Welcome to “Beyond the U,” a podcast that amplifies and dives into student journalism and campus stories. We explore narratives with a lasting impact outside their university institutions.
Each episode of “Beyond the U” invites you to immerse yourself in the process and breadth of student-led reporting. From investigative pieces unraveling systemic challenges to feature stories highlighting the human experiences within our educational institutions, we acknowledge that a number of topics reflect on our campus communities.
Student voices and experience are often at the forefront of social change or issues that shape our own campus, city, and social lives. Thus, “Beyond the U” was born from a passionate desire to amplify these voices. Working out of Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) Met Radio station, we look into the compelling stories told from university campuses across North America.
The show is co-hosted and co-produced by Saman Dara, Prarthana Pathak, and Sahaana Ranganathan, all three are Master of Journalism students at TMU. Beyond the U was founded by Saman Dara, a Master of Journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University. After completing her internship at The Big Story podcast, Dara founded Beyond the U in the summer of 2023.
We discuss the threads of student activism, the nuances of campus culture, and the impactful initiatives driven by the next generation. Through intimate interviews, analyses, and fun-filled topics, we aim to paint a true to life picture of the topics that matter most to students.
Our mission is to provide a platform for localizing narratives that often go unheard. “Beyond the U” stands as a testament to the power of student journalism and its pivotal role in shaping conversations.
So, whether you’re a fellow student, an educator, a curious listener, or an advocate for change, join us as we find stories that go beyond the confines of campuses. Tune in to “Beyond the U” now.
Episode 1 – Leo Larman Brown:
This is beyond the U, a Met Radio 1280 AM production. I’m Sahaana and I’m Prarthana Pathak. This show looks at real stories from university campuses and the students behind student journalism. When students pay their tuition fees, there’s little discussion about where that money might be going. But what if you found out your tuition fees were funding a genocide? Since 2009, the Chinese government has been committing acts of violence against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. The BBC reports that human rights groups believe that China has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs against their will. In 2021, Canada passed a motion declaring China’s treatment of Uyghurs genocide, Leo Larman Brown wrote for McGill University’s newspaper at the Tribune in March 2022. He found over $15 million from McGill’s investment pool tied up in the Uyghur genocide. He joins us today.
My name is Leo Larman Brown, pronouns he/him. I’m a student at McGill studying political science. I’m going into my third year. I wrote this article about the Uyghur genocide and McGill’s complicity. Their endowment fund kind of like exploded in the sense. I started out at the Tribune just writing one article, and I kind of just developed a passion for it. I liked interviewing people. Basically, since around 2012, there’s been an escalation of crackdown on the Uyghur people in eastern Pakistan or Xinjiang in China. It’s like the westernmost province in China, Mosques have been destroyed, people’s beards have been trimmed, they’re prevented from speaking their language. Ethnic Chinese people are moving into Uyghur homes, sleeping in the beds of Uyghur women, and the most prominent thing that we’re hearing about this is that there are over 2 million people currently in concentration camps. Chinese government call them reeducation camps, where they’re detained against their will. There are reports of rape, forced sterilization, murder, and forced labour – and that’s the thing that we were focusing on through our article on the force labor component so it can be looked at, and McGill’s Endowment Fund. We found through the article that $15 million of McGill’s endowment fund is implicated in companies that are complicit in the use of weaker forced labour; either like they have connected suppliers or they’re actively using forced labour.
For the people who don’t know, could you explain what an endowment fund is?
So the endowment fund is basically the way that the university makes its money. McGill, Ryerson, I assume has one, UofT has one, McGill collects for investments – they invest this money into a variety of companies they have shares in. McGills’ is valued at $1.8 billion, last time I checked, so it’s a ton of money. Tuition dollars go into it, donations, all sorts of things.
So like students’ money is basically being……?
Yes, students’ money. And that was a key part of our argument that I don’t think if students knew where their money was going, I don’t think they’d be too happy having their money going into genocide.
You kind of talked about, I think, in the article, ‘Divest McGill’, could you talk about them a little bit.
So ‘Divest’ was like a huge movement at McGill, and they’re more concerned with fossil fuels. They did an intensive research on McGill’s complicity in fossil fuels. We’re not officially affiliated with divest. They’re like valuable allies, but we’re kind of doing our own research. We divest was kind of the inspiration for the article. We saw how big of an issue it was and how big of an issue they made it at McGill. We thought that not only is it a good way to, like, monetarily incentivize China from stopping the genocide, but it’s also a really good way to bring awareness. Eventually, this article kind of expanded; I got an internship with a company, and we started working at McGill. We started something called the ‘clean universities’ campaign, we’re looking to expand across Canada and investigate universities and Alan’s funds. We have coders on our team. Originally me and my friend found $15 million dollars. We eventually found that McGill’s complicity actually extends to $115 million dollars. We sent a report to McGill, we had like over 500 signatures from students, staff, alumni and all sorts of people. So it’s really expanded and shows that like one article that someone did, me and my friend, can expand to be something much greater. We’ve got the endowment fund information from other universities like Dalhousie, McMaster. So this has really expanded. I did one article earlier about the Uyghur genocide. It’s something I’ve been like passionate about for a while, like advocating against it. But going into it, we just me and my friend. We had no idea the level of complicity at McGill has, we just kind of got McGill’s endowment fund, It’s $1.8 billion. Like I said, it was just like a massive spreadsheet with a bunch of different companies. We did like Ctrl F to find, like, some top companies and lists of companies that are complicit with like Alibaba, Tencent. all sorts of companies. And then you just Ctrl F, you can see, we didn’t really know how extensive the complicity was very early on, we could clearly see that was pretty deep.
I guess it’s been a little bit over a year since you’ve reported on the story. Are you planning on writing any new articles or anything like that?
Right now, I would say not really. I’m more focused on doing the actual investigations and expanding it to other universities. We also were in partnership with a union writer at USC, and he wrote a very similar article and did a very similar investigation. We helped them along with that. So, I think we’re kind of helping other universities do the same kind of levels of advocacy that we did journalism at, like student newspapers, doing the actual investigation, but we’ll see what happens. We sent a report to McGill calling on them to divest. They haven’t yet responded, if they don’t do what we want and divest, maybe another article will be in the works.
Doing the investigative work and then, like, when you get to other universities, what does that look like?
We had coders who worked for us, and they created an algorithm and someone gets the endowment fund from university. And then we have an algorithm as is able to match a data set that links companies that are listed for being complicit in the genocide to the university’s endowment fund, and find matches. So students at Dalhousie, or McMaster or any university have to do is just get their endowment fund running through this algorithm. And they got a bunch of matches. So we’ve kind of streamlined the process. McGill was the first university that we’re doing and now we’re looking to expand it to across Canada, and even eventually to the United States. The university endowment funds in Canada can get like 1.8 billion, but in the US, it’s a whole different level. University endowment funds match the US military defense spending budget for a year, so it’s an immense amount of money. If we can work on divestment for all of those universities and get this movement to expand, it could be a serious thing.
I’m just curious if the Tribune received any backlash from the university.
The university’s Media Relations Officer and gave her very political response that she always does. That didn’t really say anything. But we included the statement of the article, she sent a report in the university, outlining why we should divest and which companies they should divest from.
How do you think journalism helps with activism, in your experience?
I think it’s like the best way to get the word out there. And I think the thing that I’ve really realized is that, like, I did not expect this article that I wrote with a friend and I wrote it, honestly, pretty quickly. It really got a lot of attention. And this was just like one student newspaper article that like I thought nobody would read. I think that if you really want to get your word out, and you have the right message, journalism is the best medium possible to spread that message and turn it into tangible change. Because of this article, we’ve really been able to do something good. We’ve created a movement on real campus and hopefully it’s happening all over Canada. So, I think it’s it really is like a testament to the fact that journalism is power, which was just one student newspaper.
Thanks for listening. You can read Leo Larman Brown’s story on the Tribune.ca website. To connect with us or suggest a story, you can find us on Instagram @BeyondtheUpodcast. This episode of Beyond the U is hosted, edited and produced by Prarthana Pathak, Saman Dara and Sahaana Ranganathan.
Episode 2 – Carter Dungate
PP: This is Beyond the U, a Met Radio 1280 AM production about the students behind student journalism. In 2021, students began protesting against the injunction to cut down old growth trees at Fairy Creek in British Columbia trees that were older than the English language itself. Over 1000 arrests have been made and many protesters have been injured in the process making the faerie Creek blockage the largest act of civil disobedience in BC history.
SR: This is an episode about how student journalism can impact resistance and activism.
PP: I’m Prarthana Pathak
SR: I’m Sahana. Ranganathan. Carter Dungate wrote for the University of British Columbia’s newspaper, the Ubessey in January 2022. He wrote about protesters at Ferry Creek, he joins us today.
PP: What made you interested in taking on this project and reporting on this?
CD: So I probably started in the summer of 2021, the summer and Fall 2021. I knew some people who had been up to Fairy Creek to the old growth protests by all growth logging protests up there. And then all of a sudden, the media coverage started to dwindle. You know, it was a huge story, in BC and had coverage from you know, across Canada at the time. But all of a sudden, in the fall, the numbers of protesters kind of went down a bit in the rainy season. And the media also left at the same time. But that didn’t line up with what I was hearing from these people I knew, those who were still going to these protests were still active out there. So I just kind of thought, wait a minute, you know, there’s still a story here, and it’s not being covered. So that’s when I reached out to the UBC and asked about this feature. And then after that pretty much dove right into it started getting some sources and started doing my research, reaching out to people. Yeah, and from there, it all just kind of snowballed into this thing and was published. And here we are.
PP: Do you want to describe what Fairy Creek is like?
CD: For sure.So I’ve never been to fairy Creek, myself. I was just covering the students who’ve been there. But it’s an old growth British Columbia rainforest. So you have, you know, just these incredible, incredible, tall, powerful, beautiful trees that have stood there for hundreds of years, maybe 1000 to 2000 years as well. And, yeah, if you have the chance to check it out, I would say, definitely take that opportunity. Because no matter how well I write about it, it’s not the same as being there, yourself. And I’ve never been to Fairy Creek, I’ve been to some old growth forests on Vancouver Island. But the feeling that I get from those old growth forests and from forests around British Columbia, just leaves me with this kind of sense of wonder. And also just appreciation of this beautiful ecosystem. That’s, you know, unfortunately, relatively rare in British Columbia, and all of Canada as well. And yeah, just a very, very personal experience that I think everyone should try for themselves and, and just get to experience those, you know, the forest ecosystems and just see what it’s like yourself.
PP: And kind of like you said, how it’s a personal experience. A lot of the people that you interviewed in the story also had a personal experience with whether it be environmental advocacy, or fairy Creek. So what was it like interviewing those people?
CD: Yeah, it was definitely a, you know, everyone came at this from different perspectives. So I tried to do my best to cover those perspectives in the background, people had, you know, coming into this, a lot of them were environmentalists from a very young age. But you know, there’s also people who are tree planters, people who didn’t particularly have too much of a connection before this, and just wanting to get involved and wanting to learn more about what it’s all about, basically, what Fairy Creek is about, why this is such an issue. So, yeah, just I think covering those perspectives was a unique way to to understand the different people who are involved in this, this project, and what would motivate people to get out there. You know, I think it’s pretty easy to say that the narrative when the kind of coverage of Fairy Creek was most popular, I think the narrative tends towards environmental activists as being kind of, you know, tree huggers, without a job without really understanding of the economy or things like that. And I thought it was really important to show that that’s not the case at all. You know, a lot of people understood that logging was, you know, an important part of British Columbia’s economy, and that it could be done sustainably. I think the main critique I heard was that this is just not an example of that, you know, this is not an example of sustainable management of the forests. So I was very privileged to come in contact with those perspectives, and hopefully, you know, share them with the world as well.
PP: Was there any source in particular or story in particular, that stood out the most that one helped you understand the importance of the issue, but also made a larger impact in your story,
CD: Probably the most impactful experience as a reporter while I was interviewing this was, you know, interviewing people who dealt with very personal experiences, people who’ve been arrested, people who faced kind of, you know, different sorts of aggression. You know, you’re the essential activity in, in a protest like that is putting yourself against the police. So it’s a difficult thing to cover, especially when you’re not, I didn’t have any formal journalistic training. The BBC was very good, and gives people you know, a decent Crash Course and how to handle, you know, these personal, these very intense personal stories you want to do. But at the same time, I just was, it was very important to me to be, you know, respectful of these experiences, and to report that in a fair way. Yeah, I think that was the most difficult thing to cover. Because it became very real, all of a sudden, you know, I’m hearing about these stories, but then it’s, it’s not just stories anymore. It’s someone’s life and has serious impacts on someone’s life as well.
PP: When you were doing your reporting and interviewing was this during the active protests?
CD: There was a peak to the protests, for sure. Which I would say was in the summer of 2021. But at the same time, people, yeah, people were protesting. And to a certain extent, you know, people are still protesting Fairy Creek has calmed down quite a bit. But people are still very active throughout British Columbia, protesting old growth, logging, ensuring that logging companies make sure that the forests are well managed. And so it’s, it’s something that isn’t always covered. But I was happy to just bring a bit of light to for a little bit, j
SR: Just for the people who don’t know, me explain a little bit what old growth logging is?
CD: Old growth trees in British Columbia, can be defined in different ways. So the government describes them as above a certain age, whereas certain, you know, conservation groups and activists will describe them as having never been cut down before, or what you call first growth forests. So it kind of depends where you draw that line. But the basic kind of scientific consensus here from forestry academics, is that old growth forests and old growth ecosystems have these really, really rich relationships between the trees and the plants. And these, you know, like, everything is very connected in a way that’s not the same and forests that have been clear cut and replanted and all that. So, yeah, it’s basically these very old, very special ecosystems that are competing a lot. So you know, loggers like to cut down big trees because of the quality of the wood. The wood is very, like very dense, very high quality. And also, of course, you just get more trees when you cut down a big tree as well. So that’s kind of the initiative there. Yeah. So that’s pretty much how I describe old growth forests. I’d recommend one of the sources in my story was Dr. Suzanne Samar, who’s kind of the expert on forestry in Canada, internationally, baby and she talks a lot about old growth forests, especially she’s a specialist in that area.
PP: I was just wondering, what was the experience of actually doing the source hunting for a piece like this, especially given that many students were protesting?
CD: The source hunting was quite an interesting experience. I felt a lot of pressure that I put on myself to really get you know, sources that were representative of the experiences up at Fairy Creek and also of the UBC student body as well, because it was focused on UBC students, of course, protesting. So it’s a bit difficult. I feel very lucky to have, you know, the sources that I did and trust me with their stories as well. Yeah, I wish, of course, with any story, I think I’ve always like, Oh, what if you know, what if I had one more source in this place and one more source there. But I think for the most part, I’m very happy to have the ones that I do. And it was mostly done through either word of mouth or social media a little bit as well. But mostly, I just, you know, talk to some people in the forestry department at UBC, there’s a forestry sciences department that was relatively involved in the protests, or, you know, involved in the forestry community. So there’s people who were at the protests and new people there from that community. So a huge part of that was just through the student community at UBC, I just talked to someone and they passed me on to someone else, and, and on and on. And I think that was a really beautiful thing of the the activism of Fairy Creek as well was, I think, there’s this real sense of community that I saw through these, these people that I interviewed, they really showed just how, how important that was to these people who are kind of bonded by the shared shared priorities, shared passion. And that also translated a bit to the UBC community as well. That’s how I did and very happy to be able to tap into that community resource for sure.
PP: Honestly, the only final question that I have left is that it’s been over a year since you’ve reported on this. Have you stayed updated on the story? Or do you know if there’s anything that’s changed or hopefully progressed?
CD: Honestly, I really haven’t stayed updated as much as I would have liked, because it is such an important issue that I find very interesting. You know, I, on one hand, really tried to maintain journalistic impartiality. But it’s, it’s just something that I’m interested in, and that I do follow as well. But yeah, living out in Ottawa as well, kind of lost a bit of touch of BC for a bit. And I know there’s been progress, for sure. On the demands of the protesters in DC, Fairy Creek, part of the ecosystem has been preserved and supposedly not open for logging anymore. But I know that it’s fallen short of a full ban of old growth logging, which is essentially what the protesters were asking for. So it’s interesting because, yeah, before ferry Creek, there was this. This demonstration called the war in the woods and clear quite sound near Tofino. Huge, huge protest. And this was in the 1900s 1990s, I’m pretty sure. And it was kind of interesting, because when they came up, it was kind of a repeat of that demonstration, and kind of showed that, you know, maybe there was some progress, but it clearly wasn’t enough. So the cycle kind of repeated. And I just think that maybe if there isn’t more progress, you know, before we know there might be another Fairy Creek where there’s going to be another old growth forest and BC somewhere, someone’s gonna find out, it’s being logged. And these people are very willing to protect these things they hold very special and consider very important to British Columbia, to nature. And yeah, just everyone there. So I think that’s what I’m looking out for in terms of keeping track of things in BC, because I need to run out there and cover that story as well.
Carter Dungate, journalist for the Ubyssey, thanks for listening.
You can read Carter Dungate’s story on the ubc.ca that’s spelled UBYSSEY. To connect with us or suggest a story you can find us on Instagram @BeyondtheU podcast. This episode of Beyond the U is hosted, edited and produced by Prarthana Pathak, Saman Daraa and Sahaana Ranganathan.
Episode 3 – Marija Robinson
SD: This is Beyond the U, a Met Radio 1280 AM production. I’m Saman.
SR: I’m Sahana. This show looks at real stories from university campuses and the students behind student journalism.
SD: In the past few years. The conversation around the romance genre generally comes with a side of smut. The term smut refers to adult themed works that focus on explicit sexual scenes, and can have different connotations depending on the context. While smut has existed for some time, the mainstream introduction to smut can be traced back to 2015. During the pandemic, smut climaxed with many readers openly discussing and recommending books with it.
SR: In September 2023, Marija Robinson explored romance, smut, and the security it brings to young women for the Otter, a Toronto Metropolitan University student publication. She joins us today.
SR: So for people that aren’t really avid smut readers, okay, what is smut?
MR: Okay, so the way that I see it, as someone who is an avid smut reader is just sort of, it’s these romance books that contain sex scenes. But they’re more than like, your average, like, you know that they’re in the bed together, and then the door closes, like, that’s not really what smut is, like smut gets to be everything, it gets to be pretty graphic, and it doesn’t always have to be incredibly graphic, but you get to know a lot of the detail of what they’re doing and like where they’re deriving their pleasure from. So that’s how I see smut.
SD: Okay, why do you think smart novels are so popular, especially lately.
MR: Um, so that was like, an interesting thing that came out in the piece for sure was, kind of everyone’s reasoning is different. But it all comes down to finding comfort in these books. And so there’s, I feel like a lot of people really, when you’re stressed, you enjoy knowing what the outcome can be that relieves some stress. And so especially after the pandemic, that had no known outcome, like no one knew what was going on. And so finding it in books before you could find these formulas in like mysteries, like you always knew that someone at the end was going to be guilty of something. But those books are inherently not really comforting, like they get, they can be really spooky, they can be really stressful. And so those were kind of really big prior to the pandemic. And then what happened with COVID was, people really want these formulas, but they didn’t want to be stressed while reading. And so romance got to be this place where you knew that at the end, the rule of romance is there has to be a happily ever after. And I’m not just saying that, that is the rule to be considered romance. And so, because of that, you knew that at the end, the people you want to get together would be together. And so you got to read this, even through all the ups and downs with the comfort of knowing that it was going to be okay. And so there’s that aspect of it, I think for sure, that comfort. And then the other side of it is particularly for young women, it doesn’t come up as much in the piece. But it was sort of like underlying theme the whole time, was that young women are in this really cool place right now where we get to have careers where we can support ourselves, we have amazing friend groups, like we’re doing a lot of cool things. And so we are no longer in this world where we have to find a man who can support us and we can raise a family with like those can be longer term goals if we want them to be, it doesn’t mean that we don’t want any side of that. So romance books can kind of fill in this gap while men sort themselves out. And so that was sort of like a fun thing as well being like the girls, at least that are in the story, were all really successful and happy, independently of being in a couple or not. And so yeah, it’s this it’s both finding the comfort but also just wanting a side of romance if it’s not necessarily in your life right now.
SD: What was your first smart novel?
MR: Oh, God, I got so uncomfortable with it. It was like it was February 2021. And I had read this book that this girl on Instagram had recommended it was like a about it was set in like the 1800s and it was like this like, girl falls in love with a Duke and whatever and it realistically right now in my current smutty phase, it wouldn’t have enough smut at all. But I think I was so embarrassed because I had been reading it at work and had been recommending it to everyone prior to all the sex scenes. And then I was like, Oh my gosh, if people ever read this they’re gonna think that I’m like this crazy person. And the book in hindsight was not that well written. Like I wouldn’t recommend it. But that was like my entry into it for sure.
SD: I feel like you mentioned in your piece how everybody kind of has that first book. Yeah, and for so many people it was Twilight. Yeah. So how did you go back to kind of tracing that? That was kind of the first for our generation? Smut novel? T
SD: I guess that’s actually fair. You’re right now that you say Twilight, I’m like, oh, realistically, it was actually like, Twilight was like the entry point of like, the beginning of smut without all the graphic. But it was interesting that kind of came out naturally from people like I would ask them, like, what was the first romance book you read? And for a lot of them, the first one that they can remember being really distinctive was Twilight. It was after speaking to a couple of girls and being like, Okay, that seems to be the gateway. It was also like the first time that I read proper romance when I was like, 11, or 12. And then I was Googling it. And I was like, Oh, this seems to be a thing that a lot of people did. It wasn’t just like, my own, like Twihard phase. Like we all went through it. And so yeah, it just came from doing the interviews and them all saying that was their first book that ended up being a big part of the story. Yeah.
SD: And then you also kind of talked about 50 Shades of Grey. Can you tell us more about like, how that intersected with Twilight?
MR: Yeah. Oh, that’s like my favorite connection in the world. Because the thing is, like, when we’re talking about a genre that completely changed romance, it was 50 Shades of Grey, at least in our lifetime. What’s really cool though, is you can’t have 50 Shades without Twilight because 50 shades was fanfiction. And so they’re just so tied together. It was nice the way that they kind of came together. But yeah, so it was like EL James had read Twilight, and had just been really nuts. Like everyone who does fanfiction obviously loves previous books so much they want to continue those character stories. And she had developed this storyline that was deemed too saucy for like fanfictiondotnet, I believe it was. So she created her own fanfiction website. And it was just funny to me because it was like too much for the internet. But then it ended up turning into a novel that we all saw, like on our mom’s bookshelf. And so yeah, that was kind of the evolution from Twilight to 50 Shades. And then 50 Shades completely changed the romance market, because it was like, we all knew what was in those books. We weren’t hiding it anymore.
SD: I think it’s so funny. Also, when you bring up 50 Shades of Grey, like my best friend had it in high school. And we would like I never read it fully, but she would show me parts of it. And so it was almost like this, like unspoken. And like everybody would try to hide the covers.
MR: It was funny because for this, for this piece, I needed a quote from 50 Shades of Grey, but I don’t own the book, and indigo no longer sells it. Like you can’t go to the bookstore and find it. And so I had to message my friend at home. And I was like, get out your book and send me photos of the non odious pages. And she like our texts back and forth. Like, there’s some weird stuff in there now, because it’s just like she’s sending me the most obscene things in that book. But yeah, it is. It’s a bonding point for sure.
SD: Where do you look to find smut novel recommendations?
MR: Yeah, I think like, with a lot of girls, I’m sure it’s similar, where it’s TikToks the place to go. And there’s the sub community on TikTok, that’s called BookTok. And that’s a great place. Because I think like when you Google, like reviews, you’re never going to really get the full story. So it’s nice to have people on book talk, at least explaining to you why they liked it or didn’t like it. And it’s also likely going to be people your age, if not women your age. And so there’s some validity to what they’re saying. I mean, like, that’s where I get most of my records from, and then I have them on like a list. And not all of them are hits. Some of them are for sure flops. But it’s like there’s at least the trusted source.
SR: You kind of touched on it in your article. But you know, romance can, as much as I love the genre, be really rigid, and also like heteronormative. So like, with BookTok And also with more diverse authors entering the space, can you talk a little bit about how romances include more different kinds of love?
MR: It’s really cool, because I think if you walk into Indigo now, like, you’ll be bombarded by all these romance books with the front and center. And what’s cool is either the authors won’t all have like super white presenting names, or the people on the covers will also be like people of color, or like same sex couples. And so there’s this big trend that’s happening in romance right now, where they understand what Canadians want, and Canadians want to be able to read about themselves and stories and so that includes, of course, people of color and same sex couples. And so, the nice thing about romance is you’re guaranteed this happy ending, it brings an end to like the barrier Gays trope. And like the barrier Gays trope is kind of found in a lot of TVs and film, where they’re like, no, no, we’ve been really diverse and inclusive. We’ve included a gay character, and then that gay character has like the worst storyline or they’re killed off or something tragic happens to them. And it’s just like, Okay, well, I want to see myself in a storyline. But I would also love to see myself get a happy ending out of it. And in a lot of ways when diversity is in movies or TV, you get the same thing where that character is just never fully a person, they don’t get like their own complete storyline, whereas in romance, because they’re including more author’s voices, and because it’s becoming more popular, so you can get more books out of it. You just have the ability to put a lot more storylines out there that actually reflect people’s realities, which is a lot more fun.
SR: I know when I was, in the pandemic, I was reading so much romance like I couldn’t get romance. It’s my couldn’t stop reading it. And now I’m not even touching it. I know.
SD: I heard that when well, people early on in the pandemic, they were like, Oh, just start reading smart novels. Because if we can’t see each other,
MR: Yeah, might as well have fun, right.
SD: So I think that’s the reason why I saw it get big. Yeah. But then it ended up being like its own genre now.
MR: And that’s he cool thing about it getting to this point is like, it’s now been somewhat recognized as legitimate. It’s that whole vibe of like the Barbie movie, The Taylor Swift eras, tour, romance books, it’s like you’re allowed to be feminine, you’re allowed to like girly things. I would love if romance could stay at least taking up some of the real estate that it’s been occupying, just because I think it’s important that girls get to like, go into a bookstore and have as much fun, as they like, right now. Like, you just gotta go and pick fun stories that you can escape into.
SD: What’s the biggest misconception about smart novels?
MR: Um, I think like, the biggest misconception that seemed to be coming up was that you should be embarrassed because you’re reading these, and that it’s less worthy than other genres. Like this is not the same level of intelligence, as you know, what men are reading out there. And that’s something that’s just so inherently untrue. Like sorry, I don’t like reading about people getting murdered, or like people in space. I like reading about people having sex. And that’s fine. And that’s really like, it doesn’t make me an idiot for thinking that. So, yeah, I think that, thankfully, as more women come into it, it kind of dispels the myths, because sometimes I think the harshest critics of women end up being women themselves. And so as more people see the validity of the genre, it dispel the misconception of it.
SR: I think there’s something to be said about how like, romance, and smut like working together can also remove shame. And like dehumanization, from like sex, because I know, like a lot of people are really turning away from like, traditional porn and stuff like that. And smut is where they found some sexual liberation. And like in your reporting, did you find this to be the case? Or in your personal experience or something?
MR: I think so. For me, personally, those were my porn before porn. And then I think for one of the girls in the story, for sure, in the article for sure. That was how she realized who she’s attracted to. She thought that she was attracted to men, and now she identifies herself as queer. And so like, I, I always try avoiding this thing with smut, like we’re all getting turned on from it. Because like, the reality is, you do get turned on from reading about sex scenes the way that you would if you’re watching sex scenes. But the cool thing about what smut does is it turns everything on its head where it’s like, well, women’s pleasure is actually the focus of what this is where so much porn is about men’s pleasure and men getting off. And that’s really cool for men, but it’s way more fun for a girl to be like, oh, like, he’s so obsessed with her that her pleasures is the absolute priority right now. And I don’t think that we get to see that very often even in movies. And it is also, I mean, not that books are realistic, but movies just seems so unrealistic. And it’s like they’re both finishing together and you’re like, Okay, well, like that’s never gonna happen. Maybe I don’t know. In a dream world. That would be cool, but it’s just like, it’s nice to feel like it’s a little bit more realistic and it gets to prioritize you as a woman. And then also you get to learn what you like and don’t like and maybe who you like and don’t like.
SD: Maria, thank you so much for joining us today.
MR: Thanks for having me. It’s been a blast you guys. Thanks
SD: Thanks for listening. You can read Mariya Robinson’s story on theotter.ca. To connect with us or suggest a story you can find us on Instagram @BeyondtheU podcast.
This episode of Beyond the U is hosted, edited and produced by Prarthana Pathak, Saman Dara and Sahana Ranganathan.
Episode 4 – Aloysius Wong
Please listen with care. This episode talks about suicide. If you or someone you know needs support, please contact 1-833-456-4566 or text wellness 2686868 for youth or 741741 for adults.
This is Beyond the U, a Met Radio 1280 AM production. I’m Saman. I’m Sahaana.
This show looks at real stories from university campuses and the students behind student journalism. The University of Toronto is one of the most prestigious and largest by enrollment schools in Canada. With approximately 95,000 students spread across three campuses, the absence of even one person can be felt. In 2019, three suicides took place at U of T’s downtown St. George campus, all three in the same building the bay and Center for Information Technology. A shadow of grief spread through the campus, students demanded change and rallied together for mental health care. Aloysius Wong was one of those students. He wrote about the student body’s resilient for the Otter, a Toronto metropolitan University publication in February 2023. Now, as a UofT alumni and Toronto-based journalist, he joins us. So just for to give some context, could you explain the incidents I guess you talk about are at UofT.
So, it was mainly that period between around 2018/2019, a little bit into 2020, as well. But mainly that that period of time between when I was in my second and third year, there were a number of suicides on campus in the same building. There was one in June 2018, one in March 2019, and one in September 2019, and carrie also in January. Just having those four suicides sort of one after another and seeing a lack of institutional response until the very last one, all the major media were coming in, and like there’s this pattern. Three of them have been in the same building, what’s going on? It was only really then that they, you know, took a bit more action and put up a physical barrier and said they were investing more into mental health supports and things like that. So my motivation for writing the story was sort of twofold. One was to see looking back now, how all of that was still affecting people, especially at the emotional level, there was a lot written about sort of the policies and the impacts that was were having on different categories of students. There was a policy at U of T that I think is still in place called the mandated leave of absence policy, which basically means that if your university deems you a risk to yourself or others in the community, they can force you to take a leave of absence in some senses. Like if someone is being a dangerous member of the community to their program, and everyone was like, fine. If someone has mental health further stigmatizes the problem, and it was something after that the Ontario Human Rights Commission wrote a letter about things and even then, they still move forward with the policy. So it also seemed like how much of that has actually changed in the time since and how much of that the impact sort of the long, long term impact was out of that.
As you chose to kind of begin the story with Carrie Davis, can you tell us a little bit about Carrie,
I went to U of T for my undergrad between 2017 and 2021. When I was in second year, I was in a program called Peace conflict and Justice Studies and Carrie was a classmate of mine. She was someone who was very bright, very smart, very kind, really intelligent, very generous person. She was someone who was gonna go really far. She was asking questions in class, always sitting at the front, you know, that kind of person. But all of a sudden, you know, things sort of took a really tragic twist when Carrie died by suicide later that academic year in January. And it was just something that really affected the community. And so I guess what I’m trying to accomplish with the piece was to really ground that in not just my personal experience, but like that pain that we all experienced together and the impact that that has, for when there are multiple of these reverberating in the community, you know, year after year, month after month,
Could you speak a little bit about like, what the differences in the supports for like international students versus like, commuters are?
Well, I think it’s different for every individual. I mean, people are coming into programs and into university college life with, you know, different lived experiences and things like that. But I think broadly speaking – first of all – the cost of going to school, like if you’re an international student, and you’re paying 50 $60,000 a year to go to university, some people are from very wealthy backgrounds, good for them. They have families to go back to and things like that. Maybe they have an extended family here too. For a lot of people, you’re coming to university for the first time you’re 18,19, 20 years old, your first time away from home, you’re paying all this money. There’s a lot of pressure on you. Yes, there are some supports on campus. Those injured students don’t have old hip right like there is a university health program that you can access as well. But again, like those can only go so far when you have the financial pressures, just family pressures, the academic pressures, right? All of that sort of just compounds together. And that’s just from Josh’s, I mean, you look at people who are coming with disabilities, and you know, all the paperwork they have to get through just to get accommodations. You look at commuters, right, like people who are commuting long distances have less time to study. People from lower income backgrounds, have to work longer hours, take on multiple part time jobs to pay off student loans, like all of this comes into play. And I mean, I think the last part I’ll add here very briefly is UofT, at least at the time, I think this is changing somewhat, but when I was there the research there was, especially in some programs, a culture of oppression Olympics. When it when it comes to the academics, right, like, oh, you know, like, I’m so stressed, I have like three midterms this week. And I was like, Oh, what do you mean, I have five and three papers, like it can’t be that bad. Where I was, like, really, we should all just, you know, I think there was a big push, as far as a lot of this is just coming out between students would be like, that kind of language isn’t okay, we should be at like, validating should also be like, when that kind of stuff happens, right, they’re just students.We shouldbe sort of pushing Universities to have more humane conditions as well, when it comes to how we study and things like that, because all of that does have an impact on mental health.
As you wrote this piece, you interjected yourself, your voice in it, and you wrote it in first person. So I’m curious what the process of that journalistic decision was.
Yeah, I guess to speak a little bit in terms of how that developed. The pieces first started out as an assignment, actually, for our narrative feature journalism class at the masters level and school of journalism, here at TMU. So it was a mix of both are my professor sort of encouraging that and sort of saying, like, well, there’s been a lot of reporting from the outside, but you have a certain perspective, and that’s valuable in this case, and sort of promoting that. But also, I mean, as to be sort of develop, most of people I spoke to were against, but like a lot of people that I knew, like I was very involved in the advocacy at the time. I was on a bunch of different committees and student advocacy groups and things like that. So to fully remove myself also felt a bit dishonest. So there was that aspect of it about to be like, I was actually really involved at the time. This is my perspective, and clearly coming from a certain angle and trying to explore it from that way too. So I think it was a mix of like, having people supporting me as I was writing it, and sort of encouraging to make it stand out a bit more and to showcase what it was like living at that time. And reflecting on that time. Now, I’m hoping it comes off as a more honest piece in that way is.
Can you tell us a little bit about like what your advocacy work at the time looked like?
Sure. It’s a bit of a mix of things. The evening of September 27, the last one of that year at least, happened. I was working at the Isabel Bader Theatre on campus of our front of house use comes in. I know a lot of the staff were all students, people are concerned, you don’t know who it is yet. After work, it’s already 11 midnight, but a bunch of students have already gathered over at Sydney Smith Hall where a lot of the arts and science students are started just how it started was very easy to just lose collective of people just organizing rallies got a name called the U of T Mental Health Policy Council, there’s essentially so they’re a bunch of different collective and groups that sprung up as a response to this. So I was involved a lot first with sort of organizing those actions in front of the governing councils office and sort of trying to get explicit recognition that this is an issue third year and into fourth year as the pandemic it as well. But I was also involved with a group called “How many lives,” a program around normalizing failure, especially on campus. A lot of UofT students are very successful, at least they present that way. But there’s a lot of times we don’t talk as much about it. Either students or professors have actually had setbacks like whether that’s personal or professional. So it’s normalizing that and then the other group I was involved with was a group called U of Thrive, essentially, like trying to get students not just to survive in their time through campus, but to thrive.
What was that experience? Like? Like revisiting?
Yeah, no, I’m glad you asked. Um, it was tough at first, I think especially writing that opening scene, and I was trying to remember what the memorial was like, I sort of knew editorially, like, as a writer, I should or wanted to go back in some capacity to sort of try to feel and relive those emotions in some way. So it was difficult. I pulled back some old messages and, you know, things I’d written at the time old journal entries were there my computer in writing, things like that. So it was just that and sort of like being like, wow. It’s also pulling back, all of us sometimes slowly and all of a sudden, like grief evolves, right, when you’re there in the moment, like you don’t know that it’s going to change and it feels like you’re just in that sinkhole of pain and loss forever. But eventually, you sometimes don’t even notice it as it’s happening. But I bet you know, you stop thinking about it every day and start thinking about it, you know, every other day and then once a week and eventually It’s sort of just part of you like, it’ll come back here and there as like sort of a pain of loss or regret. But it won’t really hold you back anymore. You know, that’s still something you’ll hold dear is sort of moving forward from there too. So that’s, Yeah, it’s interesting sort of seeing what you learn when you when you go back as well. So I’m grateful that I did.
I know as a when I was reading it, I didn’t go to UofT, but I did find it very relatable to what was happening 2019 and 2020 through a lot of universities.
So you captured your writing and captured a lot of grieving somebody that you didn’t necessarily know. So how did that grief process affect students, faculty, and yourself as well?
Carrie, was someone who people didn’t know and that this dude has got to know even after the fact, because of how open the file was. In most of the other cases, especially the three that happened in the Bahen center, a lot of those students, you know, their dentists are far, but probably, and I think in most cases, speed is because the families preferred that it was, but when you’re in a building, first of all, like if you’re physically there in the building, as some of my friends were, you know, you’re just done in computer science or engineering, it’s a hub for people 24/7. He brigade was interviewed in the piece, and a lot of other friends I know as well. Like, when you’re physically in the building, and you hear, like, the impact of someone fall and and then you’ve later learned that they died. And it was because, you know, they, it was a suicide like, that has a really big impact on on people, right? Whether you’re from that program, or whether you’re not just knowing that this was someone, you probably passed by the halls and they went to the same classes that you they might have sat in the chair you were sitting in, and then and then suddenly, they’re not there and you point is it’s like has one, one fewer student, it’s one seat empty, if their own residence, there’s one, there’s one empty room all of a sudden, and those rooms stay empty till the end of the year, and people are reminded of that, right? You put all that together, right? Like even if you don’t know someone, and if you keep hearing these reports, over and over again, especially if it’s in the same building, within months of each other, it dampened the mood significantly on campus for months, you know, it’s just like everyone was sort of just bracing for the next one. Like as terrible as that sounds. Thankfully, it hasn’t been the last one that’s been reported since but like in 2020, in the middle of COVID, right after the ones in 2018 that I discussed, there was another student at the Chestnut residence but you know, but for different campus. A first year student there also died by suicide every single time something like this happens, you’re sort of just everyone is tense for weeks. And for most students, you hear about it, whether to your professors or your classmates. And if you keep hearing about it, as often as it was happening at the time, it feels like it could have happened to any one of us it could have it could have happened, it could have been your friend, you know, it could have been your lab partner, it could have been someone, you know, you were writing an essay with and did just suddenly not have that and to feel like it. At a certain point. I think something that was going through my mind in those months after was just like, How long until I, you know, end up in a place like that in my head. And you know, I feel like I can’t get out like I was so scared at a certain point like that not only lose another friend, but like, cold dead. It’s like it’s right there. Like they’re in the same situation. Just people are just as smart and talented as you are. Yeah, I think that’s sort of the impact of that too. And I mean, and that’s why I think there’s there’s such, I guess, hesitancy to report on it and to talk about it, I guess in that stuff. I mean, the university doesn’t want obviously, it’s bad press. And again, like it’s one of those things too. Like in some cases, when you don’t know someone, it’s harder to grieve because you don’t have memories to go back to right and you feel like you’ve lost something but you don’t even know what you’ve lost because you didn’t know them. Right. So I was like that’s it’s a really complicated feeling and emotion to go through because it’s not your standard kind of grief either, either.
I wanted to say thank you for writing the piece. I really enjoyed reading it.
Yeah. Thanks for having me. And yeah, I guess there’s one last thing I want to say is like, appreciate the opportunity, but also like, if any students are listening to this and or any people from administration, keep talking about this. Like mental health is one of those things that it can fester if it’s not something that’s in the forefront. So you know, for yourself, take care of yourself. Take care of your friends.
Thanks for listening. You can read Aloysius Wong’s story on the Otter.ca. To connect with us or suggest a story, you can find us on Instagram @BeyondtheU podcast. This episode of Beyond the U is hosted, edited and produced by Prarthana Pathak, Saman Dara and Sahaana Ranganathan.