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Leveller Web Publisher

Leveller Web Publisher has written 72 posts for The Leveller

Coastal Diss-patch: Graduate students work and learn far from campus

Amanda Murphy and Kelly Black

The relatively recent and still somewhat unusual opportunity to work and live far from campus is made possible by the Internet and new forms of digital pedagogy. However, we have quickly realized that within these new opportunities there exist unique challenges for those who work and study remotely.

Many graduate students face the difficulties of isolation. For those on-campus, there are opportunities to engage with the university community by attending talks, working on campus-based initiatives, and socializing in the grad pub.

For students working remotely, this lack of a campus-oriented schedule can be wholly replaced by the cycle of teaching, writing, and research. When isolated, this can be intensely overwhelming. Continuously working on a growing list of projects — rather than socializing, eating vegetables, or leaving the house — becomes the new normal.

If you work from home, like we do, it’s all too easy to sit around in your pajamas eating ketchup chips. Dissertation deadlines are mentally present but geographically distant.

That’s why it’s important to keep in touch with your department. Get news (and gossip!) from on-campus students and schedule regular online or phone appointments with your supervisors and supportive mentors. Work on fun and fulfilling collaborative projects (such as articles in the Leveller!) with fellow graduate students suffering from pajama-and-ketchup-chip-induced malaise. (In case our supervisors read this, we’ll add that we’re also co-authoring a peer-reviewed journal article.)

In your new location, try to attend public talks and get involved in local events. This was made easier for us when we both relocated to towns with nearby universities. It is hard to balance life in two places — you can’t give up your student status and forget your home institution, but you need to find ways to build a new community to supplement the one you left behind.

In our experiments with PhD-ing remotely to date, the division between here and there was made most clear when our fellow Teaching Assistants (TAs) took a strike vote and gave CUPE 4600 a strong bargaining mandate. As TAs for online courses, we continue to follow the struggle for a fair contract, but we remain unable to participate in the show of hands that follows discussion and debate.

Whether you’re off campus temporarily for fieldwork or indefinitely for personal reasons, know that you are not alone. As stay-at-home grad students, we offer these suggestions to the relocated and their supporters:

– Ask your department about plugging in to digital lectures and events. Encourage them to maintain an active presence on social media. Remember — you’re still paying tuition fees…

– Stay in touch with your friends back home!

– Build alliances and encourage inter-university cooperation. Student and labour unions are connected across Canada and have the potential to be an important resource for relocated students.

– Share your stories. If your friends are the ones missing from campus, let them know you’re thinking of them. Send them emails with pictures of Ottawa’s snow to remind them that they made a good decision to move somewhere warmer. Catch up with them at academic conferences, invite them to contribute to the departmental blog, or cut out this article and mail it to them.

– Share your desk. If students from other institutions have moved to your town, offer to share your work space, provide recommendations for quiet coffee shops, or invite them to grad activities. If unfamiliar faces attend talks at your university, get to know them and invite them to start a writing, walking, or reading group.

Although we miss the on-campus opportunities for free food, the challenges have also presented new opportunities to collaborate, expand our scholarship, and experiment with online pedagogy.

Whether you’re off-campus, on-campus, or in a host community, we hope sharing our experiences can help you build community, learn, and grow wherever your studies (and travels) take you.

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 6 (Mar/Apr 2014). 

A People’s Journalist: Honouring Ali Mustafa

In a way, I’m also fascinated by war – not in the gory sense but in the way it impacts us as human beings. What does it take away? What does it leave behind? Most importantly, what does it transform us into? These are the kinds of questions that interest me more than anything else as a journalist.

— Ali Mustafa


Driven by such large questions, freelance photojournalist Ali Mustafa did more than simply report on what he saw. He sought to understand events and put them in context. And he did not position himself as a neutral observer: Wherever he was, he was among the people – with the people.

In recent years, Mustafa travelled from his home in Toronto to report from Palestine, Egypt, and Syria, motivated by a need to provide critical coverage missing from mainstream media and to show the world what was happening to people in these places.

“I felt that Western mainstream media coverage of Syria leaves a lot to be desired. It’s important for journalists coming from a critical perspective to be in places like Syria to report in a more nuanced, informed, and contextualized way. The only way I could truly get a sense of the reality on the ground was to go there to figure it out for myself,” he said in a July 2013 interview for Upping the Anti.

Mustafa, 29, was killed on March 9 in Aleppo by a bomb reportedly dropped by the Syrian Air Force.

Attesting to Mustafa’s solidarity approach to journalism, professor and writer Justin Podur has described Mustafa as the best kind of journalist: a people’s journalist.

“He was a journalist in the sense that he went there, wherever there was, and wrote and documented, and photographed. But he was not a journalist in any of the bad ways. There was nothing careerist about him. He never pretended at any false objectivity – he was a people’s journalist and he believed in their struggles. Pretty much everything I ever saw him do, he did with this motivation. He never put himself above the people he was writing about. He put himself with them, instead,” wrote Podur.

Mustafa’s work has provided a vivid illustration of the need for solidarity and justice in journalism and in life.

The financial cost to Ali Mustafa’s family of recovering his body from Syria and bringing it home to Toronto has been estimated at $20,000. OPIRG-York is accepting donations on behalf of the family. Contributions can be made through the website: http://www.opirgyork.ca/

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 6 (Mar/Apr 2014). 

Crimes of Canada-Colombia free trade: Agreement fueling death and displacement

By: Miriam Katawazi 

 “Canadian Mining Destroys the Social Fabric!”  Credit: Mining Justice Alliance

“Canadian Mining Destroys the Social Fabric!” Credit: Mining Justice Alliance

Colombian human rights activists claim that the actions of Canadian extraction companies are threatening  the lives of Colombia’s Indigenous peoples.

Amnesty International Canada invited Colombian deputy justice Federico Guzmán Duque and another activist from the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, who wished to remain anonymous, to Ottawa to speak about the struggle Indigenous peoples in Colombia are facing.

Guzmán Duque emphasized the large number of Canadian extraction companies operating in Colombia through the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CCOFTA).

CCOFTA came into force in 2011 and aimed to lower trade barriers and increase opportunities for Canadian investors and exporters to benefit from a wide range of Colombian industries, from mining to manufacturing to oil and gas development. The following year, according to The Canadian Press, Canada provided “new market opportunities” for the export of banned assault-style weapons to Colombia.

Guzmán Duque said the Colombian government calls its mining sector “the mining locomotive” of the economy in order to attract foreign investment. The Canadian International Development Agency (now Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada) helped this happen by sponsoring a reform of Colombia’s mining code in 2001, effectively subjecting small-scale miners and artisans to the authority of large corporations.

He recounted that in some cases, the government uses extreme forms of violence to forcibly take Indigenous land and then give companies the right to use it.

According to Amnesty International, Colombia’s Indigenous peoples currently inhabit much of the land targeted for plantations, mines and oil and gas development. In a 2012 news release, Amnesty stated that “human rights abuses are often committed as a means to forcibly remove civilian communities from areas of economic interest.“

Guzmán Duque said that Indigenous peoples in Colombia have been stuck since 1964 in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict between leftist guerrillas and ultra-right paramilitaries.

“The war is more about profit and business,” he said, adding that Canadian corporations stand to benefit.

According to Daniel Tubb, a doctoral candidate working on mining issues in Colombia at Carleton University, the circumstances in rural Colombia around government seizure of Indigenous land make it difficult for any Canadian corporations to operate without “making things worse.”

But Canadian officials say there is no evidence that the CCOFTA is negatively impacting Colombia’s Indigenous peoples. Both Colombia and Canada are obliged under the CCOFTA to produce an annual report on human rights and free trade between the two countries. The most recent Canadian report by the Government of Canada concludes that “It is not possible to establish a direct link between the CCOFTA and the human rights situation in Colombia.”

However, a 2009 investigative report by MiningWatch Canada and CENSAT-Agua Viva suggested that there are “consistent and clear patterns in key areas where companies risk benefiting from human rights violations and/or benefiting those responsible for human rights violations.” It also noted that “resource-rich regions are the source of 87 per cent of forced displacements.”

In a public statement in 2013, Amnesty International expressed concern that the Harper government fails to “acknowledge widespread, grave human rights violations in Colombia – including ongoing threats and deadly attacks on trade unionists and community leaders seeking the return of stolen lands…in areas coveted for their natural resources.”

In the statement, Amnesty International Canada campaigner Kathy Price said that the Harper government has “deliberately chosen to interpret its reporting obligation in such a way that excludes any examination of the impact of Canadian investment.”

Tubb agrees that this report needs to be taken more seriously by the government. The complex issues surrounding foreign mining companies and local populations, while “stark and apparent in Colombia,” Tubb said, also apply to other regions within Latin America.

Paula Kelsall, a member of Amnesty International Canada, said that Guzmán Duque and other speakers were invited to show the urgency of the situation in Colombia to Canadians. She stressed that human rights in Colombia should be a priority for Canadians, since “Our two countries have quite a close relationship, with a lot of economic ties.”

Amnesty invited the visitors to give a presentation for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity. On Feb. 6, Guzmán Duque gave a more detailed version of the presentation at Amnesty International’s office in Ottawa. He explained that displacement is extremely harmful to the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples because of difficulty adapting to urban areas.

“There is a fundamental link between the Indigenous people and their land…without this link, they face physical and cultural extermination.”

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 6, No. 6 (Mar/Apr 2014).

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