Friday, 30 November 2012

Toronto: A Critical Tour, Pt.1

            Today, we’re going on a journey. A mental journey. On this whimsical trip through space and time, we’ll visit and explore the people and landscapes that shape the physical fabric of Toronto while understanding their realities through the use of mediated culture. The dominant real, cyber and imagined tools used to create collective identity is often only a surface-level or inaccurate interpretation of a community.  Asking questions about each medium while seeking options for grassroots reforming or dissent can transcend these ideological perceptions to create more appropriate and community-based depictions.

            Our journey will include stops in five different yet interconnected Toronto communities where we will learn about their histories, the present-day social tensions and/or bonds, how media has shaped their role within the city, and what options exist to disrupt and transform these processes. In such a large and diverse space like Toronto, many different connections can be made between its urban fabric and mediated culture. This is but a snippet of the opportunities we have for communal learning and growth. Buckle in; shit’s going to get crazy.


            Our trip begins during a mid-fall Saturday afternoon on Queen Street West at Landsdowne. Storefront windows showcase tacky trinkets and borderline-creepy mannequins (or person-equins, to be politically correct) dressed in 80’s style shawls while old white men lean against the glass, chain smoking beside a cart full of empty beer bottles. Every once in a while, an avant-garde style bar or cafe screams itself onto the sidewalk, wedged in between the priceless fabric shop and the ‘Shawarma Palace’. It’s as if a hipster shape-shifted into a coffee shop and got lost in a bingo hall. It is also a sign of change, of things to come and other things being lost along the way.

The 'Parkdale Sharrows' - another example of slum housing in Parkdale
Despite the erratic whiff of stale body odour, something to do with this gadabout scene of old and new feels together; somehow intertwined with each other in a weirdly harmonious way. You’ve made your way West on Queen Street halfway to Roncesvalles Ave at Sorauren Ave when you suddenly stop because something interesting has caught your eye across the street. From your vantage point outside of Pete’s Diner, you curiously watch as a bustling group of people, some with walkers and wheelchairs, gather outside a small enclave with a door on one side. Through the window, a raucous of music and loud conversations competing to be heard emanates through walls and spills onto the street. The scene is almost memorizing and pulls you into the warmth of its interior – this place, of course, is the Parkdale Activity andRecreation Centre (PARC), known to many as simply ‘home’.

Of course, PARC wouldn’t be here if its users weren’t forced into the area in the first place. The 60’s were not a great era for Toronto’s West end, and the people here know that better that most – many of whom survived a decade of marginalization after the local mega mental health treatment hospital ‘deinstitutionalized’ and forced its residential care patients into group homes and slum housing projects. What followed was a systematic stereotyping of the mentally ill living in Parkdale and one of the worst examples of social segregation to ever happen in Toronto. Cut off from vital resources and support systems, these psychiatric patient survivors lived in isolation, fear and immense socio-economic oppression (many, in fact, still do). The way Toronto has unfairly portrayed this group in media and projected extreme NIMBYism (not in my back yard...ism) continues to haunt each individuals day-to-day struggle.

Today, places like PARC are promoting a resurgence of community open space where members can leave their baggage at the door and find solace in connecting with other residents while openly talking about their mental and physical challenges. Parkdale has also been the subject of a recent explosion in urban studies research. One article, entitled ‘Village Ghetto Land’ (Whitzman & Slater, 2006), disucsses how ‘in Parkdale, a history of the neighbourhood was constructed in the 1970’s by using a selective reading of the historic record, and this narrative has been used to legitimize the gentrification of the neighbourhood’ (pg.690). PARC has supported this research and is working with community members to draw an alternative and more accurate story of their histories. PARC has, in turn, created ‘accidental realness’ (de Zongotita, 2005) on the streets of Parkdale, where the issues of its residents are ‘something that has to be dealt with, something that isn’t an option. We are most free of mediation, we are most real, when we are at the disposal of accident and necessity.’ (pg.14).

Liberty Village

            There arguably couldn't be a place in Toronto that is in more juxtaposition to Parkdale than Liberty Village. Curiously, although such stark contrast exists, the two are located conveniently close by. You've been transported just Southeast of Parkdale to the heart of the ‘Entertainment District’ on King Street West. Overpriced furniture stores occupy the main floor of fifteen story buildings. The Goodlife Fitness Centre is just ahead. Suddenly, you've acquired a silk pashmina and skinny jeans. Time to hit the streets of Liberty Village.

            Liberty Village is a prime example of what is known as an ‘artist community’ that has been appropriated and reshaped to fit the desires of an upper-class development. The same transformation that took Liberty Village by storm in the 1970’s and 80’s can be seen in Parkdale now – though it is in a much later stage here. The hyper-gentrification of Liberty Village turned what was a derelict warehouse industrial area into Toronto’s most glamorous condo development in less than fifteen years and to the chorus of countless excluded voices who were pushed (or forced, to be more accurate) out of the area. John Catungal and Leslie Deborah (2009), authors of ‘Placing power in the creative city: governmentalities and subjectivities in Liberty Village, Toronto’ explain this phenomenon: ‘the production of a place identity requires both the production of new subjectivities and the exclusion of alternative actors and understandings of organization within the disctrict’ (pg.2579). Liberty Village certainly retains a unique identity within Toronto – an upscale, exclusive and downright facny-ass residential community where only the most business savvy and fashion-forward dwell. But how did this image become so big, and what medium was used to cover up the exclusion of other actors?

            Much of the forces at play can be understood by critically examining how the living spaces in Liberty Village – condominiums, to be precise – are advertised and framed in the media. There is a certain culture that is attached to condos and reinforced by media messages in real estate advertising: one of exclusivity, safety, and swank or posh living. Indeed, when you invest in a condo you aren’t just buying an apartment (presumably, you only buy apartments when you’re buying apartments). Instead, you’ve acquired a lifestyle. That is what makes condo living something to aspire to and that is also why housing in Liberty Village is so goddamn expensive.

1137 King Street West - a retrofitted industrial factory turned office space -
 is a prime example of  the upscale image sold for for your sole in Liberty Village 
          To put a name to this proverbial game, Liberty Village is a picture perfect example of something called targeted advertising. As Peter Steven (2011) frankly puts it, ‘Media executives are only concerned with those groups with the most money to spend – so we know the most about young men in their twenties and well-off urban dwellers’ (pg.78). Ads for new tenants at Liberty Village specifically target young, single well-to-do city folk by portraying a lifestyle only affordable by said group. By successfully deconstructing these medium, we learn how other voices are silenced in the process.


Catungal, J. & Leslie, D. (2009). Placing power in the creative city: governmentalities
and subjectivities in Liberty Village, Toronto. Environment & Planning. (41), 11. pp.2576-2594.

de Zengotita, T. (2005). Mediated: How the Media Shapes Our World and the Way We Live
in It. New York: Bloomsbury Puslishing.

Slater, T. & Whitzman, C. (2006). Village ghetto land. Urban Affairs Review. (41), 5.

Steven, P. (2011). About Canada: Media. NS: Fernwood Publishing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Me, My Self and My Blog

I hear you like blogs. So I made a blog about a blog. It's a blog IN a blog. It's blog inception.

What follows is an edited version of an assignment I created for a class entitled Environmental Media, Culture and Communication late in September 2012. Thus ends the themed month of Alt-Media as November's final week begins. 

"The Dark Ages of a Media Caveman

I am fully aware of my history as an archaic when it comes to media. It always took me an absurdly longer time than anyone else to open a Facebook profile, be Zen with MSN Messenger or change the absolutely embarrassing tag name of my old hotmail account (which is unsuitable enough to not mention in this post) to a more ‘grown up’ version. I was ridiculed for operating on ‘dial up’ internet throughout my entire high school career; still, I found something oddly comforting in listening to the hush and static of my ancient computer attempting to connect to a phone line. These outdated versions of cyberspace forced patience and understanding out of their users – something I learned early on and kept with me for a long time.

In some cases, I think my almost natural hostility towards the adoption of new media has kept me in the dark about what is happening ‘out there’: that is, in the cyber world around me. Perhaps my hesitations are actually fears that deal with the bigger picture. Am I going to lose real human contact with my friends if I live to post my every movement on Twitter? How many cute kitten videos on Youtube are enough to actually make me forget what it’s like to share a physical connection with non-human animals? (editor’s note: apparently 2,113,457, according to the research and comments of the professor who marked this). For the most case, I think my reservations are completely out of frame and don’t really amount to anything that would be considered realistic, but they do continue to hold me back.

Don't press play - it's a trap!

It is the human detachment factor I automatically consider when being introduced to different types of new media that I wrestle with. I’ll enjoy something in concept but witness its wide abuse by my peers, consequently turning me off of said medium altogether. I can’t prevent my mind from re-envisioning a more intimate use of new media, one that is not linear but reciprocal, embracing certain virtues of storytelling, empowerment and open dialogue. Consequently, it was with high hopes that I began my journey as what the highly connected mass refer to as a ‘blogger’, and it was with great disappointment that I failed rather quickly.

At First There Was.......Well, There Wasn’t Very Much at all.

            Travel blogging and writing is probably one of the most challenging occupations one can fill, and I could not have made a bigger mistake after I decided that this was my dream vocation. In hindsight, I shake my head and ponder over how naive I was to assume that I knew what I was doing. It actually physically pains me to discuss this, but I have to (at least once) re-tell my story of epic miscalculation and shortfall to gage where I am today.

Working hard in Bolgatanga, Ghana
            I was, in a previous lifetime, certain that my skill set as a person lent well to what is accurately named ‘travel altruism’. This is the practice of combining long-term international travel with some kind of aid work (building schools, working on food security, saving the world, etc.). When an opportunity to live and volunteer in Northern Rural Ghana presented itself to me, I assumed (wrongly) that it would also become my ticket to blogging superstardom. Naturally, I would combine every writing tool I didn’t have with the misguided notion that everyone would want to hear about my adventure abroad. My answer to such an overwhelming demand was to create a wildly successful blog creatively entitled ‘Aaron in Ghana’. This was supposed to be a vital lifeline that would connect my experiences at work and in my foster-home to the member base of people who had fundraised for this trip back in Canada. I wanted so badly to provide a lens that would accurately depict what I was experiencing but, not surprisingly, my ambitious project did not have such positive results and was abandoned early on when I realized that absolutely no one was reading it. How could I have tried so hard and yet failed so miserably?

            The learning journey I was about to take on was only just beginning. In fact, I hadn’t even left the gate. If I was to learn anything important at all I had to critique my own work and admit that although ‘Aaron in Ghana’ started off with some pretty optimistic expectations, it ultimately failed because my ability to craft something unique sucked. This was not a lesson I was ready for. Because I had not yet found a way to make an impact on my readers (if I had readers at all) I became desperate for redemption, this time under a new identity while en route to a new summer adventure in Whitehorse one year after what I am now referring to as ‘The Ghana Blogging Crisis’.

Exploring the Carcross Desert in Southern Yukon
            My blogging attempts in Whitehorse were quite possibly the very summit of a mountain filled with all of the horrible work I was producing. This was a very large mountain. At least my second attempt yielded more thought in its title, but not very much. ‘Riding the Whitehorse’ was a blog I managed which lasted a grand total of two months and an example of its contents read as follows:

‘....Today I went on an airplane. It took me to Vancouver. What a great city! When we got there, we took the Skytrain to our hostel. The Skytrain is really fun. Our hostel is on Jericho Beach. I recommend it. Then we went to English Bay where we saw the ocean. It was pretty cold. After that we went to Granville Isla......’

I would rather shear my eyelids with a potato peeler than read excerpts from that blog again.

            It would take me almost two years after Whitehorse before I would ever re-attempt to publish a blog again. I was deflated by how senselessly boring it was not only to post this crap, but read it aloud to myself afterwards. I was convinced that blogging wasn’t for me after all.

Why Blog?

I retract that statement -
I am perfect for a Harlequin novel.
            Despite my quick faceplant into a pile of self-produced material that wasn’t even fit for a Harlequin Romance novel, I have since learned that blogging can in fact be an immensely gratifying process that can have more of an impact on the blogger him/her self than their readers. Blogging is an immensely self-reflective process for the plain fact that each post is a part of someone that is being sent into the world completely unprotected. The subject matter does not have to be even remotely personal; like any artist, what you produce is uniquely your own and comes from a place that harbors intense emotional sentimentality. I’ve since looked back on my mundane and pathetic attempts at blogging from years past and cringed at its staleness. The gradual change in content and substance has proved to me that blogging is indeed a craft which can be improved and worked on over a period of constant reflection and acceptance of criticism.

            Blogging is also an excellent way to create connections across many superficial cyber borders between cultures and beliefs. Its accessibility can be endlessly impactful, allowing for the inclusion and overlapping of a plethora of peoples, all with different backgrounds and stories. It is at this intersection that blogging becomes cyclical, having equal significance for its creators and its audience. I have learned much about myself through blogging - my insecurities, my privilege, my prejudices – because I can make something real from an idea, let it ferment on some page in the internet, and revisit it months later, often with a totally new perspective on its subject matter. This has been a constant ebb and flow for me during the blogging process – creating something from within myself, stepping outside of it for a while and then questioning it on a later date.

Finding ‘Lost and Found’

            One of the hardest things to do as an early blogger was to admit to myself that the things I experienced and wanted to talk about were actually worthy of putting on a blog. Struggling with this aspect of blogging had ultimately lead to failure and was a main part of why I had not produced anything impactful during my first two attempts. My lack of confidence led to an absence of creativity and my posts read more like a travel journal instead of an engaging story. Ironically, it was my fear of having boring things to say that actually made me sound so incredibly boring. After finally overcoming this fear, I began to re-envision a new blog that would take from my experience but provide insights that people could actually relate to. With it, my current blog ‘Lost and Found’ was born in November of 2011.

Kind of like this, but with less 80's movies and porno mags.
            I wanted the name of my blog to be simple yet profound, which also happened to be the same recipe I could use while brainstorming and creating posts. Lost and Found tapped into my childhood as a curious and rambunctious boy who by nature lived to get dirty and perhaps lose an article of clothing here or there as collateral damage. I was constantly making trips to the Lost and Found bin at public school, always emerging with a boot or pair of gloves in hand. It was ability to be adventurous and loose part of myself along the way that never quite left me. Lost and Found is an attempt at expressing this part of me but keeping it at a level that other people can connect with. In the process, I have been constantly stepping outside of myself and finding balance between entertainment, humor and life lessons.

            At the time of writing this sentence, I have contributed 31 posts  to Lost and Found which have altogether received a very humble 3605 page reviews (half of which probably are my mom) with all of six subscribers, but I have learned not to measure its success by numbers. Lost and Found has had more of an impact on me than it has had on its readers. What keeps me motivated to write and post is the fact that I can am passionately aware and committed to my own projection of the world, which includes the fact I can be wrong, I can re-learn and I can change. Lost and Found has provided an excellent platform from which to fall-and-get-back-up from. Repeatedly. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Getting Alt-Mediated at the I Heart Alt Media Fundraiser

If I was ever curious as to what happens when you collide a bike repair shop, a campus newspaper, a public interest group, some local talent and really, really cheap beer, that void in the life would have been fulfilled last Thursday night at the I Heart Alt Media Fundraiser . The jam of energized young do-gooders and $3 bottles of import-quality brews made this one-of-a-kind event something its organizers should be proud of. I, for one, arrived armed with a camera and tad bit of ‘I’m with the band’ snobbery, blissfully unaware of the fact that after a smooth serenade from the oober clever (and sexy) duo Houses for Birds my face was going to melt off by the proverbial heat generated by edgy pop-cult smashing politically driven rhyme generators Lee Reed and Test their Logik.

Lee Reed blowing people's minds on Thursday night.
A musical performance at Bike Pirates......Makes sense, right? Actually, amidst the shelves of wheel hubs and greasy tools a perfect stage was set to kick off the ‘Rebuilding Bridges’ conference held conjunctively by the York University and Toronto chapters of the Ontario Public Interest Group (OPIRG). The conference has set its intent on creating connections between dynamic and change-activating groups from across Toronto and Canada for the purpose of ‘rebuilding’ the shape and impact of social movements. Certainly the mix of support at Friday’s event is indicative of its all-encompassing mammoth-sized reach.

Another organization involved in the organizing of the evening was the York University Free Press, an alternative newspaper originating from the student body at (you guessed it) York University. The YU Free Press is now in its eighth year of challenging mainstream media and offering new and interesting information that transcends the corporate model. Ashley Grover, Layout Editor and key organizer at the Free Press, commented that “The editorial collective at the Free Press was extremely grateful for the turnout at the event and all the effort that OPIRG Toronto and OPIRG at York put into it. We believe that the university is a sphere that should reaffirm the student voice while taking care to include complex discourses on social justice and alternative thinking. We also love lolcats a little too much and hope after this event we’ve got all of you asking “I can has Free Press?”

Don’t worry, Ashley.....I’m on it.

I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only person who had a good time at the I Healt Alt Media Fundraiser and that Toronto needs more opportunities that allow people to learn about how media can be a force for social change. Events like this are crucial to the survival and scaling out of media that matters; information that is mediated by real people and not Fox News. Because as a blogger and writer, I know it’s not always about what you read but who wrote what you read.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

Monday, 12 November 2012

4 Reasons we should Re-Invest in The CBC

Canadian media has a long and storied history of preserving tradition and promoting our image as a culturally diverse and pluralistic country. Central to our media outlets is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) or ‘Radio-Canada’, our national public radio and television broadcaster. Within the many branches of CBC there exist authentic Canadian voices with the capacity to embrace the true spirit of what it is to live in such a beautiful and eclectic country.

We can only assume he watches Last Man Standing
Last spring, amongst a slew of federal budget cuts to the public sector, the CBC announced its plans to cut hundreds of jobs, cancel certain programs and ‘make less Canadian content’ to rake in promotional money from big-name international shows as a strategy to fill the endless void in funding. This article is an argument against the de-Canadianisation of Canadian public media, citing four people who reinforce why it is imperative to re-invest in CBC. In the meantime, we’d like to thank the Harper Government for its senseless budget slashing comparable to the killing of Mrs.Voorhees scene in Friday the 13th.   

1) Stewart McLean/The Vinyl Cafe

Radio has felt the pangs of hyper-technological advancement harder than most other types of medium and many argue it was the last great imagination-inspiring machine. As the age of the radio slowly died, other, more instantly gratifying types of entertainment took its place and shoved many an old table-top wooden dial-turner into the darkness of forever storage. The days of mass gatherings and listening to late night ghost stories on a simple transistor hooked up to a speaker have past, and with it a very specific skill of radio story telling come dangerously close to extinction.

It would be hard to tell this to Stewart McLean, creator and host of the poplar CBC radio show ‘The Vinyl Cafe’. Though McLean is described as a ‘humorist story-teller’, I’d liken him to be more of a humble prophet, if only for his simple yet profound ability to engage with his listeners on many levels. His stories range from fictional shorts to true accounts of quintessentially Canadian experiences, both from his own background travelling the country and from locals who share with him. McLean has also successfully publish 13 books from his Vinyl Cafe material and won numerous awards in teaching, research, humor and writing.  His efforts to revive the art of storytelling within popular media have gained the interest of thousands of Canadians, young and old, and have given a voice to hundreds of others.

*For airtimes and where to go to stream The Vinyl Cafe Live go here.

2) Grant Lawrence/The Wild Side

I have written about Grant Lawrence’s witty and inspiring book Adventures in Solitude: What not to Wear to a Nude Potlock and Other Stories from Desolation Sound here, but couldn’t create a list of CBC’s best without including his most recent work, ‘The Wild Side’. Bouncing off of his best selling sophomore novel, Lawrence went on to host this collection of stories from Canada’s great outdoors that was aired on CBC Radio1 in summer 2012. All ten episodes recount true stories of Canadians who have ventured into the wilderness and received more than they bargained for.

Any person who can’t help but roam off the city grid when the call of Mother Nature beckons will have a story of when things got too close for comfort. Lawrence seems to celebrate our dangerous encounters in the wild by finding those stories of adventure and adrenaline when we’re face-to-face with unpredictable circumstances. Whether it’s the guy who punched a polar bear straight in the face to escape certain death or the tale of the explorers who found themselves lost for five days inside a freak Manitoba snowstorm, Lawrence always delivers with bonafide Canadian adventures guaranteed to keep your attention.

*Listen to all ten episodes of The Wild Side here.

3) Jian Ghomeshi/QTV

Writer, musician, producer, broadcaster – Jian Ghomeshi has done it all and amassed a rapidly growing number of CBC-related works, not to mention a fair amount of media outside of this company as a drummer, journalist and author. Ghomeshi has been widely accredited as being one of the most talented and influential interviewers at CBC and continues to receive record-breaking audiences during each of his broadcasts.

Although Ghomeshi has interviewed some of the most popular mainstream artists and actors from around the world, it is his ability to pull out larger cultural themes during these sessions that has gained him considerable notoriety. His current and most popular show, Q with Jian Ghomeshi , is a virtual magazine that explores popular arts and alternative media with some of the most notable personalities in the biz. Ghomeshi and company have a knack for dealing with the most innovative and culture-bending ideas to keep their listeners active and engaged.

*For audio, video and podcast episodes of QTV go here.

4) Rick Mercer/The Mercer Report

Another CBC giant best known for his political incorrectness is Rick Mercer. Style, class, humor and quirkiness make The Mercer Report a dangerously addictive weekly dose of Canadian. Known for his progressive and no-bullshit skits and rants, Mercer effectively shoves Canadian political and social issues to the forefront – perhaps while throwing in a few laughs, too. Mercer is also a recent author with his newest book ‘a nation worth ranting about’; a collection of classic Mercer rants with a few personal insights from over the years as a co-creator and actor on This Hour has 22 Minutes, Made in Canada and Talking to Americans.

Along with the big-name politicians and actors he interviews on his show, Mercer always promotes small-scale events while touring around to small-town Canada for very unique experiences like trying Salmon Snorkelling in Campbell River, B.C or attending the Trapper’s Festival in The Pas, Manitoba. Because of his diversity and pure outreach capabilities, you can always expect something new and funny on every episode of The Mercer Report.

*The Mercer Report videos can be watched here.

Friday, 9 November 2012

One Year Blog-iversary!

November 2012 marks a first milestone for Lost and Found: the all-important one year anniversary. Yep, as of this point in time, I have been an active ‘blogger’ for longer than Kim Campbell served as Canada’s 19th Prime Minister. This is a dually noted event as, apparently, more and more people seem to adopt a blog faster than Angelina Jolie adopts African children. Ironically, a vast majority of this group don’t keep their blogs active because image mattered more than investment......kinda like Angelina Jolie when she adopts African children.

Today, with an estimated 31 million + bloggers in the US and Canada alone, the blog has become one of the biggest social media tools on the web. Unfortunately, 65% of all blogs created will become dormant within a year of their creation - the third highest impotent thing ever (behind smokers and males over 30). Add to that list another list of blogs that shouldn’t exist and you get both a sentence that rhymes really well and another pile of worthless crap that clogs the internet.

I have come to learn that the sustainability of a blog has to do with its manager’s ability to commit to the project and become impassioned by it. Alternative media is now on everyone’s doorstep – finding your place within it can be more like trying to find a parking spot at Edmonton Mall. And it’s Saturday afternoon. And you’re driving a semi-truck. And there’s a dying baby in the passenger seat.

In lieu of my success at staying afloat for a whole year I will theme the next few posts on Canadian media and its significance to a 24 year old pathetically trying to loosely grasp hold of something inside the vast ocean of bloggers everywhere. I hope you can sift through my self-deprecation and find something meaningful.

Safe travels,

Aaron Turpin 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Innovation vs. Transformation at YorkU's Change Academy

Behind the mighty closed doors of York University’s faculty and administration exists groups of professional adults attempting to understand what university students actually do. The results are, predictably, hilariously out of touch with the realities of young people everywhere as I’ve come to learn over time and through many interactions with university professionals. My double-edged perspective as both student and staff allows me to mediate and close the dark chasm between a rigid university and its tuition-paying disciples, but sometimes that gap in communication looks more like the Grand Canyon of dead space with mindlessly bewildered staff on one end and hopelessly lost students on the other. 

I came into the Change Academy a skeptical martyr who had been caught floating in a directionless vacuum of student/staff relations before and was expecting the two day conference to morph into another never-ending cheerleading session for York. Instead, I was thrown into a team that not only acknowledged its limitations but shared my frustrations of operating in a system that prevented institutional transformation. Once I realised we were on the same page, I started to open up a little, and in turn learned substantially.

Let’s back track a titch here. Last summer, I was offered a spot to attend an invite-only conference at York University entitled the ‘Change Academy’. While I was not given any depth or context to the event, I willingly obliged thinking that it was, if anything, another opportunity to network amongst skilled professionals (and enjoy two days of free catered meals). The project team that asked me to be a part of this process is designing a ‘Virtual Learning Commons’; a set of online learning modules freely accessible to all students and staff and geared for helping students easily access information on foundational learning skills for success. I was familiar with this group through my work, and, honestly, because they were paying me to go....I went.

That said, my expectations amounted to what happens after Stephen Harper promises to keep Millennium Development Goals. What I found immediately entertaining, though, was my position as the only student in a team of seven project leaders and the opportunity to disrupt the process to add a little student-based criticism. While the idea of a Virtual Learning Commons is highly innovative (or at least innovative enough to be chosen for a summit of ‘York’s most transformative projects’), it is only as effective as its ability to be adopted into the university community. My job at the Change Academy, because I believe in VLC, was to find the best way of doing so and communicate that to the people in charge.

Perhaps less expected was the outright transparency my team had when discussing their struggles and inter-organizational issues. I had, like never before, become witness to the problems and stresses of university staff who are driving change. Their tensions fascinated me and substantially added to my doubled-pronged approach when helping students as both a student leader and staff member. There is always more than one side of change, and if I am to grow in my position for as long as I may be here I have to start paying more attention to what happens behind the surface or Canada’s second largest (and lowest ranking) university. There’s nowhere to go but up.

 Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin