Features – The Cord https://thecord.ca The tie that binds Wilfrid Laurier University since 1926 Wed, 19 Sep 2018 17:26:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://thecord.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/logofavicon-32x32.png Features – The Cord https://thecord.ca 32 32 42727683 Putting a face to the homeless in Waterloo Region https://thecord.ca/putting-a-face-to-the-homelessness-in-waterloo-region/ https://thecord.ca/putting-a-face-to-the-homelessness-in-waterloo-region/#respond Wed, 19 Sep 2018 11:00:49 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=51276

I have lived in downtown Kitchener (DTK) for roughly 14 years of my life, residing steps away from central DTK spots like Victoria Park, Charles Street Terminal and City Hall.

I’m also located near the less acknowledged, yet imperative, markers of social assistance that provide our city with places of refuge and much needed support for those in need.

I’m a minute away from OneROOF, I passed by the House of Friendship every day when I walked to school and I go by the welcoming windows of The Working Centre every time I make my way through downtown.

Over the past few years, businesses like Google have established Waterloo Region’s tech sec-tor. Beautification efforts to improve the downtown streetscape have been continuously put into motion, and the ongoing construction of the LRT has been the focal point of Kitchener-Waterloo expansion since its approval back in 2011.

Through all of these endeavours to make our city more vibrant, more prosperous and more pleasing to look at, there is a noticeable area of neglect in this detailed process of re-imagination that has been left at a standstill.

Despite all of the unique localities this promising region has to offer, there is a prevalent problem connected to KW and cities like it in Southern Ontario that is difficult to ignore — people experiencing homelessness.

Although a report released on May 4 documented an apparent 12 per cent decrease in people experiencing homelessness from 2014 when similar data was compiled, the issues that these people are facing have become even more complicated.

The report documented a total of 264 people experiencing homelessness on April 23, with 85 per cent stating that they were living long-term in shelters and the remaining number spending their nights in short-term, public shelters or tents.

Sandy Dietrich-Bell, the chief executive officer of OneROOF Youth Services, noted, “I’m not necessarily seeing an increase in numbers, but we’re certainly seeing an increase in the severity of need in what we call the acuity. Their acuity needs are higher and much of that is related to the fact that they have complex issues.”

“Gone are the days where someone has just had a fight with mom and dad and they just need a temporary place to stay. Most of the youth that we’re seeing have very complex issues: lots of mental health [problems], drug addiction, violence and abuse in their history. Our numbers are remaining steady, but the issues are definitely a lot more difficult to manage,” she added.

Increased accessibility, financial support and acknowledgement of the growing need for resources such as mental health services, substance abuse programs and affordable housing are what is vital for Waterloo Region’s ability to flourish.

These issues are particularly difficult to tackle for a shelter like OneROOF, as it is the only shelter in the Waterloo Region that is targeted towards youth experiencing homelessness or youth at risk.

“We are the only youth-specific shelter for young people in Kitchener-Waterloo, and although shelter is not the answer to the issue, it certainly is part of the continuum to break the cycle of homelessness. What we’re lacking is the rest of the continuum,” Dietrich-Bell said.

“So, for example, there’s no supportive housing units available to the adult homeless population, let alone the youth population.”

And while there are shelters in the surrounding area that are available for people of varying needs, including temporary housing, the resources that are required to build and maintain a sustainable foundation to live off the street is what is really essential for long-term progress.

“So when there’s no affordable housing in the community and a landlord has many folks vying for the same apartment, it’s not likely that they’re going to opt to give it to a young person who’s facing barriers and is homeless. There’s also, and has been for many, many years, a gap in the availability of substance abuse programs and timely mental health programs,” Dietrich-Bell said.

When there is no additional government support for non-profit organizations like OneROOF, the House of Friendship or the YWCA, donations, recognition and assistance from the community are invaluable in keeping their doors open and facilities running.

“We don’t receive any provincial or federal funding, so we rely on the community and grant writing and each year we have to start over and hope that we continue to garner the support,” Dietrich-Bell said.

“There’s lots of ways to get involved either monetarily [or] by [the] giving of your time and space.”

Along with donations, a step forward to improve the way homelessness is treated is changing the way we see the people who are affected by it.

It is incredibly easy to cast judgement on the people you walk by on the street and assume they are living the way they do for a particular reason you know nothing about.

While walking through Downtown Kitchener especially, it is a common occurrence for me to see commuters giving a wide berth to someone who is asking for money. Businessmen in suits distractedly step over people sleeping on the sidewalk, like they’re nothing more than litter.

The general public behave like the problem lies solely in the people who are affected by these difficult circumstances, as opposed to the city, who should be prioritizing the funding for the services that could effectively help those experiencing homelessness.

“People need to see them as individuals first and their circumstances second. We get into trouble when we start labelling people and seeing only the label. Our fears and our ignorance gets the better of us and then we treat them as less than human beings,” Dietrich-Bell stated.

“Here at OneROOF, we never use terms like ‘homeless youth’ or ‘drug addict’ — we always put the youth first. So, we’ll say ‘youth experiencing homelessness’ or ‘youth that has an addiction’ because we want people, by the virtue of the way we speak, to see the human beings first and their situations second.”

When speaking with Julia Manuel, director of the Waterloo Region Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre, she detailed the services available for these survivors: “Our program is one of 35 centres across the province, so we’re a part of the sexual assault domestic violence network and our program is unique in that we have 12 social workers [and] 12 nurses that respond as a team to both St. Mary’s hospital and Cambridge [Memorial],” she said.

Unsurprisingly, women, men and youth who are in unstable living situations or are homeless are at a higher risk for numerous potential risks and dangers, such as sexual assault.

“I want to say that we see a correlation between sexual assault and homelessness. We do see women who come through who are not always necessarily homeless in that they’re living on the street, but what we see a lot of are women coming in who are victims of human trafficking,” Manuel said.

“They are in this community and are seeing they don’t really have anywhere to go. We have women who come out of relationships who are now saying ‘I don’t have anywhere to go now, because it was his home’ or ‘her home’ and ‘now I can’t go back there,’ or ‘they’ve kicked me out’.”

“We see that a lot with young kids, like young teenagers, where they’ll come in and say their parents kicked them out or they’re from group homes — so they don’t actually have a home.  People live on the street, but they’ll bounce from place to place and then may get assaulted [that way],” she said.

My hope is that we can continue building and improving this city so that the people who are experiencing homelessness and are less fortunate, yet equally deserving, can be given the same chance at a home to call their own.

Exposure to the numerous dangers are heightened due to not having a home, which is an aspect that she has seen through her work with the program.

“I would say that, given that they’re going into environments where they’re not really sure… they’re taking what they can get. As long as they don’t have a roof over their head, that’s definitely a vulnerability for them.”

Programs like this are highly needed, as they give victims in a variety of circumstances and living situations options to choose from on their own terms. This program connects them with the support they want and need individually, which is why they work well for people experiencing different levels of these complex issues.

“Our big role, the main message that I would give to any victim, is that we provide options — if you want the police or you don’t want police. We can provide you with medications, we can connect you with resources, we can also provide short-term, ongoing counselling and/or refer you onto the community agencies,” Manuel concluded.

Nearly all of the services that are available for people experiencing homelessness and the risk factors connected to it are located in Kitchener.

The expansion of these resources has yet to reach many parts of Waterloo and Cambridge: places that would seemingly benefit those who are affected and in need of these services, but are not solely located in Kitchener.

Increased accessibility, financial support and acknowledgement of the growing need for resources such as mental health services, substance abuse programs and affordable housing are what is vital for Waterloo Region’s ability to flourish.

The ongoing expansion and growth of Kitchener is relatively positive for a city that began in 1854 as the Town of Berlin.

But with all of our advancements, we shouldn’t be gentrifying our humble roots so that the people who need the social services provided by the tirelessly good-doing shelters and assistance programs in the area are pushed to the outer edges for the sake of appearances and convenience.

Attention to the innovations that have been brought to the Waterloo Region and the ones that are being planned for years to come is fine and well, but it should not impede the much-needed progress that needs to be made for the people who need it most.

In the 2014 detailed document, “Ending Family Homelessness in Waterloo Region,” an outline of how to help families and those experiencing homelessness in the region, follows a thorough list of ways the community can support and change the methods that our cities are using in order to provide these people with assistance.

This online resource is incredibly helpful in understanding a very complex social issue that should be seen as a cycle to work towards preventing, rather than a seemingly simple series of problems that we can collectively hide and ignore.

One of the “Essential Elements for Ending Homelessness” that is listed says “Home: A sense of belonging to a personal space. Home is personal and self-defined.”

I am incredibly privileged to have a place in Kitchener to call my home.

My hope is that we can continue building and improving this city so that the people who are experiencing homelessness and are less fortunate, yet equally deserving, can be given the same chance at a home to call their own.

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A decade of change in uptown Waterloo https://thecord.ca/a-decade-of-change-in-uptown-waterloo/ https://thecord.ca/a-decade-of-change-in-uptown-waterloo/#respond Tue, 04 Sep 2018 17:27:53 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=51029

Editor-in-Chief, Safina Husein, discusses the transformation of Waterloo’s core before, during and after construction

Change — the one word that comes to my mind when I think back to uptown Waterloo a decade ago.

Ten years ago, uptown Waterloo was a local-oriented location. The core held a certain small-town charm.

Janice Welch, owner of Just For You Fine Lingerie, described uptown Waterloo as exciting when she first opened her business 11 years ago. In a sense, uptown emitted an atmosphere that felt like a new beginning.

Businesses and people were coming to uptown with a new vision, which made it an exciting place to be a part of.

“The local economy was thriving, we’ve always had a very high business occupancy rate, we had a lot of local businesses, lots of mom and pop stores, stores that were run by local residents, so that was really great. We were doing pretty well in our core,” said Melissa Durrell, councillor of Ward 7 — where uptown is located.

However, aside from a thriving local economy, uptown Waterloo didn’t have many other amenities. The core of uptown was simple and small.

“A decade ago, it was a one street town. King Street was the main street, that’s where all the action happened,” Durrell said.

“Our public square was a parking lot. It was a very car friendly place you could say. And it was very concrete. And we knew that we needed to make changes as a municipality although we had a lot of great stuff.”

“But we wanted to make an uptown core that wasn’t just a one street core, we wanted to see it expand and we also wanted it to be more people friendly.”

In an effort to make uptown a renowned area in which people could easily access through various modes of transportation, enjoy an array of amenities and more, uptown Waterloo underwent several years of drastic change and construction.

The first big change to come to uptown Waterloo was the creation of the Waterloo Public Square approximately eight years ago.

“You’ll always be able to walk into a store in uptown and meet the owner. I think that’s just part of our culture here, but we’re also growing and there’s more businesses here so we’ll start to see a bit of a mix.”

Before the square was built, existed a parking lot in its space, leaving little or no room for those coming to uptown to enjoy open space.

“After that, the core started to expand in a way it hadn’t expanded before,” Durrell said.

Once the town square was complete, uptown began to grow outwards and beyond King Street.

For example, businesses and organizations began to move into the core of Waterloo, opening up on Regina Street, Erb Street and the streets beyond it.

“The biggest thing would be the King Streetscape and the LRT which have been pivotal,” Durrell said.

“We made sure that when we did redevelop King Street, we wanted to do it once, and we wanted to do it right. So we thought of all modes of transportation, whether you’re walking or wheeling or cycling or driving … there’s space for everyone to be able to take part.”

“I’ve always called this the ‘Uptown Renaissance’, I’ve been using that term, I think we’re really turning into a metropolis in a way,” Durrell said.

Amongst the exciting and grandiose changes coming to Waterloo’s core, however, were local businesses and residents having to endure over four years of constant construction.

When LRT construction began, King Street was closed to traffic for a significant amount of time, making it difficult for residents of Waterloo to come to uptown.

“Every single person who would come in would say ‘oh it’s so bad up here’ and I would try and spin that around to be a positive,” Welch said.

“But your morale does go down because you’re constantly having to try and let people know [uptown is] a good place. But overall, as far as customers were concerned, they were staying away there’s no doubt about it.”

Since LRT construction began, businesses in uptown have been vocal and have spoken out regarding their significant decrease in sales as a direct result of construction.

In conjunction with combating the rise of e-commerce, many local businesses have struggled to stay afloat.

And as a result, several businesses in uptown have had to shut down or relocate due to lost sales during construction.

As the main components of LRT and streetscape construction are now complete, businesses have reported an increase in sales — however, uptown has not seen the amount of foot traffic that was seen before construction began.

“Everything is enhanced from what it used to be and we have added new buildings, we’ve got new businesses, it’s all very much enhanced from what we had before. I think that the vibe of having that new streetscape … really makes it a place to be — a destination — and that’s super important.”

“The construction is there in order to make it exciting again and to bring people into the area, so it’s just something you have to go through in order to get to the end,” Welch said.

As Waterloo residents slowly come back to uptown now that roads are open, they will likely see that uptown no longer holds that small-town feeling.

“This kind of small town feel of uptown is an interesting perspective because I feel that uptown is changing, we’re not really a small town,” Durrell said.

“We’ve got two of the best universities in Canada, we’ve got CIGI which is an international think-tank, we have the Perimeter Institute which is the top physicist organization in the world; we’re a big player on an international scene and we need amenities to go along with it.”

Indeed, uptown Waterloo seems to be entering a completely new era — leaving behind much of the small-town roots it once provided to residents of Waterloo.

“When you come to the uptown core, it’s a different feel. It’s a cool feel and that vibe is very energetic and alive, but you also feel safe walking down the street; you can see that it’s bike-able and walkable and liveable and you get to experience that as you walk in uptown,” said Tracy Vankalsbeek, executive director of Uptown BIA.

Present-day uptown holds significant enhancements in comparison to what it offered 10 years ago.

The King Streetscape project brought forth larger sidewalks and bike segways, making uptown an overall safer, more accessible place to be.

“Everything is enhanced from what it used to be and we have added new buildings, we’ve got new businesses, it’s all very much enhanced from what we had before. I think that the vibe of having that new streetscape … really makes it a place to be — a destination — and that’s super important,” Vankalsbeek said.

“We’ve always had that local feel, that’s our tag line here is the whole choose local …  [lots of businesses are] feeling very positive about things and are excited for even more folks to come as the LRT starts to bring people in.”

Indeed, uptown no longer feels like a small town. Its upgrades make it a completely new space. However, the small businesses in the core of uptown will always preserve the local feeling of Waterloo.

“I think we’ve always hit above our weight in uptown and I think we’ll continue to do so, and I think our retailers are right there along side us,” Durrell said.

“You’ll always be able to walk into a store in uptown and meet the owner. I think that’s just part of our culture here, but we’re also growing and there’s more businesses here so we’ll start to see a bit of a mix.”

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When does giving an apple turn into getting coffee? https://thecord.ca/when-does-giving-an-apple-turn-into-getting-coffee/ https://thecord.ca/when-does-giving-an-apple-turn-into-getting-coffee/#respond Tue, 04 Sep 2018 17:19:20 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=51020

Features Editor, Madeline McInnis, examines the relationship rules and essential etiquette for professor/student relationships 

Photo by Garrison Oosterhof

Starting high school, my biggest fear was losing my footing and falling down the forum stairs in the main hall. Starting university, my biggest fear was, well, falling into a sea of students and never really finding my footing at all.

I was friends with some of my high school teachers, and I liked the feeling of being known around the school, even to teachers that I’d never had a class with. That was all behind me when I stepped into my first day of class in Bricker Academic three years ago.

Professors were intimidating. From a professor that asked me to switch classes (yikes) to another I dropped on my very first day because I didn’t think I was smart enough to keep up with him (double yikes), starting to get to know my professors was the first barrier to really fitting in at Laurier.

“We expect students to be more independent in their learning and motivation for learning and doing well in the course,” said Matthew Smith, professor and chair in Laurier’s department of biology and a course instructor for BI110 in September.

“Referring to somebody as ‘professor’ indicates that you are respectful of their position, indicates that you get that they are your instructor, and it’s a safe territory because it doesn’t assume they have a PhD or not have a PhD. You’re safe.”

Like it or not, you will have to get used to your professors very quickly, but I promise it’s not as scary as it seems right now.

Though you’re a wash in a sea of students, your professors will likely be some of the most interesting people you meet in your life.

“The whole point of university, in my eyes, is that we’re trying to prepare you for the real world,” said Sobia Iqbal, the other of the course instructors for BI110 this fall.

The real world may not be on your radar yet, as you likely have at least four years ahead of you, but it’s never too early to start thinking about your future — that’s why we’re all here anyways, right?

But taking that leap and facing the rest of your life is way easier said than done. Coming from high school, it can be difficult to navigate this new battleground of information and professionalism — so where do you start?

“Boundaries can be very hard to navigate sometimes when you’re a prof because you really care about your students and you want to get to know them, but at the same time you have a lot of students. You don’t want to set up this kind of situation where other students are thinking that you like some students better than others,” said Eileen Wood, one of the professors for PS101 this semester.

“You want to be fair, you want to be unbiased and you want to be open.”

Sometimes, you’ll really click with one of your professors. These are people that know a lot about the things that you’re hopefully pretty interested in if you’re taking their course, and you’ll quickly discover that they’re interesting people outside of academics too. They have families, hobbies and other community involvement that you really want to know more about.

Is it appropriate to ask them about it? Perhaps if they open up to you about it first. Is it appropriate to ask them to talk about them in a less formal setting? That’s really up for debate.

“I typically wouldn’t [get coffee with first year students] until they really get to know me, and generally that’s not as cool for me. Upper years much more so because you see them in classes and you may have met them two or three times,” said Wood.

All of the professors echoed a similar sentiment and stressed that they genuinely enjoy meeting their students, but would only want to be with them in an informal setting, like grabbing your favourite hot beverage, when they know the students a bit better, either in upper years, as graduate students or as alumni, depending on which professors you’re talking to.

How you make those strong connections that can lead to coffee meetings in future years, however, so it is impotant to make a good impression now.

One thing that everyone noted when I talked to them, so obviously a common issue that you’ll want to avoid, was email etiquette.

Unless you just have a quick question on material, your professor likely won’t have time to answer it after class, so most of the time you’ll be emailing for your communication. And, think of the reason you’re here, you want to keep it classy.

In particular, the professors stressed the introduction of the email as an indicator for professionalism right out of the gate.

“Referring to somebody as ‘professor’ indicates that you are respectful of their position, indicates that you get that they are your instructor, and it’s a safe territory because it doesn’t assume they have a PhD or not have a PhD. You’re safe,” said Sofy Carayannopoulos, a professor in the faculty of business and economics and one of the professors of BU111 this fall.

“I don’t like the ‘hey Sobia, when’s the due date’,” Iqbal said through laughter.

“I don’t know what course you’re talking about, I don’t know which of my courses you’re in. Just try to keep a professional relationship, in a sense.”

“It seems like a trivial thing, but it can really go a long way,” Smith added. “One thing that students don’t always think of … is that while they have one instructor to email or contact for a course, the instructor has, in our case, 800 or so students contacting them.”

As for social media, all of the professors I talked to either didn’t use social media at all or didn’t like the idea of adding students on LinkedIn or Facebook until after the course has finished, if even at all.

The office will be the main point of contact too. Wood even leaves a whiteboard on her office door, for example, so students can say that they’ve dropped by if they don’t want to call or send an email, even when she’s not actually there.

Keeping things professional is essential while you’re learning under someone else.

As for the infamous Spotted at Laurier account, the professors were divided. The general takeaway I got from them was that it can be fun and you can have fun with it, but don’t use it in a negative way that will reflect on your degree when you graduate. It’s public, after all, and it’s not just Laurier students that follow the page.

Furthermore, Carayannopoulos stressed that if you have an issue with a course, you should go to the professor to get the answer to your questions rather than relying on the student body. Professors can’t fix the things that are wrong without knowing about them directly and they often won’t see the complaints lodged on Spotted.

All in all, the takeaway here is that your professors really care about your success, but you have to care too. If you need a reference letter, they better know your name from your face. They can’t be your best friend that you invite to Phil’s after a midterm.

As Smith said, you can be friendly without being friends. You may grow to be friends over the years, but you should be looking primarily to your peers for that kind of fulfillment.

Treat your professors like you would your boss and you’ll be in a safe zone.

“Independent doesn’t mean that you’re on you’re totally on your own and you can never ask anyone for help,” Smith said.

If you are looking for help, there are plenty of people you can reach out to. The professors stressed that you don’t always have to reach out to them individually if you are struggling — you can go to your teaching or lab assistant or one of the resources on campus to help with your specific needs, whether that be personal or academic.

“[Students] don’t always have to come to me. But still reach out to those who would best know the answer,” Carayannopoulos encouraged.

Finally, something that was stressed more than anything in all of my interview with these professors was that office hours are absolutely the very first place you should stop in if you have a question, comment or concern.

This is a specific time that every professor has set aside to help you out and you don’t need to worry about that fine line of professionalism that comes from asking for coffee, for instance.

Professors will sit alone in their office for a lot of the time, especially at the beginning of the semester, so if you want to make friends or stand out, simply dropping by will likely be enough to do just that.

“Maybe they could grab a friend and come with them to see me … that’s actually a bit of a pet peeve, or something I feel badly about, is when students are afraid to come to my office and talk to me,” Carayannopoulos said.

“They can try grabbing someone else that they know, ask the question for that person, and maybe come with them to my office to verify that, truly, I don’t bite, I’m not fearsome, and that it’s not a big deal to ask the professor.”

The office will be the main point of contact too. Wood even leaves a whiteboard on her office door, for example, so students can say that they’ve dropped by if they don’t want to call or send an email, even when she’s not actually there.

Professors will each have their own office hours and you can meet them for yourself there, and I promise they won’t bite.

Three years down the line, I’ll take classes with professors who know who I am before we’ve met. That may just be a benefit of being in a smaller department, but it also shows how working hard, asking questions, and simply showing up to events can get you recognized.

Trust me, you’ll need those professor recommendations sooner or later and these years will fly.

They’re fun, they’re funny, and they’re great human beings. Be professional, be courteous, and please, for everyone’s sanity, start your emails with a formal greeting.

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Suck it Up: Laurier’s Sustainable take on straws and plastics https://thecord.ca/suck-it-up-lauriers-sustainable-take-on-straws-and-plastics/ https://thecord.ca/suck-it-up-lauriers-sustainable-take-on-straws-and-plastics/#respond Wed, 04 Jul 2018 11:00:44 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=50421

Contributed Image

“I’m sure you’ve seen the video of the sea turtle that gets a straw stuck in its nose and it’s just so sad.”

Jenna Steadman, a recent Laurier graduate who convocated in June, explained to me her reasoning for cutting plastic straws out of her life. Like most of us who have ditched the old devices, her reasoning for the decision is very clear: plastic pollution is killing our oceans and the creatures in them.

Steadman is not alone in her environmental efforts. Cutting plastic straws out of daily use has become a common plight among those who are concerned about single use plastics and, especially, their affects on ocean life.

McDonald’s in the United Kingdom recently announced their attempts to remove straws. Seattle, New York, Vancouver and other coastal metropolitan centres have called for, occasionally successfully, city-wide bans. The food and hospitality sectors are quietly eliminating them too.

But what’s happening right here at Laurier?

Here at home, you’ve probably noticed that your drink at Wilf’s has started coming plastic-free. Unless you order a thick drink like a milkshake or smoothie, straws no longer come with beverages — you have to ask if you want one.

“We looked at [removing straws] as a quick and easy change that we could make that would sort of help us reduce those single use plastics very quickly with very minimal training and very little … operational changes for us,” said Andrew Neilson, hospitality business manager at Laurier.

And that seems to be just how easy it was to make the change, both on an operational level and for consumers to adapt to. If you noticed the change at all, you likely weren’t all that bothered by it.

“We don’t get a lot of feedback other than when people will request [the straws],” Neilson said. “Most of the time, people don’t comment. Because it’s not an automatic thing on the table with their drink, they will just drink their drink.”

Looking around Wilf’s, it’s easy to see that the majority of people are not requesting straws, as they are just drinking from their cups. That, in itself, should be a pretty clear indicator. The lack of feedback on the issue at Wilf’s could point to many things, but I think the most logical conclusion is just that people don’t notice or care when a straw is missing.

Most of us don’t use straws in our own home, with hot beverages or with reusable containers. We only use them when they’re given to us when we’re out and about. When they’re not automatic, we adapt.

It’s a convenience that’s convenient for 20 minutes until it spends over a 100 years floating in the ocean — unless it ends up in the nose of a sea turtle or the belly of a whale before that.

Not everyone is so keen to have plastic straws banned, however. People with disabilities, their friends and family and their support groups are concerned because some people cannot drink without strong straws. In particular, the Disability Alliance of British Columbia has been one of the main loud voices against the proposed plastic straw ban in Vancouver.

At least for now, there’s no outright ban planned at Laurier or in the greater Kitchener-Waterloo area, but straws are becoming harder to come by as businesses are choosing to remove them as options for customers.

“They’ll just politely ask for it and where we’ll still provide a straw,” Neilson stated, referring to people who need or want straws in Wilf’s. Furthermore, Wilf’s management is looking into more sustainable options, such as paper straws, for September and beyond to help strike a balance between accessibility and sustainability.

At Wilf’s, that’s an easy issue to get around — provide when asked. However, outright bans, such as those being implemented and argued around the world, provide little answers for the complex, ethical questions surrounding these small plastic tubes. It still seems to be a while before we will have a strong verdict as to the right thing to do in these situations and for these people.

In the meantime, I think we can all agree on a few things. Firstly, plastic is harming our oceans. Secondly, we as humans are the ones causing these issues. Finally, we have to do something about it.

So what other single-use plastic is missing at Laurier?


Have you noticed that you can’t buy a bottled filtered water at any venue on campus?

“If there is spring water being sold in plastic bottles, let us know because that shouldn’t be happening,” said Tyler Plante, outreach and program coordinator for the Sustainability Office at Laurier. The Sustainability Office provides opportunities for both social and environmental sustainability at all campuses and into the greater communities in both academic and non-academic pursuits.

That, of course, doesn’t mean that you have to be parched in that particularly dry three-hour lecture. “To facilitate that elimination of plastic water bottles, we’ve installed close to 40 water filter stations across campus,” Plante explained.

All you need to do is to bring your own container and hold them over any of the stations installed across campus. Reusable water bottles aren’t hard to come by on campus either — they come in O-Week kits and I’ve been using my Eco-Hawks branded bottle since my second year.

If you’ve seen or used any of the refill stations around campus, you’ve probably noticed that the stations keep track of how many plastic water bottles each unit has saved by the volume of water it has distributed. With countless members of the community passing through campus, especially on hot days like we’re experiencing this summer, that can account for a lot of water.

“As of last summer, so it’s probably a lot higher now, we’ve had over 1.25 million water bottles saved since 2014,” Plante said.

After my interview with Plante and on my way to my next meeting, I checked the first refill station I saw for its number of saved plastic bottles out of curiosity for its impact in its four-year lifespan. Sure enough, the station outside of Arts 1E1, which is admittedly not in an obvious location, has saved over 100,000 bottles alone so far.

I’m sure the refill stations in more travelled areas, such as the library, Bricker Academic and the Concourse, would have even more impressive numbers, and those are just a handful of the places on campus to get your fill for free and simultaneously save on plastic.

Beyond the refill stations, the Sustainability Office is looking into initiatives to reduce the waste of single-use coffee cups on campus. The details of these efforts are not yet available, but it sounds like there is going to be something environmentally exciting coming in the fall semester.

“Look for something this fall, likely during waste reduction week, which is the week after reading week in October,” Plante encouraged when talking about the coffee cups on campus.

While we’re all waiting for this announcement, there’s still plenty each of us can do to reduce our hot-drink waste as well. Steadman suggests easy changes like bringing your own mug, and buying a reusable straw to bring with you wherever you go instead of always using single-use straws.

“Honestly, they’re so small. They’re the size of a pen, so you can just stick it in your purse or your backpack,” she said.

If you’re into that idea, there’s some good news coming for you as well. Though the logistics are still being worked out, this should be a big step for Laurier’s consumption habits.

“This year, I think we’ll be going ahead with the purchase of metal straws. So we’ll be giving out straws at O-Week during the Get Involved Fair,” Plante said.

Furthermore, the Sustainability Office is looking into giving away 100 per cent recycled, Laurier branded tote bags for O-Week, as well as having both new products available throughout the year.

Both Plante and Neilson encouraged the use of the Laurier eco-container program. This is a one-time payment to get full use of the system, which provides students and staff the opportunity to use a hard takeout container that can be reused countless times.

“We have a very good relationship with food services, and we’re looking at how we can reduce packaging waste,” Plante said. “Instead of getting a plastic clamshell for your takeout food, you can hand in your card, get a reusable 100 per cent recycled container that you can take your takeout food with, and then you bring it back when you’re done and you get your card back. You do that recycling over and over and over again.”

Just breaking down the logistics of the system, it’s more economically logical to buy an eco-container once than dozens of takeaway containers. If you are paying for take-out at Wilf’s every time you go, your $5 surcharge for the reusable alternative will more than likely pay for itself within the semester. Even better, if you’re going into first-year this year, you’ll be provided a card for free.

That’s getting more and more popular, according to Plante. Last year was the most successful one yet for the program, showing that people do care about their waste, whether for the reason of their wallet or the environment.

“[The mentality] does seem to be sort of shifting and that’s good when you think about the amount of straws, cutlery, napkins, everything like that,” Neilson said.

He stated that he’s happy to see these changes from the biggest companies like McDonalds and Disney to the smaller scale local companies, as well.

Though Plante can’t yet confirm the details of any other changes and initiatives coming in the next year, there are some other exciting things that the Sustainability Office has planned to combat single use plastics and waste in general, including working with the book stores on both Waterloo and Brantford campuses to remove or reduce plastic bags.

Furthermore, there will be a “free store” for off-campus housing where you can pick up the discarded items from the students who will move out in August, all for free. The logistics are still being worked out, but if you’re really missing a toaster or a dish set, this is a perfect opportunity to reuse and rehome a perfectly good item that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

And if you, the student, see a gap in the sustainability initiatives at Laurier? There’s a fund for you to pitch your ideas and solutions to the problems that you see in the community. That’s something that has launched businesses in the past and encouraged the changes that we may take for granted now.

“I would encourage students that if they have an idea, specifically around plastics or waste reduction, or anything really tied to sustainability, environmental or social sustainability, we want to support that and to provide mentorship and financial support to get those ideas,” Plante said.

Applications will open in September and will be open until around reading week.

As for Wilf’s, the next steps in eliminating single use plastics seems to be in the takeout department. Though nothing is confirmed yet, they’re currently looking into more sustainable takeout bags and cutlery.

“If that one industry can shift and downgrade and move to alternatives that are better in general, that’ll just be a huge impact right off the bat,” Neilson said.

Your dollar is the biggest indicator here. It’s easy enough to request your drink without a straw or write strongly worded emails to managers, but beyond that there’s not a lot that us full-time students can do to impact the food industry at large.

What we can do, however, is to make conscious choices every day to use less unnecessary plastic and to think as selflessly as we can when it comes to our waste. Of course, this won’t rock the world, but it will add up over time.

“At least I won’t feel as guilty. I’m still guilty of doing it as much as the next person, but maybe a little less — and, honestly, if everyone just did a little less there would be so much less,”

Steadman said.

With so many plastics around us, it’s near impossible to cut them out of our lives entirely. By doing what is comfortable for you — bringing a reusable water bottle, cutting out straws, buying glass bottles instead of plastic — we can each contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable environment.

In short, if you don’t use straws at home, you probably don’t need one in a restaurant. So, as they say, suck it up.

If nothing else, watch that sad video of the sea turtle one more time. Watch Finding Nemo or Finding Dory, Moana or even The Little Mermaid. Look at the beauty of the oceans we want to remember and we want to see when we go on our Caribbean vacations and consider if it’s morally worth that single-use straw.

If we want to keep our oceans from becoming even more of a landfill, our actions and choices are the only things that can make a difference. Our sea life depends on us — is that twenty minutes with a straw really worth it?

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Laurier alumna, Laura Douglas, discusses finding fulfilling careers after your diploma https://thecord.ca/laurier-alumna-laura-douglas-discusses-finding-fulfilling-careers-after-your-diploma/ https://thecord.ca/laurier-alumna-laura-douglas-discusses-finding-fulfilling-careers-after-your-diploma/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2018 21:52:03 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=50311

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Unless you’re in a major like accounting or engineering, your future career goals aren’t usually announced in the title of your degree, leaving a world of possibility and opportunity for the frightening world beyond your diploma.
We’re told that degrees open up multitudes of doors, but I think it’s important to note that they also show you doors that you didn’t even consider or think of in the first place. Not every business major will end up on Wall Street, but the skills you learn will pave pathways to new opportunities.
That is exactly what happened to Laura Douglas, who received her bachelor of business administration from Wilfrid Laurier University in Fall 2015. Douglas recently moved to London, United Kingdom, for her latest opportunity with Unilever, the parent company responsible for Vaseline, Q-Tips, Lipton chicken noodle soup, Red Rose tea, Klondike bars, Axe body spray as well as 400 other brands and all of their products around the world.
More specifically, Douglas has found her home in the Dove Beauty Campaign, where she is the Dove social mission associate brand manager. This job takes Douglas to a global stage with the Dove Self Esteem campaign.
Though Douglas never pictured herself directly in this role, she remembers growing up with the Dove campaign for beauty. She told me a touching story about going to a book signing with some of the executives in the campaign when she was younger, and now she keeps that book on her desk as a reminder of how far she’s come.
“I was a little girl with a dream and now I feel like I’m a woman with a vision who gets to do this and activate this globally,” she said. However, it seems to me that a fulfilling career was always in the cards for Douglas based on her goals and work ethic.
What really stuck with me from my conversation with Douglas, especially for those of us who are currently having meltdowns about what we’re going to do with our degrees when our Laurier tenures are over, was her explanation of her life’s purpose and how that led her to the fulfilling role she’s in now.
“Find and follow your purpose, not your passion,” she explained. “To me, passion is very much a feeling, and when you can take the time to sit down and think about what you want your life purpose to be, that purpose becomes your north star, the direction you’re going to take your life in and, overall, your commitment to the life you’re going to live.”
For Douglas, that purpose is “with energy, empower others through service and impact.” She also said that when she didn’t feel she was meeting this goal through her employment, she turned elsewhere in an attempt to empower others.
That’s something that we can all learn from. The best advice I ever heard was from Chris Hadfield when I went to a talk he gave when I was in high school. He said that you should go for the position you want, no matter what it is, because even if you don’t get to that specific position, you’ll end up somewhere around it, and you’ll be happy there anyway.
I think that’s exactly what Douglas is saying too. Even if you end up in a job you never anticipated or a position that you never pictured yourself in throughout university, if you’re satisfied and you’re happy with how that work fulfills your life, that’s where you belong.
“I try to live life without regrets and want to make only positive improvements in my life, so if there’s an opportunity that I did or didn’t do that didn’t go well, I just take it as a learning [experience] and continue to look at it in a positive way.”

“I try to live life without regrets and want to make only positive improvements in my life, so if there’s an opportunity that I did or didn’t do that didn’t go well, I just take it as a learning [experience] and continue to look at it in a positive way.”

As for what prepared Douglas for this role, she really threw herself into life at Laurier. In her four years, she was involved with Five Days for the Homeless, Enactus Laurier, and what is now LazSoc, among various other opportunities.
“Volunteering and being really involved at Laurier was my way of giving, but it also reinforced to me that it was the way of living and the way I wanted to continue to live my life,” Douglas said.
In addition to these aspects that affected her outlook, she cited that getting involved helped with her leadership, communication and gave her a network of likeminded friends, all while advocating for causes she believes in.
Douglas got her foot in the door at Unilever through the co-op program at Laurier, where she started as an intern, then continued through to the future young leaders program, the sales team, to marketing and in the Dove Self Esteem program in Canada before landing this job in London.
The vision of the program is one that Douglas believes in, so she’s able to throw all of her passion behind it. She was also responsible for helping the program into the curriculum of Ontario’s schools in an attempt to encourage girls to live their lives to their fullest potential.
“It’s great, and we should all be telling each other that we’re beautiful, but we should be empowering young girls and older women that you are also smart, and you’re talented, and you’re funny. There’s more to you than your beauty.”
She stressed that it wasn’t the share value of the company that was important to her in looking for a job, but rather the work that the company was doing to give back to people.
“[Unilever] was a company that I knew was trying to do good in the world,” Douglas said. “Through my time with Enactus, that’s when I realized what I wanted to do with my business degree.”
Right now, Unilever is focused on sustainable living, and the company has a ten-year plan for this mission. Furthermore, the brands within the company are looking to develop “social missions,” an internal term referring to how the brand makes an impact beyond the products that it sells. Dove has the beauty project, and other brands are trying to make a positive impact as well.
I don’t know about you, but I never really picture this from big companies. When I think of fulfilling jobs that help people, I think of doctors and social workers. This really showed me that you can help people no matter your position if you have a vision and you’re trying.
Our years at Laurier aren’t the end of the world, either. There’s a lot that each of us wants to pack into our tenures, but our lives are ahead of us and there are so many more opportunities to learn, grow and experience.
“I wanted to go and eventually work in another country, just to have that experience of learning a new culture,” Douglas explained. “I didn’t do it at Laurier, but I knew I would eventually do it and I was really happy that Unilever gave me the opportunity to be able to do that kind of thing.”
So there you have it. There’s a world outside Laurier that is waiting for each of us. There are exciting things to come, even if we can’t see exactly what that is all of the time.
Following her story and watching it come full circle, it’s easy for me to be inspired by Douglas. In the same way that she didn’t know she’d end up working for the company that helped shape her adolescence, there’s a world of things that each of us enjoys that we probably haven’t even considered for careers.
“It’s just such a blessing to see that, with hard work and perseverance, your dreams really can come true, as corny as that sounds.”
If we, like Douglas, take each of our life purposes with us out into that world and do the best we can to help others with the opportunities we are given, the future really doesn’t seem so scary after all.

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NEWSFLASH: Biodiversity in university makes students thirsty https://thecord.ca/newsflash-biodiversity-in-university-makes-students-thirsty/ https://thecord.ca/newsflash-biodiversity-in-university-makes-students-thirsty/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 11:00:13 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=49703

In 2007, Kate Middleton and Prince William ended their relationship after nearly four years in the spotlight. The BBC reported on this end of an era, claiming that the breakup was due to the grounding and locale of their relationship.

William and Kate were university sweethearts.

As per the article’s author, university relationships are often crushed when the members leave their school setting behind and move on with their lives. William and Kate — backed up with psychological examinations and anecdotal support — are then used as a firm suggestion that university relationships do not work.

There are valid points for this suggestion, but there are also equally valid points to the contrary. Are romantic relationships within the university setting a positive and enriching thing, or are they emotional land mines that young students are not prepared for and should avoid like the plague?

Like much in life, there really isn’t a simple answer.


A relationship can be a healthy, positive thing at any point in life, and a large portion of that is based on how they centre and ground people. If there’s one thing that many young students desire most in their lives, it’s some form of grounding.

“Relationships are very central to our feelings of happiness and often help to shape our identity,” Anne Wilson, a professor of psychology at Laurier said.

“University students are at a stage where identity formation is a really important part of their lives, so relationships can play a big role in that.”

Even more than that, human beings are hungry for intimacy, especially so early in life. Inundated with Hollywood ideals of romance and sexuality, young minds are constantly on the search for young bodies — and souls — with which to connect.

Justin Cavallo, a Laurier psychology professor with a focus on close relationships and self-esteem, saw two big predictors toward attraction in general that seemed to be significantly apparent within campus interactions.

The first was similarity. When people find that they have things in common, whether interests, beliefs or something else entirely, it tends to ignite a spark between them.

The second predictor was even more rudimentary: proximity. And the combination of both of those predictors practically define the campus experience.

“University’s really unique in that you’re surrounded by — perhaps more than any other time in your life — people who are highly similar to you,” Cavallo said. “It makes sense that there’s an active period of time where there’s a lot of relationships forming.”

Simply put, university settings tend to encourage the environments and methods by which people end up finding love and developing relationships. And people within those settings are hungry for that kind of attachment.

The school is almost like a natural breeding ground.

But there are also significant detractors within the university experience — features that may have torpedoed many a prospective forever-love — that need to be considered.


University relationships have a certain tendency to deteriorate, and much of that is based on the culture that surrounds them. In the current era, an increasingly more casual air blows through the young-adult approach to sexuality, where both hookup culture and classical romantic ideals battle to set the standard in young, developing minds.

This has occurred because of a great deal of social developments: women are more independent than they were in previous generations, which creates less of an imperative for them to pair off while young, if at all. People in general are not forced to invest themselves and their lives in one another as much and are able to participate in society — especially in university — as individuals.

That can certainly be seen as a good thing. But that — and the no-rush ideal that can turn the university relationship into more of a ‘testing ground’ — can also make intimate connections so much easier to destroy.

“In university, a lot of times people know that they’re in relationships that may not last forever,” Wilson said. “And often relationships are less deeply interdependent, so you might not have moved in with a partner and joined resources — sharing a bank account, all those things.”

“In that way, if a relationship encounters a challenge or an infidelity, a betrayal, it can be really painful — its almost always really painful in the short term — but it can often be a piece of information that helps you to decide if this is a relationship you want to keep having.”

That flexibility can also contribute to the failure of many different relationships during the university context. Coming from a similar mindset, Cavallo broke down how environment can not only construct a relationship but how it can contribute to its tenability.

“What determines whether you stay with someone or whether you want to leave them is firstly how happy you are with that relationship,” he said. “And what we typically think as laypeople is, if you’re happy, you’re going to stay with your partner. But that’s not the only thing that matters.”

Cavallo spoke about mutual ‘investments’ — whether those are social networks, shared mortgages, pensions, children or something else altogether — and how they impact the difficulty of ending a relationship.

In addition, having a sea of available alternatives can make one’s link to their partner seem that much less important.

“If they perceive that they can do better elsewhere, either in another relationship or just being single is a more attractive option for them than being with a partner, then that’s going to lessen commitment,” Cavallo said.

These types of attitudes can lead to cheating, often because investments in a particular partner are made to seem more tenuous and less binding. To show this, Cavallo cited the details of a 1999 study surrounding young people and infidelity while on vacation for spring break.

Following their vacation, up to 70 per cent of the survey participants admitted to some form of cheating. While much of that was merely ‘emotional cheating’, 41 per cent of the respondents reported having physically cheated on their partner — a result that is 17 per cent above the midpoint.

Environmental factors are then enormous variables that contribute to the survival or destruction of university relationships. Like vegetarianism tends to die in the line at McDonalds, so do enormous temptations rip apart college sweethearts.

And why not? After all, if there’s ever a time when ruining your relationship for selfish reasons is an okay thing to do, it’s certainly better when there’s so much less to lose and so much less damage that one can inflict on their partner’s life.


If there’s a reason that university relationships are bound to change, it’s because of their evolutionary nature. School itself is a transitionary period of life, and there are ways that that transition can be used for different purposes.

A university relationship might be casual and unbinding, because people during that phase may still be trying to find themselves in the world. That sort of finding is often done through hot and heavy soul-searching with other like-minded people in their orbit.

But at the same time, a partner in young life can act as an anchor and a weight; they can be a support unit with whom a person can adapt and evolve through social symbiosis. A partner can be an excellent and very healthy assistance to a person’s development.

While there are certainly classical ideas of monogamous relationships, the world is constantly in a state of flux, and that might make it more difficult to entirely qualify how much university relationships at large will continue to change into the future.

“People are getting married later in life and people are choosing to stay single even later in life,” Wilson said. “The notion is no longer for many people that you can’t be happy unless you’re in a romantic relationship.”

There isn’t a consistent narrative, although this idea of being happy and alone is more common now than ever. And yet, between addictions to dating apps and hopping from bed to bed and relationship to relationship, do people feel this way?

Or are they just telling themselves that they do?

Within stuffy classrooms, over coffees in the concourse, following late, liquor-soaked nights at Pub on King, authentic relationships can both develop and dissolve on campus.

The BBC article I mentioned at the beginning of this piece is interesting because it really gives us a contextualized lens into how we construct our media and our conversations around these topics. The answers aren’t clear, and they can only really become clear when we pick a side and attempt to defend it using cherry-picked portions of the evidence.

Prince William and Kate Middleton’s relationship may have suffered back in 2007 from stepping outside of their usual setting; at the very least, it almost certainly changed. But it is only through the lens of history that we can objectively determine relationships and our narratives concerning them.

University sets up lifelong relationships just as it tears them down. There is no right or wrong, there is only what there is. As things continue to change, as ideas of monogamy adapt to fit the modern trends in the real world, the university relationship will either proliferate or dissipate in its long-term development.

But people will always be searching for something that they project in other people: whether that’s sex and love, hopes and dreams, meaning and happiness.

For now, former university sweethearts William and Kate are married with kids. And it is really only the reality that can concretely and objectively craft the present narrative.

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Where universities fall short with mental health resources https://thecord.ca/where-universities-fall-short-with-mental-health-resources/ https://thecord.ca/where-universities-fall-short-with-mental-health-resources/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 10:58:46 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=49659

Photo by Luke Sarazin

On 2018’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, the twitter page @SpottedLaurier published three tweets directed toward the wellness centre on campus.

“#bellletstalk about how the Wellness Centre turned me away during crisis hours because I wasn’t going to kill myself.. but all I needed was someone to talk to that day.” The anonymous tweet was published at 3:56 am.

The one that followed was in the afternoon:

“#BellLetsTalk because the Wellness Centre turned me away for being a ‘conflict of interest’ because my sister was someone of importance in the Laurier community and that apparently trumped my mental health in first year.”

The final tweet was posted in the evening, demanding change within the Wellness Centre. They claimed that the waitlist for mental health services was too long.

Before delving into the issues on campus any further, I think that we need to take a step back. Wilfrid Laurier isn’t the only university that struggles with mental health resources.

According to an August 2016 release from The Ontario University and College Health Association (OUCHA), 65 per cent of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety.

The report claims that 13 per cent of post-secondary students reported having seriously considered suicide and around 11 per cent (roughly 2,803 students) had attempted it.

This data reflects an eight per cent spike since the last survey was conducted in 2013.

But where is this spike coming from? How did we become the generation with record breaking mental health issues? The answer to that isn’t simple, but it may be related to a number of unique, modern factors.

In a research statement released by Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), social media was linked to a negative impact on young people’s mental health.

“Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues,” claimed chief executive of RSPH, Shirley Cramer in a 2017 report.

“It’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing — both platforms are image focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

But it isn’t just social media. It’s video games, drinking, Christmas, societal expectations and a constant barrage of information. Global news and looming war affects our mood — there have even been studies of country music being linked to depression.

But it’s also worth noting that the increase in reported data might not be because more students are depressed than they were in 2013 — it’s possible that the stigma surrounding mental health has simply been broken down to the point where more students feel comfortable coming forward.

“You just need to look around Laurier, there’s so many students actively championing the need for more discussion around mental health and decreasing stigma. By extension, there’s also a lot more people engaging in the conversation about mental health,” Leanne Holland-Brown, Dean of Students at Laurier, said.

We know where we are, but how do we move forward? A first step would be understanding that problems we face at Laurier are the same problems other universities are facing.

“In the news there’s been information concerning student’s mental health,” Karen Ostrander, director of the Student Wellness Centre said.

At this point she motioned to a thick blue booklet aptly titled ‘Student Mental Health,’ sitting on her desk. It had a million yellow tabs sticking out, and — as if to ensure I had seen it — she lifted it up and then let it drop back onto her desk.

“I’ve been here for quite some time; I think the world has changed quite a bit,” she continued.

“I think the population of students that we’re seeing now, there might be more significant mental health concerns presenting in the post-secondary population partly because people are being better supported to get to post-secondary school.”

WLU is evidently one of the better universities when it comes to managing mental health. Professors are mostly understanding and there are a large number of resources available for students seeking help. The Wellness Centre as a whole takes a holistic approach to the well-being of students, focusing as much on physical health as they do on mental health.

Whether it’s the University of Waterloo, who’ve had three suicides since the start of 2018, or McGill University who are trying to accommodate the 35 per cent increase of students seeking counselling — it seems like all universities are grappling with a staggering demand for mental health resources.

“All you need to do is take a look at any of the articles coming out of universities and student’s affairs, not just in Canada but across North America. Probably even more broad than that, the challenge of increasingly complex mental health needs is not unique to Laurier,” Holland-Brown explained.

“We’re currently doing a survey for all students, just to try and get some feedback,” Ostrander said. “Being aware of the student landscape, regarding mental health, there’s a lot of concerns about the services and resources.”

“So, we wanted to reach out to our general student body to try and get some feedback to create a mechanism for that feedback. The Dean of Students also elected to meet with a number of student groups that might have special needs or possibly be marginalized, just to make sure they had an opportunity to chat as well.”

This survey, which can be accessed through your Laurier email, doesn’t actually ask for personal experiences. Instead, it asks questions pertaining to accessibility: Do you know where the Student Wellness Centre is located? Have you been there before? Are you aware of their services?

“The main kind of themes we’ve been chatting about have been relating to access, student’s knowledge and understanding of the Wellness Centre’s support and what it can provide,” Holland-Brown explained.

“We’ve been hearing about issues, challenges and barriers accessing support and experiences students have had with the Wellness Centre that can be improved upon.”

But issues lay beyond accessibility and what students know of the Wellness Centre. An ongoing problem seems to be resources and lack thereof. In The Cord’s March 7 issue, an anonymous letter to the Wellness Centre was published in the “Dear Life” section:

“Dear Wellness Centre,

I need an appointment this month, not mid April. I get that you guys work hard to help people but you also have a serious problem that needs to be addressed. How many students are slipping through the cracks because you can’t provide the adequate care expected of you?


Desperate and destitute”

We have an estimated total of 17,019 undergraduate students at Laurier and only eight counsellors focused on their mental health.

If the Wellness Centre is dealing with a ratio of roughly 2,000 students per counsellor, how much attention is each individual being given? It would be fair to say that all universities are at a point of change, where how mental health is handled needs to be carefully considered.

At Laurier, we can count ourselves as lucky that our school genuinely cares about mental health and ensuring that the quality of student life remains high.

But it’s also fair to say we all still have a long way to go.

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A walk down Ezra: The history of Laurier’s most resilient party https://thecord.ca/a-walk-down-ezra-the-history-of-lauriers-most-resilient-party/ https://thecord.ca/a-walk-down-ezra-the-history-of-lauriers-most-resilient-party/#respond Wed, 14 Mar 2018 10:59:07 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=49120

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“There will be no big street party this year, next year, or any other year, because it will be broken up…” Tricia Siemens, Waterloo councillor, in an interview with The Record, April 19, 1995.

In The Cord’s 1995 coverage of the Ezra Street party, Amanda Dowling wrote about “the largest, wildest version of the annual Ezra Street Party.”

The event hosted 1,500 students and “resulted in 42 arrests, 9 criminal charges and two life-threatening injuries.”

Compared to 2017’s turnout, estimated at between 12,000 to 15,000 attendees, those figures seem like small potatoes.

With the intended undergraduate enrolment at only four years, it seems ingrained in the collective memory of the student body that Ezra has been — and always will be — host to an essential party. But let’s look at how that little circle of debauchery has evolved

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2010 that the street hosted its first notable Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. The Cord reported that the police responded to only 25 calls regarding noise and nuisance that day, because the parties along the street were spread out and calm enough to keep it safe, contained and out of the national news.


Following a quieter period of Ezra — a period of around fifteen years — the party as we know it today began with the blossoming of an early spring. “There was this really fabulous Saint Patrick’s Day,” said Phil Champagne, Executive Director and COO of the Students’ Union.

“One of those rare days in the middle of March where it was absolutely gorgeous outside. And people started to hang out.”

“And the next year, much like its cousin 20 years earlier, it started to get a little bit bigger. And then a little bit bigger.”

Since those days, St. Patrick’s Day on Ezra has turned into something else.

High school students show up; other students from across the province come out; buses come in from the US, bringing an international presence to the biggest party of the year, while Laurier’s student population is left with the brunt of the blame for the violence and destruction that comes part and parcel with a party of that magnitude.

But history tends to repeat itself. The Ezra St. party has waxed and waned over the years, and — due to significant efforts by the city and the regional police — it may once again be coming to an end.


Nearly 30 years ago, St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. But Ezra was still a place where people came together for a big, annual celebration. That party was typically held in the spring, and was typically attended primarily by Laurier students.

“There had been some Ezra Street parties in the early to mid 90s,” Phil Champagne, executive director & COO of the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union. “But those didn’t take place on Saint Patrick’s Day, they usually took place in April.”

“It started small and kind of got bigger with every year… ultimately the city told the university that they had to do something about it and the university came to the Students’ Union and said ‘hey can you help us out with this?’”

That final, infamous party in 1995 — the one that ended it all for fifteen years — gained a mythical status, and is sometimes referred to as the Ezra Street Riot. As the party got out of hand, police gathered up publicly intoxicated students and carted them away. In response, students gathered back on porches and roofs of houses down the street — and began to throw beer bottles at the officers.

Change, it seemed, had to occur. And turning a party of that size — approximately 1,500 students — into something safe and manageable seemed feasible. In order to facilitate for that, the Students’ Union created a giant, year-end bash.

Recognizing the student desire to party and realizing that there was nothing that could really be done to eradicate that entirely, the event aimed to provide a safe, mediated space for students to come out and raucously commemorate the end of exams.

The party was organized in a similar fashion to the O-Week celebration in September and, at its best, hosted up to 3,500 students.

“It was very successful for a long time,” David McMurray, vice-president of student affairs said. “But then the numbers started to dwindle. Students got less interested in that, they wanted to go home. They didn’t want to wait until the 24th of April, the exam schedule didn’t really lend itself to having everyone at one particular time.”

“And then the Ezra Street gathering just organically started to grow.”


But that sort of unchecked growth, in perpetuity, is untenable.

The fundamental concern with the Ezra Street party, just like it was back in the 90s, is ensuring that the students and the attendees remain safe — something that is almost impossible with the kind of numbers that attend.

It is important, both to the police and the school, to ensure that property is not damaged or destroyed, and that people aren’t hurt.

Even damage to property is more significant than might be immediately apparent: in previous years groups of intoxicated, thoughtless students have swarmed school buildings just to use the washrooms. Damage to school property has followed as a result of this.

Whether the actions taken to shut down the party this year are effective remains to be seen. The party has been successfully shut down before, but it has reemerged as a different kind of beast — for better or for worse, it is a unique event that attracts attention across the nation.

But the party itself, the event that defines so much of the Laurier experience, will somehow — in one form or another, through adaptation and evolution — find a way to live on.

“I’ve heard the term ‘on the bucket list’, you know?” said David McMurray, “What I’ve seen a lot over the years is the coming and going up and down King and Albert in particular.”

“If you watch the sidewalks you can see people, dressed in green, coming and going, having their own house party and saying, ‘hey, we’ve got to go to Ezra so we can be there.’ And some will stay longer than others. You see a lot of people go in and have a look.”

There are numerous reasons why the celebration has increased so drastically in size, but much of those reasons come down to housing. In around 1993, as the university continued to grow, private citizens began to vacate the area. That left a lot of space to be inevitably filled by university students.

“Waterloo Collegiate High School population, you can tell, started to decline because families were just moving out,” McMurray said. “And students were just kind of taking over the neighbourhood because of the housing piece.”

“Those with means could build a building to hold four or five hundred people … and many did. So the numbers have grown with the enrolment growth of the school.”

As super-structures were put in place to house more and more students, normal sized homes with normal-sized lawns were being torn down. That has left minimal areas for students to hang out.

And fewer lawns and fewer porches have forced the students — along with their open containers — out into the street.

With increased plans for police presence and involvement, this year is a pivotal moment in the history of Laurier’s biggest party. But whether or not this is could be the end of Ezra remains to be seen.

But the party itself, the event that defines so much of the Laurier experience, will somehow — in one form or another, through adaptation and evolution — find a way to live on.

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From the grounds up: understanding the appeal of coffee https://thecord.ca/from-the-grounds-up-understanding-the-appeal-of-coffee/ https://thecord.ca/from-the-grounds-up-understanding-the-appeal-of-coffee/#respond Wed, 07 Mar 2018 11:59:34 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=48689

Coffee is a staple of my every day routine.

There’s something gratifying about brewing coffee each morning or entering a local coffee shop that’s filled with the aroma of coffee.

However, I’m often left wondering what it is about coffee that is so appealing. Being that coffee has little nutritional value — and I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing the jitters that drinking a cup too many can bring about — I decided to spend a week without drinking coffee to investigate some of the reasons behind why we enjoy coffee so much.

While I experienced the normal, mild withdrawal symptoms many of us do without caf-feine, such as headaches and feeling less alert, I found these symptoms were easy to combat with other caffeinated beverages, like tea and pop.

Although I was still consuming caffeine in some form, I realized I still missed drinking coffee: I missed the bold smells, I missed the bold tastes.

Bruce McKay, associate professor for Wilfrid Laurier University’s faculty of science, explained that when it comes to any drug, despite caffeine being an extremely mild stimulant, any associations surrounding the drug will become a part of the addiction or reward received.

“Anything that’s pleasant, anything that you enjoy doing that coincides with the delivery of the coffee is going to be a part of the total package of things that you consider to be rewarding or pleasurable,” McKay said.

For example, for me, quitting coffee meant also quitting the things that go along with making and drinking coffee, such as my morning routine.

“Part of the withdrawal then is not just withdrawals from the caffeine, maybe you’re not going out for coffee with your friends the same way because you’re not drinking coffee so it becomes part of a bigger package,” McKay said.

“Drinking a good coffee and noticing those notes and flavours in things and really giving it attention can also honour everyone who’s been a part of the journey.”

“If you get someone clean of an opioid for example, but then just reintroducing them to the people that they used to hang out with or various places in the city that they used to do the drugs in, that will powerfully trigger relapse,” McKay said.

In this way, the reward some of us receive from the habit of drinking coffee every day stems from more than the effects of caffeine, such as the ones that make us more alert.

In fact, sometimes the experience of drinking coffee provides more value than the coffee itself.

“There’s a lot of people who drink coffee for the caffeine and there’s people who drink it for an enjoyment,” Hannah Boehm, operations manager and lead coffee roaster at Smile Tiger Coffee Roasters, said.

“Even how it began and the story of coffee is very rooted in social gatherings … it’s a social norm even to go and share a conversation or a time with a friend over this drink.”

Caroline Valeriote, Laurier’s registered dietitian, said that coffee drinking may become a “habit of process” for some.

“It falls along the same lines as some of the other things that we do automatically in our lives like brushing your teeth,” she said.

“As well, the beautiful smell we anticipate, the process of making coffee … the route we take to get coffee, who we meet there — that becomes a part of our daily schedule and that may be something that’s special about that.”

Valeriote noted that, although coffee has little to no nutritional value, drinking coffee could even be classified as a component of self-care.

For students, who are almost always pressured for time, spending a small amount of time each day drinking coffee while giving our minds a rest from our otherwise busy lives allows for the necessary down time that comes with taking care of ourselves.

Valeriote also explained that something as simple as using your favourite mug while drinking coffee makes the experience so much more valuable to us.

“It gives us time for reflection and so in that way, if it’s downtime or reflective time for us, I would say that habit is worthwhile. We can take some time for ourselves and that seems to be always in short order for most of us,” she said.

For Boehm, her journey and love for coffee began during her time spent in Sweden. There, she learned the term “Fika,” which translates to “coffee breaks.”

“They work to live there; they don’t live to work … it’s that chance to press pause on the work day and enjoy life and enjoy talking to people and about what really life is about,” Boehm said.

“Fika is such an obvious and different aspect to their culture from ours. We have our coffee breaks so we can fuel ourselves. But they were really taking it to slow down and to enjoy human connection; which is what life is about.”

In addition, Boehm noted that the human connections which drinking coffee offers us stem further than simply drinking the final, brewed cup of coffee.

“I personally see the connection and enjoy drinking coffee because it’s such a long chain of people involved in making coffee,” Boehm said.

From the farmers and producers that grow the coffee, to those who mill and process the coffee beans; the whole process surrounding the creation of coffee is done with great care at each step.

“I’m in charge of the last two things — roasting and brewing. I feel it’s kind of an honour to get to do those last two as best as I can [because I’m] connected to all those people beforehand,” Boehm said.

“Drinking a good coffee and noticing those notes and flavours in things and really giving it attention can also honour everyone who’s been a part of the journey.”

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A look at textbook costs in the era of #textbookbroke https://thecord.ca/a-look-at-textbook-costs-in-the-era-of-textbookbroke/ https://thecord.ca/a-look-at-textbook-costs-in-the-era-of-textbookbroke/#respond Wed, 28 Feb 2018 11:59:30 +0000 https://thecord.ca/?p=48523

Graphic by Alan Li

The cost of textbooks has been a topic of discussion and debate more or less since they were first invented, but the conversation has taken a significant turn lately as the #textbookbroke hashtag began trending earlier this year.

The textbook industry is a strange one, without many direct comparisons. It is synergistically powered by the education industry to a point where materials are so hyper-focused and produced on such a small scale that the ballooning costs tend to greatly exceed the perceived value of the materials on which they are printed.

That, combined with the digital state of the modern world, creates a unique environment within which we can speculate on the future of textbooks.

Will they still be around in twenty years? Is textbook-sharing hurting the industry?

How is anyone supposed to justify paying over $200 for a thick, glossy ream of paper?

And with all that, another pertinent question arises: are students really in as bad a situation as we think we are?

“I think [textbook prices are] even higher in the US,” Mary Andraza, Laurier Bookstore’s Manager of Academic Materials said. “Several of the larger publishers now do all their distribution out of … the US, so when we’re quoted prices we have to ensure that we’re being quoted the Canadian price. And I don’t know how they arrive at it, but the prices are always less than what the US prices are.”

Mike Zybala, the Associate Director of Retail Services and Systems sat across from her, nodding his head. “I’ve heard stories where some of the books that we have for sale for that $100, $125 are, you know, $250, $300 in the US market,” he said.

“So it’s a much bigger issue in the American market and that’s where we’re starting to see a lot of — and again we go to conferences that cover both the Canadian and American market — we’re seeing a lot of discussion in the US, particularly around the affordability.”

While this helps to situate our relative place in the conversation, it doesn’t change the basic fact that textbook costs are incredibly high. And, when compared against typically published books for mass audiences — novels, biographies — there’s an enormous disparity in pricing. Why is that?

“Even if you look at academic publishers that are doing upper level things and grad studies and stuff, they are very, very expensive,” Zybala.

“And that’s one of the reasons why, just the limited audience for materials.”

“What we are seeing though is some of the alternatives that we’re selling — there’s been a shift to access codes, rental books, those kinds of formats. We’re seeing that demand increase.”

It has been a slow shift, but a positive one. If you look at the data provided by the bookstore from the past five years, Digital Resources have increased from approximately 2 per cent of sales to 12 per cent. This appears to have directly reduced the cost that the average student pays for course materials by 23 per cent.

David Swail, the Executive Director of the Canadian Publisher’s Council, was able to give a bit more insight on this.

As the former CEO of McGraw-Hill for Canada, Latin America and Australia, he has had several years of experience working within the industry.

“We’re committed to providing whatever form of resource the market — which ultimately is both a combination of the student and the professor — but whatever form our market demands,” he said.



This is telling, because it shows an aligning on part of the publishers to reconcile their product with fiscal concerns. People have expected print to die out both in the industry and in the world at large as digital mediums have developed, but that still hasn’t entirely happened. And so it is through smaller, more precipitous changes that the digital conversion of materials has occurred.

The market — and the push to online — has slowly but drastically changed how the textbook market operates, and this generally has been beneficial for students.

One of the many features exclusive to digital content is how it can assist with creating a more directly related resource for the course it is built to service.

“The promise of adaptive learning is the thing that’s really got publishers very excited,” said Swail. “And that’s where a lot of the investment and a lot of the emphasis has gone.”“It sort of completely overturns the old print model where you put something in print, it’s out there for a couple years and then you update it and revise it. You put a new one out and then the old one — people complain, well, the old one’s not as relevant anymore.”

This is where we can highlight a significant concern about textbooks, which comes down to the editions: the reality that a textbook from five years ago becomes unusable in a current classroom because certain information within it has become outdated.

In some situations, with some new editions, this is definitely the case. In others, only very minor information is changed and yet students are still required to buy this updated material for their course.

To students, this often seems like the publishers are simply releasing a new edition in order to charge more money, as well as to prohibit their options in buying cheaper, used copiesh or reusing a copy borrowed from a friend.

A digital edition here is a double-edged sword: it eliminates this concern entirely. But in doing so it also eliminates the ability of students to share their textbooks.

The rental and used textbook market can be a bit of a concern, and it’s likely at least one motivator for this kind of textbook production — after all, the textbook publishers are a business, and the fundamental ethos of virtually any business is to generate profit.

“We’d love to capture more of the market that we’re kind of squeezed out of when it comes to used books,” Swail admitted. “But what we’re more interested in is what’s sustainable and more helpful for students and instructors in the long term.”

Approached skeptically, this kind of sentiment could be perceived as insincere. But when we compare it with the trends, even with commercial interests in mind, it is to the benefit of the publisher to produce lower-cost, higher quality materials. That’s how a publisher remains competitive, and it’s also how students are given the best learning experience.

According to Andraza, 64 per cent of students opt out of buying materials for the first day of class. This is a significant number and it suggests something about how students tend to look at textbooks: that they are oversold.

To the average student, it seems that additional components — more product than is truly necessary for the course — are loaded onto the syllabus and that it is worth their while to wait and see what they actually need to purchase. If they aren’t going to be directly tested on a particular work, why would they buy it?

Textbook costs will unfortunately always be higher than the average student would prefer to pay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are higher than they should be.

But even that is an unfortunately small look at the story: in theory, materials are added and developed to courses with the intent of being used. While not every component of the syllabus is necessarily tested on, the basis of a university education is supposed to be on the accumulation of   a certain kind of knowledge — not just on the final certification.

Regardless, that doesn’t change the fact that some textbooks students are required to buy are under-utilized. This is an issue that digital resources may be able to repair.

“To the degree that we can help by making the resources not just better but less expensive — which they tend to be when they’re digital — then that’s also kind of a win for us, I think,” Swail said.  “Because it means that instead of two people or three people sharing one textbook, we’re trying to get to a point where everybody can afford to have that resource themselves.”

If everybody can afford the resource, even if that’s only because they’re sold for a lower cost, that means that more units are moved, which will generally result in higher revenue for the publisher.

Simply, the digital field for learning resources is the new frontier, and it’s the logical step for everyone involved. These resources can be supplied to students while avoiding a great deal of the tertiary costs of manufacturing and storage.

Warehousing, distribution and returns are all eliminated from the equation. There is no waste, there is no adverse affect on the environment.

But what disappears for students? Tangibility and ease of use for one, although the same components are administered through the digital resource. But more obviously, students lose the option of reselling — or retaining — their books.

Yes, textbooks are extremely expensive. And why? There are a number of reasons, ranging from supply and demand and production costs to the types of information and studies that need to be performed and gathered in order to produce one.

We don’t resell an education, and the point of attending a post-secondary institution is to have that education administered to us. In the constant, ever-changing, to-the-minute world of 2018, that means that our resources absolutely must be current. And with digital content, those resources can be easily produced, easily maintained and sold for a much, much lower cost.

With a subscription to a resource rather than a dated hardcover, students are given a better, more cost-effective learning experience. We need to recognize that options to reduce the costs of learning materials have increased over the years, and we also need to consider the initiatives being taken by the Ontario government to assist in helping to fund students through their education.

An education requires a great amount of time and effort in development and administration, just as it requires a great amount of time and effort from the students themselves.

Textbook costs will unfortunately always be higher than the average student would prefer to pay, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are higher than they should be.

An education is an expensive thing because an education is a valuable thing.

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