For many Canadians, continuing on to post-secondary education is a major milestone — a crossover into adulthood away from family, a shift to fuller responsibility and an opportunity to define who you are.
This fall, young Canadians are embarking on this momentous journey as the coronavirus pandemic shapes each step of the way.
CBC News spoke to three students about what university life looks like amid COVID-19.
Life on campus
Hana Mitsui Hotz knew exactly what she wanted from university: meet new people, try new things and study a subject that excites her. On a campus tour of Montreal’s McGill University, she “absolutely fell in love” and, despite the pandemic, the freshman is determined to stick with her plans.
“You really want to go to university. You want that experience,” said the kinesiology student, who moved into residence in late August and started remote classes in subjects like chemistry, physics and biology on Sept. 1.
“I’m sure it’s going to be different. I definitely want to be safe…. I’m not going to go into any crazy house parties and stuff like that. [But] I still want to have a good time.”
Sitting in her solo, hotel-style room her first night on campus, however, Mitsui Hotz said she felt overwhelmed. New measures — including strict occupancy limits in common rooms and virtual frosh activities — are designed to curb in-person gatherings, but they left her worried about how she’d actually meet her peers.
WATCH | What life in residence is like amid the pandemic:
Even if the majority of their classes are online, some university students are choosing to move on or near campus to get a fuller student experience outside the classroom. 1:59
“The reason I’m here is because I wanted to meet people. Once I had arrived and I kind of saw the layout, I was really worried whether or not I would be able to,” said the student from Toronto.
Her stress level has dropped since the mix of online and in-person interactions she’s had with others. A few people connected doing yoga together on Zoom, she said, while someone else got tons of reaction seeking, via an online chat, a few buddies to join in on a visit to the park.
For Mitsui Hotz, a quick hallway chat led to a new friend and a day spent window-shopping together.
“At the beginning, I was very frantic…. If you’re not doing something, you kind of feel like you’re missing out on everything. But I’m more used to it now. I’ve realized that it’s not as bad as it seemed,” she said. “It’s really weird, but it’s working out.”
Though safety amid the pandemic remains a concern, she said she feels McGill has thoroughly communicated protocols with students, including taking a mandatory “mini-course” about COVID-19 and what to do if you have symptoms or test positive.
Mitsui Hotz said students must also take personal responsibility.
“I know people might go out to somewhere that’s very populated. I just don’t do that,” she said.
WATCH | Students head to campus despite remote classes:
In the midst of the pandemic Hana Mitsui Hotz documented her first few days living in residence and attending classes at McGill University as schools begin to reopen for the semester. 8:19
A gradual start
Anthony Russell envisioned university as finally getting out on his own — away from his hometown of Calgary — to pursue studies that would lead to law school. The pandemic has meant a delayed start that the first-year student at the University of Alberta never imagined.
Still at home for the time being, Russell is taking remote classes for a new law, crime and justice studies program, which is based at his school’s Augustana campus in Camrose, Alta.
“I will be on campus eventually,” he said. “I’ve been in the house with my parents and all my siblings my whole life…. I’m just really excited for when that time comes and they say, ‘OK, everybody can come and stay on campus.'”
A thread of uncertainty has woven through the past two months. First-year students at Augustana live on-campus, Russell said, but he only learned of his program’s remote start about a week and a half before classes began, so he doesn’t have to move to Camrose just yet. There was also a delay with his schedule, which was only sent to him at 5 p.m. the day before his first class — complete with an assignment.
Since those initial hiccups, communication has been more frequent, Russell said, which helps him more effectively manage his time. Seated in his family’s sunlit garage — where he attends Zoom classes several times a week, completes daily assignments and also creates vibrant art pieces — he said he feels as though he’s finding his groove.
After having a less-than-ideal experience with remote learning to end high school, Russell said he finds a big difference with the university’s live video sessions. “It’s easier to ask questions and understand the materials because you have the resources there,” he said.
“It’s not as overwhelming as I thought it would be … especially because I only have one class at the moment until Sept. 21. It’s an easy phase trying to step into the university life, coming out of high school.”
The remote start also extends beyond class, since peers connect via video conference, emails and messaging, he said. A few orientation activities Russell has heard about — like a grilled cheese competition — have also been virtual. But he’s biding his time until he’s physically on campus.
“It’s not going to be the same as actually getting to live on campus and experiencing the actual atmosphere and meeting new people every day,” he said.
Russell is anticipating an email in October that will advise him whether his studies will continue remotely in the new year or be held in the classroom on campus. He’ll remain at home if classes are remote.
Although he does have concerns about a potential January crush moving into residence alongside hundreds of others, he said he’s been satisfied so far with his school’s communication regarding pandemic protocols and safety measures.
“I myself can take the proper measures of making sure that I stay safe: social distancing, [wear a] mask when that’s not possible, washing your hands. My only worry is other people not taking the proper precautionary measures. That puts everybody else in jeopardy,” he said.
COVID-19 has definitely distorted his vision of university life, Russell acknowledged.
“I thought I’d be going into classes…. Getting a coffee in the morning and all that stuff. But since I’m just staying home and my classes are remote, that whole kind of aspect of university life is out the window — until classes resume the normal way.”
After summer at home in Quebec working with her research supervisor remotely, Catherine Boisvert is eager to be back at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
But to re-enter what’s now Canada’s Atlantic bubble, she had to first manage a tricky quarantine juggling act in her off-campus apartment shared with two roommates. When Boisvert returned in early August, one roommate left to stay with family elsewhere in Nova Scotia to allow her to self-isolate for 14 days. She subsequently decamped to her boyfriend’s flat to allow a third roommate — returning from British Columbia — to quarantine.
“This is a crazy situation…. We have to bend a little bit and be a little bit flexible to help our friends,” said Boisvert, who’s starting her fourth year of a joint honours program in math and physics.
Boisvert said she appreciates efforts to create a safe, supportive environment for students, but she’s also found implementation can lead to confusion.
A week into her quarantine, for example, she was sent into a panic when Nova Scotia announced a new measure requiring students returning from outside the Atlantic bubble to be tested for COVID-19 three times during their isolation. StFX also has a new policy where students require a green bracelet — distributed to Atlantic citizens and those who complete quarantine — to access campus. It must be worn throughout September.
While well intentioned, officials should have introduced these measures earlier, said Boisvert, who eventually received her bracelet after being told she wouldn’t need the tests.
Boisvert said she feels grateful her school is aiming for as many in-person classes as possible — such as in her own program, where nine or 10 students per class is typical. But arriving from the province with the most COVID-19 cases in Canada has left her acutely aware of the importance of maintaining coronavirus protocols.
“A lot of people have the mentality of ‘Oh well. We’re in a small town in Nova Scotia. Nothing really can go wrong.’ … I know what the consequences of that are,” she said.
While university policies might continue to be “trial and error” this fall, she said, schools have to move forward.
“We can’t just shut down completely,” Boisvert said. “We’re going to have to try to find some sort of new normal.”
Let me introduce you to the Douglas Family Art Centre, a new addition to Kenora. Come visit us downtown across Memorial Park from the Lake of the Woods Museum. The building incorporates the former land titles building with a new addition. It was designed by Nelson Architecture and built by Solid Construction; both local companies. The space is gorgeous. Inspired by the old building and the natural elements of our region the Art Centre is a vibrant place that engages the senses and the mind.
My role as curator is to manage the selection and interpretation of art on display. There are two gallery spaces that present art exhibitions from regional, provincial and national artists. The main room of the former land titles building is a grand studio space where creatives of all ages and abilities make art in classes and workshops presented by Shelby Smith, the art centre programmer and/or visiting artists. There is a library for anyone curious or interested in anything art. Take a book out or enjoy one of the two lounges on the second floor. There is a multipurpose room for rent that is glowing with natural light and has a full kitchen. The MUSE shop features artwork from local artists and vendors as well as carefully selected creative gifts. There is artwork throughout the building as well, wood and bronze sculpture, photography and colour woodblock prints. If you are one who enjoys geology you will love the fossils in the Tyndall stone used in the interior and exterior of the building.
Exhibitions are displayed for three to four months. Currently on display are two exhibitions. “21 Pillows” is by award-winning Red Lake glass artist Cheryl Wilson-Smith. Wilson-Smith has hand-made over 10,000 glass stones, her interpretation of a moraine found north of Red Lake. You have never seen glass like this! Visitors are encouraged to touch and move any or all of the stones and pillows as you are inspired, leaving your trace on the landscape.
“To realize by moving a rock, throwing a stone in the water, [you are] altering the environment. So in my show, by moving the stones we are all altering the environment, for better or worse, we are all participating,” Wilson-Smith said of her exhibit.
“From The Vault” is an exhibition curated from the collection of the Lake of the Woods Museum. Many of the artworks have never been displayed before. Each piece tells many stories, about the period in which it was created, the life of the artist, or the lives of the many people who owned it. This exhibition features artwork important to this community donated by private and public collections. There are some mysteries on the walls we need your help with! Some artwork keeps its secrets close.
This fall, Shelby Smith is hosting three 10-week classes for children and teens. These classes are after school and explore many ways of making art. Spots are filling up! On Oct. 1 the Douglas Family Art Centre is partnering with Science North to present an artist talk with Cheryl Wilson-Smith at lunch and a fossil hunt later in the afternoon. On Sept. 24 Kris Goold hosted a sold-out workshop but it looks like Kris will offer another class so book your spot! If you’re missing out keep an eye on our website or become a member to get a heads up on the exciting things that are happening at the Douglas Family Art Centre.
If you haven’t been in yet, come down and take it in. The art centre is your place to discover and enjoy. We look forward to seeing you.
Sophie Lavoie is the curator at the Douglas Family Art Centre.
PARIS — Wearing a long, white tunic with the names of two African ethnic groups written on it, the defendant stepped forward to the bar, took a breath, and launched into a plea.
“No one has sought to find out what harm has been done to Africa,” said the defendant, Mwazulu Diyabanza, a Congo-born 41-year-old activist and spokesman for a Pan-African movement that denounces colonialism and cultural expropriation.
But it was Wednesday’s emotionally charged trial that gave real resonance to Mr. Diyabanza’s struggle, as a symbolic defendant was called to the stand: France, and its colonial track record.
The presiding judge in charge of the case acknowledged the two trials: One, judging the group, four men and a woman, on a charge of attempted theft for which they could face up to 10 years in prison and fines of about $173,000.
“And another trial, that of the history of Europe, of France with Africa, the trial of colonialism, the trial of the misappropriation of the cultural heritage of nations,” the judge told the court, adding that such was a “citizen’s trial, not a judicial one.”
The political and historical ramifications were hard to avoid.
France’s vast trove of African heritage — it is estimated that some 90,000 sub-Saharan African cultural objects are held in French museums — was largely acquired under colonial times, and many of these artworks were looted or acquired under dubious circumstances. That has put France at the center of a debate on the restitution of colonial-era holdings to their countries of origin.
“Our act aimed to erase the acts of indignity and disrespect of those who plundered our homes,” Mr. Diyabanza said.
The restitution debate came to a head in France when President Emmanuel Macron promised in 2017 to give back much of Africa’s heritage held by French museums. He later commissioned a report that identified about two-thirds of the 70,000 objects at the Quai Branly Museum as qualifying for restitution.
But in the two years following the report, only 27 restitutions have been announced and only one object, a traditional sword, has been returned — to Senegal, in November 2019. The remaining 26 treasures that were designated for restitution, to Benin, are still in the Quai Branly Museum.
And the bill supporting these exceptional, or case-by-case, restitutions has yet to be voted on.
Calvin Job, the lawyer for three of the defendants, said in court that the bill, by focusing on exceptional rather than regular restitutions, reflected “a desire not to settle the issue.”
“We should enshrine the principle of restitution in the code of law,” Mr. Job said.
Given what they perceive as hurdles, activists from Mr. Diyabanza’s Pan-African movement have staged operations similar to that in Paris at African art museums in the Southern French city of Marseille and in Berg en Dal, in the Netherlands.
“We have young people who have an identity problem,” Mr. Job said in an interview, “who, faced with a lack of action, a lack of political will, have found it legitimate to do the work that others don’t.”
Speaking to the judge, Julie Djaka, a 34-year-old defendant who grew up in a Congolese family, said: “For you, these are works. For us, these are entities, ritual objects that maintained the order at home, in our villages in Africa, that enabled us to do justice.”
Marie-Cécile Zinsou, the president of the Zinsou Art Foundation in Benin and the daughter of a former prime minister of Benin, said that, although she did not share the activists’ methods, she understands “why they exist.” “We cannot be ignored and looked upon down all the time,” she said.
“In France, there’s a post-colonial view on the African continent,” Ms. Zinsou added, saying that some prominent French cultural figures still doubted that African countries could preserve artworks.
Such grievances on France’s post-colonial legacy were in full play on Wednesday at the trial as a small crowd of about 50 people, most Pan-African movement activists, were barred from entering the courtroom by the police because of concerns about the coronavirus and because some feared that their presence could disrupt the trial.
Activists shouted “band of thieves” and “slavers” at the police officers cordoning off the entrance to the courtroom and they chanted, “Give us back our artwork!”
Prosecutors on Wednesday asked that a fine of 1,000 euros, or about $1,200, be levied against Mr. Diyabanza and a suspended €500 fine be levied against his associates. A verdict is expected on Oct. 14.
Activists in front of the courtroom on Wednesday welcomed the recommended sentences, which they found modest, as a collective victory.
“We all are defendants here; all of us should normally be at the stand today,” said Laetitia Babin, a 45-year-old social worker born in Congo, who had arrived from Belgium in the morning to attend the trial.
“It’s not up to them to decide how artworks are returned to us, it’s up to us,” she said.
At an event called “Artists for Biden” last night, Kamala Harris addressed her love of contemporary art in a conversation with Catherine Opie, Carrie Mae Weems, and Shepard Fairey. Here’s what she had to say. [Bloomberg]
Although museums are often criticized for the whiteness of the art collections, their fashion holdings tend to exclude Black creators, too. [The New York Times]
The Centre Pompidou in Paris could close for three years to undergo “essential” renovations. The news comes as the museum prepares to open a major space in Massy, France. [The Art Newspaper]
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. will devote a show to works featuring First Ladies of the United States. Included will be photography by Annie Leibovitz and the dress worn by Michelle Obama in Amy Sherald’s painting of her. [The New York Times]
Sweden has set aside $1.1 million for the creation of its first Holocaust museum, whose focus will be survivors hailing from the country. [Jewish Telegraphic Agency]
What if the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s controversial renovation project isn’t so bad? Tom Christie considers the case for Peter Zumthor’s latest project. [Los Angeles Times]
Art & Artists
Kyle Chayka recommends eight books for getting through creative block, including works by Lawrence Weschler and Octavia E. Butler. [ARTnews]
The National Gallery’s long-awaited Artemisia Gentileschi retrospective gets a five-star review, with Jonathan Jones calling the exhibition the “most thrilling” one he has ever seen at the London museum. [The Guardian]
For the past couple years, artist Dawn Markosian has been creating Santa Barbara, a soap opera–like film and photography project that grapples with her mother’s choice to leave her father. [The New York Times]
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