19 November, 2008

Racism, equity cops and the tale of another campus

As university students, well schooled in the knowledge of the wrongs our white, male, imperialist, colonialist, capitalist, racist, anti-Semitic, and otherwise generally terrible forefathers, we know to be on the constant lookout for racism and bigotry, those twin evils that keep those who weren't like our forefathers down.

Oops I mean forefathers. Gosh darn my rhetoric that perpetuates those evil normative positions.

Anyway, this is all well and good. Racism sucks. The only problem is that on relatively enlightened campuses, it's hard to find bigots to confront and convert. (Agh! Did it again!) We're often left confronting the less obvious prejudices and stereotypes that create those glass ceilings and the odd off colour remark that the user may barely think about till he makes his Jew joke in Hillel House. In short, they're the sort of minor grating issues that, while we all would love them to go away, even the most tolerant of us may tell that overzealous equity officer or anti-racism activist to go and shove their politically correct stick up their ass, should they make the mistake of getting in our face.



At UBC, where our racist accusations are, largely, limited to accusations that are a little hard to verify, this is thankfully the case. I was hoping to find an article where one potential Rhodes scholar on the AMS accused the others of treating her harshly for not filing some report because she was black, but the online records of the Ubyssey aren't what they could be. (Or I'm retarded. One or the other) Wait... fuck! Did it again. Darn my abilism.

Queen's is quite another story.

(Yeah, that's right. We're covering TWO universities now.)

First of all, it's very, very white. WASPy is the way I'd describe it. I'd almost forgotten that was possible for there to be large numbers of attractive white girls to be in one place. There are also a lot of bros. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zvTRQr7ns8 Bro rape. A topic for another day)
The large number of privileged white brats, some of whom probably have family inks to the university going back to the day Queen Viki got someone to toss a rock on the foundation for her, reminds me of my boarding school days, which I'd largely like to forget, but that's beside the point. When they say there's a racism problem at Queen they're not kidding.

For just a few examples:
http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2008-11-14/news/another-racist-incident-reported/
http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2007-11-23/news/racism-campus/
http://www.queensjournal.ca/story/2008-09-26/news/muslim-students-targeted-racist-incidents/

Christ! Lets see: Jews, Blacks, Muslims, looks like we got the spectrum. Missing gays so far, but maybe they're just racists, not general bigots. In Queen's favour there's been an immense outcry among people against this bullshit. There's been rallies against racism and investigations into the hiring practises of the university and so on and so forth. Go team anti-racism! Woot!

However, in their zeal to stamp out the poison festering within in the campus, those people who care have gone a little over board. The President of the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society was asked to resign after he made a stupid comment on facebook about a photo of two girls with turbans on - 'I like your Taliban picture.' Sure, it would have been better for him and the Queen's AMS if he'd resigned, but the rigmarole that this place has gone through to try and get him to step down has just been a witch hunt.

However, the final straw that made me write this was a decision that wound its way onto the front cover of one of our national news papers. You can read it right here:
http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=970266

(Yes, I read the National Post. I told you I was a right wing hack.)

In short, Queen's has gone one step further than the standard university. Equity offices aren't enough, campaigns to promote tolerance and understanding won't cut the mustard. What the administration, in their wisdom, have decided what Queen's needs is:

Equity Cops.

Or Equity super heroes, as I like to think of them. They only lack in the department of tight pants and flashy costumes. Perhaps that will come with a budget expansion. In short, the idea of passive education campaigns is...pass̩? If you should be so foolish as to have a conversation involving racism on my campus, and you happen to be within the hearing range of one of these grad students lucky enough to wrangle another stipend out of the university Рalong with room and board Рsomeone looking like that slouchy guy in the leather jacket from the article photo will shuffle on over to you and say something like:

'Hey, guys. I heard you talking about x, y, z. You know racism is bad. Perhaps you shouldn't tell those Jew jokes because it might make your dumb-ass friends draw swastikas on peoples' cars.'

Or something like that. At which point, the annoyed WASP will flip the caring grad student the finger and then the conversation will end awkwardly, or degrade into accusations of racism and privacy infringement should the Grad student have a) a spine or b) a social justice chip on his/her shoulder.

Clearly this idea is utter bullshit and a waste of money. Ramming your issue into peoples' private conversation is a great way to make people stop paying attention to anything you say, especially if they're trying to do something else at the same time, like eat their meal. If they're the same sort of self absorbed, spoiled brat, male WASPs/bros that I'm certain commit all the moronic and hateful acts I've outlined, then invading their personal space will probably lead to them committing more racist acts just to spite you. (Yes, I have a low opinion of the male undergraduate here, even before I endured the febreze incident)

Changing a culture of intolerance is difficult. It requires education and the reaching out and co-operation of many diverse groups on campus. Queen's needs to man up (dammit!) and face the issue before it and not just throw a quick, brainstorming session idea out instead. It's a problem that I don't think has an easy solution and even if it did, that solution definitely doesn't involve equity cops.

Not even if they have costumes.

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16 November, 2008

the death of democracy.

Poor Matthew Naylor. He's had a bit of a losing streak. First, the AMS presidency. Then, Stéphane Dion's disastrous showing as the leader of the Liberal Party. Now, in his first go at a "real" election - meaning one where the grown-ups are expected to vote - he has gone down to defeat. Not only did he lose, however, but he ended up in dreaded last place, with only 66 votes (compared to his self-declared main opponent, Ben West of the civic Greens, who lost himself with 209 votes to UEL resident Maria Harris with 219 votes).

Much like a surgeon when he chucks a dead baby in the medical waste dumpster, I'm sad.

Clearly, there is much to be said about Naylor's political future. Does he come off as a partisan hack? Does his hubris get in the way of his aspirations? Do people - plain and simple - find him off-putting? Or, more importantly, do Liberals flounder when they don't have the party machine behind them?

Perhaps all of those things contributed to his loss. The ultimate fault, however, is not Naylor's. Not one bit, in fact. That fault, sadly, rests with you.

It's not Naylor's fault that just 743 out of over 11,000 people voted, the majority of them students. That's a paltry 6.7%, people. It's shameful, plain and simple. The really shocking thing is that this is, somehow, standard practice: Vancouver only posted a voter return rate of about 30%.

Democracy only works when people actually want it. Thus, perhaps the Devil's Advocate should stop pretending that this sham of equality and justice for all through elected officials is actually worth the trouble.

My proposal: kidnap Matthew Naylor and pump him full of steroids to give him a king-like hyper-masculine demeanor and persona, as well as to foster a large harem of Gage residents who will vote for him unquestionably (since power is goddamn sexy).

Then, the harem will go and seduce the fratboys, subverting their ideas of democracy (i.e. Dude! Let's vote off the fat chick! Survivor, Greek-style rocks!). They will be used to create a paramilitary wing of Matthew Naylorism. They will likely be called Red Shirts, so as to satisfy Naylor's devotion to both Liberal Partyism and Star Trek.

Next, the gates of campus are barricaded. Nobody gets in or out. The trolley wires are cut. The stairways down to Wreck Beach are torn out of the cliffside. It's gonna be autarky, bitches, and it's gonna rock!

Stephen Toope will continue his administration, but only as a puppet. Naylor will wield true power. Koerner Plaza will be renamed "Revolution Square". A guillotine will be installed. It won't be often used, but will be there as a reminder that, sometimes, some people need some killing.

Democracy will continue, it will just be that there will be only one candidate. Anyone who suggests that things should be otherwise will be sent to the guillotine! Anyone who runs against Naylor will be sent to the guillotine! Anyone who cancels the election single-handedly will be sent to the guillotine! Anyone who has people vote for them in the SUB on their laptop...well...you get the idea.

Democracy is not for the weak. That's what Matthew Naylor should be saying.

On behalf of the citizens of UBC - and the rest of Metro Vancouver by proxy - I hereby declare democracy:


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09 November, 2008

Where was the AGM Coverage?

by Commodore Cuddle's Alter Ego

UBC’s Annual General Meeting happened earlier this week. In a true display of efficiency, UBC
managed to hold an AGM for the entire university in one hour and, much
like their annual report, managed to say very little of substance.

Before the event, they had asked people to email questions in advance, and
that “questions unanswered for reasons of time will receive responses
after the AGM.” Naturally, this appeared to be a way of screening
questions so that they could cherry-pick the easy ones. (Example:
President Toope, where did you get your glasses? They make you look so
handsome!) But once at the meeting, this writer was shocked to find out
that they had a microphone set up for an honest-to-god, unscreened Q&A
session with Toope.

And nobody came.


Sure, there were a few questions from students. The first was about the
farm, an issue which has only been raised oh, a million times now. Then
one about tuition fees; we certainly couldn’t let a year go by without
questioning those. Things started looking up with an email questions about
the possibility of evictions during the Olympics. It was completely based
on rumours and was posed in a semi-hostile way. Alas, that excitement was
short-lived. Things settled down with a question about athletics fees, the
flavour of the month as far as student causes go. That was it.

Where the fuck did all the pissed off students go?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but liquor policies on campus are quite
reasonable, as is the conduct of the RCMP. Affordable student housing is
now a solved problem. Now that the rain has come, the idea of an
underground bus loop sounds pretty peachy. Condominiums are absolutely an
appropriate use of land on a university campus.

This writer laments: where was Commodore Cuddles and his bottle of
bourbon? A piss drunk student asking a rambling, slurred question to Toope
would have brought a whole new level of awesomeness to the AGM. Sigh,
maybe next year...

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Seen tonight

Between 12:30 and 12:40 am surrounding the outdoor pool: 2 campus security vehicles and no less than 3 RCMP cruisers, complete with flashing lights. A few police officers were admonishing some students next to the police cars, presumably for jumping in the pool while drunk.

It makes me wonder...

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05 November, 2008

We is Whiny Bitches

by Eoin

CASA. A name that strikes....confusion into the heart of the average student. 'CASA?' they'll ask when you ask them about the AMS membership change, 'what's that? Canadian Autism Safety Association?'

No my children. No.

In the doldrums of the AMS, where all happy ideas, hopes, dreams, and campaign promises are lured to die in excrutiating pain – much like Obama's health plan will soon be strangled in Washington – is where this story takes place. A story of meetings, letters, and other riveting, riveting stuff. And social excursions to breweries.

Okay, that's kind of cool, but we're only talking about it in the context of people who don't want to go. So it's sad.

If you've been paying attention to the UBC Insiders, amid their (equally riveting) discussions about nap spaces and the fate of farmland, is the issue of the AMS voting to downgrade its membership in CASA to an associate membership to protest various flaws in what it sees as CASA's failure to live up to its commitment to being a member driven society.

Sure, you say, Eoin we're read it. Comments have been made on posts, upwards of 10. That's like...a tenth of the attention paid to a certain bonfire. Or something of that order of magnitude. (I'm a physicist, I round numbers to some 10^n value when I'm too lazy to punch out calculations)

And yes student, reader, troller of the interwebs, you'd be correct. But it hasn't gotten to demagogic treatment from the Advocate the nasty, smearing, truth be damned as long as it's amusing and irreverent , take that is so preferable to dusty old news filled with facts. There's a Democrat as president elect and the tricky socialists control all three wings of government in the states. Someone has got to stand up for gut thinking and truthiness. That person is me.

Oh yeah, I was there, in the trenches of the comment boards as it were, from the beginning, slinging mud from the sidelines. But it was ordinary, rational mud, and I'm tired of the rationality. Time for time honoured partisanship, on this, Guy Fawke's Day. (I missed celebrating St. Crispin's)

When I first learned that the AMS was putting this issue to the vote, trying to reduce its membership in the Canadian Association of Student Societies, that bastion of non-crazy student advocacy that we actually help found, I had only one thought in the back of my mind:

Communists.

It was such an easy solution. Steph and Tristan don't like CASA. They like CFS. Okay, some of that's for good reasons like CFS actually does provincial lobbying and CASA doesn't, but fuck that. It's those communists trying to put us within the clutches of the referendum manipulating, hippy protesting CFS. Yeah, that's right Stef. I saw you next to those CFS signs at that protest. I saw!

[My editor tells me that what you do on your free time in something that doesn't really directly infringe on student issues is your business. Fuck! Damit! Oh well.]

Anyway, communism was an easy answer. It fit everything. A nice simple way of viewing AMS politics through the optics of Knollies and Hacks and possibly Naylorites, but then I looked at the numbers in the vote and saw it was unanimous. Even the infamous letter to CASA that was delivered back in August or something was relatively commie doctrine free. Sure there was this one toss-out to revolutionary goodness:

Referring to student representatives as owners of their respective corporations, or rhetoric that perpetuates normative positions on male, heterosexual, or colonial-nation deals, negatively affects the climate for productive and progressive dialog.

Sure it's knolly, but it's no communist manifesto. Clearly other forces were at work here.

Could I blame the ever present Matthew Naylor? He is fun to blame, for pretty much everything. He's like the Hillary Clinton of the AMS, the one you love to hate. Who knows what dark plots Naylor has clutched within his massive, jewel encrusted fingers? His hatred for CASA is legendary – by which I mean I've heard it off hand from a few people. But it's still legendary! And he's so manipulating the scenes from the power seat of the presid.....AUS rep.

Drat.

While searching for the answers to the dilemma of who neutered the AMS CASA membership, I sat down and analyzed the complaints that your all knowing student society has made, I came to a horrific conclusion.

The AMS is a whiny bitch.

Yes, I sound like Austin when I say that, but I have to be doubly crazy/offensive because Austin is off snorting crack in a bush somewhere, pretending to be a mime, or licking LSD off the bellies of Thai hookers, and is totally not writing articles anymore. (Austin, you're also fired from the DA staff. No more free drugs for you.) It's also the truth. The society has decided, on very short notice, to send 'a message' to CASA after getting a very nice letter back explaining why the CASA didn't think their complaints were earth shatteringly important. Let me sum up the situation as follows in a metaphorical exchange between a mother and child at a picnic:


AMS: Mommy CASA? I don't think some of these things we do on our picnics are nice. Some of the other kids speak out of turn and all the labels on the food are bilingual. I also can't go on the brewery trip afterwards.

CASA: I'm doing my best. I agree that some of those things are problems. Why don't we talk about it some more?

AMS: AGGGGHH!!!! You never listen to me or what I say! I should do my own student advocacy! I'm going to become an associate member!

[rips off clothing and runs naked through the park. CASA turns red as all the other moms/Student Associations stare.]

CFS: Nice streaker. That's what you get for not having a social justice emphasis for your society.

CASA: [Slaps CFS] Bitch, at least none of my kids have run away from home.

End scene.


What could possibly make your student union act so? Is it a bunch of new reps being led like sheep by communists or power hungry giants? Or is there something else afoot? Is this just like season two of Heroes, where we have to endure terrible plot lines till we find the villain in season three who laid all those weird DNA logos everywhere in season one? Do we have our own version of Mr. Petrelli on a ventilator somewhere in the bowels of the SUB, controlling things from a distance?

[Do I live vicariously through Heroes? Yes]

I believe so. Next year, all this will become clear. The knoll fire, Lougheedgate, they were just appetizers to the horror of student politics that will erupt next year, when the dark plan of the enemy will become evident. Then this move by the AMS will make perfect sense within that foul stratagem. Will student government survive? Will the day be saved by Darren Peets returning from Japan in a gigantic physics robot?

Only time will tell.

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03 November, 2008

joys of voting

by Aaron Palm

I've been having . . . troubles getting my vote in. The email I sent to my congressman is behind the jump. I'll write a proper post on this when I find the time. Below is a summary of a conversation I had today with a polling clerk over the phone (.60 cents per minute baby!)
Elections Official: You didn't get your ballot?
Me: No.
EO: You'll have to come to the office or just go to your polling place tomorrow.
Me: I live in Canada. That's why I asked for an absentee ballot.
EO: Where?
Me: Canada.
EO: Can you come to our office?
Me: Will you buy me a plane ticket?
EO: Hold please. [5 min] You can't vote.
Me: Yes I can. What if I fax you a Federal write in ballot?
EO: Hold please. [2 min]
EO2: We'd rather you didn't fax in a Federal ballot. How about we fax you a ballot and you fax it back?
Me: I don't have a fax machine.
EO2: Can you find one?
Me: I could try? Why didn't you send me a ballot in the first place?
EO2: We did. It was returned undelivered.
Me: Did you think about contacting me? You have my phone and email.
EO2: That would have been too much work. Hold please.
[phone disconnects]



I imagine you all are very busy now, so I don't expect a rapid response. I'm living abroad and am registered as an absentee voter in Santa Clara County. I have been having an incredibly hard time getting my ballot. I think I have resolved my issue, but I have serious problems with the conduct of the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters. I'll explain my situation and then ask if there is any action you think I should take (follow up complaints, etc) or if I'm over reacting and my sort of situation is par for the course.

I'm a student in Vancouver, BC. This is the first presidential election I have been able to vote in. I voted absentee in the mid term election (and was happy with the results) and registered to vote absentee for this election. I received my voter information package about three weeks ago, but never got my ballot. I called the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters today (Nov 3) and was told my ballot had been mailed to the wrong address and returned to the registrar; no attempt was made to contact me or resend the ballot. I'm not sure how this happened seeing as the info package was mailed to the correct address. I was initially told I would have to vote in person or come to the Registrar's office to pick up a ballot. I asked about the federal write in ballot and the woman on the phone did not know what that was. After some time (being placed on hold, disconnected, waiting on hold for another half hour) I was told that they could fax a ballot to me.

I'm a student - I don't own a fax machine. I went to the local copy store and called back (another 10 minutes on hold) and was told by the woman I talked to that they would fax me a ballot "sometime today" or email me one. I opted for the email option because I had to go to work and would not be able to babysit a public fax machine waiting for my ballot. Two hours later no email, I called back and was told they were very busy but would send my ballot as soon as they could. Unfortunately I never received an email. I called the Registrar's office at 6:45pm when I got off work and was told the absentee voter department had gone home and no on else in the office could help me - I would have to call back morning. I called McNerney's office in Dublin at around 7pm to ask for advice and was told that e-mail ballots are not accepted anyway - I would need a faxed one. I should be able to take care of this tomorrow, and am confidant I will be able to vote. Worst case I will use the Federal ballot (though I want to vote on the ballot initiatives, my understanding is the Fed ballot does not allow that)

There are several things about this situation that concern me. First off is that the elections staff failed to send me a ballot. They knew that my ballot was returned to them undelivered but did not bother to contact me (even though I included my email and phone number with my ballot request) and the woman I talked with today seemed surprised that I was angry about this. Also the fact that they failed to email me my ballot today is frustrating. Second, no one in their office seemed to understand election code. I was told contradictory things on several occasions. My father tried calling on my behalf and had a hard time explaining what an absentee ballot was to the person he talked to. Whether or not it is legal to e-mail ballots is an understandable issue to be confused on but having someone tell me I was not allowed to send in the Federal write-in ballot if I didn't have my state ballot confused me.

What concerns me even more though is that the email address I gave to have my ballot emailed to is my personal address. I do not receive unsolicited email to this address because I only give it out to friends and family. However, as of writing this I have two emails from political groups in my inbox. The only explanation for these emails that I can find is that someone from the Registrar's office imputed my email into their system. If they did that, why didn't they send me a ballot?

Also, trying to get my ballot has taken a lot of time and energy. I missed a class today because I had been on hold for 20 minutes and didn't want to loose my place in the line. I've spent at least $30 on long distance charges and probably at least 4 hours dealing with phone calls, tracking down fax machines, and coping with stress related to my worry of not being able to vote. The final casualty was a bottle of good bourbon I bought last time I went home. I had been planning on saving it for tomorrow night to celebrate, but alas I've already dipped into it. Hopefully the friends I was saving it for will understand.

And finally, I had hoped that my situation was an anomaly. But just looking through my friend's facebook status, I found someone else from Santa Clara County complaining about never received their ballot. Hopefully my friend and I are just a few unlucky individuals, but I would greatly appreciate knowing what I can do to make issues like this known so action can be taken to make the voting process more accountable.

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