CEI Grant: Salam from Niagara Falls

Iranian and Afghan artists participating were asked to share and digitally manipulate photographs from their personal archives at Niagara Falls alongside family and chosen family. All works are mixed media, using digital manipulations to complicate relationships with “home” and the nostalgia associated with Niagara Falls as a place for affirming our (Iranian and Afghan migrant/refugee) belonging in Canada. Zahra Rajabi is a product designer fascinated by what constitutes belonging in the digital world. Rajabi pairs images of popular Canadian landmarks alongside family photographs in Afghanistan to think through the ways that “home is (re)created through art”. Ferozan Nasiri is an Afghan community organizer and educator interested in the ways that members of the Afghan diaspora use different modes and mediums to theorize, articulate, and represent their lived experiences locally and globally – especially through storytelling. Nasiri uses Afghan textiles as the backdrop of her work to evoke a feeling of familiarity for Afghan audiences engaging with her work. Through her artist statement Nasiri pays tribute to complicated relationships to belonging which are “as complex and non-linear as our distinct experiences with migration.” Melika Hashemi is a multidisciplinary artist whose projects are informed by her social and pedagogical concerns regarding marginality and resistance (and grounded by her hyphenated experiences with Iran and Canada). Through works such as Ayeneh Kari (2019), Hashemi transforms her family photographs at Niagara Falls into (digital) traditional Persian mirror handiwork. Swarm is an anonymous street artist based inTiohtià:ke (Montreal) and whose primary medium is wheatpaste and graffiti. Swarm’s artistic contribution included a digital manipulation of the Canadian flag, hung upside down to signal the distress and urgency surrounding Canada’s contribution toclimate change via settler colonialist resource extraction that has been ongoing since the first waves of colonization.

The collaboration between Afghan and Iranian artists grew organically as we already shared space in our movements against islamphobia, against sexism, against racism, and against other structural conditions which shape our lives and the lives of those we love. More specifically, we shared space in our movements against sanctions (which are mostly discussed in relation to the flow of Iranian products but) which restrict the mobility and livelihoods of people first and foremost including for Afghan people. While cultural and linguistic commonalities acted as a starting point for our collaborative project, we attempted to ensure that we centred our own entry points rather than flattening or conflating Afghan and Iranian experiences especially because we all held different relationships to migration, class, faith, and shadeism. The significance of Niagara Falls for new immigrant and migrant communities is not limited to Afghan and Iranian diasporas however we centred what we know to strengthen our work and ensure we were only speaking from lived experiences.

Note: this question is hard to answer without placing blame/shame on community members who are often doing their best in the face of overt racism, microagressions, delayed visa/immigration applications, etc. but anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeniety, and attachments to neoliberal notions of productivity (rooted in racial capitalism and property rights facilitated through theft of Indigenous land) continue to be prevalent in our respective diasporas. A lot of artistic practice also continues to think through the “٣rd space” that first and second generation Iranian and Afghan people navigate without asking: “what are the limits of making claims for belonging on stolen land?” We are invested in questioning how diasporic claims for static and grounded relationships to place are harmful in reproducing notions of time as linear and more broadly, assimilating into the white settler state which isn’t broken but rather built to operate at the expense of Black, Indigenous, and racialized people. In producing her works, Ferozan Nasiri notes that she thought about an imaginary thread between her family photographs and ijaza (consent) in relation to the land. She insists that consent is a part of a dialogue that should have a place in the collective consciousness of the Afghan diaspora, especially as “we navigate, recreate, and speak on different spaces of belonging here.” While we are concerned about the lack of discussions around settler colonialism and anti-Blackness in Iranian and Afghan communities, we are indebted to the mobilizing happening across Turtle Island by platforms including (but most definitely not limited to) Canadian Roots ExchangeDiaspora Express, and LAL .

Melika Hashemi draws from The Audre Lorde Questionnaire to Oneself (1980) to grapple with the limits of language and feelings of unbelonging which we do not always yet have the words for. Diaspora Express makes conversations on home-making and settler colonialism accessible by asking its members “what brought us to this land and what can we do in solidarity with rightful owners of this land?” While many Iranian politicians stand by a Prime Minister who has continuously failed to seek Indigenous peoples consultation and who upholds a history of land grabbing by the Canadian nation-state (including through pipeline expansions and tar sands extraction), we look towards futurities beyond surface level representation and towards honouring treaties and enacting different ways of inhabiting and most importantly, sharing space for ourselves and the generations to come.

In short, the most concrete piece which inspired this exhibit is the photographs that each of us have at Niagara Falls and the complicated relationship to home that we continue to think through/carve out.

Student Profile: Iris Deng – Student, Artist, and Leader

Meet Iris Deng, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto and good friend of the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP). Her involvement at the CCP has been an integrated part of her University of Toronto life; from volunteering to writing and graphic design, Iris has been involved with the CCP in various roles and perspectives. Iris’ involvement began during her first year of study for February 2017’s Alternative Reading Week, and she has since pursued other volunteer and work-study positions.

It was my first year. I was living in res, and I saw the poster. It said: ‘What are you doing during reading week? Consider Alternative Reading Week!’ I was intrigued,” says Iris.

Alternative Reading Week is an annual volunteering experience organized by the Centre for Community Partnerships in which students spend three days working on various projects with local community organizations. Iris spent her first Alternative Reading Week with the Innovation Hub. “The Innovation Hub is a student-led initiative that collaborates with partners in the university community to research and ideate innovative strategies for improving the campus experience” (Innovation Hub).

The following year, Iris was inspired to rejoin Alternative Reading Week as a project leader, collaborating with students on a mural for ArtHeart at Daniels Spectrum. “A community cultural hub, Daniel’s Spectrum is home to several art-based communities such as ArtHeart, whose mission is to build self-esteem and self-reliance for children, youth, adults, and families in the Regent Park community” (ArtHeart Community Art Centre). In addition to her interest in psychology and economics, her two majors, Iris also has a passion for visual arts and design: “I draw portraits, photo-realistic drawings, and in recent years, comics and graphics too”. Along with her contributions as a project leader for Alternative Reading Week at ArtHeart, Iris has also applied her technical art skills through comics for the University of Toronto’s “The Varsity” and her work-study positions at the CCP. During her second and third years at the University of Toronto, Iris worked in the CCP work-study position of Communications and Promotions.

(Left) Iris (5th from the right) and her teammates in front of the 2018 ArtHeart Mural created during Alternative Reading Week. (Right) A sketch of Iris’ ‘lovely squad’ during the 2018 Alternative Reading Week.

During her second year of study (and first work-study period), Iris also worked for Student Life’s blog, representing the CCP and writing alongside other U of T divisions. She proposed formatting her blog posts as comics with blurbs, making the comics the emphasis of her posts: “I got to incorporate my artistic skills. I got tired of writing so I asked: “Can I draw instead?”

Comics from Iris’ Student Life blog.

Henceforth blogging for Student Life through comics, Iris blogged in a personal and unique style. For her CCP position, she undertook numerous projects that allowed her to apply her graphic design and illustration skills, including poster and t-shirt designs. For one such project, she illustrated for the CCP’s children book “Bloom’s Community Garden”, of which 70 copies were printed.

“It was hard balancing everything. I was working at the CCP, and that made me want to be more involved in the events that they held. I had to attend them and blog about my experiences for my Student Life blogger position, which I really enjoyed. I was glad to incorporate my artistic skills.”

Illustrations by Iris from “Bloom’s Community Garden”.

During her third year, Iris was a photographer for Alternative Reading Week and delivered a public speech during its orientation. She also continued in her role as Communications and Promotions Assistant at the CCP. Through the variety of roles she has assumed at the CCP, Iris has gained skills from digital art to writing, blogging, and even public speaking. “In a work-study position, you aren’t limited. Your skills come up and that’s what you can bring to the table. I guess I brought artistic skills. From there you learn even more. Being involved has helped me grow in many ways. …  I made some opportunities happen and some just happened to me! CCP was a starting point and I jumped to different places, like Student Life and University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), but I always came back because there’s always more I can learn.”.

Now in her fourth year of study, Iris continues to be involved with the CCP. She plans to finish her Bachelor’s degree in 2020 and pursue a career in communications, design, or marketing. “I don’t want to limit myself to these fields though”, says Iris. Additionally, she plans to further pursue her visual arts skills through formal training and practice. “I’d love to have a stall at an art exhibition or show, or sell my art.” Check out her Instagram page to see more of her amazing work, or click here to see her illustrations for the Varsity!

Iris D. (@shh.who.draws) • Instagram photos and videos

See Instagram photos and videos from Iris D. (@shh.who.draws)

www.instagram.com

Drawings from Iris’ Instagram page.

Works Cited

“ArtHeart Community Art Centre.” Daniels Spectrum, danielsspectrum.ca/tenants/artheart-community-centre/.

“Our Work.” The Innovation Hub, blogs.studentlife.utoronto.ca/innovationhub/our-work/.

 

CEI Grant: Primary Stroke Prevention

We are a team of graduate students from the Translational Research Program at the University of Toronto. Thanks to the funds provided by the Center for Community Partnerships, we were able to complete our capstone project, titled “Primary Stroke Prevention: Comparison of Information Sharing Preferences of At-risk Patients with Family Physicians’ Practices”. The overarching framework for this capstone project used the translational thinking design, which consists of two phases: problem exploration phase and translation phase. This is a key conceptual framework for translational researchers to define the problem in the context of the needs of the people and design a project that can have an impact in the community. While the goal for our capstone project was to complete the exploration phase, the translation phase was left to be conducted post-masters.
As part of our exploration and to help conclude this phase of the translational thinking framework, we conducted a mixed methods study. It was during this part of the capstone project that we used the funds provided by the Center for Community Partnerships, for which we are very thankful. For this study, we recruited 14 at-risk patients (e.g. hypertension, dyslipidemia, atrial fibrillation), 5 stroke survivors and 13 family physicians.

We used quantitative (surveys) and qualitative (focus groups/interviews) methods to address three main questions:
– What is the current stroke literacy?
– What are the barriers to effective preventing counselling?
– What types of communication strategies would be perceived to be effective for promoting education of primary stroke prevention?

The results of our study indicate limitations in the literacy of stroke survivors and at-risk patients, and limitations in the abilities of family physicians in managing stroke risk factors and stroke prevention. Primarily, we found that there is a large gap between family physicians’ education on primary stroke prevention to their patients in comparison with patients’ perceptions. Top barriers to primary prevention from the family physician’s perspective include the lack of time, funding, prioritization of unhealthy lifestyles, team-based solutions, convenient and effective risk assessment tools, guideline-based physician education, and coherent patient education materials.
During the next part of the project we plan to use the information gathered during this exploration phase and develop translational prototypes in partnership with the three stakeholders to improve patient education and self-empowerment in stroke prevention. Also, we are certain that our research will serve as a stepping stone for other researchers interested in generating tangible solutions for people in the community.
Once again, we would like to express our gratitude to the Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto. The completion of our research project would not have been possible without their incredible support!

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: The Industry Team Case Study

The Industry Team Case Study initiative, bridging the gap between academia and industry

It can be difficult for graduate students deeply immersed in academic research to find the necessary prerequisite experience to apply for many industry jobs. To equip U of T students with industry-relevant skills, the Life Sciences Career Development Society (LSCDS) launched the Industry Team Case (ITCS) program since 2015, in collaboration with the Science Career Impact Project (SCIP), a volunteer organization founded by U of T alumni with a mission to deliver transformational experiences to science trainees seeking careers in industry. This year, ITCS continues to be one of the most sought-after programs offered by the LSCDS.

The ITCS program gives trainees the opportunity to work on industry-relevant projects as they prepare for the job market. This initiative involves a four-month program during which teams of three to five students collaborate on a trainee-directed project with an industry facilitator, culminating in presentations to industry professionals and members of the life sciences community. Projects focus on regulatory and medical affairs, ranging from the development of a regulatory framework for cannabis-infused edibles to positioning CAR T cell therapy for Priority Review by Health Canada. Indeed, as one trainee testifies, “ITCS goes beyond single event engagements where the discussion on industry roles is surface level, consequently leading to a poor understanding of industry positions; as well as excels in contrast to other mentorship opportunities where no project is being pursued.”

Through ITCS, trainees build their professional network, learn the expectations of an industry position, and deliver projects to supplement their job applications. “The ITCS Project has provided an excellent opportunity to learn of different roles in the pharmaceutical industry and gain experience in a simulated project,” said one trainee, now a market analyst. She continues, “Unlike classroom lectures, ITCS offers the first-hand experience into the healthcare industry from working professionals; a perspective that can’t be learned from a textbook. These insights enabled me to be comfortable in discussing various aspects of market access during my job interview.”

The 2018 ITCS program was highly successful, drawing over 120 trainees to the initial information session. After a rigorous selection process, 10 four-member teams were formed, comprising of MSc and upper-year Ph.D. students. Building upon our mission to raise awareness of industry careers to students of all life science disciplines, the program’s participants came from various departments, ranging from Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry to Rehabilitation Sciences and Immunology. Overall, over 85% of trainees from the 2018 ITCS reported that the program strengthened their job applications and helped them receive the job offers they sought. Facilitators also valued the mentorship experience they gained during the program and enjoyed the opportunity to network and give back to the scientific community.

Finally, we are extremely grateful to have received support from the Centre for Community Partnerships at U of T, as the project would not have been the success it was without their amazing support!

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: Dig In!

Written by Samantha Lucchetta (Dig In! Campus Agriculture Co-Coordinator)

Starting a community garden from the seeds of an idea isn’t always easy. Getting a garden started on-campus can sometimes be tough and oftentimes is costly work. This is why we were so glad that CCP gave us their support in 2018, enabling us to build two raised beds behind Campus Co-op as part of the new Youth Food Centre.

For the past ten years, Dig In! Campus Agriculture has been establishing and maintaining edible green-spaces across the University’s campus. From March until the first frost of winter, we run twice-weekly garden workdays that are open to current students and non-student community members alike. Wanting to put our heads together with other like-minded individuals, this past spring we teamed up with Regenesis, a student-run environmental organization, becoming an initiative of theirs. Through Regenesis UofT, we were introduced to the folks at Campus Co-op, who eagerly welcomed the idea of a food garden being situated at one of their residential buildings. We were very excited at the prospect of establishing another garden on-campus, where we could get our hands dirty and dig in to fresh, communally-grown vegetables.

The Campus Co-op Community Food Garden was constructed in May 2018 with the help of Dig In! and Regenesis volunteers, graduate students from the Faculty of Forestry, and Campus Co-op residents. Despite the shady location, a variety of plants flourished in these new raised garden beds. Throughout the season, volunteers who came out to our garden workdays had access to the garden, taking home free organic produce and helping to keep the gardens healthy. Tuscan kale, purple tomatillos, ground cherries, radishes, and cucumbers are just some of the vegetables that were grown at Campus Co-op. In autumn, the new gardens were shown as part of garden tours and utilized at communal cooking events. One event, which was a collaboration between Dig In!, Community Kitchen, Regenesis, Campus Co-op, and NishDish, was the highlight of the season.

I like to think that every garden is like a classroom; the seasons are your teachers, and you learn each of your lessons as time goes on. This year was a very experimental one. We weren’t sure what plants would do well at Campus Co-op, how many seedlings we would need to fill-in the raised beds, or how much we’d end up harvesting. We now have a better idea of what we’re working with, and we’re sure that we can make next year’s harvest even more successful. As a novice gardener myself, I think that I learn something new every garden workday, whether it’s about gardening in general, how to work together to make a communal space, why agriculture needs to become more sustainable, or the importance of good food in bringing people together. I’m sure that whoever comes out to get their hands dirty with us feelsthe same way. We are already sowing next year’s plans for the Campus Co-op Community Food Garden, which we hope will include building two more raised beds to double the gardening space.

Thank you again to CCP for their continued support with this project and others. Thank you also to Campus Co-op and its residents for continually being engaged, friendly, and open. And finally, thank you to all of our many volunteers who helped make this season’s events amazing.

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: What We Take – Exhibition of Emerging Toronto-based Artists

Written by Hannah Johnston (exhibition co-curator)

What We Take was a juried contemporary art exhibition featuring 8 emerging Toronto-based artists: Shabnam Afrand, Ahmed Babolly, Ioana Dragomir, Joon Hee Kim, Michelle Lewin, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Asma Sultana, and Polina Teif. The exhibitionexplored how the things we take with us from one place to another both confirm and disrupt our understandings of home. Feelings of displacement are common for many people in and around the Greater Toronto Area. Globally, we’re in the midst of a refugee crisis resulting in huge amounts of immigration worldwide; locally, high rent prices in the GTA are forcing people out of the downtown core. ​This exhibition showcased works of art that deals with themes of transience, home, and migration. It was a valuable and important opportunity to showcase new and different voices in Toronto and surrounding areas.

The exhibition was curated by three students from the Master of Museum Studies program at U of T: Eleanor Howell, Hannah Johnston, and Aline Zara. It was located at the John B. Aird Gallery in downtown Toronto. The gallery rotates art exhibitions on a monthly basis, and frequently hosts independent curators. Planning What We Take began in October 2018. We wanted the exhibition to be welcoming to visitors – even those who might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with contemporary art. We focused our interpretive efforts on creating dialogue, situating the artists as individuals, and encouraging interactivity.

As emerging professionals ourselves, we are committed to supporting fellow emerging youth and immigrant artists in our community by not only providing them with with a platform to showcase their work, but with programming opportunities that allow them to network and gain valuable skills. With the support of the Community Engaged Initiatives Program, our curatorial team was able to offer additional educational programming during the exhibition’s run.  On March 7th, we hosted an artist panel with three of the eight exhibiting artists: Ioana Dragomir, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, and Polina Teif. We discussed the works on display, shared insights about the curatorial process, and answered attendants’ questions about the exhibit, the artists, and the overall themes.

We are so grateful to received support from the Centre for Community Partnerships at U of T, as the project would not have been the success it was without their amazing support!

Images from the Opening Reception, February 28, 2019:

Co-curators from left to right: Eleanor Howell, Aline Zara, and Hannah Johnston

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: Chestnut Community Outreach Team

A reflection by Student Life Programs Coordinator, Sonja Smiljanic

When I began my role at Chestnut Residence & Conference Centre in the Residence Life Office in January 2019 I was pleased to learn about our Outreach Team and partnership with the Child Development Institute. Our office was initially connected with CDI through our Dean of Residence and Director of Student Life, who had worked with the organization in the past. Our office has been collaborating with them on programming for about a year now through the Chestnut Community Outreach Team, which aims to connect our residence community to partners in the city.

Child Development Institute (CDI) is an accredited children’s mental health agency in Toronto that offers programming for children ages 0-12, youth ages 12-18, and their families. Their programming spans across four distinct streams: Early Intervention Services, Family Violence Services, the Integra Program, and Healthy Child Development. CDI aims to work with children and their families to uncover their abilities, support them in overcoming challenges, and giving them tools for success. One of their programs, SNAP (Stop Now And Plan), aims to support children and youth who have engaged in problematic, aggressive, and/or antisocial behavior or who have been in conflict with authority figures. This is the specific program we have engaged with through collaboration. Our outreach team has hosted the group once before on campus and last year visited their facility in the city.

I was part of the team that planned our outreach days in March 2019. These days brought two youth groups from SNAP to campus on two separate days to get a taste for Post Secondary life. We engaged with campus partners at Hart House to offer the groups fun activities like basketball, arts and crafts, human-sized Snakes & Ladders, and other fun team building games. We partnered with MoveU, Get Crafty, and Varsity Athletics to provide these fun opportunities and we could not be more grateful for their involvement in these outreach days. After our time at Hart House we enjoyed a tasty lunch at the New College dining hall and ended each day by going on a campus tour tailored to the interests of the participants. Highlights included the rare book library, Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, and none other than the bookstore.

The feedback from the youth members and CDI staff alike was very positive. One of the most notable successes was getting our Chestnut students and other students through Hart House and Varsity involved. The informal conversations between the participants and the students proved to be highly engaging and helpful. We also had informal Q & A time and the participants had a lot of highly inquisitive and thoughtful questions around admission requirements, tuition fees and finances, student life, and residence. The time we took to answer questions and engage in informal conversation ended up being deeply valuable because the participants got to better understand what it was like to be a U of T student and we as staff and program organizers got to understand our partners on a greater level.

While we considered our March Community Outreach days to be successful there were definitely some lessons reinforced and also learned:

  1. Get to know your community partner: as a new staff member I found it really helpful to do my research on CDI and the SNAP program ahead of time. It helped to frame the planning process for me and also made it easier for me to advertise the program and get students signed up to volunteer. I talked to colleagues, researched online, and read through old email threads to get a clear understanding of the organization and the state of our collaborative relationship with them.
  2. Start planning earlier than you think you need to: though we reached out to campus partners early we still felt the crunch before the program days in confirming groups, spaces, and timing. I think if we had reached out approximately 2 weeks earlier much of the last minute confirmations and associated stress could have been avoided. Lesson learned!
  3. Leave a larger buffer for the start time if participants are arriving from various locations: both days ended up starting later than planned by as much as 45 minutes which threw off our schedule and associated campus partners’ schedules as well. We had youth arriving from various locations in the morning and then travelling together via TTC just after rush hour. In hindsight starting the program later or planning for a larger buffer would have been helpful to everyone’s schedules and been more respectful to other campus partners we were working with.
  4. Carve out time for informal chats: I found this to be especially important for outreach initiatives where the U of T experience is at the forefront of discussion. Our youth participants were more interested in talking to students than to staff when it came to learning about the U of T student experience. In the future we’ll keep that in mind when building the schedule.
  5. Printed material can be a wonderful supplementary tool: some of the questions around admissions and financing studies would have been easier to answer with resources from the various Faculties. As staff we pulled on our collective experience working on campus however in hindsight we should have had this information ready to go in take-away form for the participants. My suggestion is if you’re hosting groups that could be prospective students one day to have some recruitment/admission material ready to go so that information is readily available.

Overall my experience in helping to coordinate our Community Outreach days in March was very positive. The gaps in planning weren’t absolutely detrimental to the experience but the lessons they taught will be very helpful in the future. Chestnut’s Community Outreach Team is really proud of the connection we have with Child Development Institute and it’s a partner we look forward to collaborating more with in the future!

Due to protecting the identity of those in the SNAP program we are not able to share photos of our time together, but if anyone has questions about our experience coordinating this collaborative program please don’t hesitate to reach out. I can be reached using the contact information below.

Sonja Smiljanic
Student Life Programs Coordinator
Chestnut Residence & Conference Centre
University of Toronto
sonja.smiljanic@utoronto.ca
416-585-3154

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: Habibiz

Following the Shisha Ban which came into effect on April 1st, 2016 and has since forced nearly 70 predominantly Black and Brown migrant-owned businesses to close and/or restructure their livelihoods, the owner of Kennedy Road’s Very Own Habibiz Shisha Lounge asks, “where else is there for us in this city?”[1]. Through mixed media, poetry, and audio-based instillations, Habibiz asks:

What does it mean to illegalize already hypersurveilled spaces and communities?

How do Black, Indigenous and racialized people reckon with the familiarity of being re/moved?

As Toronto changes and places of sanctuary are brought down/underfunded/renovicted, how do we preserve stories and physical spaces (safely or otherwise)?

Through Habibiz, Way Past Kennedy Road aims to centre racialized and spatialized understanding of placemaking which transform “the places in which we find ourselves into places in which we live”[2]. We draw from what Black, Indigenous and racialized people have to say about access, movement and forced displacement in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), confronting normalization of community destruction through laws enacted, bans established, and the “stress of living in a metropolis actively pricing out its residents”[3]—all of which have roots in surveillance[4]. These changes are meaningfulto the people who frequent rejected corners of the city: strip malls, shisha lounges, and nail salons alike. We locate the shisha lounge as a site of intergenerational gathering, a site of migrant ownership, and a site of placemaking for Black and/or Muslim people. The stories shared through the exhibit take the ordinary, the things Amani Bin Shikhan describes as “bordering on mundane”[5], highlighting them both as places of surveillance and places where “otherwise oppressive geographies of a city can provide sites of play, pleasure, celebration [and life].”[6]

In conversation with Najma Sharif, Halima S. Gothlime responds to questions on “how to create—and even just exist—in spite of” forces trying to suppress and outright ban [Muslim Somali women] from public spaces, describing surveillance as “an organism trying to regulate how and where things are placed”[7]. Through photography, Mahdi Chowdhury interrogates the way surveillance is deeply felt as regulation at borders where visas are used to submit to state surveillance and/or become subject to statelessness[8]. Through a series of .gifs, Idil Djafer traces the way surveillance is deeply felt as regulation in Toronto since the majority of spaces she enters in this ever-gentrifying city are white spaces/negative spaces[9]. Rather than seeing surveillance as something newly inaugurated by technologies such as automated facial recognition and digital data collection, the artists of Habibiz insist on factoring how “racism and anti-Blackness undergrid and sustain existing surveillances”[10], continuously shaping access, movement, and forced displacement. In extending a conversation on radical traditions of placemaking across the GTA, the works reckon with and/or suggest “alternative ways of living under routinized surveillance”[11].

At Digital Justice Lab’s ‘Alternative Urban Futures’, Michelle Murphy challenged smart cities projects by asserting that Indigenous land protectors, sex workers and other people who are experts on breaches of consent should be at the forefront of discussions around city infrastructure[12]. We extend Murphy’s call to action by insisting that communities who are often pushed to the periphery should be at the forefront of creating core value systems for this ever-shifting city. Using the Shisha Ban to extend a broader discussion on both placemaking and surveillance with artists and community organizers in Toronto and Chicago, through Habibiz we are offered the space to archive complicated histories and futures of Black, Indigenous, and racialized life in the city.

By Jessica Kirk + Mitra Fakhrashrafi of Way Past Kennedy Road


[1] Huda Hassan, “Banning Shisha in Toronto is About A Lot More Than Health Codes in Fader (2016).

[2] Lynda Schneekloth and Robert Shibley, Placemaking: The Art and Practice of Building Communities (1995).

[3] Amani Bin Shikhan, where now? guestbook note(2018).

[4] Ifrah Amhed in conversation with Najma Sharif, “5 Somali Creatives on How Surveillance Culture Shapes Their Work” in NYLON (2018).

[5] Amani Bin Shikhan, where now? guestbook note (2018).

[6] Marcus Anothy Hunter et al., Black Placemaking: Celebration, Play, and Poetry in Theory, Culture, and Society (2016).

[7] Najma Sharif, “5 Somali Creatives On How Surveillance Culture Shapes Their Work” in NYLON (2018).

[8] Mahdi Chowdhury, Videre (2019).

[9] Idil Djafer, Not Our Space (2019)

[10] Simone Browne, Dark Matters: on the surveillance of Blackness (2015).

[11] ibid.

[12] Michelle Murphy at the “Alternative Urban Futures” symposium (2018)

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: Students For Change/Sister Writes

Stories are powerful. They reflect what we value, they reflect what we believe in, and they reflect what we strive for. Stories can also produce and reproduce socially accepted values and expectations; consequently, they often act as tools that spread sexist, homophobic, racist, or xenophobic ideologies in society. To challenge such hegemonic norms, Students for Change (SFC), a gender-equity focused club at the University of Toronto (UofT) that advocates for the rights of women and gender minorities, held a writing workshop that provided a platform for participants to tell the stories that explore intersectional feminism and challenge mainstream gender stereotypes.

For the past few years, SFC has been partnering with Sister Writes, a Toronto based creative writing and literacy program that empowers women affected by homelessness, mental health issues, or any other extraordinary circumstances. Our writing workshop was held in collaboration with Sister Writes to engage community members and UofT students in writing fiction and non-fiction works pertaining to feminist issues and it was made possible with the Community Engaged Initiatives Grant. Through the workshop, we hoped to inspire participants to pick up the pen and paper share their stories and have their voices be heard in our community.

Our workshop was held in the warm and cozy Hart House Library and was facilitated by the Sister Writes founder, Lauren Kirshner, and instructor, Donna Reid. We had diverse group of 30 participants at the workshop, where roughly half were community members and the remaining were UofT students. Some of the exercises we carried out during the workshop included jolting down all of the random thoughts in our mind without sparing any details, discussing with a partner some of our proudest and disappointed moments in our lives, and sharing with the group our aspirations and fears in the writing. These exercises allowed us to flesh out stories that we were too ashamed or too afraid to share and gave us more clarity in understanding our own experiences as well as the experiences of other members in the community. After the workshop, we held a reception where participants continued to reflect and discuss some of the exercises in the workshop and what they had learned from each other.

Overall, we were moved by how the participants allowed themselves to be vulnerable and vocal during the event by sharing stories that were often marginalized and unheard of. As executives of SFC, we believe that the stories enable a new way of thinking about and understanding the experiences faced by female identifying, POC, queer, and disabled members of our community. If we strive for gender equity, our stories need to continue engaging and challenging people, not just in their minds, but in their emotions and values, about the role and importance of feminism in their lives.

Thank you to CCP for their support with our writing workshop. Thank you to Sister Writes’ Lauren Kirshner and Donna Reid for facilitating the lovely and insightful workshop. And finally, thank you to our all participants for opening up and sharing their stories with the rest of the group; we hope that you continue writing and sharing your experiences with the community as a vessel for social change.

–     SFC Executive team

Click here learn more about our Community-Engaged Initiatives Grant

CEI Grant: Musical Minds!

Musical Minds Community Outreach is a student-driven organization at the University of Toronto that offers free music lessons and mentorship to kids and youth in the Toronto community who may not have the means or opportunity to learn music. Many of our kids come from at-risk communities, and face backgrounds of adversity, poverty, refugee/newcomer status and/or face backgrounds of abuse. Our instructors are volunteer music teachers who are pursuing degrees at the University of Toronto, in a variety of fields in undergraduate degrees and beyond. We are so grateful to have so many years of support from the Centre of Community Partnerships at U of T, where our lessons take place on weekends. We also partner with a breadth of city service organizations, for example United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs and newcomer centres to name a few.

With the support from the CCP, we were able expand and grow our program. This year we were able to enrol 61 kids and youth, taught by 30 instructors. We understand the valuable role of stability that MMCO can bring on a weekly basis to many at-risk youth. One of the biggest challenges in our program is ensuring kids have an instrument to practice on throughout the year. Among other supports, we were able to purchase more keyboards for use by students whose families are unable to rent or buy instruments. We are also grateful to CCP for supporting our end-of-year recital, which gives our students the chance to showcase their hard work over the year. While learning performance skills is part of any musician’s development; working towards a recital fosters life-long skills such as dedication and goal-setting. Our instructors are positive role models – not only are they talented musicians and community advocates, but are pursuing education in a breadth of fields from music, to business, to mathematics, or chemistry, just to name a few. Through 1:1 mentorship with a youth instructor, students learn not only how to play an instrument, but also foster a variety of other qualities. Qualities that this mentorship fosters includes an enthusiasm for learning, using music as an outlet to encourage positive mental health, building confidence, and also learning about the importance of giving back to our community.

For our instructors, our program encourages development of leadership skills, communication and teamwork skills, and importantly, community advocacy. These practical, real-world skills are invaluable in complementing an instructor’s classroom education and professional development. By working with diverse socioeconomic and cultural communities in Toronto, our instructors gain a first-hand understanding of the complex socioeconomic and cultural conflicts that arise in their own community. In addition, learning to run an outreach organization is a tremendous opportunity for our leadership team. We have learned that ideal leadership in outreach organizations means staying committed to the organization’s underlying objective with commitment to compassionate and supportive relationships with team members and families. Effective leadership in student outreach organizations also implies planning for the future and sustainability of the organization. Student leaders in our team have the opportunity to engage not only with other fellow students but also university faculty and staff, leaders in the community/city service organizations and families in the community – all of whom come from unique backgrounds and cultures.

The CCP has been a keystone partner to MMCO over the years. Undoubtedly, MMCO would not have grown to the organization it is today, without their amazing support!