By Josh Dehaas - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Two summers ago when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 arrived at the cinema in Ancaster, Ont., Stephanie Kesler took the day off work and lined up for 12 hours to make sure she got a good seat. Afterward, Kesler, now 23, says she felt “a little bit sad.” Growing up she had eagerly anticipated each of J.K. Rowling’s books and films. “That was my whole childhood.”
But last semester, the third-year English student at Western University in London, Ont., realized that the end of the series didn’t mean saying goodbye. In her children’s literature course, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was on the syllabus.
For her class assignment, Kesler presented to her peers on the symbolism of Rowling’s Dementors, dark creatures that suck the life out of people, and the Patronus Charm, the only thing that can fight them off. She likened the Dementors to depression and the Patronas to overcoming it through positive thinking.
Not far away at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo Ont., dozens of wizarding fans had a similar idea. Emma Morrison, a third-year Medieval Studies and Religion major, had started a chapter of The Harry Potter Alliance, a global network of campus and community clubs where Potter fans jointly work for social justice. The Laurier chapter’s first big project focused on Dementors and depression. After a social media campaign promoting awareness of mental health services on campus, the group held a Yule Ball (a Hogwarts-inspired formal) during February mid-terms. “We wanted to have something fun to allow people to let loose in their time of stress,” she says. More than 220 showed up for butter beer and dancing.
Professor Gabrielle Ceraldi, who teaches children’s literature at Western, is unsurprised by the focus on the Dementors. “Emotional states in the series are always represented through magic,” she says. Hogwarts, the school for witches and wizards, is bewildering, much like university, she points out. “The staircases never stay in the same place from one period of class to the next.”
Ceraldi, who has only just heard about the Harry Potter Alliance, will soon teach what she believes is the first Canadian course fully dedicated to the books. She has also just learned about the Quidditch leagues where students use broomsticks and throw Quaffles, yet another of the ways today’s university students are connecting to each other and to school through Harry Potter.
Harry helps them connect to school by introducing academic themes. One obvious example is the classism Hermione Granger highlights with her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (SPEW), a group she starts to fight for the underclass toiling in Hogwarts’ kitchens. Harry and Ron first turn up their noses at Hermione, “but, in the end,” Ceraldi says, “grasping the value of house elves becomes pivotal to the triumph of good over evil.”
Morrison, the Laurier student, suggests that the theme of classism was inspired by Rowling’s own life. “Before she published Harry Potter, [Rowling] was a single mom who didn’t have a lot of money and relied on the government for a lot of what she was able to provide her children,” she points out.
Racism is exemplified in the mudbloods, people who come from muggle (non-magic) families and end up being capable of magic. At one point in the series, the mudbloods are accused of stealing wands from true witches and wizards, which leads to (ironically) a witch hunt.
Classism and racism were both considered by the Laurier chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance this year when they learned about child labour on African cocoa plantations and then collected signatures on a petition demanding Warner Bros. use fair trade chocolate in all their Potter treats.
But the Laurier chapter isn’t just for humanitarian work. Morrison says it’s also a place “where fans can get together and nerd out.” One just-for-fun meeting offered tea leaf readings.
Ceraldi says the Potter books offer more than social justice lessons. In her upcoming course they will provide an entry to other genres of fiction, including Gothic, dystopian and detective. Students may be asked to compare one book to a Sherlock Holmes novel and another to a story by Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell who, long before Rowling, used a mirror to symbolize self-reflection.
Though it’s not until January, Ceraldi is getting many e-mails from students wanting to sign up. They’re keen, she says, writing things like, ‘I am the person I am today because of those books.’
That, she says, is unsurprising. “They know these stories have incredible power and meaning.”
By Josh Dehaas - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 4:54 PM - 0 Comments
It’s Canada Goose nesting season at the University of Waterloo and that means students and staff are tiptoeing across campus avoiding sharp black beaks and mucky grey puddles.
“You don’t need to antagonize or even get near the nest for the alpha male to get aggressive,” says geography and environmental management student Alex Harris, who spent the past year studying the five-to-seven kilogram beasts.
Those alpha males and their pregnant partners take up residence in dozens of places at the sprawling Ontario campus every year where grassy lawns provide food, buildings offer shelter and there are few coyotes, foxes or wolves to keep them in check.
But they won’t be back next year if Harris has his way. He’s introduced a new predator. Molson, part Border Collie and part Golden Retriever, is a natural animal herder who happened to need “a way to burn off his energy and some work to do,” says Harris, who adopted him. In recent weeks the pair have twice daily chased the avian squatters off a large swath of campus. Harris, meanwhile, has recorded various observations and GPS coordinates for his undergraduate thesis.
Molson, it turns out, was just one of several innovative reactions Waterloo students and staff had in the past year to their sometimes mean and messy unofficial mascots. For example, the Student Success Office created #GooseWatch, allowing anyone to Tweet nest locations for a crowd-sourced map. The data was then turned into an application showing the best routes to steer clear.
Harris has been thinking of goose management since his first year on campus when he witnessed a confrontation between a friend and an angry bird. Later he worked with university groundskeepers and learned about their egg oiling program. They coat the eggs with mineral oil to prevent them from hatching. Although they leave a couple of the five to 10 eggs in each nest untouched, Harris sees the practice as somewhat unethical.
One day while walking a friend’s Golden Retriever, he noticed the dog had no trouble scaring away geese, and so he thought about the possibility of using a fake predator. His research turned up cases where Border Collies had been used to spook birds and so he got to work. The thesis isn’t done, but he says the experiment was a success. He believes the key is to scare the birds away before they nest. The dog technique is an innovation he thinks might spread to golf courses, parks and other lawns.
It’s not just technological and environmental innovations that have resulted from the geese. Social innovations have sprung up too.
Last April, campus bookstore employee and social development studies graduate Elaine Sanders was just finishing her degree when she noticed a graphic of an aggressive goose and the words ‘I survived nesting season’ spreading across Facebook walls. She tracked down the creator who shared the design. A year later, more than 1,000 t-shirts and mugs with the image have been sold.
Since then, two more t-shirts and stuffed geese have gone on sale. At $5.50 apiece, the t-shirts aren’t a profit-making project. They’re community building, says Sanders. “We had a low price for them because we wanted everyone on campus to have access,” she adds. “Whether people love, hate or are afraid of the geese, everyone can relate to the phrase, ‘I survived nesting season.’”
Kirsty Budd, a community manager in the Student Success Office, helped create the map. She saw it as a way to bring the campus together and a fun break from exams. “The geese really are part of our community,” she says. “We love them. I think people would miss them if they were gone.”
That may be true, but if Molson and Harris get their way, there will be less honking on campus.
By Josh Dehaas - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM - 0 Comments
I met Anna Drake, a University of Waterloo assistant professor, at a recent event in Toronto and asked: what are professors talking about these days? She said they’re discussing how many students are presenting with notes from counsellors or doctors saying they’ve been mentally unwell or extremely stressed and are in need of extensions or exam deferrals.
Drake, a political scientist, doesn’t recall this being an issue when she was an undergraduate or when she started teaching as a master’s student in 2001. But a few years ago, a professor warned her and other teaching assistants at Queen’s University that “it seemed to be fairly easy for students to get notes of this kind.” Too easy, perhaps.
Later, teaching her own course at the University of Victoria, she was surprised when four students out of roughly 40 presented with notes near the end of the term asking to defer their semesters.
At Waterloo, where she was hired last July, she’s only had one course deferral, but a handful of students in each class during each term ask for extensions. Drake sometimes suspects these students have faked extreme stress or illness to get out of their work, but she would never accuse.
“It would be a very risky move to tell a student, ‘I think you’re lying,’” she says, “because if you say that it might become this whole horrible issue.” If they’re telling the truth, there could be terrible consequences. And she does not want to stigmatize asking for help, she says. She makes clear that there is a real problem with mental health on campus and that many of the claims are legitimate.
Still, the awkward truth is that as more awareness is built around mental health, students may be shifting their strategies for getting out of school by faking extreme stress or anxiety. And how is anyone to know whether a student’s stress is normal or something more pathological?
This week, McGill University published a report on the huge increase in the number of students seeking various types of mental health services on campus: about 20 per cent year over year.
One figure that’s up even more dramatically—57 per cent in a single year—is the number of emergency drop-in visits during final exam months. In December 2011 there were 176. In December 2012 there were 277. Figures aren’t yet calculated for April, but Dr. Robert Franck, McGill’s Mental Health Services Director, says there’s been a comparable increase.
What’s causing the flood of exam-time emergencies? “[Students] are more interested in seeking help when they’re running into trouble and I think that’s great,” says Dr. Franck. “At the same time there are a number of students who think ‘this may be a way for me to defer an exam,’” he adds.
Sometimes Dr. Franck gets the sense that students, “read up the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] on some diagnosis and give you all the classic symptoms,” he says. “Do they get the note? If they’re good enough liars,” he says, “but I think that’s the vast minority.”
Whatever the number of fakers, it comes at a price. In December when the number of emergency drop-ins swelled so too did the waiting list for regular counselling appointments. It grew to four or five weeks long as regular appointments were cut back to deal with the emergencies.
That people who need help might not get it is concerning for Prof. Drake. Still, since each syllabus spells out that there will be no extensions for high workloads, it would be unfair to give some students more time without proof of an illness. She also thinks it’s best to send students to be assessed to make sure that people who are overwhelmed get the help they need, and also in the hopes that others would think twice about going to an overburdened counselling service.
Of course, not every student who wants to delay an exam presents an excuse note. “There are students who can be really clever about avoiding the need to get notes,” says Drake. “[Professors] will say, ‘go to the doctor and get a medical note,’ and they’ll say, ‘I called the doctor, he said you have Norwalk Virus, you’re contagious and you can’t come in.’ There’s nothing a professor can do.”
The truth is, says Drake, “if students want to cheat the system they don’t have to rely on mental health notes to do it.” Still, she says, it’s a shame when students use services that others truly need.
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Attention high school students: I don’t know you (unless I do, in which case: Hi!), but as a diploma-having university graduate who successfully completed an entire four-year degree program in only six years, I am fully qualified to guide you through your upcoming life transition.
I’ll admit a lot has changed during the past 20 years. For instance, that Salisbury steak I had one Tuesday in the residence cafeteria has pretty much worked its way through my system. Also, whereas I was taunted and pelted with eggs during Frosh Week, new guidelines now restrict upperclassmen to cocking one (1) eyebrow at newcomers for no more than 12 seconds. Consider yourselves hazed!
For further information on ﬁrst year, please consult this list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Q: What should I not do at university?
Don’t sweat the roommate thing.
These living arrangements couldn’t be more normal or natural. Dave—here’s Phil. You’ve never met, you may not be the least bit compatible, and each of you has at least one habit that will make the other guy want to punch you in the throat—but hey, enjoy the next eight months of stressful, high-stakes academics alongside a complete stranger in this cell-sized hellbox!
It’s fun to envision what awaits you. Maybe your roommate will instantly become your bestest friend and you’ll wear each other’s clothes. Or maybe she’ll have punishing body odour, night terrors and the world’s foremost collection of doom metal. Oh, good, it’s 6:30 a.m. and she’s playing Eyehategod again! All you can do is make the best of it. I knew two guys in residence who hated each other but found a way to tolerate life together by rarely coming into contact. Think of it as useful preparation for marriage.
Q: What should I deﬁnitely not do at university?
Plagiarizing is commonplace now. Recently, a researcher was even censured for his habit of self-plagiarizing. Self-plagiarizing? It’s not worth the risk of going blind, people!
At the risk of overdoing it with the slang preferred by today’s teens, I’m not some rule-loving dip stick from Squaresville who’s trying to play back-seat bingo with the Man. I myself pushed the boundaries as a student. Once I even composed an essay for a friend, who in the place of a mark received a note from the professor that said: “This is a terrific essay, Nick. Who wrote it?”
And that’s my point: if you plagiarize, you’ll get caught. THE ALL-SEEING EYE OF GOOGLE WILL FIND YOU. Kids today are always getting busted for cheating or plagiarizing and I just have to wonder why they don’t do things the old-fashioned way: put in a half-hearted effort, earn a terrible grade and make your parents wish you’d never been born. That method works, folks. It’s time-tested.
Q: What should I not, under any circumstances, do at university?
Don’t pass out in a ditch.
I haven’t done a lot of bone-stupid things in my life—but I did spend one entire night in a ditch during my second year at school. You may be thinking to yourself: I would never pass out in a ditch! But take it from me: drink enough (i.e. too much), stumble out of a bar, start sway-walking home and all of sudden those ditches start to looking pretty enticing, especially once you somersault into one.
Drinking is as much a part of university as later regretting having drunk so much. But here’s a general guideline worth following: it’s more fun to be the slightly tipsy person who experiences, remembers and possibly live tweets the mayhem than the blind-drunk fool who wakes up with a screaming hangover, no eyebrows and his pants filled with poop (his own, if he’s lucky).
Q: Hey, is there anything I should not do at university?
Don’t skip too many classes.
It’s thrilling to have full control over your life for the first time—and it’s fun to blow off the occasional lecture to do something more important, like nothing. But you don’t want to wind up like me. You are reading the words of a man who skipped so many classes in first year that he ended up having to withdraw from introductory geology. I still feel a wave of shame every time I see a—uh, what are those things called again?—oh yeah, a rock.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 6:01 AM - 0 Comments
Anyone born in 1991, the year Maclean’s produced our first University Issue, may have already finished an undergraduate degree by now, or may be in their final year. Certainly a lot has changed since then: on campus and on these pages. Everyone has grown up.
Over the past 22 years, our annual University Issue has gone from a first-of-its kind ranking of post-secondary institutions to an irreplaceable tool for Canadian students and their parents making the single biggest decision of a young person’s life. We have expanded significantly over the years, adding new surveys, correspondents and reams of easy-to-use data. We’ve also established a hefty online presence that includes a personalized ranking feature and other tools.
And yet the biggest changes have been going on at the schools themselves. There are currently over a million full-time and part-time students enrolled at Canadian universities, and their choices have never been greater. Continue…
By Mary Dwyer - Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 4:30 PM - 0 Comments
Maclean’s places universities in one of three categories, recognizing the differences in types of institutions, levels of research funding, the diversity of offerings, and the breadth and depth of graduate and professional programs. Primarily Undergraduate universities are largely focused on undergraduate education, tend to be smaller in size, and have relatively fewer graduate programs and graduate students. Those in the Comprehensive category have a signiﬁcant degree of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees. Medical Doctoral universities offer a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research; as well, all universities in this category have medical schools, which sets them apart in terms of the size of research grants.
This year, Maclean’s revised its classification of universities—the first change since 1992 when the categories were created—moving Brock, Ryerson and Wilfrid Laurier from the Primarily Undergraduate category to the Comprehensive category. The move is in response to both the number of graduate offerings at these universities and the size of the student body. Ryerson, with 20,000 full-time students, has always been an anomaly in terms of size in the Primarily Undergraduate category, where the full-time population at other schools ranges from roughly 2,000 to 7,000 students. Meanwhile, Brock and Wilfrid Laurier have doubled in size over the past decade with full-time student enrolment at each now standing at 15,000. In recent years, all three universities have significantly increased their graduate offerings. This trend, particularly at the master’s level, is not uncommon at some of the institutions in the Primarily Undergraduate category, but coupled with the size of the student body, the increase in graduate programs at Brock, Ryerson and Wilfrid Laurier translates into a lot more graduate students on campus.