Two weeks too late

25 03 2014

When I started the week yesterday, it felt like school should have been finished already. And yet, there are still two weeks of classes left. I’m ready to phone it in. I’m ready to half-ass everything left (which is really only the last assignment for my Environmental Design class; Creative Writing is all workshops, and only one left for me). I’m ready to not give a shit — wait, I’ve sort of been doing that already.

Maybe it’s that it’s my last semester of my undergrad at university and I’ve been counting the days and weeks, but this semester feels ridiculously long. My mind is two weeks in the future, all done and throwing papers in the air with glee. I think I’ll let my mind wander into its Nirvana when I’m in class for the next two weeks while I stare idly at nothing and hope no one notices that I’m gone, so far gone.

I’m reading next week!

19 02 2014

For those reading this who are actually in Vancouver (which I think is all of two people, both of whom I could actually contact instead of via blog), I will be reading as part of Outwrite, the BFA reading series for the undergrads in the Creative Writing program at UBC. Also, I will be trying something I haven’t done before (surprise!), which could go horribly wrong, but I’m only allowed 4-7 minutes so that shouldn’t be too long a death. The reading starts at 7pm at the Cottage Bistro (4470 Main Street), so if you’re in the area and don’t mind a free reading by some up-and-coming writers, swing by and chill out with us!



24 09 2013

During a post-lecture, the TA for my Critical Studies in Sexuality class was explaining what the guest lecturer had talked about, since the language and concepts she was talking about were fairly sophisticated. As he was explaining in simplified ways, two students burst into the room. They were both holding boxes of candy that I had seen on a table at the lecture earlier.

“WHO WANTS CANDY???” one of them shouted, as if the class were a bunch of kindergarteners whose sole goal was to consume as much sugar as possible. She and her partner in crime seemed completely oblivious to the TA who was standing in front of the room with a surprised look on his face.

Since no one responded to the interruption and before I could scold them, the student continued. “We’re going to pass it around from the back, so the people at the front might not be getting any, haha.” Hilarious.

I have to give props to the TA for keeping his cool and not telling them off, even as the boxes circulated the room and distracted students searched the varieties of candies in the boxes, even as the crinkling and ripping of candy packages almost overpowered his words. I give props to the students, who obviously realized that more important things were happening, yet didn’t offer an apology to the TA nor the rest of the class.

It’s times like these that remind me that even though I’m taking a third-year course, a lot of these kids are only 19/20. UBC may be considered by many to be a good school (not including me), but the students — that’s a whole different thing.

I don’t know where to start.

10 09 2013

You may or may not have heard about this rape chant thing that happened (and apparently, has been happening for a long time) at UBC’s Sauder Business School. I’ve been reading extensively on the matter today, sifting through dozens of comments left on The Ubyssey and other news sites.

I have no idea where to start.

I think that most everyone would agree that rape is bad. Yes? I also think that many, if not all, incoming students at UBC — not just Sauder students — have little to no comprehensive sex education, and probably nothing mentioning other aspects of sex, like sexual assault.

Now, I took a course at Langara College called Health Sciences 1127 (it might’ve been 1120, I can’t remember). Essentially, it was a four month sex ed course — the sex ed course I never had. Not only did the instructors cover basic things like biological and physiological aspects of sex, but the latter part of the course was focused around sex in society. Fetishes. Sex work. Sex slavery. Laws that govern sexuality, of which included sexual assault.

If I were the president of a post-secondary institution, I would make it mandatory for all students to take this course. I believed it at the time and I still believe it now. Now, it may sound silly. In fact, your first reaction might be something along the lines of, “Why would I need to know that stuff? I’m in [insert different program/faculty here].” The most obvious answer is that everyone has sex. Many young people don’t have a good understanding of sex, or only have a very basic understanding, so this course would be beneficial (not to mention, it’s a really interesting course on its own).

But more importantly, the information about sexual assault/rape, the statistics around how many women (and men) are sexually assaulted, and what they might feel/go through — that is arguably more important. It’s so basic yet so important to teach others to respect one another, to not believe popular culture’s frequent messages about what sex is, misogyny, etc. It contributes to them being a better citizen in the world.

This is turning into an op. ed. piece. I suppose that it is, since I do have a suggestion I’d like to make. But the point I want to make is that we all go to university to learn. I think most people want to learn to be better people.

This seems to be as good a start as any.

Problems with UBC: The Big, Bad Goldcorp

10 03 2013

I was originally planning to write my next blog post about how UBC accepts donations from corporations, usually for a construction project (because we all know how desperate UBC is to claw their way out of the hole they dug themselves in) in return for naming a part of a building, like a wing, after the company.  Unfortunately, I had a bit of difficulty trying to find parts of UBC which are named after corporations.  Except for one.

The Earth Sciences building — if you recall, one of the university’s building projects that is still in the red — is in part funded by Goldcorp, a mining company based in Vancouver.  Now, I hadn’t heard of this company before, but apparently they’ve been caught up in some controversy with their practices in their mines in Central America.  CTV did a segment a few years ago and reported human rights violations among workers, besides other things. Workers have also been found to have arsenic in their blood, and the corporation was even found guilty of criminal charges for contamination.

“What a horrible company,” you say. “I hope UBC refused the money because they are ethical, moral people and not greedy bastards.”

(I’m sure you can see where this is going.)

And from UBC and Goldcorp’s copulation, the Goldcorp Teaching and Learning Wing, in the Earth Sciences building, was born.

It’s good to know that at least I wasn’t the only one to be thinking this: is UBC really in such dire need of money that they would be willing to accept money from a ill-reputed company in exchange for a part of the building to named Goldcorp Teaching and Learning Wing?  That answer is yes, apparently.

And UBC isn’t the first university Goldy has tried to win over with its shiny money.  SFU Woodward also received a whopping $10 million from Goldcorp.  When SFU students and everyone else fumed about SFU’s decision to take the money and build the appropriately named Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, SFU President Andrew Petter said Goldcorp’s appalling history was a “non-sequitor.”  At least he didn’t try to hide the fact that he knew of Goldcorp’s background.  It makes me wonder what Stephen Toope thought when he approved of the deal.  Oh yeah.  He said it was “delightful”.

I haven’t visited the Earth Sciences building, but I keep reading about how wonderful and awe-inspiring it is.  There’s even a free-floating staircase.  Ooooh.  I wonder which corporation it’s named after.

— Taking the You out of UBC.

Earth Sciences Building | UBC by tyfn
Earth Sciences Building, or, Goldcorp’s testicle to mark their territory at UBC.
Earth Sciences Building | UBC, a photo by tyfn on Flickr.

Problems with UBC: Snooty zombie students

8 03 2013

“Well, even if construction is annoying, and the AMS doesn’t give a shit about me, and my education is poor for all the tuition that I pay, I know I’ll be in the same boat with the other 45,000 students on campus.  At least I’ll make some friends — I hear Vancouverites are friendly and as a university campus, students are always lively.”

I will be honest.  I have been ripping apart UBC and all its failings, but this one is a littler harder to be rip on, mainly because it’s difficult to specify what UBC students are like as opposed to students in general.

My first experience involved my older sister, who graduated from UBC many years ago.  During my time at Langara College, she would always talk-down to me, making fun of me for wasting my time at a college and saying my Associate Degree was “nothing”.  Because she never said what was so bad about going to a college, she came off as elitist and just plain annoying.  In fact, many UBC students have this air of superiority about them, as if they’re smarter than everyone else who goes to any other school in Vancouver.

I would say their choice to go to UBC is reflection of their intelligence.  Which is to say they’re often sheeple.

As well, there is a noticeable keep-to-yourself attitude in Vancouver, and especially with young people.  I remember when UBC did a lip-dub featuring students, a user commented saying it was about time the UBC united and did something together, as it was a very fractured community.

I believe part of the reason why UBC students are anti-social is because of the campus location: it is almost as far west as you can possibly go in Vancouver.  UBC is also not technically part of Vancouver, and and has its own police and certain voting regulations.  So it’s no wonder that sometimes it feels as if UBC is on an island on its own, a city of young people, far away from the real world.

Yes, there are many clubs.  But the problem is that for whatever reason, students aren’t much interested in joining these clubs.  I’ve joined two clubs in September, and I have yet to actually participate in either of them (although the Film Society isn’t so much a club as it is getting discounts for movies).

I think the problem with the lack of student engagement in a social level is the emphasis on schoolwork.  There’s just way too much homework/reading/studying to do anything fun.  And around midterm season, you can basically forget about doing anything fun with anyone — people go and hide their faces in textbooks for days on end.  Maybe that’s the reason for the AMS attempting to build a microbrewery (a separate issue I have, but that’s another story): to get everyone to lighten the fuck up and talk to each other (or if they’re talking, it’s always about grades and/or assignments, never about personal things that real friends talk about).

Again, perhaps this is just a student problem, not a UBC problem.  On the other hand, I think this comment, in an article about UBC’s anti-social nature, sums up the school’s mentality pretty well:

UBC makes it clear that its focus is on research, not on students. That’s pretty much the heart of the problem; campus is a bunch of offices, with a few exceptions that feel forced or contrived — and they’re packed, because they’re all there is. Maybe the new SUB will help, but then, too, we’re a commuter university, surrounded by parks and houses. There’s no close-by town area where non-res students can afford to live in higher density and where rent is low enough that kitchy stores and venues can afford to open. The Wesbrook is just another high-priced glass-and-brick Vancouver corporate development, absolutely soulless. So students don’t hang around; campus is dead after 5:00pm.

So if you’re looking for a school that is flooded with pacified students during the day, who walk around silently and avoid eye contact, and then is empty by night — or if you’re interested in what the zombie apocalypse might look like, look no further.

— Taking the You out of UBC

This is sad because it’s true.

Problems with UBC: Teachers (or lack thereof)

7 03 2013

“Well, the construction may be noisy as hell and inconvenient, and the AMS may be a greedy, slimy joke of a student union, but neither of those things are what I’d go to UBC for.  What’s important to me is my education, and that is what UBC is known for.”

I will say yes and no to this.  Let me first start off with all the negative things about the teachers — sorry, professors — at UBC.

Here’s a story.

Before transferring to UBC, I attended Langara College for about three years.  Many, if not all, of the instructors I studied with had a background in education and teaching — that is, they had been trained as a teacher and an educator.  Even if they didn’t tell me at the beginning of the semester, you could easily tell if an instructor had teaching training.  You can tell it in the way they are organized for class, the way they have a mix of activities to enforce information, such as worksheets, exercises, and different assignments.  But most of all, you can tell in the way they speak: their tone is patient and understanding because they care about their students.  I felt that from instructors at Langara a lot of the time, particularly one of my Spanish teachers who I took 3 courses with, who fostered my enjoyment for learning and speaking Spanish.  I felt encouraged and I always did very well on tests (my lowest test mark ever was 98%).  It was a great learning experience.

When I got to UBC, one of the first courses I registered for was Spanish.  I was excited to keep learning Spanish, and I figured that all instructors would be as enthusiastic and as good a teacher as mine at Langara.

To be fair, he wasn’t a bad instructor.  It was just painfully obvious that he didn’t have a background as a trained educator.  He would give us handouts to translate from English to Spanish, an assignment I didn’t find useful because the translations never focused on a particular grammar or vocab lesson.  It just seemed random.  In fact, his classes, in general, lacked the enthusiasm I was so used to.  I found myself unable to absorb a lot of information thrown at me, and my tests always hovered around 80%, as if he had determined that I was a B+/A- student and was determined to keep me there (all my tests were either 80% or 81% — coincidence?).

The literature we read had the same themes.  The exercises in the textbook didn’t come with an answer key so I wouldn’t know if I was right or not.  I didn’t feel encouraged to speak because everyone in the class seemed to have a better grasp and understanding of the material.

Less than midway through the semester, after learning Spanish for more than 5 years, I didn’t want to take my favourite language anymore.

It would be easy to blame my instructor/professor/whatever you want to call him, but I think my story points to something deeper: many professors at UBC aren’t trained to actually teach.

Now, there’s a difference between being qualified in your field and being qualified as a teacher.  UBC boasts some very qualified researchers, scientists, and speakers.

But just because you have a doctorate, doesn’t mean you can teach.

Teaching is complex, nuanced.  It is not something you learn while you do your research or write your thesis.  It takes years to become a good teacher.  And many instructors at UBC simply are not good teachers.  Considering the amount of tuition students have to pay yearly, the lack of congruency equals to frustration, and ultimately, an education that isn’t worth the thousands of dollars you paid.  So what if you get a Bachelors?  What have you really learned?

Now for the positives: there are some good teachers at UBC who actually have a background in education.  It really is hit and miss though.  And the chance of all your teachers being fantastic during your 4+ years of study?  I’m not sure I like those odds.

— Taking the You out of UBC.

Problems with UBC: AMS (a.k.a. Assholic Moronic “Students”)

6 03 2013

“Alright.  So the UBC bureaucracy has no semblance of common sense when it comes to money.  But I’m smart.  We students are smart.  At least the Alma Mater Society (AMS), which is run by my fellow students, has a positive influence on UBC and my university experience.”

I am in my first year of studies at UBC, but as a transfer student, I am starting in 3rd year.  I have already taken about 4 years of studies prior to transferring to UBC.  When I arrived at UBC, I continuously heard about some group called the AMS, yet the descriptions of this group and what they do was always vague at best.  Confused, I asked my friend who is in his third year, “What exactly does the AMS do?”

His answer was immediate: “Nothing.”

Surely that couldn’t be true.

Back in 2011, there was a provincial protest in Victoria held by several universities against rising tuition and student debt.

The total number of UBC students?  Eight.  None were members of the AMS.

Here’s the hilarious thing: when asked why he and the AMS didn’t go, the then-president said they couldn’t afford the transportation.


I get that buses can be expensive, but couldn’t you just all pile into a car and drive there?  Would that have been so hard, to even get one of you there?

Or maybe you should have paid for transportation yourself, with the $25,000 cheque you receive every year for not attending important political events.  And then you have the audacity to give yourselves a bonus when UBC is itself in debt, which, not only is this obviously a conflict of interest, but the fact that the money is coming out of students’ pockets is absurd (and why does seemingly no one care about this??).  And then hide this raise with some bullshit about a vague process of listing goals to earn this money when this process — and these lists themselves — don’t exist.  Perhaps this quote sums up the AMS best: “a bunch of 18–21-year-old political nerds fucking around with your student fees.”

I don’t quite understand student unions.  To me, they are a paradox.  You vote for a student to represent you and your interests, then pay them a large sum to work for you.  But by giving them such a generous salary, doesn’t that, in a sense, make them less of a student when many are struggling with debt?  Sure, you don’t have to be a poor student to understand poor students, but when you decide it’s more important to award yourself more money and then say you’re hard at work to make the art collection available online — that’s just a big f- you to your fellow, debt-drowning students.

But if this isn’t enough comedy for you, my favourite story about this group of wannabe intellectuals is the incident involving then-VP Admin Caroline Wong (now somehow President) kicking out a homeless woman from the Womyn’s Centre, claiming it was for safety reasons, since there were no overnight security guards.  As if it would be safer for this woman elsewhere, with no place to stay.  A classmate of mine, who interviewed Jennie Roth, the manager of the centre, said the AMS responded with statements such as “it’s not really the university’s business”.

I think that statement about sums up the indifference of the AMS towards students’ well-being at UBC.  You’re in trouble?  Fleeing from an abusive partner?  Well, you can’t stay here.  Sucks to be you. 

Mostly, I can’t believe Wong.  She seemed unprepared and unsympathetic, not to mention she puts Arts students to shame for her lack of understanding about women’s safety and sexual health concerns.  Also ironic is that the AMS has apparently spent a considerable amount to stay at fancy hotels but hasn’t fixed this issue after the incident.

Of course, this is all based one articleI don’t know for sure what happened.  But if it was true, and Wong did in fact do what she did, well, then the AMS just plain sucks.

Taking the You out of UBC

Stephen Toope and the then-president of the AMS spew sparkly propaganda at you that reminds me of cheesy VHS educational tapes I watched in high school. (I find this even more hilarious than the other video, especially because Toope is clearly trying really hard)

Problems with UBC: Construction Fever

5 03 2013

If you’ve visited UBC sometime in the last, oh, year or so, you will have noticed the crop of construction projects blocking roads and sidewalks.  You may have wondered, if you actually think critically and are not a sheep-zombie like the typical student, “Wow.  That’s a lot of construction!  I wonder where UBC got the money to afford such giant projects.  They’re an institution and I pay a ludicrous amount of money for tuition, so they must be rich.  Makes sense.  Now I just gotta take this 15 minute detour to get to my next class.”


Even a small dig through UBC’s financial records shows they are millions of dollars in debt — and yet they continue to keep building.  The Aquatic Centre is missing $9 million from its budget; the Earth Sciences building still owes a further $10 million.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, some buildings, which have already been built and are being used, actually still owe money, like the Pharmaceutical Sciences building, which is still looking for someone to pay the whopping $24 million tab.

In layman’s terms, what the fuck?

How is a self-proclaimed, “world-class” institution like UBC allowed to get away with such blatant lack of controlled spending?  It would be one thing to owe money after a few construction projects but to keep on building and knowing that they’re in debt — that is simply appalling.  It is beyond irresponsible.  It is callous, ludicrous behaviour, and ironic that an institution for learning seems to lack enough brain cells to actually learn themselves.

What’s most upsetting about all this is President Stephen Toope’s blatant disregard and/or seeming oblivious to the problems at the university in which he works.  When asked about the construction projects, he said that “95 percent were funded” and that the university is “not in debt”.

So either between the time the first Ubyssey article was published and his interview, UBC managed to magically find about $200 million dollars to cover their outstanding and glaring debt, or Toope, like a skilled politician, is just a big fat liar.

“He’s the president.  Why would he lie?  I’m sure he knows what’s going on,” you might think.

How about this?

In that same interview, when Toope is told about how students feel like the campus isn’t developing with students in mind, he responds that all the construction has been student residences or academic buildings, which are for students.

Okay.  Two things wrong here.

1.  How about the Alumni Centre, which not only is yet another building which has a gaping hole in its budget, but is clearly designed to suck money from those who have escaped UBC’s money-hungry claws?  Or the new fountain in the Martha Piper Plaza?  Are students going to be allowed to swim in it or is it only to create an illusion of beauty for an otherwise ugly campus?

2.  Construction isn’t simply about the buildings themselves.  It is a long process that goes in stages:

Planning: the Alumni Centre and the plaza, for example, were clearly not planned with students in mind.

Paying: because of being ridiculously in debt, UBC resorted to raising student housing fees, among other means, to pay for the buildings .  This was clearly not kept with students in mind.

Construction process: many students reported not being told the extent of the construction and the confusing, winding detours that would make them late and cause grief.  Many students also cheerfully woke up to the sounds of jackhammering and pounding in the early morning.  This was clearly not kept with students in mind.

You are a damn liar if you say the construction and the buildings are all for students.  Or else you don’t have a fucking clue (excuse my language, but the swearing is quite appropriate here) about what it means to be a student.

So.  What does this all mean?

Quite simply, I am ashamed, and I am embarrassed to attend the University of British Columbia.  You should be too.

A place of mind?

A place of one mind.  And it doesn’t give a shit about you.

— Taking the You out of UBC.

[hilarious video below]