Category Archives: Posts by the VP Students

International Women’s Day: A Personal Perspective

International Women's Day

 

For more than 30 years, I have been proud to learn and lead within college and university communities committed to social justice, equity and respect. This is particularly true today: International Women’s Day. Canadian campuses are home to thousands of impressive female students who now comprise a significant majority of post-secondary enrolments in this country, a stark change from 1971, when 68 per cent of graduates were male. The percentage of female faculty members has also markedly increased since the 1970s. Many of these are eminent feminist scholars who lead projects on wage parity, political engagement, gender identity, body autonomy and sexual violence. Women are learning, teaching, doing groundbreaking research and engaging in community service activities on post-secondary campuses across this country. Their social, economic, cultural and political contributions matter; individually and collectively, they are fueling the charge toward gender parity on and off campus.

Notwithstanding the post-secondary sector’s undeniable contributions to feminism, however, colleges and university campuses have been labelled unsafe. Specifically and most recently, leaders like me have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent sexual violence; for not adequately supporting survivors of sexual violence; and for not holding alleged perpetrators of sexual violence accountable for their behavior. Having invested my entire professional life in the work of fostering human development and student success, this is painful to hear. Personal safety, security and overall well-being are foundational to learning. Even one incident of sexual violence on a campus is one too many. The individual and communal impacts can be incalculable. I know because I’ve been a first responder and a primary supporter for too many survivors during my 25-year career as a student services professional. Experience underpins my unwavering commitment to preventing and addressing sexual violence in all its forms: sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and/or sexual exploitation. Before and since the latest public call for systematic improvements and increased accountability, stakeholders (students, faculty and staff) on campuses across the province have worked collegially to draft sound policy, put survivors more squarely at the center of response protocols and revisit adjudication processes. Perhaps most importantly, we have worked to improve communications, so that survivors can make informed decisions that support personal recovery. Every school I have worked at, for example, facilitates academic accommodations, personal counselling and referrals to community agencies, temporary housing, emergency financial support and safety planning. We need to be explicit about the help that is available and provide road maps for access. We are listening, learning and building on existing strengths.

And yet, I am worried that our momentum will stall or that we will self-sabotage by alienating key partners. I also fear that our haste to respond will inadvertently undermine our commitment to being survivor-centric.

Let me start by saying that we have been talking about this for far too long. In the late 1980s when I was enrolled as an undergraduate at Western University, my sense of self and security was shattered on December 6, 1989, when Marc Lepine shot 28 people and massacred 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Five months later, an engineering student at Western – Lynda Shaw – was sexually assaulted and murdered at a fast food outlet on Hwy 401. I knew her. I had stopped at that very rest stop dozens of times. Like so many of my privileged peers, I was profoundly and personally impacted by those two atrocities. Our grieving drove us to organize, establish peer networks and lobby campus administrators. We advocated for education and awareness campaigns, orientation programming, accountability for perpetrators and survivor-centric supports.

The caution I am sounding is that we have been here before. And yet, the goal is unrealized: the number of students on Ontario campuses who experience sexual violence is still unfathomable. And if they choose to file a formal report, they are often susceptible to having their character and integrity challenged. In this and other regards, universities are a microcosm of broader society wherein violence is glorified and survivors are too often re-traumatized. Most of our students are products of an Ontario secondary school curriculum that – before the recent changes – largely ignored the issue of consent. The magnitude of this challenge is overwhelming. To drive real, sustainable change, we must collaborate, demonstrate respect and ensure that a diversity of voices and lived experiences are heard and acknowledged.

I was at the Premier’s Summit on Sexual Violence in January when a young leader proudly proclaimed that students had been fighting for 30 years to end sexual violence on campuses. Given that most of the students present were not alive in 1986, I took this to be an affirmation of the work that my colleagues and I have done over decades as students, faculty and staff. This message was quickly followed, however, by venomous references to university administrators being singularly focused on revenue generation and reputation. Hurt and insulted, I contemplated pushing myself away from the table. In the end, I concluded that this would be disadvantageous to the cause because my commitment to the issue goes far beyond my professional role as the Vice-Provost Students at York University.

In the second year of a doctoral program at Bowling Green State University, I started noticing that a man was following me. I would see him outside my classroom, at the gym, and then – over time – outside the window of my apartment. A careful accounting of when and where I saw him provided the impetus for him to plead guilty to Menacing by Stalking, a crime for which he was sentenced to two years in jail.

The path to that outcome – all too rare in instances of sexual violence – was incredibly difficult. For months, I lived in fear and had panic attacks. I am still easily startled and get anxious when my partner travels for work. As is typical, my academic performance, physical health and mental well-being suffered. I spent a lot of time questioning what I had done to elicit the criminal attention, and started doubting my personal choices. I felt particularly guilty that my entire family put their lives on hold so they could support me through protection orders, the university’s judicial processes and a criminal trial. To be clear, I survived being stalked by a man with a violent criminal history because of my parents, my brothers and a few close friends. Key leaders on the campus did their best to help, but there were gaps in policy and support programming that left me vulnerable and undermined my autonomy. Campus Security, for example, decided at some point to move me onto campus so they could better ensure my personal safety. Unfortunately, the only student housing available was a first-year residence dormitory, filled with people 10+ years my junior who partied day and night. I was moved for the right reasons, but the new living environment threatened my already fragile mental health. To allow me to safely return home, my brother and his friend moved to Bowling Green to serve as my bodyguards. Their presence was a constant reminder of how the stalker was undermining my personal power, independence and freedom. It made me mad.

That anger fueled my resolve to fight back. At the beginning, I had no intention of filing charges; I arrived unannounced at security services one day and an officer named John listened to my disclosure and said he believed me. His obvious priority was my safety, well-being and survival. John connected me with campus resources like personal counselling and worked with me on a safety plan. It was several weeks before I decided to pursue the process to have the stalker expelled and charged with a criminal offence.

Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act, will amend various statutes with respect to sexual violence, sexual harassment and domestic violence. It stems from It’s Never OK: an action plan to end sexual violence and harassment, which includes 13 commitments to “establish an Ontario where everyone lives in safety and is free from the threat, fear or experience of sexual violence and harassment”. My colleagues and I applaud the passage of this legislation and are already working to ensure each of our campuses is compliant. Based on my professional and personal experience, however, I am compelled to sound two points of caution. Both relate to the aspirational goals of the government’s plan.

The first speaks to the issue of reporting versus disclosure. Across Ontario, colleges and universities must be empowered to distinguish between a report of sexual violence – which is formal and involves an expectation that action will be taken against an alleged perpetrator – and a disclosure of sexual violence, in confidence, for the express purpose of accessing resources and/or accommodations. A failure to make this distinction may discourage survivors from coming forward because, for example, they are not ready, they do not feel safe or they fear public shaming, judicial processes and/or police involvement. Legislating or regulating that all disclosures must be treated as formal reports takes control and choice away from the survivor. That’s wrong because it will keep people from accessing the supports they need to recover. I needed time to feel safe and empowered. Had I been rushed or forced into filing a formal report with police, the man who stalked me would likely never have served time for his crime. I appreciate that having quantitative data makes the general public feel like public institutions are being held accountable. The priority, however, must be individual survivors and their recovery.

My second concern relates to accommodations and supports, both of which are keys to survival and recovery. Quite simply, the legislation could require that we count the number of times accommodations or supports have been accessed by any student who has been impacted by sexual violence. I do not think this is a good way to measure the efficacy of our services, and I fear that meeting the reporting requirements could threaten personal privacy. Currently, some schools (including York) publicize the number of formal reports filed that relate to sexual violence. If such data was collected and reported using consistent guidelines, it might give prospective and current students a measure by which to judge the relative safety of one campus versus another. That number, however, tells only a fraction of the story because so many instances of sexual violence go unreported. To understand the bigger picture, an expert panel convened by the Council of Ontario Universities is recommending that a customized, consistent, confidential climate survey be sent to post-secondary students in Ontario. Carefully designed and implemented, this tool would provide colleges and universities with detailed demographic and student experience data. It would help us understand the real prevalence of sexual violence on our campuses by gathering input from both survivors and perpetrators. Institution-specific questions related to services could be used to guide quality improvement planning. More broadly, the evidence collected via the survey would empower campus leaders (students, faculty and staff) to more effectively drive cultural change.

I rarely speak about my lived experience, and this disclosure will come as a surprise to many of my students and colleagues. But today – on International Women’s Day, 2016 – I have decided to use my voice because, quite simply: I do not want to be talking about sexual violence on college and university campuses in five, or 10, or 15 years. I honestly believe that avoiding that reality rests on our capacity to work together and make smart decisions that will drive long-term change.

I am passionate about the transformative power of earning a university degree. This is what fuels my enthusiasm for working at York and supporting the smart, resilient, dynamic students who call our campuses their academic home. Some will wonder how I can advocate so ardently for an environment that exposed me to such emotional trauma. The answer is twofold. First and foremost: I blame the stalker. He had been on campus less than two months when the behaviour started. Surely, Bowling Green State University cannot be held accountable for his criminality. Second, I firmly believe that I thrived in the wake of sexual violence expressly because I have lived my entire adult life embraced by vibrant, progressive learning communities that are committed to ending the kind of violence that didn’t break me.

 

This article was originally penned for the Toronto Star as part of its coverage on International Women’s Day.

The First-Year Experience: Paths to Success at York

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This past spring, as students sat writing exams, final preparations were underway to ready the campus for hosting the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games. The primary focus was our new stadium: workers duly installed temporary seating; fencing went up; and the entire site, as well as much of the broader campus, was draped with symbolism to celebrate the Games.

Alongside that process, however, something else really fabulous happened. Driving in to York early one morning from Shoreham Drive en route to Tait McKenzie, I saw a mini-bulldozer carving out pedestrian pathways. Combined with new signage, these were being installed to help people — most notably newcomers and visitors — find their way. It seems simple, but in the absence of a clear and accessible pathway, people get lost. Given the size of our campus, these paths and signs are a significant advance that will have long-term impact.

Providing for people who are new to a postsecondary learning environment is equally crucial. Research tells us that students who are effectively on-boarded to university life prove more successful: they persist at higher rates, they have higher Grade Point Averages (GPAs) and they’re more satisfied.

This is precisely why York invested in the development of its flagship transition program, YU START. It has three components: online enrolment; a virtual learning environment; and finally, York Orientation Day. Together, the intent is to help students transition successfully to university by focusing on the five senses that Alf Lizzio argues are key: a sense of purpose; a sense of connectedness; a sense of resourcefulness; a sense of academic culture; and a sense of capability.

Graphic representation of Lizzio's Five-Senses Model

To help new students navigate unfamiliar terrain, YU START distributes information about learning-skills programs, disability services, staying mentally and physically healthy, academic integrity, student rights and responsibilities, career development, academic resources such as libraries and about how the Colleges contribute to student success. It includes modules that teach new community members about what is expected of them in a first-year course, and about York’s community values. Fundamentally, YU START seeks to provide a road map to student success through and beyond year one. This is particularly important given the size, scale and diversity of our learning community.

Last summer, nearly 4,000 new students participated in YU START’s virtual learning environment, and we continue to receive positive feedback about how it’s impacting their transition to York. With Fall Reading Days just behind us, first-year students are beginning to find their groove. But they still have a way to go. Let’s remember that everybody, and every new experience, benefits from having a clear path.

Young man staring out of a window, his back turned

Flip for Change: York Cares

Jeff O'Hagan, Mamdouh Shoukri, Janet Morrison and Christine Silversides in chefs' outfits making pancakes

 

What a way to start the day! This morning I had the amazing opportunity to flip pancakes for a cause. With President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, Vice-President Advancement Jeff O’Hagan and Christine Silversides, Director of Legal Services, Office of the Counsel, I kicked off the annual York Cares campaign in support of United Way. This year’s goal: to raise $220,000 for the important and hope-giving services provided by United Way and make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

 

It was an honor to be there, and I encourage each and every member of the York community to step forward to contribute in any way they can. Donations will support local agencies and programs, helping kids realize their potential, families overcome poverty and bolstering the community as a whole. Our strength is in numbers, so let’s pull together as we’ve done in years past and make our goal a reality!

 

Thank you for your support,

 

Janet

This Is York! A Few Words on OUF

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It was a sight (and sound) to behold: two floors of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre bustling with the excited energy of thousands of high-school students, their families, teachers and friends. They had come to the Ontario Universities’ Fair (OUF) to find help in making one of the most important decisions of their lives — picking a postsecondary institution that would suit their needs and desires.

Over the course of three days, more than 130,000 of them would approach the well-staffed booths and presentation rooms of the province’s universities with questions and concerns, filling their readily supplied tote bags with handbooks, notes, business cards and swag. Some came with a plan in mind and just needed a few particulars cleared up. Others, probably the majority, came wide-eyed and curious, eager — though also anxious — to explore the various possibilities for life after high school.

Student volunteer helping prospective student in the York U Science section

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I felt immense pride when I first laid eyes on York’s L-shaped, which consumed an entire corner of the exhibition hall. Colourful, bold and spirited, it proclaimed what this university stands for: forward thinking, excellence, flexibility, diversity, community. The new Open Your Mind brand campaign, publicly unveiled here for the first time, really hit home. The energy emanating from the images and background videos seemed to repeat itself in the many conversations around the booth, in the shared laughs and stories in the presentation room upstairs. This was York indeed. This is the future.

When things run smoothly and everything looks so fantastic, it’s easy to forget the enormous amount of work that goes into creating such an impression of ease. I know many, many people — staff, faculty and an enthusiastic crew of student volunteers — made Herculean efforts to ensure that York looked fabulous during OUF. They (you!) proffered their expertise, their creativity, their problem-solving skills, their good cheer, their time. They sacrificed their weekend and maybe some regular hours of sleep.

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On behalf of everyone at York: thank you. Thank you for all you did, because it really showed. It made a difference to the thousands of young people whose minds you opened through your gestures large and small. We handed out 22,500 handbooks in three days and got more than 3,000 requests for more information on our programs. None of this would have been possible without us working together as a team and as a community.

 

Proud to be part of it,

 

Janet

Back to Class 2015

We are fast approaching the start of what promises to be another exciting academic year at York. The summer flew by! I really hope you found time to relax and rejuvenate in the sunshine and warmth. I spent more time in the city this year because my son Bennett was playing a lot of baseball. Conveniently, this allowed the whole family to enjoy the Pan Am Games; one or more of us saw the opening ceremonies, archery, beach volleyball, track & field, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, competitive swimming, diving and baseball. Without exception, I was impressed by the venues and inspired by the athletes – particularly those who boast a connection to York! I’m not sure how I feel about an Olympic bid, but for those weeks in July and August, I felt a renewed sense of pride in being a Torontonian.

But now, September has arrived and a fresh new cohort of students has landed on our campuses. On Saturday – in wicked heat – 1,200 Orientation Leaders and the Residence Life team helped 2,213 students move in to our buildings – we’re full and managing a wait list! Throughout the day, President Shoukri and I hosted orientation sessions for 1,100 parents and an ambitious schedule of programming commenced Saturday afternoon to help the class of 2019 transition to University.

Orientation at York
Orientation at York

Central to this has been the incorporation of our flagship transition program, YU START, which includes three components: online enrolment; online learning communities; and, an on-campus orientation experience. The program’s outcomes – as assessed by York’s Institute for Social Research – are really impressive so we’ve expanded again to include more than 8,000 students from seven Faculties.

This year, the third component will happen TODAY (Tuesday, September 8) on York Orientation Day, when we’ll host one of Canada’s largest ever student orientation events. The incoming class will be welcomed by University leaders at New Student Convocation (including a full academic procession!) and educated about York’s community expectations, including consent. In the process, they’ll meet and bond with their peers.

This programming is key to our Strategic Plan and, specifically, our student success priority focused on the First-Year Experience. Please join me in thanking our colleagues in Student Community & Leadership Development, the YU START leadership team and our Faculty/College partners for their tireless efforts to re-vision transition programming at York. With Lizzio’s Five Senses theory as our guide, we’re actively partnering with students to fuel success.

New friends at York Orientation. Image by Michael Kasaboski.
New friends at York Orientation

This isn’t the only area where we’ve made significant progress. Across the Division, we’re championing and advancing projects related to enrolment management, student financial support, and career and leadership development. We’re equally focused on our enablers, including valuing people and resource integration. As a team, we have earned a reputation for being respectful, accountable and collaborative. We aspire to excellence, foster innovation and are inclusive. We care . . . about our students, our colleagues and York’s reputation. I say this all the time, but I am tremendously proud of our collective contributions to moving York forward, and of our work on behalf of the students we serve.

Next year promises to be busy and exciting: we’re launching a new brand that will be reflected in all our recruitment materials; work on York’s Mental Health Strategy continues; and the Division recently launched a new program to establish individual and team objectives.

Here are some other key initiatives of import to us and our Vision:

  • We will continue to lead – in concert with the Provost, the Office of Institutional Planning & Analysis, and Enrolment Planning Group – the implementation of York’s Strategic Enrolment Management Plan. To be blunt, we need to focus squarely on the student experience and process improvements across the enrolment continuum.
  • Every campus in Canada has reaffirmed its commitment to addressing sexual violence. York has been a leader in this area and will continue to innovate. Last February, York’s Board of Governors approved the “Sexual Assault Awareness, Prevention, and Response Policy.” Over the coming months, we’ll continue to move forward across three key areas:
  • education and awareness;
  • policy/procedures implementation and reporting; and
  • support for survivors.

This has long been a personal cause for me and I’m proud to be a member of the Council of Ontario University’s Working Group on Sexual Violence.

  • In May, 2015 the Government approved funding for a York University campus in Markham. I’ll be relying on Catherine Salole from SCLD and our new University Registrar – Carol Altilia – to help vision the delivery of student services for learners at the new site. It’s exciting, but the planning timeframe is ambitious.
  • Last but certainly not least, you’ll have read the President’s statement on a draft Institutional Integrated Resource Plan, which includes (among others) priorities related to academic advising, degree complexity, teaching & learning and becoming more student-centric. These are of particular and significant importance to colleagues and units across the Division. We’ll hear more from the Provost and the Vice-President, Finance & Administration on next steps later this month. In the interim, Brendan Schulz and I are meeting with key leaders to think about how we might reimagine engagement to make York the most student-centric commuter campus in the country.

I thank my colleagues for everything they do, on a daily basis, for our students and for the Division as a whole. I know how hard they work and that the next few weeks will be taxing. When tiredness sets in, I encourage everyone to reflect on the many ways the Division of Students is advancing York’s mission by providing services, programs and facilities that foster academic success, student development and an engaged community. We support and inspire students to contribute as global leaders. Three years in to our strategic plan, I believe that we are delivering on our mission.

Be proud. Champion the values we hold dear and the work we do to ensure every student flourishes. Tell colleagues from other YU units, the high-school student on your street or a new professional aspiring to join our team.

Go Lions!

Considering lessons learned from the Montréal Massacre

I was privileged to attend the Centre for Human Rights’ commemoration of the National Day of Remembrance & Action on Violence Against Women on Thursday, December 4. The program was excellent and focused specifically on the impact of gender-based violence in Aboriginal Communities.

As a feminist who has spent the last 25 years as a member of postsecondary learning communities, this particular Day of Remembrance held special meaning. I was in my final year of undergraduate studies in 1989 when Marc Lépine massacred 14 female engineering students at École Polytechnique de Montréal. My friends and I were horrified and in shock. The women he hunted and murdered were our age, pursuing similar goals, and from comparable life circumstances. The news coverage, though less graphic than what we experience today, left an indelible impact. For the first time in my life, I was compelled to face the reality and consequences of hate.

Unfortunately, though predictably, the Montreal Massacre was not to be my only personal intersect with gender-based violence. It served, however, to shape my future because it happened when I was young, impressionable and already thinking about how I would contribute in a meaningful way to social change. The fourteen women who died that day influenced me to become an educator; they influenced another in my circle to become a lawyer. We all volunteer, most often in support of women and children. Our life choices are a component piece of their legacies.

As a mother, sister, daughter and friend, I can’t imagine the grief experienced by the people whose loved ones were targeted on December 6, 1989. They must be angry and frustrated about what hasn’t changed despite the passage of so much time. I hope, however, they experience a modicum of comfort from knowing what, and who, has.

December 6 Poster, Center of Human Rights

Find Your Swagger

My son Bennett is a really nice kid who was born with great gross motor skills. Even as a toddler, everything was about throwing, kicking and catching. His first word was “ball”, he is fixated on sporting equipment and his favorite television channel is TSN. He has a wide array of interests: basketball, soccer, hockey, baseball, tennis and golf.  He’s a kid who loves sports and has the natural talent to excel.

Unlike many of the athletic boys in his friendship circle, however, Bennett didn’t—until very recently—have a lot of drive or ambition.  It drove me nuts.  I excelled at athletics through sheer force of will; I had less natural talent, but I worked really hard.  (My partner would note that I am stubborn and hate to lose!)  Through the lens of my own experience, I worried that my son wouldn’t reap what I did from being a high performance athlete because he wasn’t interested in pushing his limits.

To those who kept reminding me that Bennett is still young:  you were right. Everything changed this summer when—thanks to a great coach, his Dad’s commitment and a positive team experience—B found his swagger. He is still a boy described first and foremost as polite and kind, which makes me tremendously proud.  His increased self confidence and work ethic, however, are having a big, broad impact. He walks taller and he’s started to talk about leadership.  We’ve had positive reports from his teacher and he’s made some courageous choices about boys who have been unkind to him since kindergarten.

We all need some swagger. It’s not about being bold or boastful or conceited. It’s about cultivating a sense of self that’s built around the tenants of your own moral compass.  It relies on a fair assessment of your strengths and an acknowledgement of your weaknesses.

University environments are purposefully designed to help you find, refine or affirm your swagger.  Avail yourself to campus resources, identify mentors and seek counsel from peers you trust.  By the time you cross the stage and shake the Chancellor’s hand at Convocation, I expect you to be standing taller, ready to lead and inspire others.

Volunteerism

In my family, volunteering is non-voluntary. From a very early age, I was schooled on the concept of privilege and my responsibility to give back. For both my parents, volunteering is as fundamental to their Canadian identity as hockey and the Northern Lights. These days, when they could be basking in their well-earned retirement, my Mom spends most of her free time supporting Victims Services while my Dad strives to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.  (Learn more about my Dad’s passion and the work both my parents do to support my brother Michael.) They are heroes to many, including me.

Drawing on the example they’ve set, I’ve embraced a wide variety of volunteer opportunities over the years; sometimes, because I thought I should while at other times because it felt good to be needed. These days, the focus of my volunteering is on Governance. After eleven years on the Board of Directors at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, I joined the Board of Trustees at Holland Bloorview Hospital in 2010.   Holland Bloorview is known globally as a leader in rehabilitation medicine for kids with disabilities. Their vision is a world of possibility for children and youth with special needs.  They live a commitment to client and family centered care and do amazing work, for example, in the areas of acquired brain injury, cerebral palsy, and autism.

Here’s the lesson these two most recent volunteer commitments have taught me:  you usually get more than you give. In both instances, I initially accepted the invitation to join the Boards  because I thought I had something to contribute. Without question, however, my life has been enriched.  Professionally, I’ve made great contacts and had exposure to mentors who work in a diverse array of sectors.  The personal benefits, however, are far more profound. I am a better parent, partner and friend because of what I’ve learned from watching kids and families manage through unimaginable circumstances. I am often humbled by their courage and strength.

I know you are busy—we all are. But here is my best counsel:  make the time to give back. It’s good for our communities, and for you as a person.

PRIDE is right.

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I attended my first Pride Parade more than 25 years ago with a friend who asked for my support. I’ve celebrated the event many times since, but for the first time this year we took our children — age 6 and 9 — downtown to partake in the festivities. On Saturday morning before the Dyke March started we ate delicious food, played in confetti and embraced a rich diversity of sites and sounds. The kids were in awe but asked lots of great questions. I was reminded that they are smart, conscious and kind. They are also a product of a different generation, one in which having friends with two Moms or two Dads isn’t remotely newsworthy. We still have a long way to go, but it’s important to mark progress.

With thanks to the York Federation of Students and the Art Gallery of York University, our campuses were incredibly well represented at World Pride. Student leaders staffed a booth, coordinated our participation in the marches/parade and distributed branded hand fans that were hugely popular. It was yet another demonstration of York’s values and a testimony to the strength of our student’s leadership on issues of diversity, equity and respect. Over decades, York, through innovative academic programs and our unwavering commitment to social justice,has driven social change.

On that Saturday, I was proud of my kids, proud  to work at York and proud to live in Toronto. I was also incredibly conscious of how privileged I am to live in Canada.

My name is Janet. I am an Olympics junkie.

The Olympic rings in Sochi (Wikimedia Creative Commons/Atos International)The Olympic rings in Sochi (Wikimedia Creative Commons/Atos International)

My name is Janet. I am an Olympics junkie. The first Games I remember were in Montreal (1976); the Games I fully intended to swim at were in Los Angeles (1984); the back-up plan was Seoul (1988). I didn’t come close to making either team. Disappointed but undeterred, my family and I started going to the Games as keen spectators: Calgary in 1988, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000. As someone who loves competitive sport, the Olympics have always been — for me — the foremost venue and the pinnacle of excellence. When not there in person, I’m glued to the television and compelled to query people about their predictions and reactions. It only happens every two years, but the people I love most quickly tire of my obsession. With CBC and NBC coverage rotating 24/7 in our house … my eight and five year old kids wake every morning to ask: what happened? who won? what’s the medal count?

What is my favourite story so far from Team Canada and Russia?  My youngest cousin, who is as committed to sport and excellence as anybody I know. Although he’s a solid athlete in his own right, he’s found his niche as an “enabler”.  Specifically, Stephen is exceptionally talented at driving very fast, very expensive speed boats: he deploys his talents to pull the best watersport athletes in Canada. In the winter he builds alpine courses and parks, usually out west but most recently in Collingwood. Stephen has been in Sochi for three weeks working with the team that built the slope style course that delivered gold and silver medals for Canada. At a relatively young age, he determined that he wanted to be involved in action sports. And so, methodically, Stephen invested in educational and work experiences he knew would fuel a career focused on his passions. It wasn’t always easy and it took a while to find traction … but this is a great success story for students who are struggling to find their path.

I think I revel in the Olympics because they’re truly larger-than-life. Everything about them — the venues, the athleticism, the human stories — are extraordinary. It’s two full weeks of jam-packed, relentless inspiration. I love it.  Go Canada go!