Western News https://news.westernu.ca Western University's newspaper of record since 1972 Fri, 22 Nov 2019 01:31:09 +0000 en-CA hourly 1 https://news.westernu.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/back_issues/2018/06/WN_June_21-web.pdf https://news.westernu.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/back_issues/2018/06/WN_June_21-web-114x150.jpg 5.74MB Survey eyes costs of partner violence in workplace https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/survey-eyes-costs-of-partner-violence-in-workplace/ Fri, 22 Nov 2019 01:31:09 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35205 Starting Nov. 25, Western community members will be able to participate in a university-led academic survey, 'Intimate partner violence and its financial costs,' that hopes to determine the extent to which intimate-partner violence impacts survivors, perpetrators and witnesses at the university workplace.

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Western researchers looking into the effects of intimate-partner violence on employers are turning to the university community for help.

Next week, faculty, staff, post-doctoral scholars and graduate teaching assistants will be able to participate in a Western-led academic survey, Intimate partner violence and its financial costs, that hopes to determine the extent to which intimate-partner violence impacts survivors, perpetrators and witnesses at the university workplace.

“We will translate those effects into a total cost measure and ultimately a measure of the impact of intimate-partner violence on the total productivity of workers at Western,” explained Economics professor Audra Bowlus, who leads the survey with Education professor Barb MacQuarrie.

“The results will help Western recognize that these impacts and costs exist. By providing support, training and services, Western can mitigate the costs by helping its employees and by creating a better workplace for all. In addition, the findings will help Western to know better where to direct resources and how best to help their employees.”

Western is the first institutional survey in North America to participate.

Western community members may access the survey via links sent to Western email accounts on Monday, Nov. 25, or by a direct link to the survey site. A private space/computer is also available in Room M16 located on the mezzanine in The D.B. Weldon Library.

The anonymous survey responses will be kept confidential. While respondents are asked to indicate their faculty or unit, the results will not be attributed to individuals.

Approved through Western’s Ethics Committee, the survey runs through Dec. 13 and coincides with an international campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.

“It is important all employees at Western take the survey, whether they have been directly affected by intimate-partner violence or not,” said MacQuarrie, Director of Western’s Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children. “The only way we will be able to isolate the patterns related to intimate-partner violence is for both those affected by it in some way and those who have not been affected to take the survey.”

When it comes to intimate-partner violence, more than 1-in-3 women, and just under 1-in-6 men, have experienced it during their lifetime. Not confined to the home, many have reported its effect on their ability to get to and perform well at work.

Presently, limited data exists into its financial costs to employers in Canada – making it difficult for employers to relate to the problem or even see it as a problem that directly impacts them.

MacQuarrie and others have shown how workplaces can be affected by intimate-partner violence, including the victims, perpetrators and even co-workers. There have been some high-profile cases, including Chatham resident Theresa Vince, killed in 1996 by her boss after years of relentless sexual harassment.

Such outcomes are likely what people associate most when asked about how intimate-partner violence affects the workplace, Bowlus said. However, there are many other ways that intimate-partner violence can affect people at work.

“This may come in the form of being stressed about their home situation, being injured and unable to perform their job well, being distracted by incoming messages, texts and phone calls from their (ex)-partner or worried about their (ex)-partner showing up at work or contacting a co-worker,” Bowlus said.

“There is also evidence that intimate-partner violence affects the work ability of perpetrators as they deal with what has happened at home. Perpetrators are most likely to cause or almost cause accidents in their workplaces.”

Co-workers may also be affected by being stressed about what is happening to their friend/co-worker or taking on extra work if their co-worker is absent.

“Our limited experience has demonstrated when employers take an interest in this issue and begin to provide support, it increases employee engagement,” Bowlus said.

Following the Western-focused survey, researchers plan to extend the work across Canada and internationally.

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University revises policy on sexual, gender violence https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/university-revises-policy-on-sexual-gender-violence/ Thu, 21 Nov 2019 20:26:29 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35217 A newly revised Policy on Gender-based and Sexual Violence improves the process for disclosure and support at the university, while also shining a brighter spotlight on education and prevention, according to Western officials.

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A newly revised Policy on Gender-based and Sexual Violence improves the process for disclosure and support at the university, while also shining a brighter spotlight on education and prevention, according to Western officials.

Approved on Thursday by the Board of Governors, the policy will take effect May 2020. The intervening six months will be spent putting into place the strategies and mechanisms for implementation.

“Western has been a leader in the field of gender-based and sexual violence education and prevention in Canada for some time,” said Jennifer Massey, Associate Vice-President (Student Experience). “We’re an institution that believes in deep, holistic, enriched educational experiences. Helping people understand the breadth of gender-based violence, and their role in addressing and eliminating it, is an important part of that.”

This revision – with significant input from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as others across campus – makes education, prevention, disclosure process and support even stronger, she said.

“There have been significant improvements,” added Cat Dunne, Vice-President of Western’s University Students’ Council (USC) and a member of the Policy Review Committee. That includes, she said, inclusion of the term ‘rape culture’ in the document, and improved transparency and process for disclosures, especially in residences.

In March, in response to the Ontario Student Voices on Sexual Violence Survey, Western committed to revising its 2017 policy.

“At that time, we promised more would be done. We also said that involves really listening to our students,” Massey said. “What is important to the policy change is that it involves some deep listening with our student community and also with our staff and faculty.”

Key differences from the 2017 policy include:

  • A more streamlined process that provides more consistency, clarity and accessibility in how students can make disclosures of sexual violence, how those disclosures will be handled and how students can be connected with supports;
  • Better education about sexual violence on campus and an improved culture about sexual violence;
  • Improved communications about the policy and procedures; and
  • More opportunities for ongoing feedback from students, staff and faculty.

“We got a lot of really thoughtful and helpful and constructive critiques of the current policy that we were able to use to make a new policy that is even more survivor-centric and easier to use,” Massey said.

The revisions integrate a complaints process into the policy (instead of its inclusion only in the Code of Student Conduct). Sanctions against offenders can range from a written reprimand to expulsion from campus.

“In the past, if a respondent was unhappy with the outcome of an investigation, in certain circumstances they would have the right to appeal. We’ve now extended that right to appeal to the complainant, as well. That’s a really important change,” Massey said.

The upstander program developed here, and now used at university campuses across Ontario and elsewhere, will also be expanded beyond consent and into treating gender-based violence prevention as a public health concern.

Dunne said it is important students continue to provide input into what works, or what doesn’t, about this policy as it rolls out across campus.

Consultation on the policy this year included two campus-wide surveys to students, staff, and faculty, two phases of open focus groups and collaboration with the USC and the Society of Graduate Students.

Massey said the revisions make this “an incredibly strong” policy that balances survivors’ needs and respondents’ rights to due process; and offers leadership that provides the campus community with “all of the education and training that it needs in order to help us to reduce, with a goal of eliminating, gender-based violence.”

In a related but separate report to Board of Governors, the number of disclosures to the gender-based violence and survivor case support manager totalled 122 between May 2018 and May 2019. That’s an increase from 90 disclosures the previous year.

Massey said the increase suggests improved campus supports, and greater student confidence in those supports, and that the process for disclosure is clea, compassionate and effective. comes with an expectation of more disclosures.

Also in the past year, there were 24 formal complaints and investigations of sexual assault, five of sexual harassment and one of indecent exposure. (National statistics show one in five female students will experience sexual violence before they leave university or college and that  more than 80 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported to police.)

The board was told that similar summaries of disclosure numbers will come forward each June.

*   *   *

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

If you have experienced sexual violence and would like support from the university, please contact our Gender-Based Violence & Survivor Support Case Manager

at (519) 661-3568 or support@uwo.ca

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Researchers recognized for high citations https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/researchers-recognized-for-high-citations/ Thu, 21 Nov 2019 16:24:25 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35216 Four Western professors have been lauded for their multiple highly cited research papers, according to the Highly Cited Researchers 2019 list from the Web of Science Group, released this week.

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Four Western professors have been lauded for their multiple highly cited research papers, according to the Highly Cited Researchers 2019 list from the Web of Science Group, released this week.

Epidemiology & Biostatistics professor Brian Feagan (Clinical Medicine category), Ivey Business School professor Klaus Meyer (Economics and Business category) and Mechanical and Materials Engineering professors Ruying Li and Andy Sun (Cross-Field category – two or more categories) have each been recognized for their work.

The list identifies scientists and social scientists who produced multiple papers ranking in the top 1 per cent by citations for their field and year of publication, demonstrating significant research influence among their peers.

The data is taken from 21 broad research fields defined by sets of journals and exceptionally, in the case of multidisciplinary journals such as Nature and Science, by a paper-by-paper assignment to a field based on an analysis of the cited references in the papers.

Some key findings:

  • The list includes 6,217 Highly Cited Researchers in various fields from nearly 60 nations;
  • The United States is home to the highest number of Highly Cited Researchers, with 2,737 authors, representing 44 per cent of the researchers on the list. Canada was sixth on the list, after China, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia;
  • The list includes 23 Nobel laureates and 57 Citation Laureate (individuals recognized by the Web of Science Group through citation analysis, who are ‘of Nobel class’ and potential Nobel Prize recipients);
  • A total of 3,517 researchers are celebrated for their performance in the 21 fields, and 2,492 for cross-field performance, for a total of 6,009 unique researchers, as some Highly Cited Researchers appear in more than one field. This is the second year that researchers with cross-field impact – those with exceptional broad performance based on high-impact papers across several fields – have been identified.

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Western, RBC team up on data analytics, AI https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/western-rbc-team-up-on-data-analytics-ai/ Thu, 21 Nov 2019 16:06:07 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35202 The next generation of leaders will be better armed against unprecedented technical transformation thanks to a new partnership between Western and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) that will establish a program focused on the ethical and social aspects of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), university officials announced today.

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The next generation of leaders will be better armed against unprecedented technical transformation thanks to a new partnership between Western and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) that will establish a program focused on the ethical and social aspects of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), university officials announced today.

A $3-million investment by RBC has established The RBC Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Project at Western, an expansion of the university’s ongoing cross-disciplinary work in data analytics and AI focused on answering big questions for the good of society.

RBC’s backing helps take that work to the next level, while training the next generation of experts, explained Western President Alan Shepard.

“This investment is a catalyst to help Western provide tomorrow’s leaders with the skillset they’ll need to navigate a world full of data and find solutions to the challenges they will inevitably face during their careers,” Shepard said Thursday. “We’re excited to be partnering with RBC to help provide and promote training of 21st-century talent that’s not only technically proficient, but also ethically and socially aware.”

The partnership also builds on RBC’s commitment to invest in Canada’s tech-talent ecosystem, creating opportunities for RBC experts to share cutting-edge, real-life cases and help prepare future leaders for the jobs of tomorrow.

It brings together two prominent Canadian institutions that are leading the way in preparing students with the skills needed to succeed in today’s increasingly complex digital economy, said Bruce Ross, BESc’85, Group Head, Technology and Operations at RBC.

“Collaboration between industry, government and academia will help to drive the future success of Canada,” Ross continued. “Artificial intelligence and big data are some of the most transformative technologies impacting the world today, and we saw a huge opportunity to partner with Western, a leading university, to prepare the next generation of talent with the knowledge, skills and experiences needed to drive that success.”

The project consists of a series of integrated components, including:

  • Two new courses focusing on the ethical and social aspects of data analytics and AI. In collaboration with RBC leaders and technology experts, courses will be developed in Science and Engineering faculties and work to address the social impact and ethical use of big data and AI on individuals, organizations and society;
  • Establishment of two scholarship funds in Data Science and Software Engineering. The RBC Scholarship in Data Scienceand RBC Scholarship in Software Engineering are available to third-year Science and Engineering students and valued at $25,000 each – these will be available beginning in 2020. Scholarships will help support students as they build a solid base of knowledge and technical training required for careers in big data.
  • A Design Thinking Program open to Western students focusing on science, technology, engineering or math. The program will build skillsets in design thinking and coding. Successful applicants will receive a $3,500 stipend and have the potential for an internship opportunity at RBC.

The courses, scholarships and design-thinking program will create meaningful opportunities to help students establish the skills, experience, and networks they need to successfully start their careers after graduation, including potential work-integrated learning and internships, Western officials said.

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Case implicates vaping compounds in lung injury https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/case-implicates-vaping-compounds-in-lung-injury/ Thu, 21 Nov 2019 16:00:32 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35210 For the first time in Canada, researchers have connected a life-threatening lung injury to e-cigarettes, a discovery that should change the conversation around the popular products.

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For the first time in Canada, researchers have connected a life-threatening lung injury to e-cigarettes, a discovery that should change the conversation around the popular products.

In the study, researchers from Western, Lawson Health Research Institute and University Health Network describe a case of life-threatening bronchiolitis in a 17-year-old Ontario male who initially sought care after a week of persistent cough. He was eventually hospitalized needing life support in the intensive care unit.

After ruling out other causes in the previously healthy teen, researchers suspected flavoured e-liquids as the culprit. The patient had been vaping daily using a variety of flavoured cartridges and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

The case differs from those described in the recent rise of vaping-related lung injuries called EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury), characterized by a specific type of damage called alveolar injury.

This case instead represents a lung injury that appears similar to ‘popcorn lung,’ a condition seen in microwave popcorn factory workers exposed to the chemical diacetyl. The condition causes bronchiolitis where the small airways in the lungs become inflamed and damaged.

“This case of life-threatening bronchiolitis was challenging. The damage appeared similar to that seen in factory workers exposed to diacetyl,” said Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Dr. Karen Bosma, a Lawson scientist and critical care specialist at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). “Given the patient’s vaping activity and the absence of other causes, we suspect his lungs became damaged from vaping compounds.”

The youth narrowly avoided the need for a double-lung transplant. He spent a total of 47 days in hospital and suffered chronic damage to his airways. He is currently recovering from his lengthy intensive care unit stay and is abstaining from e-cigarettes, marijuana and tobacco.

Earlier this fall, the Middlesex-London Health Unit reported on the youth’s condition as the first case of vaping-related lung injury in Canada as an early warning. This research case study provides detailed medical information on the extent and type of injury, as well as treatment.

Emerging reports indicate that e-cigarettes are causing a variety of lung illnesses and injuries. According to a 2017 report, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used nicotine products by Canadian youth with an estimated 272,000 reporting use within the last 30 days.

“E-liquids expose users to several potentially harmful chemicals. While we can’t be sure of the exact mechanism in this case, it was reported to Health Canada for further investigation. It highlights the need for further research into the safety and toxicity of e-liquid compounds, and awareness of the various types of lung injury that can result from vaping,” said Schulich Medicine & Dentistry professor Dr. Constance Mackenzie, a respirologist and toxicologist at LHSC and St. Joseph’s Health Care London.

The study, Life-threatening bronchiolitis related to electronic cigarette use in a Canadian youth, was published today in CMAJ.

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Opera at Western offers tale of triple-triangle love https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/opera-offers-tale-of-triple-triangle-love/ Wed, 20 Nov 2019 16:27:51 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35199 Opera at Western are thrilled to bring Mozart’s musical tale of a triple-love triangle to the Paul Davenport Theatre stage this week.

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Mistaken and hidden identities. Would be – but impossible – lovers. Hilarious misconceptions. Sounds like an episode of the classic 1970’s sitcom Three’s Company. While from the 70s – the 1770s to be exact – The Secret Gardener tells the tale of love, madness and redemption. Opera at Western are thrilled to bring Mozart’s musical tale of a triple-love triangle to the Paul Davenport Theatre stage this week with performances Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Advance tickets are $30/$20 (general admission/students and seniors), with doors sales of $35/$25 (cash only). You can purchase tickets in advance online, in person or by phone at 519-672-8800 via the Grand Theatre Box Office.

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Brainstorm: Exploring concussion for non-athletes https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/brainstorm-exploring-concussion-for-non-athletes/ Wed, 20 Nov 2019 15:09:03 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35165 The majority of brain injuries are not sport-related. How do we help individuals who are injured in car accidents, workplace incidents, assaults or falls?

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The majority of brain injuries are not sport-related. How do we help individuals who are injured in car accidents, workplace incidents, assaults or falls? Health Sciences professor Laura Graham explores how we can translate what we’ve learned from sport and apply it more broadly to enhance patient care.

This is the second video of a four-part series, Brainstorm: Straight Talk on Concussion, produced by the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Click here to revisit Part 1 where Dr. Lisa Fischer debunks concussion myths and outlines best practices, policies and guidelines around concussion or visit the Brainstorm homepage for a preview of upcoming videos.

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Physical activity needs to be in play at childcare https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/physical-activity-needs-to-be-in-play-at-childcare/ Wed, 20 Nov 2019 14:58:16 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35160 Given the increasingly busy schedules of today’s families, parents often rely on ECEs in childcare centres to supply children with their daily physical activity. But are they prepared for the challenge?

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Many children are now enrolled in some type of childcare while their parents work, many for multiple hours a day, several days a week.

Given the increasingly busy schedules of today’s families, parents often rely on early childhood educators (ECEs) in childcare centres to supply children with their daily physical activity, as well as other opportunities for nurturing their development.

TUCKER

But are they prepared for the challenge? The evidence suggests we may be placing an unfair burden on these education specialists.

Physical activity, in the form of active play, offers many benefits – physically, cognitively and socially. New Canadian and international guidelines from the World Health Organization identify the need for young children to participate in daily heart-pumping physical activity.

We both have doctoral degrees in health promotion, with a particular emphasis on physical activity in the early years. Our research in the Child Health and Physical Activity Lab at Western shows that young children in childcare are not meeting national or international guidelines on physical acitivity. Specifically, they are not getting enough moderate to vigorous intensity activity.

This places our kids at a huge disadvantage from a physical, psychological and social development perspective.

Childcare providers need better training

In one study of Ontario-based childcare providers, ECEs identified that they lack confidence to develop opportunities and to engage young children in physical activity during childcare hours.

VANDERLOO

This means that teacher education and professional development opportunities that teach ‘how much’ and ‘how to’ lead physical activity opportunities are essential training.

We also need to support ECEs with appropriate equipment and resources. Dedicated gross motor space (outdoors and indoors, for when the weather is bad) and portable play equipment, such as balls, hoops and logs, are essential for getting kids to hop, skip, jump and run.

Children 10 times more active outdoors

Finally, the importance of outdoor free play needs to be emphasized – as an easy and inexpensive way to increase physical activity levels among this young population.

Our research suggests that children are 10 times more active outdoors than indoors in childcare. So getting kids (and adults) outside, regardless of the weather, supports their movement endeavours.

Outdoor play among young children has been associated with improved self-confidence, self-awareness and decision-making.

Outdoor play is also associated with increased access to better air quality (compared to indoors) – thus decreasing children’s exposure to common allergens (e.g., dust, mould, pet dander) and infectious diseases.

Research into action

Research has identified the influence of childcare centres and staff on the physical activity levels of young children. Now is the time to put this knowledge into action.

Creating physical activity policies, supporting professional development and training in ECE diploma programs prior to entering the workforce, and consistent provision of varied portable equipment and outdoor play are key places to start.

However, there is still lots we need to know. How can we integrate more movement into educators’ daily programming with kids? How can we make lesson plans more active? What can be done to maximize opportunities for gross motor movement indoors? More research is needed.

We are addressing this need with research which we hope will support and inform early childhood care settings. Such supports could include daily opportunities for short, frequent outdoor play periods. It could include educating children about the importance of moving their bodies daily along with active role modelling and positive prompts to kids when they engage in active play.

Occupational Therapy professor Trish Tucker is Director of the Child Health and Physical Activity Lab at Western. Leigh Vanderloo is an adjunct professor in the Child Health and Physical Activity Lab. This article originally appeared in The Conversation.

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Reichelt: What science says about the brain and sugar https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/reichelt-what-science-says-about-the-brain-and-sugar/ Tue, 19 Nov 2019 19:05:11 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35126 As a neuroscientist my research centres on how modern day ‘obesogenic,’ or obesity-promoting, diets change the brain. I want to understand how what we eat alters our behaviour and whether brain changes can be mitigated by other lifestyle factors.

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We love sweet treats. But too much sugar in our diets can lead to weight gain and obesity, Type 2 diabetes and dental decay. We know we shouldn’t be eating candy, ice cream, cookies, cakes and drinking sugary sodas, but sometimes they are so hard to resist.

It’s as if our brain is hardwired to want these foods.

As a neuroscientist my research centres on how modern day ‘obesogenic,’ or obesity-promoting, diets change the brain. I want to understand how what we eat alters our behaviour and whether brain changes can be mitigated by other lifestyle factors.

Your body runs on sugar – glucose to be precise. Glucose comes from the Greek word glukos which means sweet. Glucose fuels the cells that make up our body – including brain cells (neurons).

Dopamine ‘hits’ from eating sugar

On an evolutionary basis, our primitive ancestors were scavengers. Sugary foods are excellent sources of energy, so we have evolved to find sweet foods particularly pleasurable. Foods with unpleasant, bitter and sour tastes can be unripe, poisonous or rotting – causing sickness.

So to maximize our survival as a species, we have an innate brain system that makes us like sweet foods since they’re a great source of energy to fuel our bodies.

When we eat sweet foods the brain’s reward system – called the mesolimbic dopamine system – gets activated. Dopamine is a brain chemical released by neurons and can signal that an event was positive. When the reward system fires, it reinforces behaviours – making it more likely for us to carry out these actions again.

Dopamine ‘hits’ from eating sugar promote rapid learning to preferentially find more of these foods.

Our environment today is abundant with sweet, energy rich foods. We no longer have to forage for these special sugary foods – they are available everywhere. Unfortunately, our brain is still functionally very similar to our ancestors, and it really likes sugar.

So what happens in the brain when we excessively consume sugar?

Can sugar rewire the brain?

The brain continuously remodels and rewires itself through a process called neuroplasticity. This rewiring can happen in the reward system. Repeated activation of the reward pathway by drugs or by eating lots of sugary foods causes the brain to adapt to frequent stimulation, leading to a sort of tolerance.

In the case of sweet foods, this means we need to eat more to get the same rewarding feeling – a classic feature of addiction.

Food addiction is a controversial subject among scientists and clinicians. While it is true that you can become physically dependent on certain drugs, it is debated whether you can be addicted to food when you need it for basic survival.

The brain wants sugar, then more sugar

Regardless of our need for food to power our bodies, many people experience food cravings, particularly when stressed, hungry or just faced with an alluring display of cakes in a coffee shop.

To resist cravings, we need to inhibit our natural response to indulge in these tasty foods. A network of inhibitory neurons is critical for controlling behaviour. These neurons are concentrated in the prefrontal cortex – a key area of the brain involved in decision-making, impulse control and delaying gratification.

Inhibitory neurons are like the brain’s brakes and release the chemical GABA. Research in rats has shown that eating high-sugar diets can alter the inhibitory neurons. The sugar-fed rats were also less able to control their behaviour and make decisions.

Importantly, this shows that what we eat can influence our ability to resist temptations and may underlie why diet changes are so difficult for people.

A recent study asked people to rate how much they wanted to eat high-calorie snack foods when they were feeling hungry versus when they had recently eaten. The people who regularly ate a high-fat, high-sugar diet rated their cravings for snack foods higher even when they weren’t hungry.

This suggests that regularly eating high-sugar foods could amplify cravings – creating a vicious circle of wanting more and more of these foods.

Sugar can disrupt memory formation

Another brain area affected by high sugar diets is the hippocampus – a key memory centre.

Research shows that rats eating high-sugar diets were less able to remember whether they had previously seen objects in specific locations before.

The sugar-induced changes in the hippocampus were both a reduction of newborn neurons, which are vital for encoding memories, and an increase in chemicals linked to inflammation.

How to protect your brain from sugar?

The World Health Organization advises that we limit our intake of added sugars to five per cent of our daily calorie intake, which is 25g (six teaspoons). Considering the average Canadian adult consumes 85g (20 teaspoons) of sugar per day, this is a big diet change for many.

Importantly, the brain’s neuroplasticity capabilities allow it to reset to an extent following cutting down on dietary sugar, and physical exercise can augment this process. Foods rich in omaga-3 fats (found in fish oil, nuts and seeds) are also neuroprotective and can boost brain chemicals needed to form new neurons.

While it’s not easy to break habits like always eating dessert or making your coffee a double-double, your brain will thank you for making positive steps.

The first step is often the hardest. These diet changes can often get easier along the way.

Western Postdoctoral Scholar Amy Reichelt is a BrainsCAN Research Associate and a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute. This article originally appeared in The Conversation.

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Senate questions Library collections plan https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/senate-questions-library-collections-plan/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 21:31:17 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35153 Western Libraries faced questions from Senators having difficulty with the way the university plans to turn the page on traditional ways of housing its collection in favour of a long-planned renovation to library physical space and an expanded digital collection.

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Western Libraries faced questions from Senators having difficulty with the way the university plans to turn the page on traditional ways of housing its collection in favour of a long-planned renovation to library physical space and an expanded digital collection.

In the end, the discussion was just that – a discussion with no voting action required of the governing body. The library project continues, as planned.

The D.B. Weldon Library revitalization project involves a number of changes to the near half century-old building, including new spaces for individual work, small-group collaboration, and community-engagement activities and performances, as well as new staff workspace.

Part of the project involves moving staff from the Mezzanine to a renovated fifth floor, converting the current space to half staff use and half study space. The stacks currently housed on that floor would be redistributed.

Senate discussion centred mainly on plans to relocate some “low-use materials” to storage facilities in order to make room for renovations.

Lower-use materials – defined as material not checked out in 10 years or more – remain a part of the Western Libraries collection and are discoverable through the catalogue and continue to be available for use, Jennifer Robinson, Associate Chief Librarian (User Experience and Student Engagement), told Senate at its regular meeting Friday.

The relocated books will be stored in one of two areas: a London-based storage facility and a shared high-density storage and preservation facility located at the University of Toronto’s Downsview Campus in North Toronto.

The Keep@Downsview project brings together university libraries at Western, Toronto, Ottawa, McMaster and Queen’s in a shared print preservation initiative among the five institutions. According to library officials, the partnership is part of a larger movement in higher education for universities to share resources and costs related to preservation of the scholarly record.

From Western’s collection of 5 million items, 175,300 volumes were deemed low-use and stored locally, with 45,000 volumes moved to Downsview.

Pre-submitted questions from two Senators – Sam Trosow and Jane Toswell – formed the basis of the discussion on everything from the faculty role in library decision-making, to the eroding possibility of serendipitous research, to the status of donated collections, to the care for rare books and special collections, including The John Davis Barnett Collection.

“I have colleagues who have hundreds of books from the Barnett Collection in their offices because in the last week, they have gone over and sorted through the shelves for what is remaining over there, found Barnett books and fear giving them to you guys. They have literally taken them into their offices, where their plan is to hold onto them, as a safe space,” Toswell said.

Staff responsible for pulling low-use material were trained to identify and set aside items from the Barnett Collection, Robinson said. The Special Collections librarian will review those materials and relocate them to the rare book room, as appropriate.

Senators also questioned the term “low-use” and how the whole process has been communicated.

They suggested re-establishing Library Committees in the faculties as a better way of communicating.

“We would welcome Library Committees,” Robinson said. “But to be honest, our experience over the last few years is that they were not well-attended and they did not tend to produce anything. We need to resurrect them. I agree. The fact there are so many people interested bodes well for us being able to re-invigorate that as a method of working with our users.”

Robinson admitted Western Libraries could have done a better job with change management. As part of trying to correct that, the Western Libraries team met with Arts and Humanities colleagues in a town hall format on Nov. 14.

Opened in 1972, The D.B. Weldon Library is ‘past-due’ for a revitalization with only minor upgrades since its opening.

The Western Libraries Space Master Plan is a long-term roadmap to transform library spaces and facilities “for future needs, to adapt old spaces and create new ones where people can learn, research and collaborate.” Developed with significant input over the course of 18-20 months and approved in 2017, the plan proposes improvements to all library spaces on campus.

Estimated costs of renovations to Weldon are pegged at $33.4 million of which $15 million is approved for the first phase.

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Pursuit of happiness proves elusive for study https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/pursuit-of-happiness-proves-elusive-for-study/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 20:51:14 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35148 There may be no single key to personal happiness, but it doesn’t hurt to be healthy, wealthy and like where you live. While those findings may make some people happy, others find happiness in different ways – and that is still something to smile about, according to researchers.

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Paul Mayne//Western NewsRebecca Pschibul, MA’19 (Counselling Psychology), sought out a universal key to unlock happiness with her recent international study.

There may be no single key to personal happiness, but it doesn’t hurt to be healthy, wealthy and like where you live. While those findings may make some people happy, others find happiness in different ways – and that is still something to smile about, according to researchers.

“We seem to expect that happiness is this one big thing and we need it all the time. We think if we’re not happy there’s something wrong with us – that bad emotions are bad and we need to get rid of them,” explained Rebecca Pschibul, MA’19 (Counselling Psychology).

“We, in fact, don’t have to be happy all the time. It’s not even possible to be happy all the time.”

Pschibul, along with University of Windsor Psychology professor Kenneth Cramer, recently asked people across the globe about their personal happiness, all in search of commonalities – a ‘key to happiness,’ if you will.

Drawing from cities across North America, Asia and Europe, the researchers looked at satisfaction with various elements of city life, including economics, culture and education, income, safety, living conditions, city administration, health, city pride and self-reported levels of happiness.

Perhaps sadly, they determined no universal key to happiness actually exists. However, the greatest common predictor was health, with pride in one’s city second and household income third.

Those findings are still telling, researchers stressed.

“How does your city affect your happiness?” asked Pschibul, who conducted the study while completing her master’s degree. “It makes sense because if you’re living in London, and you’re happy with the safety, government and experience of living here, then you are happy. If you think of Syria, where do they find their happiness?”

The researchers also tested stereotypes around happiness, such as ‘money makes you happy’ and ‘religion makes you happy.’

“Happiness is a very fleeting construct. You can be really happy if you win the lottery, but that state of happiness is not going to last. It will fade,” Pschibul said. “We found social factors of happiness were stronger predictors than something like religion which, I suppose, you could say has a sort of social aspect to it.”

Happiness is a complex, moving target, she added. If it’s just wealth, for instance, that is an easy fix. But it is an array of factors playing together.

“It’s challenging because of the assumption of what happiness really means. If we had a key to happiness, then what would happiness even mean, because we all had it,” she said. “We would adjust to that level of happiness and then we no longer have happiness because that level is no longer good enough.

“It’s subjective thing, even the meaning in our words. I could say happiness is associated with a memory or an experience, and for you it would be completely different.”

Pschibul also found age was also a variable. Old-age happiness declines a bit, but there are things that buffer it, such having enough money, volunteer opportunities and social engagement, and overall health.

Rather than attempting to find a one-size-fits-all solution across the globe, Pschibul said the study reveals a greater understanding of the relevant elements that could be used to promote greater quality of urban life.

“This could influence policy when it comes to planning for urban centres,” she said. “If we (city) have those components that people care about like health, income, opportunities in the city for socializing, it’s something policy-makers can tap into top learn how they can make their city more livable and more desirable for people to stay and be happy.”

While there is no magic pill for happiness, Pschibul does recommend more of a focus of the good.

“A lot of times we pay more attention to the negatives in our lives – that is actually a bias within us that’s completely normal. We remember them and they are always going to stand out more,” she said. “If we take moments to be more present in our lives, and to check in with the things we might be grateful for, or things that are going well for us, it would help us balance out that negative bias.”

The findings were published in the aptly named International Journal of Happiness and Development.

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Daley: Data demands drive our disruption https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/daley-data-demands-drive-our-disruption/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 16:25:43 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=34533 As we stand at the precipice of major disruption, the role of the university in our society is, paradoxically, more essential than ever. Demands on contemporary workers and citizens are profound and require thoughtful, and broad, enabling educational strategies.

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Have your say: Join the conversation on developing the university’s first-ever digital strategy by attending its first town-hall meeting at 10 a.m. on Nov. 19 in the McKellar Room, University Community Centre (UCC). Visit the Western Data website or contact Mark Daley, Special Advisor to the President on Data Strategy.

*   *   *

We’re at the dawn of a global disruption in higher education.

Arizona State University (ASU) has been lauded in some quarters for making significant changes to how they do business. But even ASU remains rooted in the same blueprint for the contemporary American research university that Johns Hopkins University created nearly five generations ago as a bold reaction to the demands of the industrializing society of the 19th century.

DALEY

Where is our bold reaction to the information society of the 21st century?

Society looks to us to educate its citizens, and to act as a generator, and reservoir, of knowledge and culture. But society is outgrowing us faster than we are adapting.

As we stand at the precipice of major disruption, our role in our society is, paradoxically, more essential than ever. Demands on contemporary workers and citizens are profound and require thoughtful, and broad, enabling educational strategies.

The cadence of basic and applied research feeding our economic engines is faster with each passing year, too. At the same time, these technological advances present troubling new social challenges.

One need only look at the Cambridge Analytica scandal to see that corporations driven by shareholder value are not inclined to self-regulate, and governments do not yet have the policy expertise to regulate.

We do.

So, then, if our survival is essential, how do we survive?

We might learn from ongoing disruption in other sectors. Nowhere has the information revolution progressed more than in the tech industry, at the front of which are the ‘FANG’ companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google).

Let’s pick Netflix as an instructive example and ask a single question: What made Netflix different from Blockbuster Video?

There are, of course, many good answers to this question – from Netflix’s Grove-inspired management practices, to its radical approach to corporate governance – but the simplest, most accurate, answer is that Netflix turned their data into action.

Netflix employs a popular recommender system to suggest what you should binge-watch next. This feature was not, however, originally driven as an improvement to customer experience, but as an exercise in inventory management.

When Netflix was in the business of shipping physical media by mail, they found most subscribers wanted to borrow from a small set of expensive movies – new releases. How could they encourage customers to borrow less popular old stock instead?

The solution was to offer movies the customer would likely enjoy, based on what others with similar viewing habits had enjoyed. Viewed through a new lens, data originally meant for largely retrospective purposes became an operationally critical part of the Netflix business model and experience.

Our institution is overflowing with such datasets – and hidden opportunities within them.

In the most obvious of analogies with Netflix, what if Western undergraduate students, at course registration time, were offered a ‘recommended schedule?’ Beyond increased convenience, such a system could help promote diversity in courses they select (just as Netflix promoted diversity in which DVDs were borrowed).

But our students have more important concerns than convenient course selection.

Are we preparing them to work in an information society? Every student should leave Western with the data acumen they need to be successful 21st-century citizens.

For some, this will be a higher-level understanding of a data-driven world that empowers them to understand, as example, that reading their Facebook feed during an election campaign might influence their voting. For others, it will be a comprehensive understanding of a data scientist’s full toolset. Our society demands that we prepare data-literate citizens and we need to approach this mission with intent.

Does anyone believe that, a decade from now, there will be any scholarly disciplines with less data than they have now? With each passing day, we develop new technologies and techniques that enable us to gather even more data, faster.

Data volume is a monotonic increasing quantity in our world and our traditional means of analysis, handcrafted in a bygone era of small, intimate datasets, cannot cope with inhuman volumes of data.

Fortunately, the very computational technologies that enable us to gather these colossal datasets also empower us to analyze them. To remain competitive, and to produce the impact expected of us, our researchers and scholars need the acumen to use these new tools.

A focus on data is not a panacea; however, our institution’s ability to adapt to serve a 21st-century society will require enormous collective effort and will touch on every aspect of what we do.

Data is one of the foundation stones in building the 21st-century university.

The ability to turn our data into actionable insights, and to train our students to do the same, is a necessary tool for our survival – and for theirs.

Mark Daley is the Special Advisor to the President on Data Strategy. Join him for a conversation on developing the university’s first-ever digital strategy by attending the first town-hall meeting at 10 a.m. Nov. 19 in McKellar Room, University Community Centre (UCC). Visit the Western Data website for details.

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Research extends life of rechargeable batteries https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/research-extends-life-of-rechargeable-batteries/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 15:28:10 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35147 Western-led research may ‘charge up’ consumers by addressing their frequent complaint that rechargeable batteries gradually hold less charge over time.

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Western-led research may ‘charge up’ consumers by addressing their frequent complaint that rechargeable batteries gradually hold less charge over time. The solution to longer battery life, researchers contend, may be found in adding a carbon-based layer to lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.

“We added a thin layer of carbon coating to the aluminum foil that conducts electric current in rechargeable batteries,” explained Xia Li, a Mitacs Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Engineering and lead researcher of the study. “It was a small change, but we found the carbon coating protected the aluminum foil from corrosion of electrolyte in both high voltage and high energy environments – boosting the battery capacities up to 50 per cent more than batteries without the carbon coating.”

Li is part of Western’s Advanced Materials for Clean Energy Group led by Engineering professor Xueliang (Andy) Sun.

Western researchers collaborated with 3M Canada, which provided the carbon coating, and the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, which provided the synchrotron light required to test the coating.

Aluminum foil is commonly used on the cathode as current collector where electricity leaves the battery of rechargeable lithium ion batteries. This foil has high electronic conductivity and is lightweight and low cost, but the new generation of batteries brings new challenges to the current collectors, which will need even more chemical stability to protect against the corrosion of electrolyte in the cathode. This will help to maintain long battery life cycles.

Rather than find an entirely new material for cathodes, the Western team tested a super-thin coating produced by 3M Canada, called graphene.

Li sees electric vehicles as a key application for better battery technologies, and is excited about the green energy sources batteries can support in general.

“We are very interested in using batteries to develop a new clean energy society,” Li said. “Oil is not a good long-term choice for humans and when we convert to green energy sources, we need clean secondary energy storage devices.”

Because of its conductivity, flexibility, and availability, this thin carbon coating could become a key tool for developing battery technologies for a greener future. For years, Sun’s group has harnessed the power of synchrotron light at the CLS to help develop more advanced batteries.

“Without synchrotron radiation, it’s very hard for us to understand the chemistry and electrochemistry reactions of batteries. But synchrotron techniques can tell us what kind of reactions happen and offer very important guidance for the design of future battery materials,” Sun said.

The team used extremely bright X-rays at the CLS to identify what chemical changes occur on delicate battery surfaces while they are operating. Their analysis showed that the coating is effective in both high-voltage and high-energy environments, which would be important for applications like electric vehicles.

The study, Suppressing Corrosion of Aluminum Foils via Highly Conductive Graphene-like Carbon Coating in High-Performance Lithium-Based Batteries, was recently published in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.

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Only one ‘Let Down’ in these picks https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/only-one-let-down-in-these-picks/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 14:51:46 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=34938 Experience a bit of seasonal storytelling, and at least one major ‘Let Down,’ when Occupational Therapy professor Carri Hand takes a turn on Read. Watch. Listen.

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Read. Watch. Listen. introduces you to the personal side of our faculty, staff and alumni. Participants are asked to answer three simple questions about their reading, viewing and listening habits – what one book or newspaper/magazine article is grabbing your attention; what one movie or television show has caught your eye; and what album/song, podcast or radio show are you lending an ear to.

Carri Hand is an Assistant Professor in the School of Occupational Therapy.

Today, she takes a turn on Read. Watch. Listen.

*   *   *

Read.

Right now I’m reading the third book in Ali Smith’s quartet, each book named for a season: Autumn; Winter; and now Spring. They tell absorbing stories touching on themes like love, friendship, our place in the world and contemporary politics.

Watch.

Recently I binge watched The Let Down on Netflix, a funny, witty, smart take on the early years of parenting. It was especially enjoyable now that I’m out of that stage of my life. I have heard from friends that it’s too real to watch when you’re in the midst of those years, which I take as a fabulous endorsement.

Listen.

Every so often I go back to Xenia Rubinos’ Magic Trix from 2013. The tracks are an energetic, eclectic mix of sounds and vocals, in Spanish and English, that are hard to categorize, but lean to pop, funk and hip-hop. Check out Ultima in particular.

*   *   *

If you have a suggestion for someone you would like to see in Read. Watch. Listen., or would like to participate yourself, drop a line to inside.western@uwo.ca.

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Alumna puts sting back in classic Marvel character https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/alumna-puts-sting-back-in-classic-marvel-character/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 14:40:25 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35143 For her latest adventure, Sam Maggs, BA’10, is proving as ‘Unstoppable’ as the character she is about to pen, when the bestselling alumna releases a YA novel featuring Wasp, one of Marvel’s smallest superheroes in terms of size but certainly not in stature.

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Sam Maggs, BA’10, is a bestselling author. Spoiler alert: The following statement blows the Western alumna’s mind.

Since graduating from Western a decade ago with a BA in English Language & Literature and Film Studies, Maggs has written an ever-growing number of books, comics, and video games featuring some of the biggest names in pop culture including Captain Marvel, Spider-Man and Captain Kirk.

For her latest adventure, Maggs is writing a young adult (YA) novel featuring Wasp, one of Marvel’s smallest superheroes in terms of size but certainly not in stature.

The original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, was a founding member of the Avengers and actually christened Earth’s mightiest superheroes with the mantle that has become a global household name – and phenomenon – since the theatrical release of Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., in 2008.

Maggs is a long-time fan of Wasp, a Marvel legacy character that debuted in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) and was co-created by industry icons Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with Ernie Hart.

“Janet is a founding member of the Avengers, the person who named the Avengers, and the only person to have led the Avengers longer than Janet is Captain America himself. She doesn’t bother with a secret identity; she owns her power and her powers with pride,” said Maggs with an equal amount of pride.

“She’s a scientist and a fashion designer and a business owner and a super hero; Janet really can do anything she puts her mind to. Janet’s a really inspirational character and there’s a lot we can learn from her 50 years in comics.”

Janet van Dyne is also an inspiration to Nadia van Dyne, who is the character featured in Maggs’ upcoming novel, The Unstoppable Wasp.

Nadia is Janet’s stepdaughter and the biological daughter of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, and his first wife, Maria Troyava. And while the new normal for nuclear families remains in constant flux, Nadia’s path to becoming Janet’s kin is something completely different.

Maggs explained:

“Nadia was kidnapped as a child and raised in the Red Room, the infamous Soviet spy training facility. Excelling in their science division, Nadia eventually procured Pym Particles on the black market, crafted her own Wasp suit, and escaped. Nadia arrived at the late Hank Pym’s house in Cresskill, N.J., where she was adopted by her step-mother, Janet Van Dyne. After discovering that the first woman on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s list of most intelligent humans list came in at #27, which is nonsense, Nadia founded G.I.R.L. (Genius In Action Research Labs) to find and nurture the best and brightest teen girl scientists who might otherwise be overlooked.”

If that’s too much of a deep dive, fear not, Maggs says readers don’t need to have a working knowledge of the Marvel Universe – or have read the recently completed comic book series featuring Nadia – to enjoy The Unstoppable Wasp. It’s all there in the pages of book, which is scheduled for release on May 26, 2020.

“This novel takes place after the comic series, and readers don’t need to be familiar with the comics in order to pick up the novel. But the comics are wonderful and I highly recommend everyone give them a read. Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier are a genius creative team. The first volume is called Unstoppable,” Maggs said.

Why is Nadia so unstoppable? A quick look at her superpowers answers the question.

“She’s the Unstoppable Wasp, so she uses Pym Particles to shrink in size at will. Also much like Ant-Man, in her diminutive state, Nadia’s martial arts skills are extremely powerful. She can also fly, and shoots a bio-electric energy blast from her hands called Wasp’s Stings,” Maggs offered. “Also, she is extremely personable and loves making new friends.”

Sound familiar? Maggs could be writing this book about herself. But she’s not. It’s about Nadia. And while she didn’t want to give too much away, Maggs did share that Nadia is balancing a lot of new things in her life when The Unstoppable Wasp begins.

“Being a superhero, being a real friend, being a stepdaughter, being free of the Red Room, running her own lab. She’s adjusting well, but it’s taking a toll – there are never quite enough hours in a day,” Maggs said.

“So when she’s gifted a virtual assistant powered by the most cutting-edge AI technology that the world has to offer, Nadia jumps at the opportunity. The device works – really works. But it’s never quite that simple, and not everything is as it seems. Nadia must confront her past as she tries to shape her future, and learn that sometimes the best way to effect big change is to think small – maybe even super small, Unstoppable Wasp-style.”

Special to Western NewsThe Wasp is a Marvel legacy character that debuted in Tales to Astonish #44 (June 1963) and was co-created by industry icons Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with Ernie Hart.

The Unstoppable Wasp is categorized as a YA novel, which are normally targeted for 12-18-year-olds, but Maggs believes readers young, old and every age in between will find inspiration in Nadia.

“This book is for everyone who’s ever struggled to find balance in their lives; for anyone who loves science or wants to learn more about science; for anyone whose life has been touched by mental illness; for anyone who wants to read about a team of awesome, creative girls solving problems and saving the world; for anyone who loves Marvel and super heroes,” Maggs said.

“Really, the book is for anyone, and I hope people like it.”

Maggs has written comics, video games and non-fiction books throughout her professional career but admits she never thought she would actually write a novel.

“I’ve always known I wanted to write, but I never thought I would actually write a novel. Part of that came from the way we talk about writing and the way we position writers in the public consciousness. I never felt like a ‘real’ writer because people always talk about having a ‘muse’ or ‘having to write every single day’ or things that basically make writing a novel sound like a supernatural gift bestowed upon them by a mystical figure to whom I’ve never been able to gain access.

“But the truth of the matter is that there’s no mystical muse. There’s no special magic that makes a novel happen. It’s sitting down and putting words on the page.”

And that level of dedication and commitment is something Maggs learned, in part, at Western.

“I was lucky enough to have a wonderful mentor in English professor Christopher Keep, and he guided me through my undergraduate thesis on Victorian literature. It was the longest and most challenging thing I’d written to date, and I’m still pretty impressed that I managed to complete it.”

That’s saying a lot when the Western alumna is now recognized as “bestselling author Sam Maggs.

“(Being a bestselling author) absolutely blows my mind!,” Maggs laughed. “I feel lucky to get to do something that I really love for a living every single day. I don’t take it for granted.”

Now who’s unstoppable?

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Robson offers a royal review of writer’s life https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/robson-offers-a-royal-review-of-writers-life/ Mon, 18 Nov 2019 14:14:37 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35130 What do you get the Royal Couple who has everything? Absolutely nothing. They are fine. But in honour of the big day, we offer you 50 insights into a writer’s life and writing from Western’s own literary royalty, Jennifer Robson, BA’92.

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Click to view slideshow.

On Nov. 20, 1947, a fresh-faced young couple – Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten – were married at Westminster Abbey in London. Less than five years later, the bride became head of the Commonwealth and Queen Regnant of seven independent Commonwealth countries.

This week, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrate their 72nd anniversary.

So, what do you get the Royal Couple who has everything? Absolutely nothing. They are fine.

But in honour of the big day, we offer you 72 insights into a writer’s life and writing from Western’s own literary royalty, Jennifer Robson, BA’92. (OK, it’s only 50, but wouldn’t that have been cool if it worked out to 72.)

Robson penned the international best-seller The Gown, a novel that tells the story of the creation of then-Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, one of the most famous gowns in history, through the lives – and times – of three unforgettable heroines.

The self-professed “history nerd” and author of five novels recently sat down with Western News editor Jason Winders to discuss failure, inspiration, and the things that keep writers up at night.

Special to Western NewsSmiling happily the princess and her fiance, Lieut. Philip Mountbatten are pictured at Buckingham Palace.

“The worst thing a writer can do is start believing you’re the cats-ass.”

*   *   *

“Once you start believing you’re the cats-ass that is how you begin to compromise everything that made you a good writer in the first place.”

*   *   *

“An immoderate belief in yourself and your abilities is the death of curiosity, the death of hard work. It is the path to failure.”

*   *   *

“I cannot sit back and think success is all about me. It has as much to do with weird, strange market dynamics, what is hot, what isn’t, and that often has nothing to do with the work you produce.”

*   *   *

“Never underestimate a fabulous cover – 90 per cent of the battle is getting someone to pick up the book.”

*   *   *

“After every lovely comment people give you about your current book, the next question is, ‘What are you working on now?’”

*   *   *

“Writers write. It takes me six or seven months of long-daily sessions to turn out a book.”

*   *   *

“I am always 90 per cent excited and 10 per cent terrified.”

*   *   *

“Pressure builds diamonds …”

*   *   *

“… and so can deadlines.”

Special to Western NewsThe scene at the altar steps during the Royal Wedding Ceremony in Westminster Abbey. H.M the King stands to the left of the bride. On the bridegroom’s right is the groomsman, the Marques of Milford Haven. The bride’s train is held by two pages T.R.H Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent.

*   *   *

“Don’t be afraid to have a stern conversation with yourself about your writing.”

*   *   *

“Know when the book you are working on is not setting you on fire.”

*   *   *

“When I started writing The Gown, I knew I had something. But there, the fear that propelled me was I would mess up the story before I was done telling it.”

*   *   *

“Find a tremendous editor.”

*   *   *

“Curiosity is the defining characteristic of a good writer.”

*   *   *

“The incurious mind is, in many ways, at the heart of what is befalling society.”

*   *   *

“If you have no interest in the world beyond your fingertips, beyond what you can personally sense or feel or experience, then you are incapable of empathy, incapable of true generosity. And if you are a writer, then how do you describe the lives of others? You have to be able to ask yourself what it is like to stand in the skin of another. I am endlessly interested I what other people’s lives are like.”

*   *   *

“Success can dull your sense of curiosity.”

*   *   *

“It is easy to become a prisoner of success.”

*   *   *

“Have to have a sense of wonder.”

*   *   *

“Ask questions of everyone.”

*   *   *

“We are all lurching from one small disaster to another. That is what my life was before success – and that is still what it is.”

*   *   *

“There are very few famous writers who stand a chance of getting recognized in public, so we must get over ourselves. In Canada, I can only think of Margaret Atwood as someone at risk of that. There are huge authors, even in the States, who just go about their life without any notice.”

*   *   *

“Research is an endless detective hunt with no guarantee you are going to find what you are looking for. That has been true with every book I have written.”

*   *   *

“Chase down possibilities.”

*   *   *

“The hunt is exhilarating.”

*   *   *

“When you chase plot bunnies, you are never sure if you will catch then or they’ll just scurry away down a hole. Be careful about falling down those holes. Because if you do … there goes an entire day chasing things you didn’t really need to know about.”

*   *   *

“I will spend a whole day reading up on something I need to know about, but I found the answer in the first five minutes, but all sorts of ancillary bits and pieces come up and I find them fascinating.”

*   *   *

“I want to go as deep as I can. What I don’t need, I don’t need, but I don’t want to miss anything.”

*   *   *

“I cannot talk to the dead. What is the next best thing? I can talk to someone doing the work now. They can show me what that was like. When writing The Gown, my gut sense was that not much had changed – and I was right. Hand embroidery today, for instance, is basically the same as hand embroidery 100 years ago.”

Special to Western NewsThe scene heading to the altar steps during the Royal Wedding Ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

*   *   *

“Unlike history, in fiction, you never have to guess what your characters’ interior lives are like. They are your children.”

*   *   *

“It was suggested, at one point, that I write the book from the perspective of the Queen. I will never be Queen, or even understand what the interior life of a Queen can be, and even trying to do so – me writing about her, making all these guesses, maybe ascribing thoughts and feelings to her that are not hers – it felt kinda gross.”

*   *   *

“I incorporate well-known historical figures into my books, but they are always secondary characters. I cannot imagine changing that. It makes me deeply uncomfortable.”

*   *   *

“Fiction liberates me – not writing a narrative history that had to hewn absolutely to known facts.”

*   *   *

“I find my stories is in the wiggle room between what is known and what is plausible.”

*   *   *

“I don’t want to write anything completely unbelievable.”

*   *   *

“History is the scaffolding of historical fiction. Let your knowledge of how people of an era behaved and thought about things govern what happens to your characters and the decisions they make.”

*   *   *

“History is the fabric, stretched out before me, I am working with. My job is to embroider upon it. I add my embellishment on top of what is already there. For me to play fast and loose with what is already there makes everything feel off.”

*   *   *

“With historical fiction, you either get it right or you don’t. The really good writers get it right. They take a lot of time making sure what they have written is truly, truly grounded in truth.”

*   *   *

“When it is bad, it is so bad. I know from page one if something is going in a bad direction.”

*   *   *

“Vagueness is a tar the reader gets stuck in. They need to know the specifics.”

*   *   *

“When you don’t do historical fiction well, a lot of readers won’t notice – and that is a problem. It is possible to get away with a fair bit of sloppy writing and not be tripped up on it. But what a terrible disservice to readers and to history.”

*   *   *

“When someone gets it right, really, really gets it right, it is amazing.”

Special to Western NewsQueen Elizabeth II shown in July 2007 looking at her 1947 wedding gown and 13-foot bridal trail designed by Norman Hartnell with the naval uniform worn by the Duke of Edinburgh, which are on show for the Summer Opening Exhibition at Buckingham Palace to mark her Diamond Wedding Anniversary.

*   *   *

“If I have an Achilles Heel, it is plot. It is a complete nightmare – how A turns into B turns into C is so painful. That is why I sort out the plot first before I start writing.”

*   *   *

“Always get your nasty part out of the way first.”

*   *   *

“Fiction is so powerful when you give into its transporting power.”

*   *   *

“The digitized world cannot compare to a really good book.”

*   *   *

“Like many, I rely on social media and all the bells and whistles. But when I need comfort, or when I need something distracting or enjoyable, I switch all that off and open a book.”

*   *   *

“When books work out well, there is nothing better.”

*   *   *

“Celebrate your book by curling up with a nice cup of tea.”

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Facilities crews ready to dig in after first snow https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/facilities-crews-ready-to-dig-in-after-first-snow/ Fri, 15 Nov 2019 13:12:43 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35124 Winter and snow can evoke polarizing emotions in people. And no one knows this better than Bryan Wakefield,

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Winter and snow can evoke polarizing emotions in people.

No one knows this better than Bryan Wakefield, Director of Operations Facilities Management and the Landscape Services Team. Although, only a few months into the job and entering his first winter at Western, Wakefield is aware of the challenges ahead.

“Love it or hate it – we’ve got to deal with it,” Wakefield said. “I enjoy the snow personally, but feel the same sense of frustration as everyone else when it wreaks havoc on the morning commute.”

Recent squall conditions have led to the Landscape Services crew digging in. During a major snow events, it can mean several overnight and rotating shifts to keep the trucks rolling and the shovels clearing.

Wakefield admits the size of the campus plays a role in his team’s snow management strategy. The campus is connected by 15 kilometres of roadway and pathway, has more than 7,000 parking spaces, and hundreds of building entrances. With tens of thousands of staff, faculty, and students arriving on campus daily, the crew can be spread thin just trying to keep up.

“We can be inundated by ongoing events,” Wakefield said. “During continuous, heavy snow fall, we will stay on top of our priority areas – trying to keep major paths and roadways open, while also focusing on essential services such as emergency routes, accessibility infrastructure, daycare facilities, loading docks, and large lots.”

According to Wakefield, the campus community can best support the team’s efforts by reporting areas that have been left for a significant amount of time or are extremely slippery to Facilities Management Client Services at ext. 83304. More over, he wants everyone to be safe and responsible, take the weather in stride, and look out for one another.

“We have to work together to ensure that students and colleagues stay safe,” Wakefield said. “It really is vital that the campus community take proper precautions, dress for the weather, and plan their trip across campus in these conditions.”

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Opioid solutions found beyond the headlines https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/opioid-solutions-found-beyond-the-headlines/ Thu, 14 Nov 2019 20:37:52 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35122 Every day, headlines offer another example of how the opioid epidemic is devastating communities and lives. But given the role popular media plays in shaping public perceptions, where is this non-stop coverage taking us?

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Every day, the headlines offer yet another example of how the ongoing opioid epidemic is devastating communities and individual lives. But given the significant role popular media plays in shaping public perceptions, where is this non-stop coverage taking us?

One Western researcher feels the conversation has taken a wrong turn and, if we are to tackle the challenges associated with opioids, then we may need to step back from the headlines and look at the bigger picture.

“We started out as saying ‘opioids are safe,’ to occasionally ‘patients running into problems from unknowing or naive physicians misguided by big pharma,’” Nursing professor Fiona Webster explained. “Then we shifted into talking about innocent patients as criminals and addicts. Then a shift focusing on illicit drug use.

“Even calling this an ‘opioid epidemic’ is locating the problem in a class of drugs. We’re never truly looking as systemic institutionalized issues, especially around social equity.”

Previously, Webster conducted numerous qualitative studies around physician experiences in managing patients with chronic pain. Now, she has expanded her work to determine the role national media plays in directing the narrative around the opioid epidemic.

Paul Mayne//Western NewsNursing professor Fiona Webster looked at the role the news media has played in the opioid epidemic in terms of driving the narrative and increasing the stigma and focus on criminality which, in turn, defines the solutions being discussed.

Webster’s most recent study, A critical content analysis of media reporting on opioids: The social construction of an epidemic, was published in the scholarly journal Social Science & Medicine.

Her team looked at more than 800 articles from three news outlets (CBC News, The Globe and Mail and The National Post) from 2000-17 to discover where the headlines were drawing attention and, conversely, from where it was distracted around the issue of opioids.

Many of the news articles used dramatic and sensational language to describe opioid use in Canada, including references to “crisis,” a “hidden killer” and a “skyrocketing” problem, she said. There was a lot of overlap between defining the scope of the problem and efforts to identify which individuals and groups were to blame for the problems arising from opioid use.

“The problem was rarely pharma, but was increasingly the individual addict. They are lumping everybody in as one and overlooking social context, that they’ll be more issues around mental health and addition,” Webster said. “Drug use isn’t looked at in the context of understanding mental health or poverty. If the problem is illicit drug use and criminality then police become the solutions.”

Roughly 10 per cent of all articles identified unsafe prescribing as the root of the problem, thereby implicating physicians as a blameworthy cohort. Similarly, discussions of the legal and political context were bound up with blaming governing bodies, such as provincial and federal governments.

A secondary theme involved criminality. Within that, there were a number of different avenues explored, including drug trafficking; behaviour of addicts, for instance, seeking fentanyl on the street; the crushability of prescription opioids; even unscrupulous physicians and pharmacists who knowingly profit from the illegal trade in prescription opioids.

“Patients tend to be dichotomized as either innocently following physician prescriptions or drug-seeking, as an aspect of lives characterized by addiction and street crime,” Webster said. “These depictions map onto characterizations of physicians as naively following pharmaceutical industry advice or becoming irrelevant once criminality is introduced.”

Webster is not blaming the media for this ongoing narrative; they are “a mirror to understand people’s values and norms” being reflected in the stories. The social construction of the opioid epidemic polarizes individuals as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ with little attention paid to underlying institutional interests in the creation of the problem or in the solutions proposed.

“We are more interested in stigmatizing certain groups than we are looking at the problems holistically,” she said. “We see a huge amount of stigmatization in those who are poor or with mental health and addiction issues. They become criminalized. Blaming and stigmatizing those who suffer with chronic pain becomes a higher priority than implementing safer and effective therapies for managing their pain.”

In critiquing media narratives, Webster is not suggesting anxieties about opioids are unfounded. The problems of addiction and overdose are significant and real, and proposed solutions such as improved access to antidotes and addiction treatments are urgently needed.

However, with this narrative shift away from stories about naive physicians and so-called innocent patients towards an increasing focus on street-use and criminalization references to broader social circumstances, such as social inequity and racism, disappear from view.

“It takes our attention away from harm reductions. We’re beginning to see more the sense of hopelessness around the issue; it’s so out of control there’s nothing we can do,” said Webster, adding the way people think about the opioid epidemic raises these stereotypical ideas as to who’s at fault.

“It’s a way for people to distance themselves. It’s not in my backyard; it’s those addicts out on the street,” she continued. “We need to do things at the systemic level rather than focusing on these individual bad patients and the occasional individual bad physician. We need to focus on the social context for all these issues. We need to understand things at the institutional level so we can begin to understand and really focus on health and social equity.”

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Crites Battié earns lifetime honour for research https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/crites-battie-earns-lifetime-honour-for-research/ Thu, 14 Nov 2019 16:25:15 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35119 Michele Crites Battié has always been quite comfortable working behind the scenes – even as the spotlight recently turned to the Physical Therapy professor when she was presented with the 2019 ORS PSRS (Orthopaedic Research Society / Philadelphia Spine Research Society) Lifetime Research Achievement Award.

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Michele Crites Battié has always been quite comfortable working behind the scenes – even as the spotlight recently turned to the Physical Therapy professor when she was presented with the 2019 ORS PSRS Lifetime Research Achievement Award.

“My research group has been fortunate over the years in having our work recognized a number of times by prestigious international research awards,” said the Western Research Chair in Musculoskeletal Exercise, Mobility and Health. “While it has been gratifying that our work has contributed meaningfully to current knowledge of degenerative conditions affecting the low back, I had no expectation of being recognized personally for my contributions. It was a very nice surprise.”

Created in 2013, the Orthopaedic Research Society / Philadelphia Spine Research Society award honors an investigator who has established him/herself with sustained and long-lasting contributions in the area of spine research. The award is presented biannually at the groups’ International Research Symposium in Philadelphia.

Crites Battié began her academic and research career with the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Washington (Seattle) before being recruited by the University of Alberta as professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, where she held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Common Spinal Disorders.

In 2017, she joined Western and its Bone and Joint Institute to continue her clinical and research interests focus on low back pain, spinal stenosis and other degenerative conditions of the lumbar spine. Her work has ranged from genetic studies of disc degeneration to investigations of factors influencing back pain related disability in the workplace.

Her work has been recognized with a number of international research awards, including ones from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons/ORS, the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine and a North American Spine Society Best Paper Award, among others.

Crites Battié’s nominators highlighted how her work “has substantially shifted understanding of the causes of low back pain and disc degeneration away from the previously prevailing injury/overuse model.”

Over recent years, Crites Battié has been spearheading an international initiative she hopes will have far-reaching clinical, research and policy implications with respect to creating a common language and core measures around degenerative spinal conditions.

Back pain may be a prevalent problem, but it’s a difficult target. Developing efficient and effective treatments means understanding the underlying pathology. That exploration has taken Crites Battié in unplanned directions. But it is these “bends in the road” that have led to her most novel, important findings.

“I have never invested heavily in any particular methodology, which can be a blessing or a curse. But that has allowed me to shift directions and methodologies quickly when a new direction looks promising,” she said.

“What has been critical to the success of this approach, however, is collaboration. I have had wonderful, top-notch collaborators from a wide range of fields, such as behavioral psychology, molecular biology and genetics, imaging, epidemiology and biostatistics, bioengineering, orthopaedics, and more. It was the collaborative opportunities I saw with the Bone and Joint Institute that drew me to Western two years ago.”

Founded in 2004, PSRS was set up to bring together members of the Greater Philadelphia community of basic scientists, bioengineers and spine surgeons concerned with studies of the intervertebral disc and the associated spinal tissues. Over the last decade, the group has broadened its reach to include a global community of researchers interested in the intervertebral disc and spine.

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Beckett: Protesters demand change in Haiti https://news.westernu.ca/2019/11/beckett-protesters-demand-change-in-haiti/ Thu, 14 Nov 2019 16:05:22 +0000 https://news.westernu.ca/?p=35116 It is time for the international community, including the Canadian government, to stand with the Haitian people and call for Moïse to resign. Only then can the Haitian people begin to address the many other pressing problems their country faces.

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Haiti is at a crossroads. The country has been effectively shut down for over two months, as anti-government protesters have blocked roads and shuttered stores as part of what they call Operation Peyi Lòk (country lockdown). The protestors are demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse and calling for a transitional government. They are also demanding an end to what Haitians call lavi chè, the high cost of living – that is, to the crippling economic crisis that makes it nearly impossible for people to make a living or survive.

Background to the crisis

The protests began more than a year ago, after the release of an audit that implicated the current government, including President Moïse, in the misuse and theft of billions of dollars in development funds.

The missing funds were taken from the PetroCaribe plan, a regional fuel and development program in which Caribbean countries purchased Venezuelan oil at discounted prices with low-interest loans. Proceeds from fuel sales were meant to be used for social development projects, but in Haiti, some $2 billion of PetroCaribe funds are gone, and the government has incurred another $2 billion in debt from the program.

Haiti can no longer buy fuel from Venezuela, nor can it service its debt, since U.S.-imposed financial sanctions on Venezuela prohibit that country from accessing financial markets. The end of PetroCaribe has meant the Haitian government must now buy fuel from U.S. energy providers, but it does so without any reduced prices and must pay on delivery for imports, something the cash-strapped government cannot easily afford to do.

Since January of this year, there have been severe fuel shortages in the country, which in turn has led to gas rationing and escalating fuel and energy prices – all in a country with some of the highest energy costs in the region. With the government unable to pay its bills, there have been rolling blackouts, some lasting weeks or months. The fuel shortages and blackouts, coupled with near-daily protests, have forced nearly every shop, business, school, and hospital to reduce services or close outright.

As supplies run low everywhere, Haiti faces a looming humanitarian crisis.

A political deadlock

The country is now at a stalemate.

Moïse has refused calls for his resignation, despite the fact that more and more sectors of the country are joining the protests each day. But each day things get worse for most Haitians. Rising inflation and the fuel crisis have crippled the economy and made an already dire situation significantly worse. Tensions are high, especially after reports that the Haitian National Police have been using intimidation tactics and live ammunition to quell the protests. There have been recent reports, too, of human rights violations and documented cases of the police and government-aligned gangs killing reporters and antigovernment protestors.

Despite all of this, Moïse remains in power, although he has no broad basis of legitimacy, is in no position to impartially and credibly deal with the corruption scandal (since it names him and his allies), and has no plan for ending the crisis. Moïse has turned increasingly to repressive tactics to hold on.

Some outside observers have begun to call for international intervention, but there is already a UN political mission in the country and decades of UN and foreign intervention have had little measurable success. The protestors themselves are calling for Moïse’s resignation and for an interim government made up of a cross-section of parties and civil society groups to manage the transition to a new government. They have also demanded a full investigation into the corruption scandal and the prosecution of those found guilt.

Government against the people

The current crisis has deep roots, and stems in part from the legacies of debt and dependency in Haiti and from decades of economic policies that have left the country poorer and left the government with little to no capacity to address the most pressing needs of the Haitian people.

But part of the story has to do with a regional pattern of rising inequality that has spurred the rise of rightwing populism. In Haiti, the current and previous governments have presided over the restoration of the armed forces (disbanded after the fall of the Duvalier-family dictatorship) and the entrenchment of politically-aligned gangs. Under Moïse’s government, we have seen the restoration of the predatory state in Haiti.

It is now clear that there is no path through the crisis unless Moïse steps down, which he has so far refused to do. For now, Moïse remains comfortably in power largely due to support from the international community, including the United Nations and the governments of Canada and the United States, all of whom have called for a ‘national dialogue’ between the government and the opposition and insisted on the importance of upholding the elected government.

To take such a position is to mistake elections for democracy.

Moïse came to power under dubious circumstances. The presidential election of 2015 was so marred by irregularities that it was rerun the following year. Moïse won the second version of the election, although he did so with the one of the lowest recorded voter turnouts in Haiti.

Since he took power in February 2017, he has proven himself unable to govern. He has no ratified national budget and no ratified Prime Minister. He has indefinitely postponed legislative elections that were due to be held last month.

Now, dozens of members of parliament are about to have their terms expire, with no plan for new elections to fill their seats. In short, there is nothing constitutional or democratic about Moïse’s government.

It is time for the international community, including the Canadian government, to stand with the Haitian people and call for Moïse to resign. Only then can the Haitian people begin to address the many other pressing problems their country faces.

Anthropology professor Greg Beckett is a cultural anthropologist who studies crisis, disaster, and trauma from the standpoint of moral experience. His expertise centres around Caribbean, specifically Haiti, where he has worked for 15 years.

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