Collaboration or Competition?

 
 

How do you and I make us?

It was the battle of the century, two opponents and one minute on the clock. Eagerly awaiting the starting bell, they clutched their chopsticks. The bell sounds and they begin, shaky hands inserting into metal nuts to stack on each other in hopes of having the tallest tower. 

With three ties in a row, the final match ends when one contestant drops their highest nut off the tower. This is an activity that happened in my introductory business class this week. The purpose of the activity was to examine the principles of competition and collaboration. The game made me question which was more effective, and which has a greater presence on our campus?

StFX is a big supporter of community and kinship. The university encourages students and professors to work together to attain common success for the betterment of everyone. 

Collaborative learning encourages students and professors to set goals, to assess and to develop ideas together, with its small class sizes this is exactly what our school strives to do; but this is not a theme that applies strictly to the classroom. From house events, our sports teams, the societies, and the programs developed within the area and abroad, StFX applies a sense of teamwork in many branches of its work.

Competition is a healthy part of learning, as it forces people to push beyond what they may believe to be their limits. Those same collaborative groups at StFX compete regularly whether it’s amongst themselves, opposing schools, or other groups. Competition drives us to excel, or at least it does if it’s good natured and if we have the ability to achieve success. 

As someone who always enjoyed sports, albeit was terrible at them, nothing was worse than the dreaded beep test in school. The concept is simple, you run back and forth across the gymnasium and with each beep your time to run across is shortened. 

My, at the time, robust body was unable to keep up with the beeps and very quickly I was eliminated. When finished there was nothing left for me to do but wait, while others would complain or disrupt those who were still running. There was no driving force for me to get back up and run again, or to try and compete with my peers as it was evident they would outrun me, so competition becomes considerably more finicky. 

I believe StFX has the right idea with prioritizing collaboration over competition because as we build relationships that will carry over as alumni, and stay with us forever, we learn to interact, gain information and ideas, and to accept responsibility within our roles. 

Whether it’s the friends we make, or the ring that binds us, there is a strong sense of community on campus. Competition is a wonderful driving force if you are passionate about the subject or activity at hand, but it isn’t a means to promote continued success. 

Competition can also be detrimental if people don’t know how to cope with loss, and it can lead to conflict. What differentiates this conflict from conflict within collaboration is that within a group, the conflict can be resolved with discussion and expansion. If it comes down to it, any person in a group can be replaced; whereas in competition the only resolve is to compete again. 

We all want to be the best at anything we do, it’s natural to want to succeed. Working with a partner or a team often has unforeseen benefits and can help with the natural progression to grow. 

When partnered with competition, I believe the two can be instrumental to the success of a person and their peers, but if I had to choose, it would definitely be collaboration. 

 

I Think I Underestimated University...

 
 

And other things that went through my mind during early years at X

Everyone gets told pretty cliché advice when starting out as a university student. Don’t procrastinate, don’t get behind on your readings, all that stuff; it’s all good advice, but it’s a little obvious. Obviously, we shouldn’t procrastinate, but you will at least once. It’s evident that the assigned readings are important, but you’ll be lying if you say you’ve never at least thought of skipping one. I’m not here to give people tips that they’ve heard a million times. Instead, I want to share some of the things I learned about adapting to university social life and adapting to living on my own.

I found my frosh year pretty difficult to get used to at first. It took until after Thanksgiving to really feel comfortable on campus. Frosh week felt like one-half partying and one-half summer camp, especially with O Crew banging on our doors at early hours and memorizing all those house chants (I was a Chillis Chick, so the chants were a pretty focal part). Being in a new town, with no one familiar around, I decided to try and be as approachable as possible. I was majorly worried that I’d end September with no real friendships. I decided to be fearless by introducing myself to random people I met at meal hall, it was not something I would normally do. But honestly, a couple of those people I approached in frosh week meal hall turned into real friends that I’ve had through my entire eXperience. So my first piece of advice is this – don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Even if you’re shy, get out of your comfort zone just a bit and talk to people. Sure, many people I hung out with in frosh week never became friends of mine, but had I not made those attempts, I would have never made those connections.

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In second year, I moved from MacKinnon Hall and into an apartment in Somers and I’ve been there ever since. Though it’s not exactly the same as living off campus – no rent every month, no landlords etc, I think some of my experiences getting settled into an apartment ring true for everyone. By far the most difficult thing to get used to was the garbage. Getting on top of our garbage, recyclables and especially compost was annoying, mostly because of fruit flies. The super hot September weather, paired with leaving our garbage in the apartment for too long, is what drew the flies out. The only way we were able to get rid of them was putting glasses of cider vinegar covered with plastic wrap around the apartment. I doubt we were the only ones who were too naive about garbage while making the transition from a residence to an apartment! 

Today I feel foolish for having been so unequipped to deal with garbage; something I used to think was pretty basic. Underestimating everyday chores was definitely the biggest mistake I made when transitioning to a new living environment. And I won’t lie – it’s just more unnecessary stress on top of why we’re all here: to get that degree.  In the end, we learned from our mistakes and never had a problem of that magnitude in our apartment, but I really feel bad for anyone going through a similar experience right now. Getting on top of your own housework makes your living space less stressful, and I think it contributes to how well you study, too. 

I don’t think university is as much about preparing you for the “real world” as it is forcing you to face real day-to-day problems. University is an important stage of your life, it is a transitional step from youth to adulthood. Getting out of my comfort zone and taking my living arrangements seriously really did help me adapt to this stage in my life. Hopefully my experiences help anyone else having a rough time settling into their once-in-a lifetime experience as a StFX undergrad.

 

Coady Confidence High Amid Controversy

 
 

A walk through the Institute with Dr. Webber

You would be forgiven for not knowing, or much at all, about the Coady Institute, a part of St. Francis Xavier for more than 60 years. Although a quiet and reflective part of the university, recent events have thrust the Institute into the spotlight regarding alleged financial fraud and an article in the Chronicle Herald detailing the “droves” of staff reported to have left the Institute over the change of direction since the hiring of Dr. June Webber as director three years ago.

Dr. Webber was kind enough to talk to the Xaverian about some of the controversy surrounding the Institute not long after her arrival. Dr. Webber was unable to provide any details regarding the dismissal of Mr. Marlow, as that case is currently before the courts. However, Dr. Webber did provide some time to show me around the Coady Institute, a world-renowned organization interested in providing important educational opportunities to community leaders from around the world committed to fighting for economic and social justice.

I had intended to directly ask Dr. Webber about the staff who had supposedly left Coady due to the reportedly “toxic environment” that a number of other staff members had written about in an internal letter to the Executive of the Institute, but first Dr. Webber introduced me to some of the people who work and attend the Coady Institute’s impressive programs. I was introduced to some inspiring people who come from incredible backgrounds and their attendance at Coady is certainly a testament to their strength of character and will.

I wanted to know how Dr. Webber felt about the level of turnover reported in the Chronicle Herald last month. According to their source, 19 people had left the Coady in the time that Dr. Webber had taken helm of the Institute; however, Dr. Webber disagrees and counters that only 16 people had left, and a 44% turnover is a natural rate of turnover for the Institute. Dr. Webber defends the number of leaves as a mixture of retirements, staff leaving for other opportunities, as well as natural changes in staff. The Chronicle Herald had reported that Dr. Webber planned that the reduction of the staff also came from the plan to end the use of associate staff, but when I asked Dr. Webber about this she replied that the Coady Institute will continue to use associate staff and that the reporting by Chronicle Herald was “inaccurate,” in fact Dr. Webber is hoping to add greater staff representation from the global north and south.

Part of the controversy regarding Coady and the staff resignations, is that under Dr. Webber, there has been a change of direction for the Institute, some claiming this change is deleterious for the Institute and disrespectful of staff. I asked Dr. Webber about this and while she did acknowledge there was a new direction for Coady, she disagreed that it was substantially different from the founding principles of Moses Coady. 

The direction was made, she told me, after feeling that there was good foundation for the work of the Coady, but that at the time of her arrival it lacked strategy. When Coady was founded, there were very few developmental organizations in the world and the Institute’s mission was wide-ranging. Since that time, however, developmental organizations are much more commonplace, and Dr. Webber believes now, more than ever, Coady must have a stronger strategy and direction in order to compete among the myriad of organizations struggling to be a part of the solution in the world. She told me that Coady is changing perspectives, from a deficit model of support, to an asset model.

This is one part of the three major differences Dr. Webber sees as having usher in since her helming of the Coady Institute. Summarized briefly; first, the Coady Institute seeks now to work with an overarching strategy to understand the contexts of where they are and consolidation the collective thinking of people with Coady. 

Secondly, it is important to look at and assess the programs that Coady is using, how can they most effectively direct their energies. 

Finally, Dr. Webber sees Coady has having a place not just in the developing world, where, historically, the focus of Coady programs have centered, but now, seeking a truly global approach that includes the inequities experienced by communities in Canada and America and other developed nations, indeed during my tour of the building Dr. Webber highlighted the recent initiative to bring Indigenous Canadian women to Coady to become leaders in their communities. It is no secret that communities and people across Canada and America face severe resource, infrastructure, and support shortages and inequities (infamously, a considerable number of indigenous communities have gone decades without clean water in Canada), while populated by ambitious and talented people, just waiting for opportunity, an opportunity that Dr. Webber hopes that Coady can provide to people from Canada to Zambia to India and all and any nation in between.

Before I leave, I ask Dr. Webber how she feels about the reputation of the Coady Institute considering the controversy that’s made its way into national news. She answers firmly, that the Institute does remarkable work internationally and that their capable and talented staff are needed more than ever to counter the rise of inequality globally and in Canada.

 

Class of 2022 First Impressions

 
 

First-year students comment on their experience during O-Week

On September 1, StFX welcomed the class of 2022. For most of these students, coming from across Canada and the world, this was the first time they’d set foot on the StFX campus. First impressions are pretty important, so this week, I decided to see what kind of impression our campus is making on this year’s newcomers! Here’s what they have to say: 

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“My impression of StFX so far is amazing. Everybody here is so friendly and welcoming, especially the upper years, and it has been a ton of fun doing all the X-Fest activities with my house.”


- Jacob Koep, Engineering

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“It’s only been a day and a half but I already know I made the right choice coming to X. I’ve already met some amazing people, had some bomb food, done so many fun things and I know there’s way more to come! Everyone has been super welcoming and kind, and really helpful with showing me around! I look forward to making a difference in the X community, finding myself and being a part of such a great experience!”

- Olivia Conrad, Nursing

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“Antigonish seems to have A LOT of spirit!  A little rough at the beginning trying to make friends, but I hope it will pick up soon. Small campus so it’s easier to travel to classes. Shout-out to O-Crew for being so helpful.”

- Mark Carroll, Music 

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“My first impression of StFX has been a memorable one. The orientation week activities were so fun, I got to meet so many new people and my first few classes were amazing! I look forward to the rest of the year as well as the years to come!”

- Olivier Charles, Human Kinetics

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“My first impression of StFX is that it is an extremely inviting and friendly community. Everyone is very approachable and easy to talk to!”


- Mackenzie LeVernois, Chemistry and Business

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“People here have been so amazing, I’ve known people here for what? Four days? And they are so compassionate and wonderful, kind. I had a panic attack on my second day here and my roommate who I barely know talked me through it the whole time. People in classes I barely know will always talk to me and invite me to sit with them and talk to them. This place is a wonderful community full of empathetic people who truly truly care about you!”

- Anonymous

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“X already feels like I’m at home. Everyone here already feels like family and the environment makes me eager to learn!”


- Adrianka Forrest

“The school is awesome, felt like home instantly. The students and professors are welcoming. One or two professors were strict, but for the most part they were good.”

- David W., Business & Emily D., Business

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“Campus is nice and super clean. Everyone is kind too. Classes are fun and the professors aren’t scary which is good.”



- Eryn Reader


“I’m impressed by how welcoming the community is on campus. From the upper year students to the professors, everyone has each other’s backs.”

- Jem McDonald

“I feel like all first year students are blessed to be on this friendly campus.” 

- Isaac Tait

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Mac Miller: Rest in Peace

 
 

The youthful rapper created musical artistry that’s well beyond his years

I was 13 years old when I first heard Mac Miller rap. The song was a clever, catchy hymn called “Knock Knock.” In it, he spoke of youthful recklessness and unprovoked abandon, “I feel like a million bucks” And “Smoke joints in the whip, no cops can bust me”. For a kid who was just beginning his junior high life, it was a risky, provocative ballad that I couldn’t get enough of. As I grew up, so too did his music which underwent a progression more akin to a grizzled veteran. His frat rap style was what shot him into popularity with the song “Donald Trump”, and his commercially successful album Blue Slide Park.

He then touched into his introspective side with Watching Movies with the Sound Off in 2013. It produced the trippy opener “The Star Room”, and a funky collaboration with Schoolboy Q on “Gees.” 

In 2016, his album Divine Feminine focused on the lessons he had learned from the women in his life. This included his ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande, and his mother. It represented another cog in his ever spinning wheel of art. 

 Photo: NPR

Photo: NPR

Miller also produced unique aliases for music, with mixtapes from his alter ego Delusional Thomas and songs from Larry Fisherman. It was another way of him to further venture into his creative soul and continually develop as an artist. 

Mac Miller died on Friday September 7, at the tender age of 26. He was born Malcolm James McCormick in Pittsburgh, a city seldom known for rappers, save for Wiz Khalifa.  Yet, at 18 years old he rose to prominence with his hit mixtape K.I.D.S (Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit).

His death was one that sent shockwaves rippling throughout the rap community, with tributes aplenty pouring in. He was universally beloved, from the likes of John Mayer, Elton John and Drake. Heartbreakingly, one of his last tweets was, “I just wanna go on tour”. 

His most recent album labelled Swimming was released on August 3, the same day Astroworld gobbled up the headlines. Yet, when one means to appreciate music, the 13 track album dwarfs Travis Scott’s in pure creative ingenuity. 

His death was from a suspected drug overdose, and his lyrics have waxed poetically gut-wrenching with the opening song from Swimming, “Come Back to Earth”: “They don’t want me to OD and have to talk to my mother, telling her they could have done more to help me and she’ll be crying saying that she’ll do anything to have me back”

As I solemnly listened to his music on repeat this past weekend, one song hauntingly stood out; “Brand Name”, from his GO:OD AM album. The lyrics start off with him disregarding the notion of working a “9 to 5” day job as “I’d rather end up either dead or in jail.” Near the end of the song, he seems to foreshadow his demise:

“To everyone who sell me drugs / don’t mix it with that bullshit I hopin’ not to join the twenty-seven club.”

Despite his success in the music scene, he recently broke up with pop singer Ariana Grande, in May of this year after two years of dating. Weeks after the breakup, he was cited for a DUI for smashing into a utility pole with his Mercedes G-Wagon. He was very open and honest about his drug addiction that has haunted him since his high school days, and it was a tumultuous 2018 that had many worried for his health. 

Let’s remember him for all the unique music he provided for all of us, and this quote from “Dunno”, 

“I think we might just be alright / Thank God”

 

Welcome to StFX’s Orientation Week

Advices and more regarding the secrets to living a healthy O-Week

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Welcome all to orientation week at StFX. Have a safe week ahead and let’s party hearty together.

As a New-Brunswick scholar in university since 2013, I witnessed 6 orientation weeks, including this upcoming week. From parties with the University of Windsor to StFX, here are some practical orientation-week advices:

1. Join a society on campus. Societies always welcome new recruits early in the semester.

2. Log into Moodle and read the syllabus for each class this semester. In my opinion, a head start on the year’s readings and assignments facilitates the transition from Summer to Fall.

3. A nap is suggested in the medical science of my mind to revitalize the senses.

4. Go to activities organized by the university. Should the activity lead to getting frisky, practice our strong consent culture and get permission from the other participant.

5. Attend off-campus events hosted by fellow students and friends. Contributing burgers or sausages usually gives you access to a local party-house barbeque.

The best advice I can give to our reader is to retain the information that speaks to them from these advices and experience their own version of orientation week.

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As I enter my final year at StFX, one thing remains abundantly clear: This school is way too friendly. 

I met so many friends I can not recount a time when I have walked across campus and did not come across someone I knew. The tight-knit community is just one reason why you will enjoy being here. With that being said, here are some tips I have learned on how to make your O-Week amazing:

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1. You will be meeting a ton of people, and that can be quite nerve-racking; however, everyone is in the same boat as you, and simply talking with someone can help ease their nerves. 

2. StFX Book Buy and Sell on Facebook. Join that group and you can get your textbooks for considerably cheap. It is way better then getting gouged by the StFX bookstore.

3. Water is your friend. Seriously. I was never a huge water fan until I discovered the magic of sparkling water with brands like Perrier, Montellier, and if you are feeling really lavish, Voss Sparkling. This amazing drink is most important on those mornings when you wake up parched like a Sahara desert in the midst of a drought. 

4. Attend a football game. These games tend to bring out alumni, faculty and student-alike. Even if you don’t know what a first down or interception is, simply coalescing with others will make your time there worthwhile. 

5. Be active! StFX has a host of fields and trails to satisfy your athletic body. There are tennis courts located on Main Street and Columbus Field and several trails for running around the outskirts of Antigonish. 

 

Is Protesting an Effective Means of Change?

The Trans Mountain pipeline moves forward despite protest efforts in a national debate

In 2004, I paid $5 to board a bus to join a protest in Toronto. It was the first anniversary of the illegal invasion of, and war of aggression against, Iraq by the United States. There was a thick throng of people that stretched farther than I could see, and at least as wide as University Avenue. I remember the conviction of so many people gathered in common cause in such a space, raising their voice to the monstrous injustice of the war. 

The previous year there had been the largest coordinated protest in recorded history, all in opposition to the contrived American plan to invade Iraq. Millions of people flooded the streets, in cities across the globe, to oppose the plans of the George Bush and Tony Blair, among others. 

In face of this unprecedented opposition, the war went on. Iraq was invaded, millions of Iraqis murdered, millions more displaced. There were tens of thousands of soldiers traumatized by the realities of war, and a seemingly unending battle between varying rebellious forces of complicated origins, alliances, hostility, and goals. 

This was my cultural and political environment growing up; as if the power of the people was mocked, ignored, and discarded. Even as I write this now, 15 years later, I feel the sense of disillusionment that visited many of us who opposed the occupation of Iraq.

What the protests of the Iraq War accomplished, if anything at all, is intangible. By contrast, the worldwide phenomenon, the 2011 protests in New York known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS), spawned a political, an economic, and a spiritual awakening from people across the political map. 

At the urging of Canadian-based, anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters, hundreds of thousands of protestors turned out in major cities around the world to protest the rising inequality of the modern globalized economy. Ridiculed then, and for some time after, for producing no tangible accomplishments, OWS sparked a growing consciousness among people that the global systems of economy were not just weighted unfavourably against them but had been engineered to ignore the needs of the majority. 

It was among the loosely organized collection of like-minded individuals that anthropologist and anarchist, David Graeber coined the phrase, “We are the 99%.” Seven years after the events of OWS there is a greater awareness of the unfair economic conditions that affect all of us. There is a great deal of work being done to try and turn the tide of this unfairness and all of this sprung from a protest that was faulted and ignored for not producing any immediate or direct, political effects. 

I didn’t join the OWS protests. At the time I didn’t understand what is was about, or what exactly they were protesting. It sounded like malcontents hanging out rent-free in parks around the world. I can now see the same hopeful spark of struggle that propelled other struggles, like the Paris Commune of 1871; a participatory, anti-authoritarian, grassroots democracy out for fairness from the forces that control their lives. 

The message may not always be easily heard, but the cause is just, and the hearts are in the right place. There are so many in Canada who believe in a better country, we just need to listen to each other and work together in the cause of each other. The breadth of history provides those looking for inspiration and education, great lessons about how to effect great change.

On July 17th, Justin Trudeau visited StFX campus to talk about twinning the 401 and to announce an increase to the Canada Child Benefit. His visit was covered by both the Halifax Star and the Casket. While the Star reproduced a Liberal Party memo, The Casket did report on the “number of people organized… expressing their concern for the environment, referring to the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline… for $4.5 billion.” They provided no further context to the protest. 

I spoke with the organizer of the protest, St. FX history professor, Dr. Chris Frazer about it. He heard about the arrival of the Prime Minister only a few days before, giving him a short window to protest the Trans Mountain pipeline currently cutting its way through British Columbia. Fortunately, Dr. Frazer and the other protestors were able to visibly confront the Prime Minister, despite repeated and shameful attempts of intimidation by campus security and the Prime Minister’s security detail. 

Dr. Frazer was spoken to by Mr. Trudeau, who repeated the false idea that protestors are against job creation and the economy. 

Mr. Trudeau has lied to voters about his promise to provide indigenous people with the right to veto resource projects on their land and territories, lied about his intention to enact electoral reform, lied about his commitment to human rights, and lied about his intention to take seriously the causes of climate change. 

I asked Dr. Frazer if his protest was worth it, and he replied enthusiastically, “Absolutely… What do you do? Wait for years until we get a chance to vote and… I look at that and think what’s the point of voting? 

Considering a Prime Minister who has completely abandoned his promises to reform the electoral system…most people in this country have a useless vote… what’s the alternative?”

I don’t know if Dr. Frazer’s protest alone will change the shameful course of the Trudeau Government and I don’t know if protests themselves are always an effective means of affecting direct change, but I do know that sustained, firm pressure on the Prime Minister and any one of his cabinet, whether in official or personal appearances, will draw attention from the people. 

Anyone interested in gathering or protesting in support of good causes, can contact Dr. Chris Frazer at cfrazer@stfx.ca

 

 

Orientation Week or Frosh Week?

 
 

Deconstructing the semantics of titles and their powers (if they have any)

Orientation week is a time of new experiences, new classes, new friends and of course, new parties. StFX is at the top of the list for party schools in Canada according to Maclean’s magazine, but if you dig a little deeper, the parties don’t necessarily constitute the new-coming class or hold relevance to the orientation week. When discussing the parties both on campus and in town, “The pub (the Inn) stopped serving chicken at 9 p.m. and booted out anyone under legal drinking age; the night has become a High School Musical sing-along that is nearly frosh-free.” Campbell states in an article posted on the magazine’s website. The distinction between current students and freshmen is important because the title of the party school is advertised mostly to new comers and can deter prospective students from applying to our campus.

StFX, among other schools, have begun to switch from the infamous “Frosh Week” to a more study-friendly “Welcome Week”, and although there has never been a firm implementation, it leaves this author wondering whether the title change would make a difference. StFX has always held a tradition where their introductory events built a sense of community, ranging from team building activities, presentations, house competitions, and of course parties; but these events do not span across the year and do not condone excess drinking or partying. The university takes pride in its students and emphasizes the strong bond developed among peers. If the university officially changes the title of the introductory week, it does not mean that they change their activities. It is important to remark that while the university provides activities, they are not the ones responsible for actions taken by students. Many of the university’s events are often listed as dry or are activities that can be enjoyed without the use of recreational substances.

There are many students who come to StFX to learn, myself included, but that doesn’t make the effects of peer pressure any less prevalent. The fear of missing out (FoMO), according to Oxford Dictionaries, is an “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.” In an article for the American Journal of Medical Research, Louise H. Graham states that “FoMO may make people more conscious to what is happening around them, improving their awareness, but the preoccupation with what they may fail to catch may disconcert them, curbing their capacity to be knowledgeably vigilant.” which can correlate with its definition to imply that our sense of peer pressure and wanting-ness to belong is greater than ever before. Students may partake in activities because of FoMO and wanting to develop a bond, but StFX makes a point to host events in separate locations and filter those who aren’t of age so that it becomes a choice rather than an obligation. These events are specifically designed so that people are given the opportunities to participate and belong without having to make decisions they might otherwise regret.

This leaves hazing; Frosh Week no matter where you go, often suggests that there are rituals or activities that someone must partake in to belong to a house, or a group. I came from a university before StFX where there was a lawsuit against residents in my house due to actions taken during my frosh week. I bore witness to attempts to try and take advantage of those who were incapacitated, and I said no. You always have the right to say no, and if someone tries to force your hand, then they are breaking the law, and if you see someone else who can’t say no for themselves, then stand up and say no for them. The people who try to do those things are not people you want to affiliate with, and they do not represent a norm, and they do not represent your school. There is nothing wrong with partying occasionally in my opinion, but a big part of university is involvement and what you make of it. If you’re not a partier, then StFX is loaded with options for alternatives, but it may be up to you to take advantage of those or to develop them as you see fit. If you are put in an uncomfortable situation, you have the right to move, and to voice your concerns. Pitching ideas to your student union of activities or ways to improve the school is how you can make the difference you want to see. I don’t believe a title change will change the way the school is perceived, but I do think less emphasis on the party activities and more emphasis on the other ways the school provides its strong university bond, and how students can get involved is the best route to take.

 

Pragmatic Parking

 
 

New fee for StFX students who stay on campus overnight

Parking is a troublesome thing on the StFX campus, and with the growing population of students who would prefer to drive themselves than walk, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find that perfect spot. The StFX security team has undergone some practices to curb the growing number of cars on campus by adding carpool spots and, most recently, parking tags. Last year, when registering for my tag, I spoke with security who told me this was a long-term plan to calculate the number of people who park on campus before implementing a parking fee. The idea being that a fee will discourage people from driving to campus while also earning the university a nice profit.

While I love the idea of fewer vehicles on the road, in Antigonish there is a population four times larger than the town that live in the county. Driving longer distances is the requirement for many of the locals, as well as students, and forcing them to pay an excess amount of dollars because of where they live is not fair. Current rent prices in the town are unsustainable for many students, and the result is many people moving out into the county or further from the town. Scheduling rides is possible, but not always practical. I live at home while going to school and if I were to share a ride with my mother, it would mean a 3 hour wait time for my classes, and anywhere from a 3 to 6 hour wait time for her while waiting for me to finish classes. While feasible, it’s not necessary when there are alternatives such as my own vehicle. There is a transit available but only on certain days and people must plan their day around it, if they can at all Unless the transit system becomes more comprehensive, the resulting fee is a larger force driving people away from campus.

 Photo: Brendan Riley Photography

Photo: Brendan Riley Photography

“It’s frustrating that we’re probably going to have to pay for parking, when there aren’t enough spots.” Says Kristen Meagher, a third-year business student. She goes on to explain that the difficulty is that the parking that is available isn’t near the associated buildings to her classes. In disbelief, Kristen states “I just can’t believe they’re going to make us pay for a spot that’s not even guaranteed, let alone it being where you want it to be.” No parking convenient to class location is a common complaint among students; the entire parking system is rigged that unless you are in residence, you are required to park a sizeable walk from your class, which can also be difficult for people with health issues.

This year security has implemented an overnight parking charge of $250 for the full academic year or $150 for a single term. Security emphasizes that they are trying to create a “pedestrian-friendly campus” but fail to explain how an overnight charge helps to create that environment. The student population is most active in the streets during daytime hours, and so the nightly charge appears to just be an extra expense to students who are already paying great sums to live on campus. The only promotion an overnight pass creates is that the lots surrounding a building are given to residents rather than potential guests; however, given the limited number of spaces, it is no guarantee that a resident will still be close to their building. In the past, protests have been made to establish the demand for parking across campus, but to no avail.

StFX and their security team need to begin listening to their students and either make the university more accessible or begin to provide the services that are being requested and demanded from them. If they begin to issue charges for parking tags, then spaces should be guaranteed so that students are ensured spots close to the buildings relevant to them. If students can’t park on campus, then they will be forced to park in the business lots surrounding the school, and the walk isn’t much different. This movement outside of campus could cause disruption with local businesses and the town itself, and then StFX will have more than just the students to deal with.

 

Alumni Empowerment

 
 

StFX alumni in politics gives students a voice

One thing that StFX is best known for is its involved and passionate alumni community. For students just starting out on their undergrad journey, the idea of being a Xaverian beyond four years may seem too far away to worry about. However, our alumni community has the potential to represent more than just returning to campus for homecoming. Among StFX's alumni stories are those who have found success in Canadian politics. Politicians have a unique power that many government positions do not – they have the opportunities to not only launch positive change, but also act as a mediator for the people who want to.

A great example of this is Sean Fraser. He is a Liberal member of parliament representing the riding of Central Nova, and also an X grad. Very active on social media, Fraser's twitter gives off an approachable atmosphere and showcases his involvement in Central Nova Scotian communities. What does this mean for you? It means that you have someone in the know. Like most StFX alumni, Fraser is proud to be a part of the circle. Of course, writing to any member of parliament if you have concerns or ideas is fine, but the chances of having your thoughts listened to are far greater if you have something in common with the MP. An MP with a StFX background might also be aware of any university or township issues before someone even asks them about it, which is another advantage.

Beyond using alumni power as a voice, there is also the way in which StFX alumni can inspire others to go forward with their own career decisions. StFX publishes an Alumni News magazine twice annually. For Summer 2018, included was an article about women who graduated from StFX and how the university encouraged and empowered them to achieve success in whatever they wanted to do. Liberal Nova Scotia MP Bernadette Jordan became the first woman to represent the South Shore-St. Margaret's riding, and she says that StFX, “ignited [her] passion for federal politics.” By sharing her story to other members of the Xaverian community, she has shown that she is not simply here to represent her undergrad. Her accomplishments inspire women in the community, whether they be politically-inclined or otherwise, to reach their goals.

 Photo: http://bjordan.liberal.ca/

Photo: http://bjordan.liberal.ca/


Furthermore, political alumni have another big way to contribute to StFX; donations and buildings! Most recently, The Mulroney Institute of Government has been built due to Brian Mulroney's generous donations to the school. This is another major power that X alumni involved in politics, or another wealthy profession harbour. Because not only does it allow them to give back to their school community, but it also brings a sense of pride to StFX for having so many alumni success stories. Having alumni that are able to donate their money and influence to the school also gives current students a sense of belonging; maybe in the future, current students will be able to donate just like so many of those before them.


The phrase 'small but powerful' is something that resonates with this school. Despite our size (population-wise and geographically), Xaverians have made waves. Of course, everyone knows about our most well-known politician (probably ever), former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, but there are other politicians active in all tiers of Canada's government right now who are doing good work...and they are wearing X rings! Aforementioned MP Sean Fraser is once again a great example, given his recent tweets promoting the Help the Helpers conference, right here in Antigonish. So if you're ever feeling like you want to make a change in your community, utilizing alumni connections is a powerful way to do so. 

 

XXXTentacion and the Muddied Dilemma between Art and Artist

 
 

The death of the young rapper opens up an array of ways to remember him. Let’s not make it about his music.

On June 18th, two armed men pulled up on a black BMW i8 near a motorcycle shop in Deerfield Beach, Florida. They proceeded to shoot multiple times at an individual in the driver's seat, killing him instantly. This individual was colloquially known as XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy. He was just 20, yet lived a life rampant with grief, misery, aggression and unspeakable brutality that belied his years. He also had a straggly ascent as a musical success story.

Onfroy was one of the first to personify the Soundcloud era of rap. The gnarled, hectic sound of rappers that spawned numerous artists to break into the mainstream, like Smokepurpp, Tekashi69, Trippie Redd and the deceased Lil Peep.  Yet, whether it be Tekashi's sexual misconduct case (with a 13 year old) , or Trippie Redd's assault allegations, conflict and the come-up of these stars seem inevitable, yet their popularity is inarguable. Onfroy's second album, "?", debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, with over 20 000 in albums sold in one week. He even nabbed a spot on XXL's coveted Freshman List in 2017.  It is unmistakable the impact he has had on teenagers. His dreary, depressing lyrics found an analogous connection with teenage angst. His songs focus on the topics of heartbreak, depression, anxiety and paranoia, with his hit song "SAD! " an encapsulation of these feelings

Yet, we should remember him instead for his horrific assault allegations (which you can find here).  While in Juvenile Detention, Jehsah took his cellmates head and proceeded to stomp it on the concrete floor. His reason? "He was staring at me". 

We should really remember him more for his crimes on his ex-girlfriend; aggravated battery and domestic battery by strangulation (which you can find here). One night he purportedly started punching, elbowing, head-butting, and strangling her until she almost passed out. He then took her to the bathroom and demanded one last time that she tell him everything or he would kill her in the bathtub. She was pregnant at the time.

Even with these unspeakable allegations against Onfroy, he was propped up by streaming services, most notably Spotify, featuring regularly on their weekly-curated playlist Rap Caviar. When Spotify introduced their Hateful Conduct policy back in early May, XXXTentacion was one of the main artists to be taken off all promoted playlists. Yet, with much backlash and a threat from Hip Hop titan Kendrick Lamar of pulling his music, they reneged on the policy. It seemed that Onfroy's music was, in a way, too big to fail. 

As rappers and fans grieved the death of Onfroy, some began to paint him as a martyr in the gone-too-soon club amongst Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jimi Hendrix. That is callous and aporetic. We should mourn for his victims, like the ex-girlfriend: Geneva Ayala and her $20 000 surgery she is going to need. We should instead focus our time on supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and disparage the remarks he made on them .

We listen to music to feel emotion. Whether it be in your room after a break-up or at the club dancing, the beats and melodies elicits a varying array of physical and mental cues. We don't necessarily think about the artist when listening and for many, that's OK. Chris Brown's voice is charming yet his actions to Rihanna? Repugnant. But after a death, RIP's and 'you will be missed' are usually what cascades out of people, regardless of their past. His songs will top the charts in the coming weeks, if only briefly, to fleetingly moan for his loss. Yet his vile past may forever be scrubbed.

I don't think art and artist will ever fully be coalesced together, in any circumstance, and maybe that is OK.

But, for me, whenever XXXTentacion comes on, the only mourning I am going to do is mourn the loss of two seconds of my life by clicking skip on my phone. Because all I see and feel when his voice floods my ears is unrepentable pain. Even in death.

 
 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Skipping Irritation

 
 

Does living in a world of extremes boost our unpleasant emotions?

We’ve all done it before. We were cut off in an intersection, or maybe were stuck walking behind someone really slow on the sidewalk. A friend might have made an off-side comment or you could have even just dropped your order of fries on the McDonald’s floor.

Out of nowhere, this rage boils inside of you. The situation certainly does not merit this kind of extreme anger, but there it is nonetheless. You grit your teeth, or shout a profanity. You might even get aggressive with the people around you, either verbally or physically depending on your level of inhibition. Deep down inside you want to go full Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

In most instances, this rage is mostly felt internally and therefore has little consequence. In others, though, it can be devastating. Last summer, American David Desper was arrested on murder charges for shooting a girl in the head out of road rage. I think it goes without saying that cutting someone off in traffic does not merit a death penalty. Even driving aggressively as a result of road rage increases likelihood of accidents, and has caused various fatal crashes over the years. A quick browse through a YouTube video’s comments section makes it very evident that people are just so angry for seemingly no reason.

The question is now… why do we get so angry over such insignificant situations? In a recent classroom discussion that took place in my Contemporary Literary Theory course, the topic was Sianne Ngai’s essay on “ugly feelings.” It was suggested by the professor that this tendency to skip over irritation and fly blindly right into homicidal rage is a fairly new phenomenon. The driver overtaken by road rage is not a scene readily found in old black and white movies. Not to say that overreaction is an exclusively new reality, but it does seem to have increased. Why? In my opinion, there are certainly many factors going into what I believe is over-reactive anger, and I will provide some suggestions on what I think some of these may be.

For one, people in the world today are entitled, plain and simple. No, I am not just talking about millennials. In our individualistic society, everyone seems to think that the world revolves around them. Every meaningless thing we do in our lives matters more than whatever meaningless thing the guy next to us is doing. For this reason, when someone cuts us off in traffic, it feels like we’ve been the victim of some horrendous personal violation. How dare they make my drive to the grocery store take an extra 10 seconds? This overall lack of empathy makes it hard for us to put ourselves into the other’s shoes, and instead of concerning ourselves with why they may also be in a rush themselves, we feel our hands grip tighter on the steering wheel or flip them the bird.

Where does this borderline narcissism come from? It’s possible that, now in a society in which face to face interaction is seldom needed and relationships are filtered through texts and pictures, people have just grown to have less emotional intelligence. As there are fewer people around us on a regular basis, maybe we have grown less aware of those that are present at times. People no longer needed to develop proper social skills and therefore simply did not. As a result, simple concepts like repressing inhibitions and dealing with emotions become alien and foreign. People feel entitled to the same level of unperturbedness that they have in their habitual solitude, and so when one thing goes awry, it may feel like the entire world is against them.

Another certain possibility that I feel could be a huge contributing issue is overall stress levels in the population. Stress and anxiety are at record highs, and it is certainly not without its consequences. With higher demands than ever on the working citizen and less time allotted to relaxation, people are generally high-wired. In the human brain, this can result in high concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone. Aside from many health problems that can be traced back to high cortisol levels (for example, elevated blood pressure), we may be seeing the fruit of some societal problems.

In a brain that is constantly stressed, it seems natural that emotions will swing strongly either way. The brain is not far away from a state of constant fight or flight mode, ready to jump into serious action at all times. So it may not seem surprising then that people are literally snapping into murderous rage. The brain is stressed 24 hours a day. Things that stress you out and irritate you accumulate throughout the day, week or even year. Finally, something happens. Just even one little thing, as small as the drive-thru worker giving you a coke rather than an iced tea. Then and there, you just snap. It was the final straw that broke the camel’s back and your brain just cannot take it anymore. You scream, you cry and you lose your goddamn mind. It does not seem like a far stretch to me, and maybe some of these outbursts could be avoided with more realistic expectations for people.

Along the same lines of accumulative effects, I think disenfranchisement is a serious problem for this angry mob of a population, too. It’s a reality as old as the emotion of anger itself: sometimes, we take things out on the wrong people. In an age of great ideological divides, bleak futures and just overall frustration, many feel a constant ember of anger ebbing and sparking to tiny degrees throughout their day. The frustration at things much larger than one’s self – things that seem out of one’s control – has often manifested into some of the ugliest version of humanity. For instance, it is Germany’s economic frustration that gave birth to WWII. It is the largely overlooked frustration of the middle states that gave rise to the recent presidency we love to hate.

Are we really surprised then that people are so angry? It seems like you can no longer log into your Facebook account without seeing some type of political melodrama going down on one status or another. That is just the problem. We yell at each other instead of protesting before our politicians. It’s grown to the point that when someone represents in our eyes what we have grown to hate, we want to hurt them. We want to hurt people. Emotionally or physically, both stem from an anger that is directed at something far beyond that person, and yet in that moment the blood boils for them.

Clearly, I am only scraping at the tip of an iceberg. There are likely many people out there that know more about all three areas than I do, and people that would be able to bring forth insight that I do not myself possess. But I urge you all, in your hottest moments of anger to stop and reflect about where the anger truly stems from. Blind rage does well to neither you nor to anyone else. We can change.

 

Politics as Usual

 
 

In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States, is gun control around the corner?

On February 14, Nikolas Cruz walked onto the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and opened fire. The school shooting only lasted a few minutes, leaving 17 people dead, others injured, and the rest of the school to be evacuated room by room. It has been declared one of the deadliest school shootings since 2012 in the United States, and there have already been more school shooting incidents since.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is being hailed as different. This time, the survivors have themselves started a protest movement to prevent more school shootings. Already, they’ve protested at Florida’s capital Tallahassee, taken to social media with the hashtag #NeverAgain and have even caused some retailers to boycott the NRA. But is it going to be enough to get gun reform or to topple the NRA?

President Trump has already stated he might change the age for buying a gun up to 21, address mental health issues and prohibit the sales of bump stocks. But he also has received significant funding from the NRA and has the generally pro-gun Republican party to contend with. Furthermore, the president’s word isn’t incredibly reliable these days given he could tweet a curveball policy change on gun laws at 2am if he felt like it.

There is however hope that companies boycotting the NRA or refusing to sell guns at their stores will help put some pressure on gun reform laws. While corporations like Walmart do have sway if they change the age required to buy guns in store, airlines like Delta are already facing the consequences of boycotting the NRA by losing tax exemptions in Georgia. Not to mention boycotting the NRA and refusing to sell guns doesn’t get rid of the guns already purchased and won’t be very effective unless most companies are following suit.

Some of the alternative solutions seem to be promising as well, like having more mental health support. While mental health issues do play a role in some school shootings, it is one factor among many that causes these tragedies. Notably, mental health issues are often used as the scapegoat justifying why white males are school shooters, while in turn people of colour and other minorities are immediately labelled terrorists or criminals instead.

Arming teachers isn’t really a viable solution either. It’s not just a matter of getting firearm training; it’s a matter of potentially having to shoot your own student and making schools more like prisons than places of instruction. It also asks teachers and administrators to take on another role in an education system where some schools have barely enough funding to keep the buildings from falling down. Not to mention giving teachers guns seems like an underhanded way to make double the profits from gun sales – by selling to the teachers and potential school shooters.

What about implementing stricter gun laws, more extensive background checks or requiring firearm education before you can purchase one? Unfortunately, the NRA stills holds a considerable amount of lobbying power in the United States, especially at a time of great political cleavages. There is a ray of hope that in the upcoming midterm elections, more Democrats will be elected and that they can push through stricter gun control laws.

Gun control in the United States remains a complex issue with many proposed solutions that will take years to implement, on any political level. But now, politicians will have to contend with younger generations savvy with social media, with access to information and that grew up in fear of their school being the next victim of a school shooting. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and subsequent protests are a tipping point to have these young voices push politicians to act and could inspire change.

So, to the outstanding young Americans protesting to get gun reform, there’s a long road ahead. Despite that, know that you have already brought about change in your actions. One day, Washington might realize that it is inexcusable to support a system that threatens the lives of youth trying to get an education.

 

More Than You Bargained For

 
 

Why Olympic spending just isn’t really worth it.

As far as Olympics go, Pyeonchang wasn’t the worst. Despite featuring no official Russian delegation, right-wing protests against a prayer room for Muslim athletes and constant dread of nuclear war, it went alright overall. There was only one corruption scandal, and it didn’t go too far over budget. However, with the Olympics having come to a close we have to grapple with the important question of the day. Are the Olympics even worth it? Looking at both their economic and their social costs, as well as the swindling and corruption they foster, the answer can only be “no.”

Remember, the Olympics are funded by taxpayer money. Not once since 1968 have they been on-budget, and the spending is always counted in the billions. In fact, analysts point out that the Olympics tend to run 156% over budget – in other words, they cost almost three times as much as planned. The London Olympics were billed as a low-scale and efficient Olympics, but cost an (at that time record-shattering) 15 billion dollars. Since 1992, every Olympics has cost at least 2 billion dollars, and the monumental Sochi Olympics cost 21 billion dollars. Russia’s Olympic spending outstripped the GDP of most small countries.

The poster-child for Olympic overspending was surely the Montreal Olympics. The mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, proudly announced that “the Olympics could no more go over budget than a man could have a baby” and vowed that these Olympics would be the first to finance themselves. The Olympics then cost eight times as much as the initial budget allowed, took 30 years to pay off, almost financially broke the City of Montreal, and – through their conspicuous corruption – might have been a factor in a rising wave of support for separatist politicians. The Athens Olympics similarly are often credited as the straw that broke the camel’s back for Greece, adding to a mountain of debt.

It’s modern economics. The rich get richer and the civilians foot the bill. Every time a city secures the Olympics, it receives a massive influx of government funding for construction, marketing, real estate development, financial services, staffing and post-games maintenance. This money is usually distributed quickly, and the gloss of the Olympics covers dirty dealings. In Montreal, most of the spending went directly into the hands of the city’s notorious construction companies and the Mafia dons. Union bosses deliberately kept construction sites in a state of chaos unless they got personal payoffs. In Sochi, much of the money went into the pockets of the big businessmen who had been asset-stripping the country since the fall of the USSR. The Pyeonchang Olympic bid is being investigated because Samsung may have shelled out significant bribe money to secure the bid, and Japanese marketing giant Dentsu used a Swiss bank to bribe IOC members knowing that the Olympics would bring significant wealth.

A lot of Olympic spending is justified as “development." Prominent Greek politicians – now out of a job – justified the Olympics as a way to get an updated airport and subways. Beijing used the Olympics as a catalyst for architectural renewal. Rio de Janeiro, the most ambitious, put forward a sweeping plan to use its Olympics as a way to transform the city for the better. But behind all this rhetoric is state-backed looting. Part of Rio’s Olympic plan involved clearing out the slums and re-housing the people in new locations, as well as tackling crime with social spending in keeping with the agenda of the ruling Worker’s Party. However, the Mayor of Rio, affiliated with the business-friendly Brazilian Democratic Movement, instead occupied the slums with militarized police and drove out the mostly black residents. The slums were demolished and high-income communities were built. Meanwhile the previous residents were relocated into other slums in eco-hazardous zones. None of the broader promises were delivered upon, but the business elite got even more elite with Olympic spending; spending that had little to do with the Olympics.

The Olympics also piggyback increasingly elaborate security theatre and political repression. Brazil’s Olympics came in the midst of mass protests. President Dilma Roussef had been ousted on spurious charges of corruption – by a Senate in which two thirds of the membership were under investigation for bribe-taking – and replaced by Michel Temer. Temer, whose popularity has since doubled to a whopping 6%, apparently took 3 million dollars from suspicious pork developers and is now trying to privatize significant parts of the state. He declared the Olympics open in a 14-word speech which was drowned out both by the jeering of the crowds and the samba music blasting to cover said jeering. Even as the Olympics were going on, vast police deployments were made against anti-Temer protests outside the stadium.

Other countries were no better. In London, it was discovered that the military was placing anti-aircraft missile launchers on the roofs of London to shoot at potential interlopers. In Greece, America and the UK forced the government to spend almost 1.5 billion (an eighth of the budget) on vast anti-terrorism measures. China ramped up state repression around the Olympics, drastically heightening internet censorship and anti-dissident actions. Russia, as usual, was a spectacularly bad offender. The Sochi Olympics outraged Chechen separatists who demanded that the games not be conducted on their ancestral lands. They likened the games to “dancing on the graves of our ancestors” and threatened to disrupt them. The Russian state responded by increasing repression of Chechnya, accomplished both through brutal deployments of the FSB and the aid of Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov has since grown famous for his love of Instagram, sports and torture camps. Western newspapers blithely commented that the Sochi Olympics would be the end of the Chechen problem. In a way, they were right.

The Olympics are fundamentally political theatre. Brazil first took on the Olympics to prove that a Latin American country in the developing world had reached political and economic maturity, meanwhile desperately trying to cover up the chaos outside the stadium. In 1980 and 1984, respectively, mass boycotts of the Olympics were organized by the Western powers over the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Warsaw Pact over Western saber-rattling in Europe. The Pyeonchang Olympics were used by North Korea to drive a wedge between the South and the Americans, and international observers closely watched Mike Pence for signals that the United States would start a nuclear war in the Peninsula. Beijing’s Olympics were essentially an announcement that China was finally taking back its position as a world power.

Unsurprisingly, the Russians take the cake here. The media was tightly controlled by the Russian state, as was the narrative around the event. Its opening ceremony was interesting to watch for its political vision. It was an almost dizzying avant-garde rendering of a reactionary depiction of Russian history. With bizarre floating shapes, a shifting landscape pinned around rock-steady leader-figures and the reduction of broad concepts to narrow forms, it presented a highly coherent message. Russia, as depicted in the opening ceremony, was the product of a single continuous march to glory guided by strong men of vision and the Olympics seemed to be a milestone in this journey. This essentially summarizes Putin’s view of Russian history, and the methods used to present it are those perfected by the regime’s infamous “political technologists.” Sochi was an ideological product par excellence.

This all goes to show that the Olympics aren’t for ordinary people. That’s why the stands are almost always empty and they never make money back on ticket sales. They’re a tool which the rich use to get richer and which the great powers use to promote the narratives of their world-striding leaders. They’re closely politically stage-managed, even in Canada and the democracies. Despite being billed as expressions of global unity and beamed live to the entire world, still part and parcel of the global systems of financial and political power. For all their pretensions, what the Olympics boil down to is just another struggle for power and wealth. There might be potential for change, but as they are, the Olympics are just another mechanism for taking power and money away from ordinary people and redistributing it upwards. They just aren’t worth the cost.

 

Shooting the Messenger

 
 

Blaming Instagram for insecurities is short-sighted and inefficient

The generation growing up now is in a unique position of not being able to remember a world pre-internet. Most students here at best remember having a dial-up connection, but would be hard-pressed to have spent a long period of their lives without internet whatsoever. In the wake of this new era of tech savvy and arguably tech-dependent millennials, the landscape of social interaction has evolved greatly.

Whereas advertising mainly appeared in magazines and television commercials before, countless sums of money are now being invested into online social media platforms. And yet – despite major invasions of privacy and a concerning amount of our data being taken and sold to multi-million/billion dollar companies to tailor ads specifically to us – this is not the biggest grievance that I hear lately from my fellow scrollers.

As of the last few years, an overwhelming complaint has surfaced about the popular app Instagram in particular. The argument is this: Instagram makes people insecure. At first, I was a little dumbfounded by the argument. I personally have very rarely felt insecure about myself while scrolling through Instagram, so I had a hard time buying into it to begin with.

The argument is that people only post the best aspects of their lives. They post pictures that are so heavily edited that the people within the screen are unrecognizable. They post pictures of expensive vacations, elaborate meals and ridiculously luxurious nights out on the town. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit there scrolling through these pictures, feelings badly for ourselves that we are not living a life exactly like these people. We wish we were richer, prettier or more popular; whatever it is that tickles your fancy.

I have a problem with this argument. It seems as though we are shooting the messenger a bit. Instagram is only the medium used, not the dictator of what we post. If you so choose, you can post nothing but a picture of your cat every single day. The problem is not Instagram itself, it is the way in which we are using it. It is the need for us humans to try to make our mediocre lives seem thrilling and amazing, and this need is certainly not new. It is not only with the age of social media that parents would yell at you to clean your room before guests came over. People have always had the tendency to flaunt the best parts of their lives and hide the skeletons in the closet.

If the case is true that Instagram is a particularly significant catalyst for insecurity, it seems to me that the population actually has a problem with envy or self-esteem that needs to be dealt with. It’s silly to blame the girls posting their bikini pictures online for your insecurities. They are as entitled to post what they want, and they do not exist to make you feel better or worse.

In my opinion, if you find that scrolling through Instagram turns you into a big green monster or results in you crying in the fetal position, perhaps Instagram is not the real culprit here.  We are always quick to blame the medium and not the people using it. In some cases, it is justified. For example, guns are designed with the specific purpose of killing, so it is not a far stretch to toss them a part of the blame when a shooter goes rogue. However, Instagram is simply a picture-sharing platform. Outside of the basic terms and conditions guidelines, Instagram has no horse in the race in regards to what you post. They make no suggestions. We take it upon ourselves to post what we choose to post.

Even more, I had to laugh a bit at implication that only posting the best parts of our lives is in some way wrong. The same people that make these complaints frequently also not only do the same, but shame people that do share negative aspects of their lives as “oversharing.” Which is it? Are we morally unsound for only posting the rainbows and unicorns or are we morally unsound for posting about how we cried earlier that day?

Better yet, if this is an ongoing issue that you cannot seem to resolve, perhaps a move as radical as deleting your account is in order. There is no mandate to have an Instagram account, and if these images are something that you really find you cannot grapple with, then just don’t look at them. I know a few people personally that have taken this route and are much happier for it. You know what they say: “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

I am empathetic to those that deal with insecurities while scrolling through the web. We all have insecurities, and to say that I never ever have any flare up myself would be misleading if not an outright lie. But all I’m trying to say is that being too quick to blame these external forces may force you to overlook very influential internal forces. Maybe ask yourself where the envy and insecurity stem from, and whether it’s from a place that you can improve or from a place that you could come to terms with. From my own experience, dealing with those underlying personal issues first has a trickle-down effect that tends to see other issues solve themselves.

Either way, I hope that anyone reading this that relates to this struggle somehow finds a way to cope with these issues and can learn to scroll happily on.