels may be challenging but possible with time and effort. The StFX campus is aiming to move forward with greater accessibility via external funding for the Oland Centre which may be used to support changes to the built environment and make it more inclusive for all users.  StFX Recreation has also sought to find ways to adapt programming to accommodate for everyone regardless of ability. Dr. Casey explains that ``people sometimes think accessibility is costly and beneficial for only a small minority. Yet if you design universally then you can actually provide benefits for all users. Human Kinetics students are engaging with the community to see how this works in practice.”

StFX students are also learning an important lesson, especially how to make inclusive physical activity work in practice and overcome the barriers associated with it. StFX X-Woman hockey players have been involved in the MAX sledge hockey program since it started in 2006.  Current X-woman players, Emma Winters and Sarah Johnson said that “being able to step up and coach for the program in honour of the alumni on the team is an incredible opportunity as being coaches for the program has been passed down.  It is great to be a part of a program that encourages inclusion and we feel privilege to offer the opportunity to participate to all individuals.  Through on and off ice training we have seen tremendous progression and endless potential in these athletes.  The athletes are given a chance to excel and we constantly see improvements in quality of life and participants working towards future goals."

As a student, volunteer and assistant to the MAX program myself, I am grateful to have the opportunity to directly impact the community. Being a part of the design process and participating in the MAX program allows me to bring evidence into practice and improve the health of vulnerable populations.

 

StFX Basketball: A year of surprise and disappointment

 
 

Men are riding high off a great playoff run, while the women struggle for relevance after another poor year

After ending the regular season 5th overall in the AUS with a 9-11 record, another mediocre season for Coach Konchalski seemed to be the result. However, the team got hot at the right time in the playoffs and was able to knock off Acadia in the quarters, then number one seeded Dalhousie in the semi’s. The final was a gut wrenching, tough game that saw UNB eke out an 84-81 win, ending the season for StFX. Kevin Bercy, who competed for team Canada over the summer during the Universiade in Chinese Taipei, had a vicious 33-point effort in his final game ever for the X-Men. 

For the Women, it was a fourth straight year in the cellar of the AUS standings. It was also back to back years of a 1-19 record. The team has been a combined 10-70 in the last four years. At the crux of the issue is the lack of a true star on the team. The leading scorer on the year was freshman guard Kimberly Kingsbury at 7.3 PPG. Kingsbury was also named the AUS all rookie team this year. Luckily, the team is very young, as only one player graduates this year. With another year together, the hope is to claw out of last place, and become a team that is feared by others. The bereft of talent this year will hopefully decrease through another year of skill development. 

In his sixth year as head coach, Augy Jones was attempting to bring the team back to what he had in his first two seasons, which were back-to-back AUS final appearances. The recruitment of point guard Lucia Mackay for next year will hopefully form a potent tandem with Kingsbury. Unfortunately, he will not be around to see it, as he was relieved of his coaching duties on Monday March 12th. There is hope for growth from Center Katie MacIntosh, who at 6’2 provides size that the team clearly lacks. Having a consistent presence in the paint from Katie would help accentuate the strengths of the guards, most notably shooting. The team will have to count on leadership from impending seniors Jamie McCarron and Holly Scott, who were also second and third in scoring for the team. 

It is the end of an era for the men’s team, as the team loses it’s top two players, Julius Antoine and Kevin Bercy. Antoine averaged 17-4-3 on the year, while Bercy had 16.8 pts and 9.2 rebound averages. Center anchor Cameron Walker is also graduating, along with fifth year point guard Davonte Provo. 

The reigns of the team will be most likely handed to third year sharpshooter Tristen Ross, who averaged a scintillating 39.2% on threes this year. The emergence of freshman Point Guard Jaydan Smith this year gives the team a consistent presence at the one position for years to come. Sophomore guard Justin Andrew has also impressed this year, including a rollicking 29 point/7 three performance in the semi-finals against defending champion Dalhousie. High flying forward Azaro Roker will have to find consistency next year, as he will be tasked with more minutes. 

With a new court, and upgrades to the Oland Center on the horizon, there is an anticipation for an increase in recruitment for both teams. Coach Konchalski will be entering his 43rd season next year and for many, the monotony of a coach’s style can wear down players and desensitize the fans, something that K will be trying to fend off, as his retirement looms on the horizon. Augy Jones’ replacement has yet to be named, though the search for a new head coach has already begun.

 

Your 2018 NCAA March Madness Primer

 
 

The most exciting tournament in college sport is upon us, buckle up.

68 of the best college basketball teams in division 1 colleges and universities in the United States compete every year in March for the right to be crowned champion.

The tournament has 32 teams that are winners of their respective conferences along with 36 more teams that win an ‘at-large’ bid. At-large meaning that a committee of individuals pick them based on record, level of competition, and all-around ability.  The tournament occurs during a three-weekend period, beginning on the 13th of March.

The single elimination style makes every game a necessity to win, and this leads way to numerous upsets and ‘madness’.

Last year’s winner was the North Carolina Tar Heels, led by senior Joel Berry II and now departed Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson (15th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft).

This year, there is a whole host of teams with the ability to make big runs in March.

Favorites:

Virginia Cavaliers The current number one team in the nation is led by their vaunted ‘pack line’ defense, which is predicated on heavy team instilled abilities, with a reliance on packing the paint to prevent interior shots. The team is number one currently in points per game allowed, more than 5 points higher then the number two team. Sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome are the key cogs in the team, with freshman De’Andre Hunter providing timely buckets.

Duke Blue Devils For Coach Krzyzewski, whom is in his 38th season at Duke, consistency and excellence is the main prerogative. This year is no different, as basketball resident villain Grayson Allen attempts to bring Duke back to where he was his freshman year, an NCAA champion. Luckily, he has help, with projected top five pick Marvin Bagley III (21 PPG, 11.5 RPG) along with surefire NBA prospects Trevon Duval and Wendell Carter Jr. Though they have underperformed, with seven losses on the year, one cannot take them lightly with their immense amount of sheer talent.

Xavier Musketeers Led by senior guard Trevon Bluiett with 19.5 PPG, Xavier fields arguably it’s most talented team ever, as coach Chris Mack looks for his first final four appearance. Feisty J.P Macura, along with Turkish born and brother of NBA player Enes Kanter; Kerem Kanter provides the Musketeers with complimentary scoring and lock down defense.

Dark Horses:

Cincinnati Bearcats In Mick Cronin’s 12 years under the Cincinnati program, his team has consistently been ranked as one of the best defensive teams, however If the Bearcats look to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1992, it will be because of their offense from senior forward Gary Clark and sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland. In the four losses on the year, Clark has shot a combined 16-40 from the field.

Missouri Tigers In one of the most interesting college basketball stories of the year, projected top five pick in this years NBA draft Michael Porter Jr. was supposed to lead this team to a high seed in the tournament. However, a mysterious back injury has plagued him all year. He recently returned last week and played his first game since their season opener in November. While his stat line left much to be desired (5-17 from the field), his mere presence could elevate the play of his teammates, most notably his brother Jontay Porter who has had a quietly productive year, averaging 10 pts and 7 assists.

Wild Card:

Arizona Wildcats It has been a crazy, almost unbelievable season for the Wildcats as they have been marred by FBI probes and failed drug tests. What is certain is 7’1, 250lb behemoth Deandre Ayton (who is only 19!) and his 20 pts and 11 rebounds that he provides for the team on a daily. Coach Sean Miller, who was initially reported to have been embroiled in a corruption scandal pertaining to the paying of recruits, is looking to scrub the negativity off his program and take them to a Final Four. Junior guard Allonzo Trier (18.7 PPG) was suspended earlier in the year for a failed drug test, but has been cleared recently, which greatly benefits the team.

Mid Major Hopefuls:

A mid-major program is one whom is in a conference that is not considered high quality. These teams typically play a low SOS (strength of schedule) during the regular season and as a result, tend to only get into the tournament by winning their conference.

Davidson Wildcats The tiny college in North Carolina, home to less than 2000 students had an incredible conference tournament run. They knocked off the Rhode Island Rams to claim the Atlantic 10 title and as a result, vaulted them into the field for March. They were 12-2 in their last 14 games, led by senior Peyton Aldridge and his 21.8 PPG. Coach Bob McKillop will hope to rekindle some magic from his best season at Dayton where a young point guard by the name of Steph Curry lit the tournament on fire, taking the school to it’s first and only Elite Eight appearance in 2008. They will be in tough in Round One where they will face a young Kentucky team chock full of former McDonald All Americans.

                The tournament ‘officially’ kicks off on Thursday March 15th with 16 games on the docket. So, kick back, procrastinate from school and watch the madness unfold!

 

Rawling Wins National Gold

 
 

StFX Track & Field star clinches first in 3000m race

This past weekend, Angus Rawling of StFX University won gold in the men’s 3000m race at the USPORTS National Track & Field Championships. The championships were held in Windsor, ON on March 8 through 10. The Calgary native went into the tournament ranked second overall after having qualified with a personal best time and StFX record time of 8:08:06 recorded at a Boston University meet earlier this season. Rawling also won silver in both the 1000m and 1500m races at the AUS championships earlier this year and was part of the 4x800m relay team that won bronze. In the 2017 Cross Country season, he was the AUS athlete of the year, champion of the 10km race and also competed at the USPORTS cross country meet.

In Windsor, Rawling finished his race with a time of 8:18:11, ahead of Sergio-Villanueva of McMaster University and Royden Radowits of University of Alberta. Interestingly enough, Rawling and Radowits competed against each other in high school. Rawling claims that Radowits was the faster runner every time they completed back in the day. After having finally outrun Radowits in Windsor, Rawling attributes his success and improvement over the years to hard work, time dedication, and good coaching. “Bernie is really great at developing his athletes over time,” Rawling explains.

Rawling was accompanied by his coaches, along with his teammates Allie Flower and Hayley Wilson. Flower, fourth-year sprinter and AUS Champion in the 300m event, competed in and placed 11th overall at the national meet. Wilson, fifth-year jumper and sprinter, was also an AUS Champion in her triple jump event, but could not compete at nationals due to injury. Rawling explained that many alumni living in the area came out to support. He says, “It was awesome to have so many friendly faces despite being so far away.”

This successful year for StFX Track and Field will have been the last of Coach Bernie Chisolm’s long and gratifying career. “It’s sad to see Bernie go after so many years. It was nice to have had him there and win that one with me,” Rawling states. Rawling’s win at USports Nationals will be one of many accomplishments that Chisolm and the team have seen over the years. While Rawling was the first runner to win a national gold medal for StFX, X-Women athlete, Erin Maclean won three national medals (bronze, silver and bronze) in the 3000m event in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 2004, Eric Gillis won bronze in the 1500m race and silver for the 3000m. Gillis went on to compete at multiple Olympic Games and will be taking over Chisolm’s Head Coaching position in the coming years.  Rawling says he’s “excited to see what Eric will bring to the table considering his many years of experience.”

Rawling is a third-year business student doing an honours degree in accounting. He competes with both the X-Men Cross Country and Track & Field teams. He keeps a tight schedule between school and sports, and it proves to be tough throughout both seasons. With Cross Country and Track & Field both occurring while their respective semesters are in full swing, the school workload tends to pile up with all the hours put into practices and travelling. Professors and faculty have proven to be quite understanding and accommodating for this student-athlete. “The professors are amazing here, and I can’t complain,” Rawling said in discussing his success in school and sport

 

A Review: All in the Timing

 
 

Theatre Antigonish presented All in the Timing at Bauer from March 6-10, 2018. All in the Timing is a drop-dead laughing anthology written by David Ives. David is a graduate from the Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1971 and from the Yale School of Drama with a Master of Fine Arts in 1984.

The anthology originated from six one-acts that received the Outer Critics Circle Playwriting Award. A total of seven comedies and one tragedy made up the production directed by Andrea Boyd.

A call bell often reset and reoriented the dialogue between a couple of strangers in act one. It became a savior of the dead-end conversation. The call bell reminded me of absurdity in Samuel Beckett’s Ping. The technique is a critique of small-talk conversational conventions.

The appearance by Justin Gregg, 2017-2018 Board of Director at Theater Antigonish, as Don was a delightful surprise in act two. Justin did some freelance writing for The Huffington Post, BBC Earth and The Wall Street Journal. Justin also did some voice acting for The Ugly Duckling and Me! and Thor: Legend of the Magical Hammer.

Justin is a graduate with a PhD from the School of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin in 2008. Having studied dolphin social cognition in-depth, the science writer is author of books Twenty-Two Fantastical Facts about Dolphins and Are Dolphins Really Smart?.

Beloved Antigonish resident,  Majd Al Zhouri was one of six talented actors to animate three characters in the play. These actors ought to be praised for their skill in bringing 18 states of mind to life; each persona with a distinguishable costume, voice and mannerism.

The small cast of 12 indicates a need for aspiring actors to audition for Theatre Antigonish productions. In fact, All in the Timing replaced the highly anticipated Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman. Metamorphoses was postponed due to a shortage of people who auditioned for the production.

One of All in the Timing’s qualities was its minimalist stage props. As much as a costume, a table and a beer sustained the audience’s suspension of disbelief during the entire act five.

Act six involved three monkeys named Milton, Kafka and Swift trying to write Hamlet on typewriters. The act satirizes a study of animal language acquisition (Codename 6.001) at Columbia University led by Herbert S. Terrace. This act and others were riddled with allusions to literary works and authors of them.

One consistent allusion was to the epic hero, Don Juan. Pre-intermission, a universal linguist charmer named Don predictably got the girl at the end of the act. Post-intermission, three direct references to “Don Juan” flooded the dialogue.

David wrote a full-length play titled Don Juan in Chicago. Safe to say the playwright was inspired by the satirical work of Lord Byron.

Theatre Antigonish’s next production at Bauer is the One-Act Play Festival running between March 22-24, 2018. The annual Festival features amateur theatre groups and individual performers.

 

Are We There Yet?

 
 

Unpacking the hits and the misses of the 90th Academy Awards

On March 4, 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held their 90th annual Academy Awards. With so much momentum from the #metoo and Time’s Up movements from earlier awards shows of this year, many were eager to see whether The Oscars would carry on this progressive trend. Ultimately, there were some definite hits, but also a few obvious blunders, leaving viewers to wonder, is Hollywood really changing?

First and foremost, the successes of the evening. Host Jimmy Kimmel opened the show with many comments about post-Weinstein Hollywood. He commendably decried that Hollywood cannot “let bad behavior slide anymore,” calling for an end to sexual harassment in the work place. Kimmel also made a poignant joke about Hollywood’s lack of belief in minorities and women in leading roles by stating, “I remember a time when studios didn’t believe that a woman or a minority could front a superhero film… And I remember that time because it was March of last year.” He also noticeably shined a light on those women who were shattering glass ceilings in their area of work, such as the first ever woman to be nominated for cinematography, and the first female to be nominated for best director in eight years.

As the award show carried on, many other females also took a stand to uphold women’s rights. Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, two women who spearheaded the #metoo movement, came forward about their experiences with Harvey Weinstein. They had made their triumphant return to Hollywood after being blackballed by the Hollywood mogul. Best Actress winner, Frances McDormand, asked every female nominee to stand up during her acceptance speech. She then called upon the audience to fund women’s projects and films, seeing as only 11% of movies are created by females. While Sandra Bullock announced nominees for the best cinematography award, she described “the four men and one trailblazing woman” nominated to draw attention to the lack of diversity. Similarly, Emma stone read the names for nominees of best director as “these four men and Greta Gerwig,"  which is another category underrepresenting women.

And now for the misses. Prior to the Oscar red carpet, famed host Ryan Seacrest faced a sexual harassment claim from a former stylist. E! News, which houses Seacrest, investigated the instance rather quickly, and stated the claim had no grounds. Therefore, Seacrest was permitted to work the carpet as usual. Except, it wasn’t business as usual for the previously celebrated host. Tensions ran high and many female stars chose to avoid Seacrest on the Red Carpet. Those who opted not to talk to the presenter included Viola Davis, Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Jenifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Greta Gerwig, and Jennifer Garner. For a company that is already in hot water over the massive pay gap between co-hosts Catt Sadler and Jason Kennedy, this was not a sign of progression. However, the biggest blunder of the evening goes to Kobe Bryan’s win for his short film, Dear Basketball. Bryan was charged with sexual assault in 2003. The charges were later dropped by prosecutors, but the civil side of the suit was settled for an undisclosed amount outside of court. Bryan himself even publically confirmed that he retrospectively understood the woman in this case did not view their sexual encounter as consensual. In Hollywood’s bravest year to address and challenge sexual misconduct, giving an Oscar to an accused perpetrator himself was a slap in the face to all victims.

In short, there were strides made at this year’s Oscars. Sexual assault was addressed for the first time in an opening monologue, women broke barriers in both nominations and awards, as well as women publically pointing out the lack of diversity in nominees. However, with decisions to put Seacrest on the carpet so soon after the accusation, and granting accused rapist Bryan an award during a time where sexual assault victims finally feel safe coming forward, it is evident that there is much, much further to go. If the highest body in film still does not honour men as equally as women and does not support victims by refusing to honour perpetrators, how will the lower bodies, the directors, agents, and fellow actors, ever realize that the time is truly up on sexual misconduct?

 

Moving Beyond Fracking

 
 

Our community’s need for a renewable future

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rock in order to create cracks in underground rock formations and release oil or gas deposits. This practice is extremely risky and poses a number of threats to human and environmental health. The overwhelming balance of scientific research to date points to these risks, with recent studies revealing a worrying pattern of underreporting of issues by industry and regulators in Pennsylvania, BC and Alberta.

The process of fracking uses a significant amount of water, and can also contaminate drinking water through a leakage of chemicals into water tables. Methane emissions from fracking wells have recently been found to be massively underreported by industry, provincial and state regulators – a fact that is especially worrying given methane is a green house gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Fracking has also been known to cause earthquakes. The numerous threats that are posed by fracking have lead many community members and activists to protest the practice in their communities. In 2014, a bill was passed here in Nova Scotia legally banning fracking This was accomplished after community residents, primarily lead by indigenous individuals, rose up against fracking and disseminated critical information about the danger it poses to humans and the environment. This ban has been in place ever since.

Earlier this year, however, the municipality of Guysborough called for this ban to be lifted and proceeded to send multiple letters to the Premier and to other municipal councils throughout Nova Scotia, looking for support. This decision however, is not supported by most citizens; when one of Guysborough’s councilors held a town hall meeting on the issue, all those who attended were opposed the lifting of the ban.

Guysborough’s decision to propose this change comes with pressure from oil and gas supporters who used a freedom of information request to bring to light a provincial atlas of potential shell gas reserves in Nova Scotia. The Nova Scotia department of energy subsequently released an atlas that showed potential energy hot spots in the province, none of which are in Guysborough county. The Guysborough letter, therefore, seems to be more a part of an orchestrated campaign by the oil and gas sector rather than something that would actually lead to fracking in the county.

It turns out that a municipality site for an liquified natural gas (LNG) plant is being built in Guysborough county, a site where gas from around the continent will be held and distributed to markets in Europe. Germany has guaranteed a 4 billion dollar loan for the building of this plant as the country wishes to diversify where it is getting it’s LNG. Although, the plant does not need to use gas that is harvested in Nova Scotia, oil and gas supporters are pushing to have these options available, by pushing for the lifting of the ban on fracking.

Those who support the ban include many across Mi’kma’ki, including Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, that come from indigenous and settler communities alike. As we know, Mi’kmaq land has never been ceded to settlers and thus the Mi’kmaq people have a strong say when it comes to practices that will affect the land. The critical analysis developed by many Mi’kmaq people is that while the fracking industry may bring jobs to this area of the country, it will also destroy natural elements such as water and land, that are sacred and important to indigenous ways of being, and to all life. The choice to propose a lifting of this ban, directly contradicts the concerns that have been presented by indigenous community members and settler-citizens alike. Communities throughout Nova Scotia have made it clear that they are completely against fracking. In 2014, when a fracking moratorium was being reviewed, the Nova Scotia association of Mi’kmaq chiefs unanimously voted against it along with the Mi’kmaq Native women’s association. So far, the conversation that has been held about lifting the ban has only been orchestrated in settler communities. The Guysborough effort therefore runs the risk of further damaging settler-indigenous relations in a time that these relations should be focusing on reconciliation.

On March 19, the Antigonish Town Council has planned to discuss the letter that they received from the Municipality of Guysborough and will be debating whether they too will call for the ban to be lifted. Responsible Energy Action (REA) has been organizing to encourage citizens to write to the mayor and town councilors in support of keeping the ban in place. If you are interested and having your voice heard in relation to this cause, I encourage you to do the same and email mayor Laurie Boucher.

The bottom line is that these conversations should be outdated; there is a strong understanding that we need to be moving towards the dismantling of the oil and gas sector and incorporating more renewable sources of energy. In California, for instance, the green energy sector is proving that transition to green energy is a major job creator. We need to be encouraging the promotion of Solar and Wind power and put our money towards getting more sustainable and safe energy sources up and running in our province. And we should be working in ways that respect the treaties here and reinforce reconciliation, not undermine it.

 

New Mindful Living Stream Open to All Students

 
 

An introduction to the courses that are carving out spaces in academia for students’ well-being

There is new development in the Religious Studies Department. Dr. Adela Sandness has constructed a new ‘Mindful Living’ stream of study consisting of 7 different classes. Dr. Sandness has been a prominent figure in the Religious Studies department in structuring her classes around issues of power, gender and gender relationships. She is trained as a scholar in the deep history of Buddhist psychology and the nature of mind, which has transferred over into her role as a professor in current classes about Modern India and Ghandi’s principles of truth and non-violence as a way of creating social change. The Xaverian sat down with Dr. Sandness to speak to a new stream of classes that will be available starting this upcoming fall.

Dr. Sandness prefaces our discussion by speaking to how the material involved in these new courses have been worked on already in various ways. What is unique now, is that the various elements already discussed, have come together in a single thread to create this stream focused on mindful living.

“These series of classes that Dr. Sandness will be teaching are really interesting and important, that sort of holistic approach to mental and physical health is an up and coming thing in society and it is something people are just starting to recognize. I think that culture has always been there but now it’s being brought to the forefront” says student, Matt Fleming who is not a religious studies major but has been drawn to take Dr. Sandness’ courses as electives.

Specifically, these courses will be addressing several issues that have been identified on the university campus. In part, the establishment of this stream of study is in response to the conversations we have been having as a campus community surrounding sexual safety. It has very intensely been brought to people’s awareness that the ways in which we relate to ourselves, and our own bodies, as well as with other people in the quality of our relationships is something that needs to be talked about. Dr. Sandness asserts that in the time speaking with individuals, after the sexual violence case that occurred last semester, no one was moving into a space of simplistic blame. Instead, the reoccurring narrative is an understanding that the occurrence of sexual violence and the responses that follow are situated in a broader, cultural aspect of how we are relating to each other as people. Dr. Sandness attributes the depth, intensity, sophistication and duration of these conversations to confirm that the campus is in need of structured space to do a “re-think.”

4th year student, Jillian Barvir who works closely with Dr. Sandness says that

 “[These courses] will be a part of addressing issues on campus like sexual safety and the rise in mental health issues and despair that some students face. Dr. Sandness will have direct access to these students to help them work through it.”

These conversations are both academic by nature with groundings in Ancient Indian or Veda cosmology. Or in other words, the study of the world through religious groundings alternative to contemporary scientific western materialism. It will be the pairing of this academic anchorage with honest and open conversations that will lead to discussions on the quality, sensitivity and genuineness of the relationships that we’re creating with other people; whether that is an intimate relationship or not. The quality of relationships that we have with one another will necessarily create structures or frames of thinking that can shape the views of the world we have when we focus in on broader social issues. Dr. Sandness identifies these as issues of safety, respect, gender and power relationships. These relationships will also offer insight into the ways that we service leaders in the world; whether that be the leader of a residence house, a family or the leader of broader situations.

Next year (2018-2019) will introduce the first two new courses. In first semester is RELS 294 Mindfulness: How to Cope with Hard Things. This course will be dealing with mindfulness in a very direct way through applying historic, old Indian understandings of the shape of the world and the mindfulness techniques that evolved at this time to a practical component such as meditating together as a class. Through looking at various aspects and shapes of the world, this course is very much how to cope with hard things and how to work with balancing emotions such as jealousy and pride.

The second semester class is RELS 297 The Body: An Owner’s Manual in which students will quite literally be making an owner’s manual to their bodies grounded in cosmology that comes out of Hinduism and Buddhism. “What is a body” in this case will be explored more broadly. Dr. Sandness expresses her intent in bringing in several guest lecturers to cover the basis of what a body is. For example, she aims to invite community members from indigenous elders to lawyers, to the AWRCSASA and even nutritionists in unpacking what students feel and think about their bodies and why they feel such ways. Relating it back to a response to observed campus conversations about student’s wellbeing, this course will find the space in between conversations to say “well ok, how do I understand my relationship with my body and what is the quality, dignity, and respect I am offering to myself. Do I feel like I would want to make some changes?”

RELS 315/WMGS 397 Authentic Power and Gender is another new course that will be offered in the following year (2019-2020) along with RELS 394 Authentic Relationship. These courses are going to look at the ideas of power and gender from perspectives that come specifically out of Ancient Indian Cosmology. These ideas will provide a framework for answering questions around what constitutes real and authentic power. They will explore the interrelationship of masculine and feminine principles in Hinduism and Buddhism and gender from outside the contemporary western understanding. The first class will unpack controlling, domineering, territorial and oppressive natures as the default understanding of power. Dr. Sandness asserts that these behaviors are rooted in fear which merits compassion but not complacency so this course will be looking at what defines a strong and powerful person. The latter course mentioned is the companion class and this will continue the conversation by saying “if relationships aren’t about predatory dominance, power, control or who is on top, then what actually is an authentic and genuine relationship?” At the heart of these classes is human connection and with what degree of sensitivity to ourselves and others.

These are the four new courses offered next year. Accompanying them are RELS 395 Selfless Leadership:  Be the Change I and RELS 397 Selfless Leadership:  Be the Change II. The first two courses apply these authentic leadership learnings into leadership questions, both inspired the work of MK Gandhi. There is a sense that it is entirely possible to create broad stroke social change and these courses will look at some practiced ways to do so. These courses are rooted in old Indian World Views that informed Gandhi’s non-dualism truth and non-violence, specifically in relation to colonialism. These courses will actively unpack the perceptions of success within leadership that are directly from colonial forms of thinking; thus up for complete re-working and review when as a culture, we begin to authentically decolonize.

As for the final course, Dr. Sadness refers to it as the capstone of a series of classes. Every August, Dr. Sandness takes students to the Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton. After three weeks of online study together, the group goes to the monastery and lives there for a week the way that the monastics do. In essence, it is a mindfulness immersion experience to provide quite a strong basis in exploring meditative practices. This has been a class that Dr. Sandness has been nurturing and loving for quite some time now.

Dr. Sandness has made these courses free of pre-requisites in order to make them as accessible as possible to students from all disciplines.

The Xaverian also had an opportunity sat down with 4th year student, Colleen Murray.

“I took my first class with Dr. Sandness in my second year and there is something about the way that she brings the people in the classes that she teaches together that is really unique to the education that I have received at StFX. We get to know each other in the classroom and she gets to know us to incorporate the experience that we have on campus, our feelings about our positions as students and our own personalities into the course material which makes it really meaningful and purposeful for students. Not only are you receiving an awesome education, for example, in the religion and modern India course that I took with her, we learned so much about the history and development of religions about politics and important people from India; but we also got to learn a lot about each other and ourselves and it was just a beautiful experience as a student to encounter that on a university campus. It’s not something I expected. The fact that now there is an entire stream so students can be introduced to that way of learning and that way of thinking and being in the world is so important.”

Upon completing our interview, the Xaverian asked Dr. Sandness why she felt that it was time to introduce these courses. She expresses that in Buddhism there is an understanding that in any situation there would be the outer, the inner and the secret. In this case, the outer rationale would be that these courses are simply interesting theoretical material. There are many ways to dream a world and it is very helpful and useful to look at alternate ways of understanding the nature of self, body and other. Dr. Sandness speaks to the inner layer by saying that we can help people make choices and now these classes offer an avenue. The students are asking the institution to do better and it is completely appropriate to offer a space to have that conversation in a sustained way. And finally, the secret layer to the rationale.

“If I were to give away my secret, I have heard it said that we really only need 10% of any population to identify with each other as being an alternative culture to create that socially viable alternative. We are a campus of 5000 students which means we would only need to have 500 students who are identifying each other as being people who are making alternative lifestyle choices in order to create that viable, peer, cultural alternative that people as far as I can tell are essentially begging for…It isn’t about either this or that, but there is a space in between in which we live and how we engage in that space in between here is honestly going to set the platform for the rest our lives not just in the way it shapes our personality style and our long term friendships and the ways in which we tend to carve relationships in the future. I feel that it is an appropriate for a way to create that viable cultural alternative, 10% of our student population is only the Schwartz Auditorium filled twice.”

As we said goodbye, Dr. Sandness offers one last comment

“Just breathe, you are enough.”

 

Cultivating Consent Culture

 
 

How do we rewrite the narrative of sexual violence in our communities?

"Smile and be nice." "Don’t overreact." "Don’t make a scene." "It’s just guys being guys." "He only picks on you because he like you." "Cover up." "You’re showing too much skin - it’s distracting." "He was just trying to be friendly." "You were pretty much asking for it."

As women, we’re constantly taught to remain idle in the face of sexual violence. Whether that’s through what we're told, media depicting violence as a gateway for sex, or simply the lack of recognition that sexual violence is a problem to begin with. Is it no surprise, then, that 1 in 4 women aged 15 to 24 will experience sexual violence? We’ve normalized sexual violence to such a degree that more often than not, women don’t feel comfortable or validated in coming forward - instead, they pass it off as “just a bad date,” or stay silent.

That is not okay.

On March 7, the Antigonish community came together to discuss what sexual violence looks like here in our community, and what we can do to change the narrative, and have an impact. Panelists Suzi Synishin, Sam Gan, and Katie MacDonald shared their research findings and experiences with the group - speaking to the normalization of sexual violence and the meaning of consent, the male perspective on leadership in consent culture, and sexual violence response in customer service positions respectively. Following the panel, the room was asked to answer two questions:

  1. What does sexual violence look like in your community?
  2. What needs to change? How can we make these changes happen?

Though the questions were discussed in a number of smaller groups, the answers of what sexual violence looks like all seemed to follow the same core idea:  sexual violence is simultaneously extremely pervasive, and invisible. The social repercussions facing victims prevent large numbers from speaking out, things like dick pics, revenge porn, and “kill counts” have become synonymous with teen and young adult culture, and university culture, as well, has become so intertwined with rape culture that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. On top of all of this, there is a general refusal to acknowledge that we have a problem.

So, what needs to change? How can we break the silence around sexual violence, and stop teaching our women to grin and bear it? We can start by teaching consent in our elementary and high schools - re-configuring Sex Ed to teach about healthy relationships, pleasure, and bodily autonomy - and integrating the conversation into every school, and every classroom. We can stand up and call out instances of toxic masculinity, harassment, and violence we witness every day, and turn to education to call people in.

Most importantly, however, in this fight, is that we not stay silent in the face of injustice. The actions above all came from this one conversation - but conversations like this one, when held as events or panels, attract the people who already care about these issues, and are already working to make change. For this conversation to be truly successful and sustainable, everyone has to be involved. So, keep on speaking out, speaking up, and being loud - ultimately, that is what will make a difference.

 

Don’t be Afraid of Feminism

 
 

 The Importance of Women and Gender Studies Courses at X

With women’s week having just ended here in Antigonish – and with all the different events and keynote talks that are going on this month – I was thinking a lot about how much my perspective on life and other women has changed since choosing to major in Women and Gender Studies.

I think, not to be completely biased, that the most influential courses a student can take in their undergraduate degree would have to be women and gender studies classes.

Yes, this is my major, so I obviously have a lot of wonderful things to say about this department, the professors, the courses and material that we learn in class. But there are so many other reasons as to why these courses are so fundamental in a young person’s learning.

Before you get tired of me rambling and decide to skip this article to read something else, please read a little bit of it; maybe it’ll even convince you to take a class in this area.

Before I even started taking courses in the WMGS department, I thought I had a relatively good understanding of feminism, issues of systematic oppression around the world and anything that was related to the equality/inequality of how humans are treated. Turns out I knew pretty much nothing.

In my first intro class with Dr. Lisa Pasolli, I got a bit of a taste of everything. The big thing that I learned from that class was intersectionality, which is something that everybody should be interested in.

Intersectionality is a concept used to analyze how all women throughout the world, whether they be Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, trans, bi or a lesbian, are impacted by systems of oppression and how they differ from one another.

This concept opened my eyes to how differently women and men are treated as well as ways to tackle these systems of oppression and help our sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins and any woman that you can think of.

Now that I’m in my third year, a class that I’ve been taking – Critical Race and Sexuality in Canada with Dr. Rachel Hurst – in my opinion should maybe be mandatory for every student to take.

In the past three months of being in that class, I have learned more than I have in some in my year long courses (no shade). In this class we analyze Canada, we learn about the different systems of power within Canada and how it has had an impact on our own people: namely, indigenous peoples and black people. There are issues going on in Canada that frankly I was not aware of, and it is likely that many other students are not either.

Simply a few examples: the Japanese internment camps that happened in Canada during WWII, or the reality of how black people are treated like criminals in Canada, black men being carded in the streets of Toronto.

Most Canadians have a blanket over their eyes thinking that this country is a country of freedom, a land where no wrong can happen. That is so far from the truth. Yes, we do live in a country that when compared to other countries is doing a bit better, but when you look closely, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can claim to be the ‘best’ country in the world when it comes to equality and how we treat others.

If you’ve been avoiding taking a WMGS class because of how you see feminism portrayed in the media and you think that women are these men hating monsters, that’s not what it is. There are a lot of great advocates for feminism that are doing a great job, but there are also quite a few folks that are skewing the word feminism and making it only for them (white feminism) or using the word feminism without actually understanding it and standing up for feminist issues.

If you’re not interested in feminism because you think blah blah blah it’s only for women, a) you’re wrong, feminism is for everybody, and b) you should be taking more interest into women’s rights because, well… you’re a human, are you not?

Maybe you’ve been wanting to take a WMGS class, but you cannot find anything to fit your schedule or your program; that’s fair, it can be very limiting. This is why each program should have classes dedicated to pairing your degree with women and gender studies related course. I’m aware that that is another issue altogether, but it’s something worth looking into and fighting for.

Feminism is for everybody: it’s beautiful, it’s growing, and forever changing. The future of society relies on feminism.

So, don’t be scared. You know what, maybe be scared! Be nervous to not know about something, but then take that fear and push yourself a little further to educate yourself. You’re not only educating yourself, but you’ll then also be helping those around you who might not know as much, and you can take the time to educate them as well. Education is bliss!

 

Divisive Discourses

 
 

The underlying problems with identity politics

Humans, as social primates, require membership and responsibility in groups to feel a sense of belonging and meaning. It is a reality embedded deep in our psyches, stretching back to the days of painting in caves. And yet I feel that in some ways, these ancient motivations are at odds with what modern society currently offers. People are increasingly isolated, devoid of meaningful relationships and membership in meaningful groups. Social media’s prevalence has served to erode the social competence of a generation. Many people go broke just to educate themselves sufficiently to land a job that they hate. Anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketing. It seems that we are no longer living, we are enduring. Thanks to this new modern and depressing world we live in, we look to superficial replacements to provide us meaning, yet they only serve to damage us.  One of the manifestations resulting from this increasing chaos and quest to fill a void of meaning is identity politics.

Identity politics refers to the tendency for people to form exclusive political alliances based on a particular aspect of identity, and to lobby and work for achieving the perceived goals of the social group with which they identify. The result of this has been a widespread fixation on what separates us as people from one another, as people reduce their ability to think critically to the frame provided by their group. Combine this tendency with the already present shortcomings of modern life for some people, and it is a recipe for ideological extremism. This rapid breakdown of a cohesive national identity into sub-identities is eating away at rationality and causing mass polarization.

White supremacist, social justice warrior, radical feminist, postmodernist, racist, sexist, alt-right, alt-left, communist, neo-marxist, etc. These are labels which, if you pay any attention to the political spheres, you have heard applied to people in the news, on social media and in conversation. Undoubtedly there are times at which certain labels such as these are warranted. However, perhaps you consider that these terms are also applied ubiquitously to individuals and groups alike in order to disarm and delegitimize them for benefit of another group or individual.

Individuals in today’s identity groups are frequently static with their ideology and identify personally with it. This is unideal at best. When political discussions arise among ideologues, it is much more likely to devolve into an emotionally charged argument if someone’s ideology, their personal identifier, is being put into question. There is a shocking amount of confirmation bias, echo chambering, no exposure to opposing viewpoints and people who claim to speak for all of their ‘identity’. These bubbles are formed and can be hard to escape from. One should instead identify with the version of themselves which transcends understandings, beliefs and attitudes, never taking their status-quo for granted. It is easy to get stuck and comfortable in a given state, but this must be avoided. What is comfortable and easy is rarely worth doing.

Furthermore, the obsession with grouping and classifying everyone based on these identifiers creates an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere which only serves to breed resentment and deepen divisions. Everyone is different. People hold a collection of many different viewpoints, values and beliefs, some of which together may be at odds with a traditional ‘left and right’ spectrum. This shows just how arbitrary these groups actually are.

What transcends all these groups, divisions, and arbitrary differentiators is something that applies to everyone. Meaning. Belonging. Love. Responsibility. Purpose. We all inhabit the same planet, we all live what can sometimes be a tragic, malevolent existence. We should be working together to give our short time on earth new meaning, and that means breaking away the divisions of identity politics. Until we can listen to each other, until we can sit at the same table without yelling and until we can speak to each other on a wave length that will be universally understood, progress will be made for no one.

Some argue to be in the middle is to stand for nothing at all but in my opinion, to be stubbornly and unapologetically on either side is to not stand for one’s self.

 

Has AI gone too far?

 
 

The dangers of increasing reliance on artificial intelligence

We’ve all seen the many movies and TV shows that show a dystopian future in which robots or supercomputers take over and enslave all of humanity. While this reality is many years in the future if ever at all, it doesn’t mean that artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t an issue that needs to be tackled today.

But first, it’s important to define what AI is. AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines. It can be narrow or weak AI, which is an AI system designed for a particular task. Yet it can also be strong AI, where an AI system can find a solution when presented with an unfamiliar task because it has enough human cognitive abilities to utilize the reasoning required.

Most of us already use AI and don’t even know it. Every time you’ve used Siri, Cortana, or any other voice recognition program, you’re using AI. These programs take into account your preferences so that later, your experience with them will be more personalized. The same type of AI system lies behind targeted advertising and getting directions on Google maps, among other things.

With AI starting to creep into all areas of our life, it does become a question of how much is too much. Any interaction with an AI, no matter how small, can be gathered to create huge amounts of data on users. The problem becomes then about who gets access to the data. The government can access a user's online history and data for security purposes, as well as some businesses and those with enough technical knowledge. This is a big problem for user privacy and security.

One of the other immediate fears with AI besides access to personal data concerns robots. While the technology and computer systems needed to create a powerful robot overlord aren’t quite there, they are certainly a possibility for the future. The more pressing concern however currently with robots is the rate at which robots will replace workers in factories, transportation, and other industrial sectors.

There are also concerns with the increasing use of robots and AI for military purposes. Already, drone strikes are being used in situations where it is a safer option than sending in conventional military troops. While it’s good that AI and robotics can decrease safety risks associated with military tasks, the consequences would be horrific if this technology falls into the wrong hands or becomes uncontrollable.

Beyond physical manifestations of AI, there’s also problems on the design side of AI. This is especially with the increasing popularity of machine learning, which allows AI systems to learn and improve without programming. The boundaries of this simulated sentience are being increasingly pushed. Without proper human supervision, this could create an AI with values or goals that don’t align with our own. Different goals or values could mean that down the road, there could be problems that involve life and death with technologies using AI like self-driving cars.

Also worth noting is the discussion about ethics surrounding AI. Since the data input into systems that helps them “learn” is from human sources, it reflects human experience. This means that any bias or stereotypes present in our systems and data can be replicated in AI. Those creating AI systems should be taking that into account, especially for AI being created for areas like law or medicine.

So, with all the risk and problems related to AI, should we stop using it? At this point, AI has already become entrenched in our daily lives, and probably won’t be going away anytime soon. However, the most prudent thing to do with it is to be aware of the problems that arise from using it, and what can be done to mitigate them.

 

Students Prepare for Student Research Day

 
 

This upcoming March 28, from 6-9pm, Student Research Day will be taking place, displaying student research projects from different departments across the university. They currently have 93 poster projects and 9 oral presentations registered, totaling 102 participants altogether.

The day is a chance for students to proudly display their hard work to the community. Often times, students do not have much of an opportunity to share their research, and Student Research Day has become the forum for StFX students to do so. As Dr. Kolen stated, it is a chance for students to delight in their own hard work, receiving positive feedback to encourage further research projects into the future. The intent is to display students’ understanding of their work, and have professors engage with students on the students’ research, generating dialogue and interest in the otherwise unnoticed student projects.

Not only that, but it operates in order to allow time for professors and students from different departments, to come and hear about, and question, information outside of their own discipline. It is easy enough to find information concerning one’s own subject area, but harder still to do the same outside that echo chamber. Student Research Day engages the community, allowing them to branch outside of their regular field of knowledge in a way that enhances the experience of both presenters and audience alike.

This will be its 16th year in existence, as it was started in 2003 by Dr. Angie Kolen in the Human Kinetics department. Having had positive experiences sharing her own research in a similar way through her graduate studies, Dr. Kolen noticed that StFX lacked this space for students and decided to change that. She brought her idea to the university, and it was initially shot down. However, she did not take no for an answer, and the fruits of her labour are still felt today.

The research day started off as a poster fair alone, until Dr. Steven Baldner of the Philosophy Department (Dean of Arts at the time), spearheaded a movement to create oral presentations as well. The purpose of this development was to create an opportunity for those who might not have research well suited to the poster format. They would have a chance to share their own ideas and findings, but without the necessary visual representation of their work. Intended for arts students, such as English and Philosophy who might not have data fitted to a poster arrangement, the oral presentations have now become a space for all students from across all subject areas.

As it stands now, it is still Dr. Kolen and her colleagues who run the event; a hard project to maintain on top of a regular teaching workload. Dr. Kolen hopes that the university can eventually take on the project themselves to ensure its continuance and development into the future.

 

Naloxone Kits Available at Nova Scotia Pharmacies

 
 

How to get one, and who is at risk for an overdose

In the fall of 2017, the Nova Scotia provincial government announced a program that made Naloxone kits available for free at local pharmacies across the country. Naloxone is a drug that can be administered during an opioid overdose to reverse the effects, potentially saving a life. Those who use both prescription opioids and street drugs are encouraged to pick up a kit for use in case of an emergency. In addition, those who come into close contact with an opioid user, both prescribed or recreational, should also consider picking up a kit. Naloxone kits do not require a prescription; however, those wishing to take one must complete a brief 20 minute training session on when and how to administer the drug properly.

On average, 60 people in Nova Scotia die from an opioid overdose every year. However, with the introduction of fentanyl into the drug scene last year, the amount of overdose deaths has skyrocketed, especially in youths. Government officials are hoping that making Naloxone kits available to the public will reduce the number of opioid-related deaths. However, it is also encouraged that someone using a Naloxone kit call 911 first, in order to achieve proper application. The Good Samaritan Act protects those who call 911 in the event of an overdose from being charged with simple drug possession.

Antigonish offers seven locations to get a Naloxone kit: the pharmacies at Superstore and Walmart, Mackinnon’s Pharmasave on campus and on Main Street, Shoppers Drug Mart on Main Street, Halliburton PharmaChoice on Main Street, and Lawton’s Drugs on Church Street. Students interesting in getting a Naloxone kit can simply walk up to the pharmacy at any of these locations, express concern for themselves or loved ones regarding opioid usage, complete the 20 minute training session and walk out with a Naloxone kit. Despite having to express concern for yourself or another opioid user, no names or information is required, and anonymity, if desired, is respected.

Each kit contains two ampoules of Naloxone, two syringes, two ampoule breakers, one pocket breathing mask, two non-latex gloves, two alcohol swabs, a pill bottle, an instruction pamphlet, and a training card. If you have had to use your Naloxone to intervene on an overdose, the pharmacy will refill it for you. Though originally only 500 kits were distributed across the province, pharmacists can order more based on the needs of their community.

The public accessibility of Naloxone kits demonstrates how governments are turning away from a punitive method of dealing with drug use and towards a restorative and rehabilitative approach, which will hopefully inspire other communities and institutions, like StFX, to do the same. It is no secret that opioids and other drugs are used on campus. The next step that has been considered and discussed between students is whether or not these should be available within residences and if the Community Advisors and campus security should carry the kits.

 

Dr. Ann Sherman's Legacy Living On

 
 

Helping the Underrepresented Soar in School

March 2, 2018 was a day to remember former StFX faculty member Dr. Ann Sherman, as a new 1$ million scholarship was installed in her name.

Dr. Sherman died on August 2, 2017 but has left her mark on StFX. She was the former director of the school of education at StFX, in which she was admired for her hard work and dedication to the university.

The scholarship has been put in place for African Nova Scotian students, as well as Aboriginal Canadian students in the Faculty of Education field. 

The ceremony took place in the Coady International Institute’s Dennis Hall, where the Bragg family donated $500,000 to start the fund. Dr. Ann Sherman was a niece to John and Judy Bragg.

It was then later announced that alumnus Jeannie Deveau from the graduating class of 1944 had generously agreed to match this donation of $500,000.

With the new scholarship being put into place, it will allow the university to become more accessible for the students of African and Aboriginal descents. These students are often times underrepresented at university due to their history and struggles with oppression, and are not always given the opportunity to attend university.

These bursaries are opening the door to new opportunities for these students, who would otherwise not have the means to afford the rising tuitions in Nova Scotia. 

Dr. Sherman was a strong advocate for the underrepresented and was always willing to fight for the people in these communities. She was a lifelong educator, and her passion in life could be seen through her work in the classroom.

She was a very resilient woman with a mindset that was not going to allow anyone to stop her in her fight to allow everybody the chance to be in a classroom. She strongly believed that no matter what someone’s background, race, or religion, everybody should have the same rights to learn.

The current StFX Dean of Education, Dr. Jeff Orr, who was a dear friend of Sherman's said, “She had a passion for many things in education. The top of her list was support for First Nations and African Nova Scotian students.”

StFX President Dr. Kent MacDonald was also at the ceremony and, in speaking with The Casket, he said:  “It represents what is so different and great about StFX.; you don’t just idly pass through this place. In fact, if you’re not interested in actively joining a community, like StFX, you probably don’t come here. I think her being here, at StFX, and the impact we heard she had on her students, on peers, on family members to be part of this university community, I think reflects a lot on what is good about StFX.”

Sherman was the embodiment of what it means to be a Xaverian. At StFX everyone must stand up for each other, and most importantly stand up for those who are the minority and may not always have their voices heard.  

Even though Dr. Sherman is not with us anymore, her love for education and helping the underrepresented is going to live on through this scholarship that will help more Nova Scotians attend university and pursue their academic dreams.