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Respect and support are important values for the Queen’s community

The recent attacks in Paris and terrorist events in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere have shocked the Queen’s community and the world. These events, like so many others from around the world, affect members of our diverse and global university community. Anger and outrage at the perpetrators of atrocity is a natural reaction. Generalized hatred directed at a group or individuals on the basis of their background, religion or ethnicity is not. I was dismayed to hear about hateful and discriminatory statements directed towards Queen’s students and others on social media. It is deeply concerning to me that some students are being targeted through anonymous sites such as Yik Yak with comments that are completely inconsistent with the culture and values we promote at Queen’s.

All members of the Queen’s community should be able to go about their lives without fear of discrimination or hate. Queen’s is a place where people look out for and respect one another and support one another as friends and peers. In a complex, difficult and often violent world, universities should be havens for reason, reflection and the pursuit of knowledge. In times of crisis and stress, both the fragility and the critical importance of these values are all the more evident. As we mourn the loss of lives and terror that has taken place, we must also re-dedicate ourselves to ensuring Queen’s is a place where we can together imagine the paths to a safer and more peaceful world.

Embrace your depression

The following guest blog was written by Jae Moon, a 4th year life sciences student who has been battling depression since high school. Jae describes himself as a person who is curious about the true nature of things and enjoys applying evolutionary thinking. Upon meeting with Jae, I asked him if I could share his writing on my blog and he kindly agreed.

“Death is a cure, I tell myself, as I drag one leg over the ledge. It hangs there lifelessly while my other foot grasps the concrete roof with little friction. The wind is icy and forceful; it numbs my face and freezes my tears. The night sky is open and clean. The height of the building brings me closer to the stars and farther away from light pollution. I feel serenaded by ancient cosmic energy and think to myself: ‘what a night to die’. For whatever reason however, I cannot muster up the constitution to give myself up to gravity. Exhausted, I go home at 2AM and fall asleep.”

There have been many nights I pondered the rationale of dying – of why it would be a simple solution and solve all of my problems. Oftentimes, I used to think it was selfish to do so. I don’t anymore. It wasn’t my choice to be born, but it should only be my choice to die. I have been living in a society that emphasizes the need to be happy, all the while feeling clouded and darker. It was evident to me that I didn’t belong. I felt like a burden being the walking antithesis of everyone’s joy.

This all changed the summer of 2015.

One does not escape or recover from depression. One just successfully integrates it into their psyche and consciousness. My first step on the ‘road to revelations’ was when I fully accepted that I was depressed. So I began to let myself feel the full force of the symptoms in terms of dysphoria, lifelessness, emptiness, loneliness – this was by far the worst aspect – and so on. All this helped me grasp depression as a reality. I still remember being in my dark room, on a dark day, staring blankly at the ceiling, lifelessly. I would scream with my face buried in the pillows and clench my chest. I told myself, ‘Acceptance is always the first step’. It was a lot of emotional distress, but I always remembered that the next days would bring me clarity of thought – and to some extent, peace.

The defining quality of myself that helped me integrate my depression is my ability to let my mind run. This was mostly done through meditation. I began to psychoanalyze my own thoughts (meta-thinking, as they say) and break down my subconscious reasoning behind my emotions. I became the woodpecker of my own psyche – I dig and dig until I find the worm. For example, when I react with anger to some seemingly negligible event, I now stop to think why. If others see my action as an overreaction, then it is a question of sensitivity and exaggeration. If so, is the emotion itself rational? What does the topic represent to me such that it brings out this side of me? So then what psychological need am I trying to indulge by reacting in such a way? The way I see it, every reaction is a window to my subconscious. This applies to other people as well; I think a judgmental person’s spoken words describe more about themselves than they do the person being judged. This sort of meta-thinking was the catalyst to my mental growth. I am now a very self-aware and mindful person. I realized how my past affected me and how it was mirrored through my attitude and perspective.

With the clarity of thought that accompanied this mental growth, I realized that it’s okay to be who I am. Regardless of how I feel about myself, I shouldn’t resist who I am. Why wouldn’t I want to be what I am made for? I was treating my self the way I was treated by others when I was a child; they persuasively changed the image of my selfhood. I realized that every person has the opportunity to bring something new to the table. The reason why a particularly successful species is defined by the abundance and population size is because of the level of genetic variability they bring. Genetic variability – since we cannot predict the environment – is a safety net for the chance of the species responding adaptively to the environment. Thus, variability allows for a wider breadth of environmental challenges a species can survive. Anyway, this line of reasoning made me think that it’s okay to be different because it means that you have that much more you can bring to the table.

I think society views depression negatively because of its immediate symptoms. But this is only in the short term. In the long term, there are huge opportunities for self-growth and for opening one’s mind. In another way of putting it, the brain in ‘depression mode’ is sacrificing short term capacity for long term planning. I find the emphasis on happiness a little paradoxical because in a state of constant and consistent happiness, would it even be called happiness? It would just be the norm. My point is that without the lows you don’t even notice the peaks highs.

Throughout the past 4 years as I observed myself I couldn’t help but think why an organism becomes depressed. Is there an inherently adaptive function? Or is it rather an effect of a suboptimal cause? More relevantly put to myself, I think depression is a relic of a troubled past of traumatic events. Some people believe it’s in the genes, that epigenetic changes can be passed down to offspring, leaving them more predisposed. But this isn’t really why people become depressed, rather just a factor involved in making it more likely to occur. Depression is an effect; and the environmental input is the cause. In other words, I think depression is largely a circumstantial effect and based purely on individual experiences. Genes merely provide a template of behaviours and personality traits that can be modified throughout life with external input.

To make concepts more mechanical and verifiable, take the weather as an example: there has been enough research to diagnose individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorders (SADs). I get a case of the SADs too sometimes – all it takes is a dark, cloudy day. So, I bought a SunTouch light lamp as an artificial substitute for sunlight. This has helped me maintain a more stable mood for that day. This is an example of how the environment can influence our mood and cognition (whether it is done in this order, I don’t know). Now, imagine the influence of parental input. As offspring you have to have complete trust in your parents. I mean, what biological organism would forsake the direction of their genetic counterparts? But then, what are your parents influenced by? Culture, society, physical environment, culturally significant events… so on. The point is the past provides a rich context of interacting variables that leads to your cognitive self as it is now.

So I think it’s certainly more useful to treat depression as experience-based and environmental – at least when dealing with patients with depression. What I’ve come to realize during my time in the ditches so far is that there is a reason to everything. Something in my previous timeline has occurred, perhaps as a cumulative set of events that has put me where I am now in this spot. I think depression can be seen as a strong behaviour generator in that it inhibits most behaviours; hypersomnia, reduced motivation and activity. I think the reason for such behavioural dampening is because there is an inherent need of the brain to process all the information stored in the brain. In order to do this, it cuts out any further stimulation by rendering the organism immobile. The person then gets a chance to reevaluate their value systems, what they care about, who they are, and ultimately what they want in life. It’s almost as though the brain is rebooting itself. So why do I have this physiological need to reboot myself? I think happiness is a physio-emotional symptom that signals to cerebral organisms such as humans that the behavioural patterns (lifestyle, routine, etc) are detrimental to the organism. It means that something in that person’s life has to change. So this dampening effect over behaviour could be seen as a natural sensory deprivation to allow full processing of information. In this sense, we could define depression as an effect of cumulative unhappiness (or a higher punishment to reward ratio). The deprivation can leave the person thinking about what life needs to be for them to be happy, and can motivate them to mobilizing those changes.

Overall, it has been a very rough ride. That being said, I don’t think I would want to change any of it. As dark as I felt, the things that I learned about life and about myself are so valuable to me that it paints the whole experience positively. I still feel down from time to time and my view of death has become more…spiritual and mechanistic. Every organism that has ever lived has died – there is an energetic need that has to be fulfilled by coming into existence (i.e. being born), like a chemical reaction… but I digress. Anyway if there is a phrase of advice I can give anyone who is also depressed: Embrace it. There is a reason why you are depressed. Try to see the undertones that have made you depressed.

Jae Moon


Reviewing non-academic misconduct

The November 6 issue of the Queen’s Journal included an op-ed regarding the current review of the university’s non-academic misconduct system. Below is my response, which has been submitted to the Journal for publication.

Re: Student self-government at risk

One of the things I’ve always respected and enjoyed most about Queen’s is its tradition of student leadership, in everything from faculty societies and university governance to extracurricular activities and community events. Because of that, it was not surprising to read that some of our former student leaders have concerns about the current review of the university’s non-academic misconduct system.

I would begin by correcting one wrong impression: the review concerns the overall arrangements for administering and adjudicating cases of non-academic misconduct. It is not specifically about the AMS’ non-academic discipline system (NAD), except insofar as that system is part of a wider set of systems including those administered by the SGPS, Residences, and Athletics and Recreation.

The university is committed to student safety, and both independent experts and the Board of Trustees have identified our current system as a risk. That simply cannot be ignored – change of some kind is required. We have waived confidentiality regarding the legal opinion on the board’s role in this matter, which can now be found on the review website.

I was an undergraduate student at Queen’s, and I recognize there are strongly held feelings on all sides of this topic. The review committee’s goal is to consider all of those perspectives in a process that ultimately results in a better non-academic misconduct system.

It’s important to correct a few of the assertions made in the Journal piece. Firstly, the Board does indeed have both the authority and responsibility when it comes to the administration of these matters. That responsibility has been delegated to Senate, but it remains the Board’s to delegate. Secondly, contrary to popular impression, the oft-repeated notion that the Senate delegated this responsibility to the AMS in the late nineteenth century is a belief based on no foundational document. Thirdly, even if that were not the case, circumstances and social expectations change, and it is not reasonable to assume that a system put into place for a university of fewer than 3000 students should pass unexamined and unmodified into use by a 21st century university with a student population of over 21,000.

As I have stated from the outset, the purpose of the review is not to eliminate any of the current systems – including NAD – but to maintain the Queen’s tradition of student involvement in non-academic discipline while at the same time recalibrating the system to meet contemporary realities. The university plans to work with students, including the AMS and SGPS, and other stakeholders to build a new structure that maintains the positive aspects of the peer-to-peer system while ensuring the health and safety of all students and others at Queen’s.

Our timelines for the review will allow us to receive input from a wide range of Queen’s community members. The process was first announced in September, and consultations will continue into the spring. I invite all students and alumni who have thoughts on this matter to submit them to the committee at

Finally, I must confess to being completely puzzled by the signatories’ suggestion that Queen’s is in a state of “ongoing decline.” In actuality, this is a remarkable time for our university. One of our faculty members was recently awarded a Nobel Prize, we are headed towards the end of a hugely successful, $500 million fundraising campaign, Maclean’s has ranked us first in student satisfaction in our category, and we received one of the largest donations ever made to the university in the form of a $50 million gift to our School of Business. And, our students remain some of the best and brightest in the country, contributing to the university in infinite ways. That doesn’t sound like a decline to me, and this review will not change this upward trajectory.

Email to students regarding unsanctioned activity

On Sept. 10, the following email was sent to all students in response to reports of unsanctioned activity in the near-campus neighbourhood:

Dear students,

Normally at this time of year I like to send a message of greetings to new students and welcome back to returning ones. I am sorry to say that this is not that message. Since Sunday evening, we have continued to receive reports of disturbing and unacceptable behaviour in the near-campus neighbourhood. These include not only the large street party that resulted in the closure of University Avenue on Sunday evening, but also instances of individuals being surrounded and impeded while driving in the area around campus and having their property damaged.

Let me be clear and unambiguous: there is no tolerance for this kind of dangerous behaviour at Queen’s or in Kingston. It is also an embarrassment to both our student body, the university as a whole, and the city of Kingston. Individuals who are identified as participating in these incidents will be referred to the appropriate bodies, whether it be the Kingston Police or the non-academic discipline system.

There have also been reports of hundreds of students gathering at the Kingston waterfront, consuming alcohol and jumping into Lake Ontario; this is incredibly dangerous behaviour that could result in serious injury or the loss of a life. No one wants to see the tragic alcohol-related events of 2010 repeated.

Many students have spent many years working to overcome the reputational damage that was done as a result of similar incidents, the worst of which occurred in 2005 during Homecoming weekend. Early in my first term as principal, I had to extend the cancellation of Homecoming because the behaviour had not sufficiently improved. While things have improved in recent years (prior to this week), a regression will only serve as impetus to cancel this beloved tradition once again. I ask that you do not put me in that position; it will only hurt you, your fellow students, and our alumni.

We should all be able to take pride in this university; that cannot happen when individuals are behaving in a way that disrespects Queen’s, our neighbours, and the Kingston community. I commend and thank those of you who have distanced yourself from these gatherings and those who have taken on leadership roles to improve the situation. But in order for this to be truly effective, we need the entire student body to work together; we need upper year students to set a positive example for younger students; and, first and foremost, we need this behaviour to stop immediately.


Daniel Woolf
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Let’s talk

Heather Stuart and her group

Heather Stuart and her group gathered earlier this week

Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada, a day dedicated to keeping mental health at the front of our collective consciousness. Certainly, it has been an important area of focus for me during my tenure as principal, particularly because we know that statistically, at least 30 per cent of post-secondary students in Canada report mental health problems. That’s why universities, including our own, are doing what they can to put better supports in place for our students.

One thing we don’t talk a lot about, however, is the question of substance use, even though the two issues can often be closely connected and may be elicited by the same factors. Mental health problems can lead to substance use problems, and vice-versa. No matter which comes first, it’s clear the issue is one that we should be paying attention to.

One of our own professors, Dr. Heather Stuart, is trying to do just that. In her role as the Bell Canada Mental Health and Anti-stigma Research Chair, she has been championing a new initiative that is focused on the mental health needs of a specific campus demographic: our first-year male students.

Working together with her colleagues, Dr. Shu-Ping Chen from Public Health Sciences and Dr. Terry Krupa from the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Dr. Stuart set out to create a new initiative on campus. Armed with a $1.7 million grant from Movember Canada, they developed Caring Campus, a student-led program addressing mental health as it relates to substance use. It kicked off last fall.

The 25 male students Dr. Stuart and her colleagues enlisted for the program recently gathered to talk about their experiences in the first term and their hopes for the program moving into the future. From all accounts, things are progressing very well so far: not only are the young men learning to work together as part of a team, they have reported that they already feel their efforts are making a difference.

In the fall term, they hosted an awareness-raising Battle of the Bands night, which was attended by students from across campus. They’ve also created a targeted Facebook page populated with information and reference tools. They have made videos promoting their group and ways they can support other male students. They have also created a chat room – a safe space for students to post questions and to chat about substances and substance use issues. These young men are not only developing important leadership lessons, they’re also learning how to talk about mental health and substance use issues (not to mention how to listen!).

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these young men and their initiative in wanting to go out into the community to make things better for their peers. I’m particularly pleased to hear that they unanimously agreed to continue in their roles for the foreseeable future. We’re lucky to have them.

Today and every day, let’s talk.